HC Deb 15 December 1987 vol 124 cc913-4
10. Mr. McLeish

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the fresh claims experiment.

Mr. Fowler

The experiments, which involve using more senior staff to interview newly unemployed people, have just ended. Their aim was to see whether it is possible to provide a greater range of help and advice on both benefit procedures and employment opportunities at the initial point of contact with an unemployed person. The experiments are now being evaluated.

Mr. McLeish

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Is it not obvious to the right hon. Gentleman and the Government that the principal reason for the reduction in the number of people registered as unemployed is the increasing abuse of measures such as restart, the fresh claims experiment and the availability-for-work criteria? Indeed, 2.5 million restart interviews have taken place and some cynics would suggest that we should not be suprised about the dramatic fall in the number of unemployed that the Government talk about. Does he also accept that that view is increasingly shared by the British people? When will he elevate the tackling of unemployment above the abuse of the unemployed?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. Not only have the unemployment figures gone down, but the number of people in employment has risen substantially. He mentioned the availability-for-work test. I must point out to him that those powers come from the Social Security Act 1975, which was passed by the Labour Government. As far as I know, no one seriously wants to pay out benefit when people are not available for work.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Has my right hon. Friend any plans to extend the experiment nationwide?

Mr. Fowler

We shall have to evaluate information that we have only just collected. We shall then consider what the possible extension of the programme may involve.

Mr. Skinner

If the Secretary of State is thinking of extending the new scheme as another turn of the screw against the unemployed, perhaps he or one of his colleagues will examine the fresh claims made in the House of Lords by all those peers who turn up for work, nod to the duty officer and then walk out without even voting, complete with their £100 a day tax-free.

Mr. Fowler

That has nothing to do with me, or with the question.