HL Deb 23 January 1975 vol 356 cc256-62

5 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment. His own words are these:

"As I informed the House on 13th January, the dispute which has pre vented the compilation of unemployment figures for December and for the scheduled date this month has been settled. Figures for future months should become available at the usual times. I promised to consider whether it would be possible to make an approximate estimate of the current level of unemployment and I now have this estimate.

"Last Monday, 20th January, the level of unemployment in Great Britain is estimated to have been about 742,000, an increase of 121,000 since the count last November. Of course, I do not minimise the seriousness of these figures, but part of this increase is what would normally be expected at this time of the year owing to seasonal factors. The increase since November in the seasonally adjusted level, excluding school leavers and adult students, was approximately 67,000.

"Further details of the estimates, including regional figures, are being issued by my Department and I have arranged for a copy of the Press release to be placed in the Library."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.


My Lords, from these Benches we should like to thank the noble Lord for his detailed and informative Statement, but he may be able to settle one or two points that arise in our minds at this time as a result of these figures. First, according to some of the calculations we have been able to make, the rise in the total number of unemployed in Great Britain since the last figures were available from the Department of Employment is of the order of 121,000, which we believe is about 22 per cent. up, and is about 19 per cent. up on the corresponding figures for January 1974, which of course covered the worst problems of the three-day week. We consider that these figures are serious and would welcome any further comments that the Minister can make.

Another point that concerns us is whether the Government have any plans to alleviate unemployment by fostering and increasing business confidence and willingness to invest in British industry at this time. Have the Government any further plans to nurture and foster industrial investment? In spite of past statements we should be grateful for any information on this subject.

Thirdly, have the Government any further plans to step up the retraining of unemployed people and various workpeople who may lose their jobs through the advance in technology? I should like to draw to the attention of the Minister a statement made by Mr. Clive Jenkins on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday, 12th January, when he said that many more efforts should be made to re-train workers who, for one reason or another, lost their jobs.

Finally, can the Government comment on the statement made by Sir Denis Barnes who, I am sure the Minister is aware, is Chairman of the Manpower Services Commission. I understand that he said as recently as last Tuesday that the employment situation is currently showing signs of deterioration and that in his opinion there could be a total of over 1 million workless people by the end of 1975, although he thought that to forecast a figure of that magnitude by March was a little too gloomy. We do not wish to burden the Minister with any further questions at this time, but we should be grateful if he could say something on the points I have raised.


My Lords, from these Benches we should also like to thank the Government for having repeated this Statement in this House. We naturally deplore the increase in unemployment to which the Statement refers. I should like first to follow up what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, regarding the importance of training in this situation. If at any time a man cannot work, then the next best thing is for him to be able to prepare himself for a job in the occupation in which he is then likely to gain employment. We should very much welcome any undertaking that the Government are able to give, or any consideration they are willing to give to the possibility of the existing facilities in Government training centres and elsewhere being extended to cover this point in the very difficult employment situation in which we now find ourselves, and the even more serious employment situation which may shortly be upon us.

Secondly, I should like to ask a question relating to short-time working. There is no reference in this Statement to the effect on employment of current short-time working in industry, and therefore I should like to ask whether the Government can give any information as to the extent to which there is this hidden unemployment to which short-time working gives rise.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lords, Lord Lyell and Lord Rochester, for the way in which they have received this, I am afraid, rather gloomy Statement, but as the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, has said, at least it has the merit that it was not nearly so bad as the more gloomy of the pundits had predicted.

On the subject of investment, and also in reference to what Sir Denis Barnes said, I would draw the attention of your Lordships to the statements which have been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which he stated quite clearly that it is no part of the Government's policy to allow unemployment to be a factor in dealing with the situation, and it will remain the principal part of Government policy to make certain that unemployment does not reach what would be regarded as unacceptable levels. If anyone should wish to ask me to define my contention of an "unacceptable level" I do not propose to do so; I suppose we all have our own ideas on that.

On the subject of retraining, the Government are considering urgently the proposals on job creations which have been put forward by the Manpower Services Commission and they will be discussing these with the Commission as soon as possible. There is of course a range of measures which the Government might take in the event of high unemployment, and the job creation scheme to which the Manpower Services Commission has referred is obviously one of these.

Also on the subject of retraining, raised by both noble Lords, the Government are in favour of people taking training to enable them to get new jobs instead of remaining unemployed, and I can say quite definitely that if the Manpower Services Commission ask for more resources to expand training in the event of higher unemployment the Government will certainly consider any such proposals very seriously.

The final point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, was on the question of short-time working. From the way in which the noble Lord framed his question, I think he is aware that temporarily unemployed people have for some time now been excluded from the unemployment figures; and because of the circumstances which have compelled an estimate to be made of these figures I am afraid I could not give him any indication. I will however make inquiries in order to find out whether there is any way of ascertaining at this time what is short-time working. One knows of quite a number of places where the three-day week, and even, I believe, the two-day week, is temporarily in operation. If it is possible to get that information, I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, on that point. If the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, also wishes for the figures, I would be happy to send him a copy of the letter.


