HC Deb 26 June 1997 vol 296 cc971-2
5. Mr. Forth

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will pay the jobseeker's allowance to all those people unemployed and seeking work, according to the labour force survey definition. [4094]

Mr. Andrew Smith

No. The jobseeker's allowance is payable to people who meet certain conditions that are set down in law—the right hon. Gentleman had a part in that. Some of the people who are classified as unemployed under the labour force survey definition would not meet those conditions.

Mr. Forth

Will the Minister give the House an undertaking that, should there be a review of the methodology for calculating and publishing the unemployment figures, whatever the result of that review, full benefit will be paid through the jobseeker's allowance to everyone who is declared to be unemployed?

Mr. Smith

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, a review is being carried out by the Office for National Statistics. I thought that there was agreement by the Opposition as well as by the Government that it should pay more attention to the labour force survey. I trust that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me that benefits should go to those who need them most.

Mr. Ernie Ross

May I suggest that my right hon. Friend ignores any advice from the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who, when he had this responsibility, participated in the 23 fiddles to reduce the claimant count? When he gave evidence to the Select Committee on Education and Employment, he was 100 per cent. opposed to using the labour force survey to determine how many people were looking for work.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend is entirely right to contrast the Government's consistency with the Opposition's inconsistency. The important thing about the review is that it is conducted at arm's length from government, so that we re-establish public confidence in the credibility and trustworthiness of official statistics. The statistics will not be politically manipulated by us as they were by the previous Government.

Mr. Keith Simpson

ay I take the Minister up on his use of the word "consistency"? To help in his quest for funds for unemployment, has he made any representations to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the privatisation of air traffic control?

Mr. Smith

I am not sure how that matter falls within the definition of "official statistics". We have been consistent on that, as on all the other matters in our election manifesto. Unlike Conservative Members, when we promise a fair and impartial review of official statistics that is conducted at arm's length from government, we deliver our promise, whereas the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends broke theirs.

Mr. Sanders

If the Conservatives fiddled the unemployment figures, why does not the Minister simply reverse the changes that they made?

Mr. Smith

Because it is important to re-establish public confidence in the statistics and methodology. That must not be done on a party political basis. We must decide together and try to find a consensus on the statistics that can command public confidence. That is what we need, not just for the purposes of the Government but for wider use by the economic community and the public.