§ 3.29 p.m.
Lord Bruce of Donington
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 whether they will state the reasons for the omission from the published "total unemployed" statistics of the figures relating to those who are unemployed and seeking work but who are not required to register for benefit.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, the monthly unemployment figures refer to those people who are registered at unemployment offices for the purposes of benefit. Other job seekers can be identified by random household surveys but these are only estimates. Those surveys, however, indicate that there are people who are claiming benefit but who are not actively seeking work.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that despite the fact that unemployment is continuing to rise in the United Kingdom, and is predicted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as likely to rise still further, the public figures—upon which, at any rate, certain sections of the presss rely for their headlines—show a downward trend due to what can only be described as a massaging of the figures? Is the noble Earl the Minister aware that the unemployment figures probably disclose something like 500,000 short of the true figure for unemployment based upon the old method of computation?
My Lords, I am bound to say that I am shocked to hear the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, suggest that the figures have been massaged. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that that is not so. I explained in the original Answer that these figures which are obtained are statistical figures; therefore, they have their limitations. Those people who are approached during random samples have been shown not to be actively seeking work, but nevertheless claiming benefit. They may amount to some 400,000; equally there are those who do not claim benefit but who do seek work, and their number can be about the same, so those figures cancel each other out.
The noble Lord referred to the increase in unemployment, which we all regret. But may I just tell him this: in the last 12 months the United Kingdom figure for unemployment has increased by 13 per cent.; that for Italy by 19 per cent.; for the Netherlands 30 per cent.; for Germany 32 per cent.; and for Canada 35 per cent. So our record is not worse than that of the other countries.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister give us details of the figures of those who are in employment in the United Kingdom?
My Lords, 42 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom are in work. A 557 higher proportion of the population in work appears in the United Kingdom than in any other country in Europe, other than Luxembourg and Denmark.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, as I understand it, the policy of the Government is to enhance the employment possibility, but in their endeavours to do that they say that people aged over 60 who are unemployed shall not be counted in the figures. Therefore are we to understand that if they drop that to people aged over 20 who would be out of work then Britain's creation of unemployment would be as it was under the Labour Government—full employment? Is that the absurdity of what ordinary people understand, with this callous act of the Government being nothing but a con trick?
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, will be good enough not to make interventions from a sedentary position but will enable me to answer the question, that will be a help. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that those over 60 used to have to register for national insurance credits and they were therefore added to the unemployment figure even though they may have been retired with pension. Now they do not have to do this and therefore that particular figure has been removed from the unemployment statistics.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, is the noble Earl the Minister aware that the expression used by the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, "con trick", is undoubtedly an offence under Standing Order No. 29 as to asperity, and he should be asked to withdraw it?
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, is the noble Earl the Minister aware that at paragraph 11 of the Department of Employment press notice issued on the 6th May, the department refers to the fact that certain provisions are made in the Budget, and that from April under the first provision men aged 60 or over no longer have to sign on at an unemployment benefit office to secure national insurance credit? As a result, it has been estimated that some 90,000 men may no longer have to sign on. Is the noble Earl aware that The Times, in its feature on this subject on 9th May, referred to the fact that this amount will be reflected in the next unemployment figures—published, oddly enough, on the 3rd June, six days before the general election? Does the noble Earl think that it is right to mislead the electorate at large by causing it to be presented four days before the poll with figures that do not reflect the accurate position?
My Lords, I really think that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, if I may say so with respect, is making a mountain out of a molehill. The changes in the coverage of the figures simply follow changes in administrative procedures which we have made easier for unemployed people. The effects of 558 these changes on the unemployment count are monitored openly and are fully displayed. The figure to which the noble Lord referred is the fact that in April the count was reduced by 26,400 because of men aged 60 and over moving to automatic national insurance credits—not 90,000.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that the Government are perhaps making a molehill out of a mountain?
My Lords, if by that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, means that we are not taking unemployment seriously, perhaps I can just tell him that the Government are spending some £2,000 million this year on helping the training of people under the special employment and training measures. That is a very substantial figure.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, is the noble Earl the Minister aware that the figure of 90,000 which he has challenged is taken from the press release of the Department of Employment itself—paragraph 11, on page 8? Is the noble Earl further aware that the figure I gave to the House was therefore quite correct?
My Lords, the figure I gave to the noble Lord referred to the figure I thought he was asking for—the number of people aged 60 with a pension who now do not have to call and be registered.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, the noble Earl the Minister gave certain details of the rise in unemployment in certain countries. Will he confirm that France, with its Socialist Government, has succeeded in slightly reducing the number of unemployed in that country?
My Lords, I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, that France has a smaller proportion of its people employed than in the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, the figure is 42 per cent.; in France it is only 40 per cent. If the inference of her question is that the conditions of the French Government are better than in England, I think the noble Baroness wants to have a look at what is happening in France at the moment.
Lord Paget of Northampton
My Lords, is there not another vital difference—that we have more sea oil and they have not?
My Lords, that is a fascinating difference but nothing whatever to do, with the greatest respect, with the question which is on the Order Paper.