My Lords, I never thought that the overall figures for Britain were really very valuable. They may mask different situations in different parts of the country. We may well find in the figures that there is a serious situation in, perhaps, the North-East or the North-West, and that the gross over-employment existing in certain parts of the South-East still continues. Moreover, we know that in the figure of 700,000, there are several hundred thousand unemployables, and several hundred thousand others who are mentally, physically, or by inclination not suitable for work. So really, the overall figure for the British Isles, in my opinion, is completely meaningless. Unless these things can be broken down, I do not think they ought to be taken as showing a serious or a non-serious situation.


My Lords, I appreciate that obviously within these figures there will be people who fall into both the categories mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. However, I think we would be risking a series of strikes among the people concerned with taking these counts if they themselves had to undertake the invidious task of deciding, among other things, who was mentally and physically incapable of taking employment.


My Lords, quite apart from the point raised by the noble Lord opposite, I am sure he would agree that the overall figure in itself is no true indication of the employment situation at any particular moment. In fact, it is utterly misleading. I would be grateful if it were possible to give a breakdown of those figures which show the number of people who had been unemployed for a period of a month, two months, three months or six months, so that the House will have some indication as to what is the true trend of the employment situation. If that could be done, I am sure it would be far more illuminating than just giving a figure for unemployment at this moment.


My Lords, in the normal course of events when the figures are available and can be examined, it is possible to do it in this way. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Peddie would wish to ask that question next month when we are dealing with the figures in the normal way. To attempt to do it on these figures in the way he put forward, when the basic figure given is, in itself, merely an estimate—as reliable an estimate as can be achieved; it is not just a figure plucked out of the air, but is based on a count, but without all the refinements which normally take place to make the figures as meaningful as possible—would be of very little value. But in the normal course of events, Yes, I agree. I will pass the request to my right honourable friend.


My Lords, having regard to the fact that the original Statement contained the word "estimate" and the last answer of the noble Lord underlined the fact that, due to the unfortunate dispute which we had this month (and which has now been settled), this is an estimate and not a figure or figures, can he tell us when we will have confirmed the figures for this month?


My Lords, I am not quite certain whether in fact it was intended to do so, but it could be possible. I think the reason why this Statement has been given was because in another place there was anxiety to get something as quickly as possible. Perhaps I might explain how the figures are dealt with, because I myself was interested to know why, if there was a count, the figure still remained an estimate.

This is the position, as I was informed. On a particular Monday in a month, a count is made of all those who are unemployed. That count indicates the position not, as my noble friend said, at a particular moment, but on a particular day. It is adjusted in the course of the succeeding week (before the figures then are compiled) by taking into account those who it becomes known later in the week are in fact unemployed, but who have not registered as being unemployed on the actual day of the count. Someone might have been displaced on the Friday; he might spend the Monday looking for a job in places where he might think he can get one, but fail. He then goes to register as unemployed, perhaps, on the Tuesday or Wednesday.

It has been felt by the Department for a considerable time that it would be quite false to exclude these when the statement was actually issued. So the numbers of the count on Monday are increased by those known to have become unemployed during the days that follow. At the same time, the figure is diminished by those known to have taken up employment within the same short period. We then get the figure which is accepted, as near as may be, as the reliable statement of those who are unemployed at that time. We know definitely the count which was available on the Monday, but the normal refine- ments are not available which would make this a strictly comparable figure with those issued at other times. That is why it remains an estimate. I would suggest to my right honourable friend that if these refinements have been taken, if the refined figures are available, then a Statement should be made about them.


My Lords, a local manufacturer tells me that if he applies to the local labour exchange for someone to work in his factory, somebody comes along, works for three days and then goes back again, because he is one of those who has no inclination for work. Will such a person be included in the figures or not?


My Lords, if that person happens to be unemployed on the day when the count is taken, Yes, he will be included in the figures. A person is regarded as being temporarily unemployed and is excluded from the figure if, for some reason, he has been laid off by his employer for a brief period but has a job to return to. That is why people on part-time working are excluded, but, of course, the man who takes a job and then leaves it is unemployed. It will depend entirely on how frequently he flits in and out of employment. If he were unemployed on the Monday, if he took the job referred to by the noble Lord on Tuesday and was unemployed again on the Wednesday, or, perhaps, reemployed by someone else on the Friday, he probably would be counted as unemployed in those circumstances. I can almost understand how these firms have difficulties if I thought the country were infested with too many people like that.


My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister clarify the position with regard to women who work on twilight shifts, and on the shift system? Are they included in any of the figures? From what he has just said, I presume they are not included in the unemployment figures; would they be included in the employment figures?


My Lords, I regret that the only question to which I have no conceivable answer should have come from my noble friend. I will endeavour to find out the answer, and pass it to her in due course.

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