HC Deb 20 May 1986 vol 98 cc161-3
1. Mr. Barnett

asked the Paymaster General what is the total number of persons unemployed at the latest available date; and what rate of unemployment this figure represents.

10. Mr. Flannery

asked the Paymaster General what is the present number of people unemployed.

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

On 10 April 1986 the number of unemployed claimants in the United Kingdom was 3,325,058, which corresponds to an unemployment rate of 13.7 per cent.

Mr. Barnett

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be all too aware of the acutely damaging situation that those figures imply and that they have already been added to by the 1,000 or so redundancies made by British Caledonian Airways. Is he aware that this is the tip of an iceberg and that the whole tourist industry is likely to be seriously affected—an industry which contains some of the lowest-paid workers in Britain? What will the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Department do to protect those workers from some of the consequences of the Government's actions and policies?

Mr. Clarke

The British Tourist Authority has been estimating that about 50,000 jobs a year will be generated by tourism. We are all worried about the implications of a quite unmerited response in America to recent incidents in Europe. A great deal of effort and money are now being put into reassuring Americans and informing them that they are much safer in British cities than in most American ones.

Mr. Flannery

Are not these horrifying figures becoming more horrifying daily? Redundancies at British Rail Engineering Ltd. workshops are now coming, following close on the heels of redundancies at British Shipbuilders. There seems to be nothing that the Government can do. They boast that inflation has come down, but if they remove nearly 4 million people and their families from the purchasing area, inflation is bound to come down. The Government can envisage no means of reducing unemployment without pouring some money into the economy. I venture to guess that that is what the Prime Minister is about to do.

Mr. Clarke

We are all desperately disappointed that there are continuing redundancies in some of our older, heavier industries. That is why we have to keep up our excellent record of creating new jobs. The hon. Gentleman will know that nearly 1 million new jobs have been created in the British economy since the spring of 1983.

Mr. Hill

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one major factor is the trade union movement's failure to realise what a scourge it would be in world competitive terms if it did not get its act in order in time to he able to compete with some of the emerging nations in shipbuilding, television assembly and many other industries?

Mr. Clarke

There is certainly a need to keep down the level of pay settlements, which I hope more trade union leaders realise. We must also carry on improving job flexibility and flexibility of trades to keep up our excellent record of improved productivity, which has been beaten only by Japan since the Government came to office. The great reduction in the number of industrial disputes is undoubtedly helping Britain's industrial competitiveness.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Although I regret the national unemployment figures, is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, in my constituency, many people have benefited from the enterprise allowance scheme, which helps to bridge the gap between complete dependence on benefit and self sufficiency once the business is under way?

Mr. Clarke

Not only in my hon. Friend's constituency, where I am delighted to hear that things are going well, but all over the country, the enterprise allowance scheme is giving very useful support to many people who would otherwise be unemployed to go into business on their own.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Do the Government also intend to maintain their excellent record on finding ways to massage the figures, which they have done six times since they came to power? If so, does it mean that they will wipe out unemployment by the general election, apart from the 4 million plus who will be looking for jobs?

Mr. Clarke

That is rather a stale argument. The right hon. Gentleman knows that some of the changes to the figures have increased the total and that some have decreased it. They have all been attempts to make the figures reflect more accurately the position and to measure the number of claimants. He will know that if we take the labour force survey definition of the unemployed seeking work it is difficult to demonstrate that the figure ever rose as high as 3 million. It never appears to have done so.

Mr. Forman

Is it not likely that in the longer term one of the main contributions to alleviating and, perhaps, solving unemployment will be made by much more vigorous efforts at training and retraining? Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept the recent warning of the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission that during the next five years between half and three quarters of the total labour force will require some measure of training and retraining? Should not the Government he giving an even higher priority to that?

Mr. Clarke

I certainly accept that the need for increased training is one of the key imperatives in improving the British economy and creating jobs. We have put a great deal of effort into the technical and vocational content of education in schools, and obviously we have an extremely successful youth training scheme in operation. Anything that we can do to improve the amount of adult training and retraining will be valuable.

Mr. Evans

Will the Paymaster General confirm that the obscene figures he has given do not include the thousands of redundancies announced last week at British Shipbuilders, British Caledonian and Kodak, nor the thousands of redundancies that are to be announced today by British Rail? Will he also confirm that those figures include about 1,400,000 people who have not had employment for over 12 months? Will he take this opportunity to denounce last week's story in The Daily Telegraph that the nine pilot schemes that he announced are being backed by the Department's fraud squad, and that the exercise is aimed more at getting people off the unemployment register than at assisting them?

Mr. Clarke

Obviously, the figures do not show the number of those who have become unemployed since the figures last appeared, nor do they show the number of people who have found jobs. The reality behind the figures is that each month a little under 500,000 people become unemployed and a little under 500,000 people find jobs. Half those who become unemployed find new jobs within three months. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the number of long-term unemployed is worrying and seems to exceed 1 million. That is why the initiative to which he refers involves interviewing each and every one of the long-term unemployed and offering them personal help. It happens as a result of that that a certain number of the long-term unemployed cease to claim benefit. I assume that the hon. Gentleman is not objecting to that.

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