HC Deb 16 December 1986 vol 107 cc1035-7
1. Mr. Wallace

asked the Paymaster General why the Manpower Services Commission does not conduct follow-up exercises after six months to ascertain what progress has been made for those involved in the restart scheme.

The Paymaster General and Minister for Employment (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

My present priority is to devote all the resources allocated to the restart programme to the task of helping long-term unemployed people by providing them with a range of opportunities designed to get them back into employment.

By April next year we shall have interviewed the stock of people who have been unemployed for 12 months or more. We expect to begin a cohort survey designed to plot the progress of a number of long-term unemployed people in the year following their restart interview in spring 1987.

Mr. Wallace

The Paymaster General recently claimed that as a result of restart just under one in five people had come off the register of long-term unemployed people. Does he realise that some of us are somewhat sceptical about his claims of success, as in the equivalent period last year even more people came off that register? Why is the Minister unwilling to canvass 100 per cent., as happened in the follow-up to the youth training scheme? Is he afraid of the results of such canvassing?

Mr. Clarke

I did not make a claim in the terms that the hon. Gentleman has said. It is true that rather over one in five of those interviewed by the Manpower Services Commission, as part of the programme, ceased to claim benefit and left the unemployment count. However, I have always accepted that some of them would leave anyway. That is why we cannot, at this stage, estimate precisely how many of those whom we have sought to help do obtain jobs, training and so on. However, there is no doubt that the programme is having a beneficial effect. When we have accomplished the main job in hand, which is offering help to the long-term unemployed, we shall try a cohort survey so that we can answer some of the questions that people have raised.

Mr. Hayes

Will my right hon. and learned Friend condemn the utterly disgraceful, if rather predictable, behaviour of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who on 4 December tried to mislead the British public over the restart programme by suggesting that Ministers said one thing when he knew full well that they had said another?

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend. I get used to the fact that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) tends to make up his criticisms as he goes along, but I become alarmed when he speaks on behalf of the Labour party and appears to make its policy, too, as he goes along.

Mr. Leighton

Is not a miasma of confusion caused by the three ways in which Ministers present the figures? First, they talk about a positive offer being made involving about 90 per cent. of the unemployed. However, that is meaningless as it does not necessarily lead to anything. Secondly, they sometimes talk about the number of claimants directly placed, when in reality fewer than 1 per cent. actually get jobs. Thirdly, Ministers talk about the number of those ceasing to claim benefit being about 18 per cent. However, as has been pointed out, in the past five quarters, about 18 per cent. have come off the register in the normal way. Does all that not show that restart is hardly having any real effect? Is not the lesson to be drawn that there is a shortage of jobs for those going through restart?

Mr. Clarke

We tend to give answers in each of those terms when the questions are put in those terms. It is not the Government, but those attempting to criticise and debunk the scheme, who muddle up the figures and try to reach the unjustifiable conclusion that the hon. Gentleman has reached. I thought that I saw him reported the other day as saying that he supports the restart programme. In that case, I trust that he will start giving it credit for the fact that it offers positive help to each and every one of those who have been out of work for more than 12 months.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this scheme should be welcomed on both sides of the House because it offers real hope for the long-term unemployed, many of whom find jobs as a result of it? In addition, they have a point of contact after the scheme in the job club, which can continue to give them help. As the scheme develops, will my right hon. and learned Friend examine ways in which proper training development can be tacked on to the scheme for those who would benefit from extra training and get a job?

Mr. Clarke

I thank my hon. Friend. This is obviously an exciting innovation in helping the long-term unemployed, and it is having considerable success. It is a pity that the Opposition are so devoid of ideas that they try only to debunk it. One of the things towards which we try to steer the long-term unemployed is a training opportunity, if that is what they require to get back into the job market. We are now moving on from restart, and the latest thing that we are trying out is the job training scheme, whereby we hope to be able to offer training places to every person under the age of 25 who is unemployed for more than six months in the areas where we are operating the scheme.

Mr. Prescott

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman—

Mr. Forth

Get it right this time.

Mr. Prescott

I am addressing a rabble.

Does the Paymaster General accept the reply given by the Under-Secretary on 6 November, saying that only 1 per cent. of the people interviewed had been placed in proper jobs? Does he also accept the protest from his Department's officers that the timetable that he has settled for the restart interviews makes it impossible to carry out effective counselling? Will he be honest with the House and admit that the restart programme is nothing more than another fiddle and a squalid attempt by the Government to frighten people legitimately entitled to benefit off the register?

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend and I keep pointing out that the figures given in the reply to those questions apply to those directly placed from the interviews into employment. They are not a measure, as the hon. Gentleman keeps trying to claim, of the number of people who go into work from restart. The hon. Gentleman is deliberately misusing the figure, and he ignores the repeated explanations of what it amounts to.

As to the protest by staff, I assume that he is backing up the protest of one of the trade unions, which was trying to argue that we should have more staff on the scheme. We have already employed 2,000 extra staff, and I have no doubt that the unions will try to claim that more are needed.

The hon. Gentleman makes allegations about fiddles, but it is absurd for the Opposition to attack as a fiddle every measure that gets the unemployed back to work. I have no doubt that he is behind the latest edition of Labour's newspaper, the Labour Weekly, which sets out its list of eight fiddles, which includes projects such as the enterprise allowance scheme, which puts people into self-employment. I make it clear once and for all that to put somebody into a job and into training is not a fiddle. It merely disappoints the Opposition, who are upset that unemployment is going down.

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