§ 4. Mr. Brazier
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for how many months adult unemployment has fallen continuously in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Brazier
Does my right hon. Friend agree that unemployment has fallen in every region, especially among the long-term unemployed? In the past 10 years, we have moved from above the EEC average to well below it. Does he agree that there can be no greater testimony to the performance of the Government on unemployment than the silence of the Opposition on the subject yesterday?
§ Mr. Heffer
It would have been remarkable if unemployment had not fallen, given that it had risen to such high levels under this Government since 1979. Is it 355 not clear that despite the falls in unemployment, which I do not deny for one moment, under the capitalist system unemployment comes down just as it goes up, but the Government have not achieved the lower levels of unemployment which existed under Labour? The levels are still far higher than they were when the Government took office.
§ Mr. Major
The hon. Gentleman overlooks a point which is material to his concern—that there are more people in work today than there have ever been. The dramatic falls in unemployment have exceeded even the most optimistic forecasts two years ago—certainly those of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who forecast at the general election that unemployment would increase, since when it has fallen by over 1 million.
§ Mr. Waller
My right hon. Friend said that unemployment had fallen especially fast in areas previously regarded as the more deprived parts of the country. Does he agree that this shows that those who talked in the past of the inevitability of the north-south divide were somewhat misguided and that the north has qualities and reservoirs of skill which should attract many people to the north?
§ Mr. Major
I agree with my hon. Friend. On the many visits that I have made to the north in recent months, I have been extremely impressed by the way in which the economy is growing and by the confidence and investment in industry. It is clear that the best regional policy is the sustained economic growth that we have experienced in the past few years.
Mr. John D. Taylor
Does the Minister expect unemployment to continue to fall for the rest of this year?
§ Mr. Andrew MacKay
As the spectre of unemployment fades as a result of the Government's economic policies, does my right hon. Friend agree that industry faces a new problem—skill shortages? Are Ministers addressing the problem to ensure that more skills are developed and fresh people brought into the labour force, including women?
§ Mr. Major
That is an important point. As my hon. Friend will know from the public expenditure round last year, substantial additional resources have been made available for skill training. I hope that as industry is increasingly profitable it will devote more of its resources to training present and future workers.