HC Deb 18 February 1986 vol 92 cc171-4
2. Mr. Dixon

asked the Paymaster General if he intends to take any action on the Employment Committee's report on special employment measures and the long-term unemployed; and if he will make a statement.

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

We are studying the report very carefully and will give a detailed response to the Committee as soon as is practicable.

Mr. Dixon

Does the Paymaster General accept that the greatest crisis facing this country today is the fact that 4 million men and women are unemployed, of whom 1.6 million have been unemployed for many months? That is a tragedy. Why does the Minister not take note of the constructive suggestions of my hon. Friends, who have spent many hours on the Select Committee?

Mr. Clarke

When the report was produced I welcomed the Select Committee's contribution and agreed with its choice of subject and concentration on age and the long-term unemployed. The Government are already spending more than £2.5 billion on training and employment measures aimed at the same target. I gave a preliminary view on some of the suggestions put forward which did not seem likely to achieve the objectives described.

Mr. Rowe

In his consideration of the report, will my right hon. and learned Friend give careful thought to the possibility of offering some of those people a guarantee of employment? If the political will were there, that could be achieved. It was achieved with the Christmas guarantee for the youth training scheme. Would it not be the most humane and practical way of helping the long-term unemployed?

Mr. Clarke

As my hon. Friend says, we have given a guarantee to 16-year-old school leavers. Experiments are taking place to try to give guarantees to the long-term unemployed in Bolton, among other places, within existing schemes. All those measures are worth considering. We cannot give a guarantee of employment to the long-term unemployed until we have worked out schemes to give them work experience, training, or a job. That is why we are rapidly expanding our community programme and other programmes.

Mr. Wainwright

As the Select Committee report directly involved the work of the Manpower Services Commission, will the Paymaster General tell the House about last night's report, according to the papers this morning, that his right hon. and noble Friend, Lord Young, has taken over from the Paymaster General personal responsibility for the direction of the Manpower Services Commission, which means that there will be no one directly answerable for the commission in the House of Commons, which funds the commission?

Mr. Clarke

My right hon. and noble Friend, Lord Young, has no more ousted me from responsibility for MSC matters, than I have ousted him from responsibility for industrial relations, inner cities, race relations, and areas in which I play a more prominent role. We have been reduced from five to four Ministers, with the transfer of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) to the Department of Transport, and we have reorganised the distribution of the day-to-day routine work of the Department. Otherwise, we continue to work together.

Mr. Thurnham

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the success of the Government's policies is evident in the falling numbers of short-term unemployed? When will he consider that the lessons learnt from the pilot schemes can be used to reduce the increasing numbers of long-term unemployed?

Mr. Clarke

We are trying out pilot schemes in selected cities and concentrating on giving individual attention to the needs of each long-term unemployed person. That is obviously required to bring back into the world of work people who have been away from it for a long time. We are anxiously considering the results in the pilot areas to see what success we are achieving, and we shall certainly build on our achievements as rapidly as possible.

Mr. Leighton

Has the Paymaster General noticed that the meticulously researched and unique report of the Select Committee has received a warm welcome from the quality press, including the editorial in the Financial Times on Friday? Has he further noticed the recognition that, if we are serious about tackling unemployment and money is available in the Budget, it is better spent on special employment measures than on tax cuts? When can we expect the White Paper that he has promised in response to the report, and when can we have a proper debate about it?

Mr. Clarke

The Government propose next year to spend £2,670 million on employment and training measures. We are not rejecting the idea of spending money purposefully on ways of assisting the unemployed, particularly the long-term unemployed. We must consider the Select Committee's proposals. Can we provide one-year jobs in the building industry without displacing other workers? Can we find 100,000 new useful jobs in the National Health Service and social services? Is it right to subsidise each long-term unemployed person to the extent set out by the Select Committee, thereby displacing many people from existing jobs? The proposals must be considered anxiously, but we must find remedies that work. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will not turn their back on them.

Mr. Hayes

I hear what my right hon. and learned Friend says. When he carefully considers the report, as I am sure he will, will he bear in mind that many Conservative Members are deeply worried that not enough is yet being done to help the long-term unemployed?

Mr. Clarke

We are trying out initiatives, such as job restart courses and job start allowances, in nine selected areas and expanding the community programne as rapidly as possible so that each month a further 10,000 people can be taken on. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall consider every opportunity of giving more assistance to the long-term unemployed. We are arguing, not about the aim, but about the mechanics for achieving it.

Mr. Evans

Does the Paymaster General accept that the programme proposed by the Employment Select Committee, which has a built-in Tory majority, would create 750,000 jobs for the long-term unemployed—people who have been out of work for more than 12 months? Does he acknowledge that until his Government or the next Government adopt such a programme, the long-term unemployed, such as those in St. Helens, will have no chance whatsoever of finding a job?

Mr. Clarke

I do not accept that the Select Committee's proposals would produce 750,000 new jobs. We shall consider the proposals carefully and give a considered, detailed response in the White Paper. Direct measures have played an important part in the Government's policies during the past few years. We have spent far more on and put far more effort into them than our predecessors. We shall continue to consider new and effective methods.