HC Deb 17 May 1994 vol 243 cc658-9
2. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what new proposals he has to improve the accuracy of employment statistics.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Michael Forsyth)

Government statisticians have taken a number of initiatives in recent years, but I am not aware of any new proposals.

Mr. Flynn

Does the Minister recall that at the last Employment Question Time, in answer to a similar question, I was told that the Minister agreed with paragraph 78 of the Select Committee's report of 10 February which concerned my question, as though every hon. Member could be expected to know every sentence of every paragraph of every Select Committee report? Will the Minister lead by example today and tell me whether he agrees with the final sentence of paragraph 112 of the same report?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman knows the answer to that question as well as I do.

Sir Donald Thompson

Does my hon. Friend agree that when there are more people unemployed there are more people on the register and when there are fewer people unemployed there are fewer people on the register, that that is an accurate reflection and that ours are by far the best figures in Europe?

Mr. Forsyth

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The good news is that, however we measure unemployment, it is falling in Europe in only one other country apart from the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has led the way because of the success of the supply side reforms that the Government have carried out, though not always with the support of Opposition Members.

Mr. Barron

Will the Minister confirm that his Department's labour force survey shows that the total number of people who want a job is really 5 million if one uses a four-week test? In view of the difference between that view and the official claimant counts which are published on a monthly basis, is the Minister prepared to co-operate fully with the inquiry set up by the president of the Royal Statistical Society and to agree, as Labour will, with the recommendations so that we can have a fair account of unemployment in this country rather than the fiddled figures that we get each month?

Mr. Forsyth

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman should take that view. He will know that we measure unemployment in two ways. The first relates to people claiming benefit, which is the unemployment count. The other is the internationally recognised International Labour Organisation definition. Both figures are broadly the same. If the hon. Gentleman is going to talk about 5 million unemployed, I wonder whether that is official Opposition policy. In the unlikely event of a Labour Government, are they likely to be announcing on their first day in office that there are 5 million unemployed? I think not. Other Opposition Members have accepted the ILO figures. It would be better to recognise that the figures are correct and to concentrate on the good news that unemployment is falling.

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