HL Deb 28 November 1984 vol 457 cc927-45

4.51 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, to continue Lord Balfour's debate on unemployment, I want to say straight away what bad luck the Government had in having the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, come here this afternoon to make his appalling and anaemic Statement, which can be so dangerous for the issues we are discussing and which was rightly roughed-up by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. I listened carefully to that little debate inside this debate. Either the Government are being foolish or they do not understand the proportions of what is happening to our country because of unemployment.

In that Statement the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, had to dwell on waste. What a neck for this Government to talk about anybody wasting anything when they are guilty of the criminal act of wasting four million of my fellow countrymen who could be making a substantial contribution but who are unemployed! They rightly say that they are appalled at the number of unemployed. They said that this year, they said it last year, they said it the year before that and they said it the year before that. too. All we have had is different characters coming to the Dispatch Box. wringing their hands and saying how terribly upset they are about this unemployment, and that they intend to do something about it. And they have: they have increased it! They have made it worse. That is what the country must understand.

It is difficult for the country to really understand it, with the appallingly biased press that we have in this nation, which seems to think that the present Government cannot do any harm whatsoever when in point of fact they are the worst Government we have had since the war. When the noble Lord. Lord Balfour, talks about the problems of unemployment for those in a particular age group and for those in a particular economic set-up, do the Government not realise that it stretches right across? There are young folk who have never had a job in their lives. There are skilled artisans who had 10 years left in them to contribute to our nation but who were flung out of work. It goes across the whole lot. There is not much difference, except in one aspect to which I shall refer later.

Unemployment is the most deeply harmful and dangerous of all social tensions, as the right reverend Prelate has indicated a number of times in this House—and I am glad to support him. At the conclusion of what I have to say I shall return to a theme about which I have been talking for the last three or four years. I have to do so. If I do not stick to what I have been saying about how unemployment can be conquered, then either I have not been speaking the truth or I have been guilty of submitting a false prospectus, unless there has been some good reason to change my mind. But there has been no good reason whatsoever.

The Government have been patently, totally and absolutely hopeless over the past four years in trying to cure this, because they are so doctrinaire. Only reluctantly did they give up the dreadful policy called monetarism, which they imposed on this country. They knew full well what it had done to states like Israel and some states in South America. They knew that it had lacerated them. In the state of Israel, when you buy a pound of potatoes, by the time the last potato has gone on the scales inflation has increased by 3 or 4 per cent.

The person who dictated this to our Prime Minister and our Government is someone we ought to take care of. I would never accept that we have not got enough brainy and intelligent people in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland who can indicate the way we ought to go. and run our great industries, so that we have to run to foreign countries and import some of their elderly gentlemen, and take cognisance of other philosophies which have done no good whatsoever.

On the question of social tension, what I would reiterate is that being unemployed does not simply mean a person being out of work. If he is a married man with a couple of children, the tensions of unemployment go through the family. Some of us have gone through it all before. My father was a skilled engineer. I witnessed family rows because he had come in at half past eight after traipsing around the docks of Swansea or Cardiff, only to be told by my mother that she had heard that a few men were being taken on up in the Rhondda, working the machinery in the pits, and she wondered why he was not there. He said, "I did not think. Nobody told me". I beg your Lordships to listen to this: the children were sitting silently, watching the row between their mother and father, and the basic reason was unemployment.

I regret to have to say that one of the contributors to our discovering the answer to unemployment was Adolf Hitler, aided by Benito Mussolini. If this Government cannot find another way, they can make one massive contribution: move out and let someone else have a try. The social tensions now are enormous. I travel all over the country, speaking in universities and technical colleges to groups of young people, sometimes getting all the abuse in the world hurled at me when I even defend the Government by saying they are doing their best. Their best is not good enough.

We do not want to be standing in queues becoming what we call dole paupers. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, mentioned that it is a waste. Of course it is a waste. I can remember the time in the dole queue—which we took three hours to walk through—when there would be miners, steelworkers, navvies, bachelors of science and masters of arts. They were all there. Then, as in this day and age of 1984, the only thing they shared was the scrap heap.

My nation is not going to survive unless something is done. There was very little confidence in our country in the 1930s. There is a great possibility of people having confidence sapped from them in my country today. I can remember Aneurin Bevan—it is there to read in his book. In Place of Fea —saying that the fear of unemployment was not that you could not get money to buy things, but the rows within families, the rows between one set of workers and another.

