HC Deb 03 March 1987 vol 111 cc722-3
11. Mr. Andrew MacKay

asked the Paymaster General if he will make a statement on the current level of unemployment.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Unemployment is lower now than a year ago, and has fallen 100,000 over the last six months.

Mr. MacKay

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that in the last quarter of 1986 unemployment fell faster in this country than in any other country in the western world? Would he care to speculate on why the now silent hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) cared to mock this good news for those seeking jobs?

Mr. Clarke

I cannot answer the last part of my hon. Friend's question. The fall in unemployment over the last six months is the best we have known since 1973 and it seems to have reduced the official spokesman for the Opposition to total silence.

Mr. Duffy

Is the Paymaster General aware that, although unemployment has fallen a little in the Sheffield travel-to-work area, that is accounted for almost entirely by the expansion of special job schemes and there is scant evidence of any relief of unemployment arising from economic activity?

Mr. Clarke

I share what I have no doubt is the hon. Gentleman's pleasure that unemployment has been falling in Sheffield. I would expect schemes in Sheffield to help people get back into regular employment, as they are doing elsewhere. I would be very surprised if there was not an increase in the total number of jobs in Sheffield, as is now happening across the country.

Mr. Yeo

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one very helpful measure which would cut unemployment even further would be to reduce the amount of taxation paid by lower paid employees? In this context, will he urge his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to introduce tax cuts—which we are all looking forward to in two weeks' time—directed to reducing the burden of tax on low-paid workers?

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend that the burden of tax on low-paid workers is still too high. I will commend my hon. Friend's remarks to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, I am sure, will have regard to the job-creating potential that tax reductions could have.

Mr. Prescott

I think the country accepts that all the claims based on the unemployment figures are part of a mass fiddle of the statistics. Does the Paymaster General accept that the claim of a million new jobs since 1983 is equally fraudulent? The recent Oxford study has shown that those jobs are made up of a quarter of a million second jobs, a quarter of a million through schemes, and half a million based on a dubious statistical survey of the self-employed and other equally fraudulent figures?

Mr. Clarke

Firstly, the Oxford study that appeared in New Society is not very good research and its figures are wrong. There are over a million more people in work currently than in March 1983. On the question of figures, during the hon. Gentleman's unexpected absence from our exchanges on unemployment matters in this House, I have been studying what he has been saying in print. In the 27 February edition of Tribune, he is reported as saying, in answer to the question : Would Labour put the unemployment figures back on their old basis? No. They are becoming increasingly meaningless.