HC Deb 23 February 1989 vol 147 cc1131-3
4. Mr. Gerald Bowden

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what was the total fall in long-term unemployment in the year to October 1988.

Mr. Lawson

In the year to October 1988, long-term unemployment fell by 280,000.

Mr. Bowden

I am encouraged by my right hon. Friend's reply. Is not that welcome news largely due to the strong growth in output and employment under this Government, with 2¼ million new jobs since 1983?

Mr. Lawson

My hon. Friend is right to say that this successful performance on jobs is as a result of the British economy performing better than it has ever done before. Here a great tribute is owed to all those in business and in industry who have done so much better than they have in the past. As a result we have seen unemployment fall in the past 30 months in a row—the largest and longest fall ever recorded.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does the Chancellor accept that the Government's infliction of long-term unemployment on many of my constituents has actually destroyed their lives? They were left, in their late fifties, with no prospect of jobs and in poverty both in unemployment and in old age. The Government's excuse was that they were determined to tackle inflation and to restore the competitive edge to industry in this country. What can the Chancellor say to those people who are now pensioners, who have been caught by increasing inflation and who see absolutely no sign of the competitive edge being restored to British industry?

Mr. Lawson

So far as the pensioners are concerned, we have fully price-protected the pensioners throughout our period in office, despite a rapid increase—a very large increase indeed—in the pensioner population. The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the problems of inflation. As I pointed out, inflation over the past five years or so has been less than a third of what it was during the period of the Labour Government. Indeed, long-term unemployment over the past year has fallen even more in percentage terms than unemployment as a whole. I really am astonished that Opposition Members sit there looking so glum whenever they learn about unemployment coming down.

Mr. Redwood

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most welcome aspects of the fall in long-term unemployment is that it is happening right across the country? Does he further agree that that is a welcome sign that some of the overheating in the south-east can he eased by growth and development in regional economies?

Mr. Lawson

It is true that unemployment, and in particular long-term unemployment, has been falling rapidly in every single region of the country—rather less so, I know, in Northern Ireland, but throughout the whole of the rest of the United Kingdom it has fallen very rapidly indeed. On average over the past year, there has been a fall of over 26 per cent. in long-term unemployment. This is something which I hope in time Opposition Members will come to welcome.

Mr. Holland

Do the Government admit that the fall in unemployment of less than 2 million is a phoney figure, that they have changed the estimates for unemployment 25 times, and that only once has the figure gone up rather than down? The real unemployment figure is 2.7 million. The Government may fool some of the people some the time, but the long-term unemployed are not fooled at all by the Government's fantasies.

Mr. Lawson

There really is no point in the hon. Gentleman weaving fantasies with figures. Everyone knows perfectly well that unemployment is coming down. It is not merely the official unemployment statistics. If he does not want to look at those, he can read the annual labour force survey which produces exactly the same picture. If he does not want to look at that, look at the number of people in work. There are now more people in work in this country—not counting people on training schemes—than ever before in our history.

Mr. Holt

Is my right hon. Friend aware that unemployment in my constituency in the north-east of England has fallen by 40 per cent. from its peak in 1984? That figure could be improved even more if we had an adequate motorway to the north-east of England. Last weekend, it took me six hours and 40 minutes to drive from here, leaving at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. If industry is to be encouraged to take advantage of the European market and the Channel tunnel, it is no good the Treasury sitting on the money that the Department of Transport needs to build motorways.

Mr. Lawson

I must tell my hon. Friend that the Treasury agreed—the Treasury has given them the money and agreed—I announced this in the Autumn Statement—an extra £220 million for spending on roads in the coming financial year. I am sure, too, that despite the difficulties, my hon. Friend will continue to provide an invaluable service to his constituents.