I have seen men lined up on the docks and the foreman walking along—I do not know whether they do it in Liverpool now—and having a look. I never stood much of a chance, I was too small. You had to be a big bloke of about six foot, because they could probably get more out of you. That was Great Britain in 1937 and 1938. Of course in 1939 the then Government did not care two pins how big I was, as long as I was capable of holding a gun.

The youth of today in Liverpool, Cardiff, Glasgow and London are not going to be as docile as we were. This is what we have to understand. There is an infamous link, a creeping industrial cancer, between some of the Government's activities, their obsession with privatisation, and unemployment.

How on earth can we not get excited when we realise that it is four o'clock on this afternoon in this ancient Chamber and there are a few thousand doctors, a few thousand nurses, midwives and ward ancillaries also on the dole? Some of them have been shoved out because private entrepreneurs have taken over and they have such a big love for the hospital that they want to clean, provided there is a big profit at the end. Nurses and doctors do not calculate their overtime because to them the patient is the most important person, and their reward for that sort of attitude has been to get the sack. It does not give me much pleasure to say this sort of thing, but I want to see my nation lift itself above this terrible problem.

In the field of taxation there is the taxpayer Jekyll, who is pleased and proud of his country which provides old age pensions, widows' pensions and service pensions and provides a health service, education and so on. But then there is the awful bloke Hyde, who resents paying the bill and supports all the cuts and reductions in the state's duty and responsibility which the Government advocate.

It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has said, that there are also other personal disadvantages of which it behoves us to take full cognisance, particularly those of the long-term unemployed. They are unfortunate, but they are human and as British as I am, even if they have low intelligence, if they have a lack of intellectual ability or some illness which prevents them from doing any sort of work, if they are disabled or if they are old. I am proud to be the president of the largest group of branches of the Royal British Legion, the metropolitan group. It hurt me a few Sundays ago when I was taking the salute in Middlesex to know that the chaps walking past with their medals clinking had been to see me to see whether there was any chance of them getting a job because they had been sacked from Hoover's and from other firms. As they said, in these days one does not get the sack but is made redundant. That hurt me. I cannot understand why the Government do not say that they have tried every mortal thing that is possible within the Conservative book of rules and they have all failed. Why do they not try something else. There are some other things which could be tried which will overcome the fact that someone might be unemployed for a long time because of where he lives or because of his trade or profession. There is a way in which we can overcome that and we have done it.

Speaking parenthetically, I get a little angry when I hear the pathos and the bathos from the other side of the Chamber and in the other place about everybody's concern for the unemployed. They all want to help the unemployed but no one was prepared to agree to my little Bill for concessionary fares so that when a chap in Fulham thinks that he might get a job in the London docks he does not have to wonder, "Is it worth my trying because by the time I get there and back the fare will have made a hole in the ten quid of my dole?" That probably happens in Liverpool and Birmingham. I know it happens in Cardiff and Swansea and in some parts of London. We were not big enough to hold out the hand, even if not of compassion, of practical assistance so that if one person got a job that would be one family which could celebrate.

I have said before and want to say again that I do not change my views. Having gone through the terrible threat that my country survived in the middle 1930s which ended with the Nazi menace against which at one time we stood alone, I believe we have to have those sort of guts again. We are not being given a lead by our present Government. They are afraid of the solution that was provided in 1937 and 1938 through the economic philosophies of Kenneth Galbraith and Maynard Keynes, which were accepted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when the Americans had such a massive unemployment what it makes ours now, as it did then, look almost negligible. They overcame it and one motto Galbraith, the Scots Canadian, nailed to his mast. Simply put, it was "spend and prosper".

We all know that in those days wonderful town halls, marvellous buildings and some brand new lovely roads were created by the construction industry. There are very wealthy firms in the big construction industries such as Cementation, who found the route of recovery for their industry in the philosophy of spend and prosper. The Government said then, "We will build houses for the homeless, new town halls and new hospitals". Hospitals are now falling down today and tens of thousands of men in the construction industry are unemployed.

In conclusion, I believe that we need a big, courageous plan to mobilise the talents of this nation—to march together: the unions, the great captains of industry, the men of practical knowledge and their entrepreneurial staff, men who travel the world to gain orders for this country and the workmen who must now work as hard as they possibly can to fulfil those orders to restore the world's confidence in this nation. We have nothing to lose except our own shame and frustration at having so many of the skilful men of Britain unemployed.

I sit down with the words that there is everything and all to gain. There would be more taxes paid, which would please any Chancellor of the Exchequer. If we could get them all back to work there would be an increase in productivity. What is wrong with that? There would be an increase in the morale of a great many of our fellow Britons and perhaps, above all, with the bold plan that I have only had time to adumbrate and outline, there would be not only an increase in morale but the unemployed would receive the most valued gift, to them as it is to me: they would have their self respect restored.

