HC Deb 22 October 1991 vol 196 cc779-82
4. Mr. Hain

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the current level of unemployment.

12. Mr. Andrew MacKay

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the current level of unemployment.

Mr. Howard

Unemployment in the United Kingdom on a seasonally adjusted basis rose by 35,700 between August and September to 2,461,000. No one should underestimate the human difficulties that lie behind the available. Total male civilian employment and full-time female civilian employment is available for each of the standard regions. As the reply contains a statistical table, I shall, with permission, arrange for it to be published in the Official Report.

Mr. Griffiths

I am not surprised that the Minister did not venture to give a figure. Is not it true that employment in the United Kingdom as a whole is down by almost 1 million compared with June 1979, that in Wales there are 116,000 fewer jobs for men and that overall there are 70,000 fewer jobs in the economy? Does the Minister think that this loss of jobs and the increase in unemployment is a price that is well worth paying?

Mr. Jackson

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's facts are wrong. Since 1979 there has been an overall increase of about 800,000 in the number of men and women in work. If we take as our starting point the end of the last recession, there has been an increase in Wales of 167,000. That is a 17 per cent. increase, which is well above the United Kingdom average.

Mr. Bevan

Does my hon. Friend agree that part-time jobs are important, especially to women? Why do not the Opposition stop denigrating them?

Mr. Jackson

My hon. Friend is right. Part-time jobs are important. It is sometimes suggested that people with part-time jobs would prefer full-time jobs. That question has been canvassed in opinion surveys, and recent surveys of part-time workers show that only 6 per cent. of them want to work full time.

The following is the information:

figures and I certainly do not, but September's increase was the smallest for nearly a year and is further indication that the rate of increase is slowing.

Mr. Hain

Is the Secretary of State aware of the plight of one of my constituents, Mr. John Smith of Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, who is aged 43 and has five children? Mr. Smith is an unemployed salesman with more than 25 years experience and has applied for 1,200 jobs in the past 19 months. Is not his plight testimony to the bankruptcy of Government policies in general and Howard's way in particular?

Mr. Howard

Everyone must have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's constituent and those who find themselves in similar circumstances, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ask himself whether the policies advocated by his party —to make it easier to strike, to embrace the proposals of the European Commission's social action programme, which would add so much in costs and burdens to British employers, and to introduce a national statutory minimum wage, which would destroy countless jobs—would help his constituent and those in a similar position.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those who are rightly worried about unemployment should treat strictures from Opposition Members with some caution? Surely they will recall that under every single Labour Government unemployment has steadily risen rather than fallen. As my right hon. and learned Friend just confirmed, a national minimum wage would simply lead to more people on the dole.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is correct. Under every Labour Government but one since 1929, unemployment has doubled. In the case of the one exception, it increased by 54 per cent.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Secretary of State accept that there has been a significant change in the pattern of unemployment during the past two or three years? By now some intermediate areas have higher levels of unemployment than some of those designated as development areas. In those circumstances, when will the Government reconsider the development area strategy to help those areas that are at present intermediate but certainly need more assistance?

Mr. Howard

These matters are constantly kept under review, but I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman's suggestion would represent the solution that he supposes to the difficulties that we are encountering at present. The answer lies in restoring our competitiveness, overcoming inflation and recreating the conditions that have led to a record creation of jobs —well over 2.5 million since 1983.

Mr. Batiste

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in constituencies such as mine, unemployment is significantly lower than it was at the time of the last election? Jobs would be put at risk if the Government adopted the policies to which the Labour party is committed, such as massive defence expenditure cuts above those already introduced, which would put the future of the Challenger tank at risk. A statutory minimum wage would also wipe out thousands of jobs in Yorkshire.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is correct in what he says. What he has identified as true of his constituency and Yorkshire would be reproduced across the country. The policies that the Labour party advances would be disastrous for employment. That is understood by my hon. Friend and, indeed, by the country generally.

Mr. Blair

Is the Secretary of State aware of the chambers of commerce quarterly survey which will be out this Thursday and shows that jobs are continuing to be shed at an alarming rate in both the service and manufacturing industries? Does he also realise that as a result of rising unemployment and the cuts in his Department's budget, his Government are simply no longer meeting their guarantee of a training place to the young and the unemployed who have been shunted in their thousands on to training queues? The Secretary of State may dispute that, but if we provide him with the evidence that these waiting lists exist, will he undertake here and now to provide the funds necessary to remove them and honour the Government's promises?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman will know full well that the survey of the chambers of commerce of which both he and I have been provided with advance copies —it is to be published on Thursday—shows a substantial increase in business confidence on the part of those who responded to that survey. [Interruption.] Yes, I have read it. It will not do for the hon. Gentleman to deny that such encouraging evidence exists. It does him and his party no credit that he should constantly and obsessively seek to identify bad news and ignore the good news which exists in the very document that he cites as evidence.

On the subject of training guarantees, we are delivering and are committed to those guarantees. They will continue to be made good and implemented by the training and enterprise councils which are now responsible for their implementation.