HC Deb 15 March 1994 vol 239 cc728-30
2. Mr. John Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the total number of people unemployed in the United Kingdom, including those who are unemployed who are not in receipt of unemployment benefit.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Miss Ann Widdecombe)

The claimant measure and the International Labour Organisation recommended measure both show falling unemployment in the United Kingdom at about 2.8 million.

Mr. Evans

The Minister has just answered a question that I did not ask. Is not that a classic example of what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster described to a Select Committee as telling terminological inexactitudes to the House?

Is the Minister aware, from answers that have been given to me by her Department and the Department of Social Security, that the true number of people without a job in Great Britain exceeds 4 million? Is not it time that the Government accepted and acknowledged that mass unemployment lies at the very heart of the country's economic, social and financial decline?

Miss Widdecombe

If the hon. Gentleman has a figure of more than 4 million, perhaps he should tell that to the Leader of the Opposition and, indeed, the shadow Chancellor because, at Harrogate on 16 November, the Leader of the Opposition referred to 3 million unemployed and, on 9 December, the shadow Chancellor referred to nearly 3 million unemployed.

Sir Thomas Arnold

Does my hon. Friend agree that falling unemployment will not be assisted by interference in the labour market from Brussels?

Miss Widdecombe

The consistent policy of this country is to have as flexible a labour market as possible. We believe that that has promoted employment and the increase in the civilian work force in employment. It ill becomes the Opposition not to take notice of that. Their policies would cause tremendous job losses, yet they appear still to be proud of them. They do not acknowledge the success of a flexible labour market.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Does the Minister accept that a large number of the people who are not registered for unemployment benefit are young parents—particularly young mums—who cannot find nursery places for their children? Will the Government follow the example of the French Government and set about providing nursery places throughout the country to facilitate work?

Miss Widdecombe

We know that, according to the British social attitudes survey, of those mothers whose children are still of dependent age and who do not work, only some 6 per cent. cite child care costs as being the principal reason.

Mr. John Greenway

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the number of people who are employed in this country is much higher than it was when the Government came to office in 1979? Does she agree that the European Community and interference from the Commission are more likely to add to unemployment than any Government policy?

Miss Widdecombe

I have pleasure in confirming that there has been a rise in the civilian work force in employment. It is also true that that rise has taken place in most Labour constituencies, but that Opposition Members still tend to bemoan the levels of unemployment without looking at the positive side. As I said in response to an earlier question, the Government intend to preserve the flexibility of the labour market and to ensure that the opportunities for employment continue to increase.

Mr. Prescott

Will the Minister address her mind to the evidence that is being given by the Secretary of State at the G7 meeting in Detroit today? Will she confirm that the figures on unemployment in "The UK Approach", the document produced by the Government, are wrong? Does she accept that her Department's statisticians now recognise that the unemployment rate is certainly half a million more than is recorded in the document? That would take Britain from having below 10 per cent. unemployment to having over 10 per cent., and that is wrong.

The Minister has responsibility for training the unemployed. On the same page of the document is a statement about changing the training structure in this country, but there is no statement about how many apprenticeships have been created. Will she confirm that the number is 150,000 fewer than in 1979 and that the document is no more than a tissue of lies that is being given to the rest of the world?

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Gentleman has used decidedly unparliamentary language about the document.

Madam Speaker

Order. Had that been the case, I would have asked the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the remark.

Miss Widdecombe

It is beyond question that the figure of 2.8 million has not merely been produced by the Government's claimant count but is the International Labour Organisation's own definition. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously saying that the International Labour Organisation has conspired with the Conservative Government to produce a figure that would specifically benefit the British unemployment rate? The figures that I have cited appear whichever measure is used.

On the subject of apprenticeships, the hon. Gentleman will be well aware of the multiplicity of training schemes, including apprenticeships. He will also be aware of our initiative on modern apprenticeships. Why has the hon. Gentleman never managed to welcome modern apprenticeships?

Mr. Brazier

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the independently collected ILO figures show that unemployment in Britain is below the EC average? Will she also confirm that the figures show that the level of employment within the available work force as a whole is now the second highest in the EC?

Miss Widdecombe

I have pleasure in confirming that we have the second highest number of people in work in the EC and that we have lower than average youth unemployment. In many other trends, particularly part-time work, we are one of the EC leaders. Will the Opposition welcome that as well?

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