5.7 p.m.

Lord MeAlpine of West Green

My Lords, in the United States during the last 10 years some 9 million jobs have been created. Most of these new jobs have been in the service industries. Here in Britain, too, service sector employment has been rising steadily for two years, with more than 400,000 new service jobs since 1982. While jobs in manufacturing have declined, and probably will continue to decline, clearly the service sector provides us with substantial opportunities.

Yet here we come upon a problem. For some perverse and unfathomable reason there is a strong prejudice against service jobs. They are supposed to be not as worthy or so valuable as manufacturing jobs. A howl of rage goes up when our balance of trade in manufacturers is in deficit, while the critics tend to ignore the fact that our balance of trade in services is in just as strong a surplus.

I have never understood why it is supposed to be better to be a manufacturer of Carmen curlers than it is to be a hairdresser using them. People are proud to be a car manufacturer, but are hesitant about car salesmen. The prejudice against service sector jobs is strong and insistent. Yet as the wealth of those in work grows, as it has, so the opportunities for new jobs in the service sector also grow—in catering, tourism, entertainment and leisure, or even in hairdressing and among second-hand car salesmen. These are all real jobs and every bit as valuable as any job in manufacturing.

It is particularly the elderly unemployed who can benefit from such opportunities. They have a lifetime of working experience behind them and are ideally suited to fulfil service sector vacancies, where success is based not just on training or operating machinery, but also on the ability to respond personally and sensibly to an individual customer's needs. Experience can be much more valuable than youthful vigour or physical strength. The possibilities are tremendous.

Let me take one current example; that of Battersea power station. As a power station it employed approximately 125 people. Converted into an industrial estate, it could employ some 600 people. But as a fun centre it will employ 6,000 people and require no special Government subsidies.

The challenge for Government today is not to spend vast sums of money in an attempt to buy our way out of unemployment. I do not believe that unemployment in the long term is any more responsive to cheque book solutions today than it was in previous Governments. Employment schemes, of course, can and do help, but clearly they are not enough, either.

What is required is a commitment from the Government on two fronts. First, they must stamp out the prejudice in their own thinking about service jobs, which actively hinders their creation; and, secondly they must apply their energies and ambitions to moving the barriers within the Civil Service to job creation in the service sector. This is easier said than done, perhaps. Decision makers in the Civil Service are subjected to all sorts of pressures—not only to create new jobs, but also to preserve the environment, enforce planning codes, conserve the neighbourhood, protect those already in work, and to take heed of the various race and sex equality codes.

But, put at its simplest, the priority today must be in favour of job creation. I am not against conservation, preserving the environment, planning codes, employment codes and other similar considerations, but I do not value them above the creation of jobs. We can restore hope and a sense of dignity to the unemployed through the creation of new jobs, and we must. Our present set of administrative rules and regulations was largely developed in the heyday of manufacturing, when large industrial conglomerates employed tens of thousands of people. Today the employment world has changed, and its industrial units may employ just a handful. But the rules and regulations have not kept pace with such changes. It is all too easy for those in secure jobs, such as civil servants and administrators—and even Ministers—to delay and prevaricate while they consider all the traditional pressures in all the traditional ways—all at the expense of jobs. Delays in such circumstances are little short of malicious. While those in jobs delay, those out of jobs are robbed of hope.

There are times for caution and there are times for action and imagination. When I tell my noble friend Lord Belstead that there is one development in this city offering some 2,000 man-years of work which was given outline planning approval 16 years ago and yet is still under appeal, then, clearly, the time for caution has run out.

The rules need changing and adapting to a new era of service industries. The delays and barriers need removing and the attitudes of our administrators need bringing up to date. The prejudice which says that we should prop up traditional manufacturing jobs rather than promoting new service jobs must be done away with.

I am gratified to see the progress already made by the Government. I am encouraging them to further action, rather than criticising them for lack of it, and I noted with considerable satisfaction that the new regional policy rules referred to in the Statement from another place this afternoon went some way towards removing the bias against jobs in the service sector. But I ask my noble friend Lord Young to use his energies and imagination to ensure that priority is given to speed decision-making whenever the possibility of creating new jobs arises.

My Lords, we must give priority to job creation if we are serious about tackling unemployment. There is no easy answer to unemployment, and there can be no easy excuses if we allow bureaucracy to get in the way of new jobs.

5.13 p.m.

