HL Deb 14 July 1981 vol 422 cc1118-20

2.52 p.m.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will now adopt a policy to rid the nation of the spectre of unemployment based on the recent proposals enunciated by the right honourable Michael Foot, Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (The Earl of Gowrie)

My Lords, the Government are determined to provide a lasting solution to unemployment by persevering in our efforts to create a stable economic and financial climate, where more resources may be released for industry to generate wealth and jobs, and by giving substantial aid to individuals and industries caught in the painful machinery of an economy changing gear. This solution cannot be achieved by the proposals put forward by the Leader of the Opposition. The proposals include a substantial increase in public expenditure, financed by increased borrowing, which could not be reconciled with the lower interest rates which the right honourable gentleman has promised simultaneously.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that very brave and courageous reply, which is about as far from the truth as Sydney is from London; but it was not a bad effort. What some noble Peers will do for their party is amazing! Does not the noble Earl realise that the policies of the present Government are debasing the conditions of life for millions of our fellow countrymen, and that if the Government pursue such policies that will continue to be the effect? Is the noble Earl really not aware of the horrible social tensions that this policy has created? Is he not aware that there is a smell of decay throughout this island—

Several noble Lords


Lord Molloy

It is a a good one, too, my Lords. Outraged unemployed youth is reacting. Do the Government know that silent degradation will produce no response, and that the only way to overcome all these problems is at least to follow some of the proposals of the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition?—which I believe both sides of industry and all thinking men would approve. Should not the Government at least consider that?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, as an employment Minister, and, if I may say so, a bigger spending Minister than I should like to be, I am well aware of the high costs of social problems in our economy. That is why I should like a more competitive and more wealthy economy, in order to be able to distribute the money. With regard to the points about the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, I would say that it is quite fair and right to put forward alternative policies, but it is not fair nor is it right to try to put forward alternative arithmetic.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the "recent proposals" referred to in the Question are really the old proposals which, when the present Opposition were in Government, resulted in 1½, million unemployed, with the figure rising? That was at a time before the world depression which has made things so much more difficult.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, it is certainly true that, when the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition last held high office, unemployment doubled, and he and his Government were in the hands of international creditors, in the form of the International Monetary Fund, within 19 months.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, can the noble Lord help us as to what would be the effect on the unemployment figures if the defence policies of Her Majesty's Opposition were adopted?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I think that the effect would be fairly devastating indeed, and I take the point that the noble Lord makes.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Earl really saying to the House that there are no alternatives to the policies now being followed by Her Majesty's Government? Is he aware that judged by every criterion enunciated by the Government themselves, the policies of the Government have been an abysmal failure? Is he also aware that that feeling is not confined to this side of the House, but that even within his own party there is a feeling, which has recently been articulated, that the policies are disastrous? If the noble Earl is unable to say that the Government themselves are at any rate considering some alternative policy, will he take the decent course of handing in the seals of office before the Recess?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I do not think that that was a very helpful supplementary question. The noble Lord asked me what I thought. I must confess that I have always been an agnostic about policies. What I find is that the intractable arithmetic of a trading economy in a world recession cannot be easily bucked. No matter how painful it may be, one must secure a more competitive economy which can trade more evenly with its overseas competitors, in order to be able to restore the levels of social spending that this economy appears to demand.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are several of us on this side of the House who would like to spend more on this and that, but then we find that ultimately the money has to come from somewhere, and does not grow on trees? To think that money does grow on trees results only in printing money, creating far worse unemployment, and finally in going the way of the Weimar Republic. Furthermore, is my noble friend aware that the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, is very similar to asking Saladin, instead of Richard I, to join in the siege of Acre?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend in both his agricultural and historical metaphors.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that if next week we could return to the level of unemployment and the rate of inflation left by the Labour Government to the incoming Government, that would mean a massive improvement in the economic situation of the country? That is what that would mean. Bearing in mind that there now seems to be a permanent crisis which is creating bewilderment for people on both sides of industry, does not the noble Earl realise that, while perhaps he cannot go all the way in accepting the proposals enunciated by the Leader of the Opposition, there are people on both sides of industry, in all walks of life, who believe that something along those lines should now be adopted before our nation gets deeper and deeper into the Slough of Despond created by the Tory Government?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I really feel that the noble Lord must be a little more analytical. Successive Governments of various political persuasions have seen unemployment rise during their tenure of office. The sad fact of the matter is that Governments do not create very much employment. The success or failure of an economy determines employment. We are trying to establish the conditions in which the economy can become more successful.

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