HL Deb 20 December 1983 vol 446 cc585-9
Lord Dean of Beswick

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the annual figures since 1979 of the long-term unemployed.

Following is the table referred to:
The numbers unemployed for over 52 weeks in the United Kingdom in October each year since 1979 were as follows:
Registered unemployed
1979 357,066
1980 401,114
1981 784,636
Unemployed claimants
1982 1,029,000 (estimated)
1983 1,142,898
October each year
Registered unemployed Unemployed claimants
1979 1980 1981 1982 1983
(1) Total unemployed 1,367,639 2,062,866 2,988,644 3,049,008 3,093,998
(2) Unemployed for over 52 weeks 357,066 401,114 784,636 989.306* 1,142,898†
(3) (2) as percentage of (l) 26.1 19.4 26.3 32.4 36.9
of which:—
(4) Unemployed for over 52 and up to 104 weeks 173,747 200,356 512,719 555,322 581,151
(5) (4) as percentage of (1) 12.7 9.7 17.2 18.2 18.8
(6) Unemployed for over 104 weeks 183,319 200,758 271,917 433,984 561,747
(7) (6) as percentage of (1) 13.4 9.7 9.1 14.2 18.2
*Because of industrial action in 1981 it is estimated that this recorded figure shows a shortfall of about 40.000.
†Affected by the provisions announced in the 1983 Budget for unemployed men aged 60 and over: by October 1983 it is estimated that 122,000 in this duration group had been relieved of the need to sign on.
Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for that reply. Is he aware that, despite the predictions of the Government and those from other sources that the economy is on the upturn, these figures are continuing to rise at a considerable rate? Can the noble Earl tell the House when Her Majesty's Government expect these figures to level out and to start to move downwards?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am afraid that in modern economies there is little correlation between increased economic activity and increased levels of employment. That is true all over the western world. The principal way in which we can help the long-term unemployed, and unemployed more generally, is by tackling the underlying causes of unemployment, by setting the economy to rights and creating the conditions for growth. In the meantime, we are spending nearly £2 billion a year on schemes of special help for unemployed people who, through no fault of their business, I take the opportunity to inform the House that, with the approval of Her Majesty The Queen, I have accepted an invitation from the Speaker of the House of Representatives in New Zealand to attend the Seventh Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth Parliaments to be held in Wellington from Monday, 9th January, to Wednesday, 11th January, and to take part in a tour of New Zealand which has been arranged immediately thereafter. Accordingly, I trust that the House will agree to grant me leave of absence for Monday, 16th January and Tuesday, 17th January.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office, and Minister for the Arts (The Earl of Gowrie)

My Lords, the numbers unemployed for over 52 weeks in the United Kingdom in October this year were 1,142,898. With permission I will now circulate a table giving the figures for previous years since 1979.

their own, are caught in the machinery of an economy changing gear.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, while acknowledging that this is a question that would confront any Government of whatever political complexion, may I ask the noble Earl whether he agrees that, so far as young people are concerned, the heart of the unemployment problem has shifted from school-leavers to those aged between 18 and 25? Is he satisfied that the recent Government announcement of a target of 130,000 filled places in the community programme, which is to run, I understand, for a further two years from October 1984, is a sufficient response to the problem of the 1,140,000 people, as he has just told us, who have now been unemployed for more than 12 months, one in four of whom are aged under 25?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, it would be impossible to be fully satisfied, but I am satisfied to the degree that within available resources the community programme does a good job. I can confirm to the noble Lord that about 40 per cent. of all participants in the community programme are in the 18 to 24 age group.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, how can the noble Earl say that the health of the economy has nothing to do with the numbers of unemployed? It has a great deal to do with them.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, that is not what I said. What I said was that increased economic activity in the modern world is not necessarily reflected in the numbers of the unemployed.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, does the noble Earl not agree, especially in view of what he has just said, that the increasing and accelerating growth of technology means that there is no hope whatever of employment for large numbers of people unemployed in this country and throughout the world without a radical new approach to our employment policies? Does the noble Earl not agree that this is a challenge facing the whole western world? Unless we take up that challenge there is no hope whatever, because of the advance of technology. Cannot the Government take the initiative through the United Nations or elsewhere?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord says. Nevertheless, demographic factors and the fact that the number of people available for work at any one given period or one given decade shows fairly radical alteration must also be taken into account. What we are trying to do at the moment is to ease the special generation facing very particular problems (through no fault of their own, as I have said) into employment through training and re-training, and through other measures. In the meantime, we also have to see to the internal health of our economy and its competitiveness in world markets generally. I believe that over the next decade this will ease the situation somewhat.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, while we clearly welcome any effort the Government make to ease the problem of those who are out of work, especially young school-leavers and others, is it not the case that the argument between the political parties and, indeed, the argument within the Conservative Party itself is that the time has come for the Government to stimulate the economy? Temporary expedients, such as finding something for young people to do for 12 months, are no alternative to, or substitute for, a job which has prospects. Therefore, will the noble Earl apply his mind to the problem which has been put so clearly by Mr. Edward Heath, Sir Ian Gilmour, Mr. Francis Pym, and others of his right honourable friends—namely, that the time has now come for the Government to take a clear step to stimulate the economy by building roads and houses and other parts of our infrastructure so that people can get a permanent job?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I do not consider that the spending of £2 billion of public money on training schemes, community programme schemes and the like, are temporary expedients. That is a great earnest of the Government's commitment in this area. I am in no sense against the stimulation of the economy so long as it is recognised that it must be paid for in terms of things which can deflate the economy such as higher rates of interest or higher taxation. I also have the personal experience of having worked in Northern Ireland where enormous sums of public money, have been spent by successive Governments over the years and are still being spent. If the noble Lord's analysis were right, Northern Ireland would now be one of the more prosperous parts of the British economy.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, will my noble friend not agree that there is a lesson about long-term unemployment buried in today's news from the Scott Lithgow yard on the Clyde?

