HC Deb 02 February 1988 vol 126 cc837-9
3. Mr. Patrick Thompson

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the current level of job vacancies in England and Wales.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler)

On 4 December 1987 the number of unfilled vacancies registered at jobcentres in England and Wales was 219,100. That was an increase of 23 per cent. on the figure for December 1986. Vacancies notified to jobcentres have increased each year since 1981.

Mr. Thompson

Bearing in mind that the substantial increase in job vacancies must demonstrate the success of the Government's economic policies, does my right hon. Friend agree that more people would find jobs, and more vacancies would be filled, if the Government and industry together took vigorous action to deal with skill shortages —particularly in areas such as Norwich, where they are a real problem?

Mr. Fowler

I agree with my hon. Friend that there are still skill shortages in some areas, although they are not as bad as they were in the 1970s. I also agree that that shows the need for skills, particularly among the long-term unemployed, and underlines the importance of the new adult training programme that we are about to launch.

Mr. Cryer

Are not the majority of vacancies in the service industries—in low-paid jobs—and does that not hide the fact that we have lost 2 million jobs in manufacturing industry since 1979, which accounts for the massive balance of trade deficit in manufactured goods that the country now faces as part of the current economic crisis?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman, not untypically, has got the position entirely wrong. Vacancies in manufacturing industry increased by 39 per cent. between November 1986 and November 1987. The equivalent increase for service sector vacancies was 23 per cent.

Mr. William Powell

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that in Corby the number of job vacancies advertised each month is comfortably in excess of 500, which is more than 20 per cent. up on a year ago? Will he also bear in mind that virtually all those vacancies are in the manufacturing sector and carry high pay with good prospects? Will he do all that he can to see that what has happened in my constituency is extended to other areas?

Mr. Fowler

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Vacancies have increased in the service industries —which, of course, are very important to the country—but they have also shown a welcome increase in manufacturing industry. The challenge now is to find the skilled people to fill those vacancies.

Mr. Meacher

I wonder whether the House is aware that today is the Secretary of State's 50th birthday and that the Opposition offer him their congratulations on this important milestone on the way to his early retirement?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the story in The Guardian today that, in four inner London boroughs, if an unemployed person refuses a job, his benefit will be withdrawn? Does that not take us a big step further down the road towards American Workfare in Britain? Does that not indeed follow from the creeping compulsion that we have already seen over Restart, YTS benefit withdrawal and the powers in the current Employment Bill to force people on to the adult training programme? Will it not simply encourage the worst employers in the dregs of the market to offer skimpily-paid jobs with no prospects to a captive labour force?

Mr. Fowler

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes. I have always regarded 50 as an age when young men have their careers entirely before them.

It is sad that, even on my birthday, the hon. Gentleman is typically getting his facts entirely wrong again. The Guardian story that he has quoted is wrong. No instructions have been issued to compel people to take jobs in the boroughs of Camden, Kensington or Chelsea. There are no pilot schemes in operation and none is contemplated for those boroughs. The law has always provided that unemployed people may lose their benefit, or have it reduced, if they refuse a suitable job. That law was confirmed in the Social Security Act 1975, which was passed by the previous Labour Government, in which the hon. Gentleman was a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security.

Mr. Marlow

Given the growing number of jobs available, and given that there are a large number of idle and indolent people who are not prepared to take those jobs, will my right hon. Friend make sure that the law that he has just announced to Parliament is more strictly and effectively put into effect?

Mr. Fowler

The law on availability for work will be, and has been, enforced in the lifetime of this Government. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend and, indeed, with what the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said. There can be no excuse for people who refuse jobs when jobs are available. Availability for work is a simple condition of benefit, and the Government will continue to enforce it. However, I deny the report in The Guardian, which is plainly wrong.

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