The Earl of Gowrie

Yes, my Lords.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, will not my noble friend agree that the trends in total unemployment in the past four months have been surprisingly encouraging considering that the economy has only recently turned upwards in Britain, and Britain has only recently become competitive and started to regain market share? Will my noble friend agree that this is perhaps because we live in an age of change and the new jobs are coming in new industries in small numbers at a time, while the old industries continue to decline and catch the news headlines?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that it is encouraging that the overall trend in the rise of the numbers of unemployed has stabilised consistently over the past four months, and that bears witness to the truth of a great deal of what he has said. Nevertheless, of course the numbers are too high. The individual tragedies involved cannot be underestimated, and that is why the Government are spending the amount of money that they are on the special programmes and other schemes that I have mentioned. I also agree with my noble friend that it is very important for us in Parliament to give clear signals to this political economy that future employment levels will come in smaller batches than we have known since the war.

Lord Blyton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the basic philosophy of capitalism in my lifetime has always been to have an unemployed market so as to keep the men quiet for fear that their jobs will be taken? Is this not a continuation of a capitalist economic policy?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, it is at least interesting to look at the very severe unemployment problems that exist in the non-capitalist economies such as China and Soviet Russia.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, in view of the Minister's comment on Northern Ireland, will the Minister review the position of the Northern Ireland Economic Council's report which stated that the level of public spending reflects the degree of economic activity? If there had not been public spending in Northern Ireland to the degree that there has, would the noble Earl agree that the position would now be even worse?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I do not disagree with that analysis at all. What I was trying to deal with by way of illustration was the simple fact that if large sums injected into the economy, in terms of public spending, could correct the economy, then Northern Ireland would have a pretty healthy economy.

Lord Alport

My Lords, will my noble friend consider, from the Government's point of view, that there might be advantage in dealing with this problem by using not purely the material and financial yardstick by which to judge it, but sometimes to judge it by the human consequences which employment brings on the people of this country?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, that is precisely why levels of taxation in this country are already high—too high in my view—so that those of us who are fortunate enough to be in employment can make a contribution towards the plight of the unemployed.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I know that the noble Earl must be aware that a large number of the people who are unemployed were formerly employed in the public sector. Therefore, will he urge Her Majesty's Government to respond to the overtures of both the CBI and the trade union movement—the TUC—to reflate the public sector in order to get jobs moving in that sector and get these appalling unemployment figures moving downwards?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am most happy to take that point on board so long as the noble Lord, for his part, also looks into the employment consequences of higher rates of interest, higher taxation and higher rates of inflation.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government training schemes, to which he referred, will also cater for octogenarians, many of whom find it impossible to get a job or to live on their pensions?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, the very fact that the noble Lord is able to put that question to me shows that he is usefully employed.

Lord Seebohm

My Lords, will the noble Earl agree that considerable sums are now being received—

Noble Lords

Order, Order!

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the next Question has been called. We have had a good run on Lord Dean's Question, so perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, will let us move on.