Lord Roberthall

My Lords, during the fourth day of the debate on the Address, almost all the speakers spoke about unemployment and the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, has put down his name for another general debate on 12th December. I think that we must get used to this. I think it is right that we should go on talking about unemployment, even if we have to say the same things over and over again, simply because it is the major problem at the moment. But I was glad to read the Motion put down by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, because he was concentrating on a particular aspect of the subject, and I think that, when there are between 3 million and 4 million unemployed it is very good for us to have to think sometimes about particular people because we become bewildered by figures of 3 million or 4 million unemployed. We forget that each of them is an individual and each has his special problems.

A good indication of the pressure to talk about this problem has arisen this afternoon, because not only did the Statement on the regions develop into a debate on unemployment, but most of the speakers in this particular debate have wandered far away from the subject put down by the noble Lord—and I do not envy the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in winding up. I have forgotten the definition of "latitudinarianism", but there was an element of that (shall I say?) in the right reverend Prelate covering the whole waterfront. The indignation of the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, who is so eloquent on this issue, certainly burst all bounds, and although the noble Lord, Lord McAlpine, made a very interesting speech, I think that it was not one that would much help the particular problem.

What I am going to try to say is that this is the worst of all the problems that we are facing. It is a new problem. During the period when full employment was a high priority there was constant unemployment. Firms were closing down, industries were changing and people were coming out of work; but because of the high level of employment there was, broadly speaking, no difficulty, except perhaps in the development areas, in their getting other jobs. I remember that when I was mainly concerned with advising the Government about this there was always an outcry if a firm closed down and there were a lot of redundancies because in those days unemployment was thought to be the thing which would bring down any Government. But if one waited a couple of months and then went back to the place, one found that everybody had a job. In those circumstances the skills and abilities that they had were preserved because the period between when they lost their job and when they got another one still kept them in the running and it was not difficult in that case for them to make the adaptations that would be required by some other job.

But in the last four years the situation has changed entirely because of the growth of unemployment. What is happening now happened very little before. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, and the right reverend Prelate used very eloquent words for what is happening, which is the rusting away of the skills of a section of the community. And that rusting away is going to continue.

Why I say that it is such a bad problem is that, although the Government virtually say that they cannot do anything about unemployment and that the control of inflation is the high priority, and therefore the deduction (as I said in the debate on the Address) is that we are in for high unemployment for a long time, the body of opinion on this side of the House thinks that there is something that can be done about it. We have made a number of proposals—which have been constantly referred to, and I shall not go into them again—about the desirability of work starting on all the infrastructure jobs which need to be done; jobs on housing, roads, sewers, water supply, and so on. But, my Lords, if that were to be done, it would not help the people whom we are talking about today. That is because there are now out of work so many people who left their jobs more recently. Therefore the competition for any jobs that arise due to general measures would preclude those measures from helping the people we are talking about, those whose skills, as I have said, have rusted. And nobody is going to use a rusty part if there is one that is not so rusty.

I come back to the central point that I want to make today. That is that if anything is to be done for these people, it will have to be done by special measures directed to their particular problem; and that gives us an indication of how hard it is. In this context I looked at the speech that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, made during the debate on the Address, when he very elegantly diagnosed the problem. He was referring to the problem of the long-term unemployed and he put the figure of those who would never get absorbed again very high at 1.2 million. He said this at col. 302 on 13th November, 1984: the Manpower Services Commission is now adding a retraining element…that is working very hard and, I believe, very successfully towards returning to the world of work those who have been out of it some time". That is an encouraging statement which is at least specific, because whatever else the MSC is doing it is doing something for these particular people and I feel that if we are to deal with this problem it will have to be done in that way.

Very few suggestions have been made in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, mentioned various suggestions which might alleviate the problem, but taking people off the register is a second-best solution. He also mentioned enterprise centres. I was not quite clear how that would affect this particular one.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, mentioned the possibility of setting up leisure centres, and he mentioned one of the settlements but I forget the name of it. They have done, and no doubt could do again, admirable work; but the scale of the problem is much larger than that. There will have to be some decentralisation in order to get the individual attention that is required. I feel that if anything could be done more would have to be done by the local authorities. But when we say that we then see how little can be done, because at the moment the local authorities are being forced to add to unemployment and not to decrease it. The cuts that are imposed on them are causing people to be thrown out of work. Some money would have to be available, anyway; and even if the money were earmarked for the local authorities it would be running counter to the rest of their policy.

Therefore the problem is very serious, and if anything can be done about it, it will have to be done by specific measures adapted to these particular people, and not be available to all the competition waiting around from all the rest of the unemployed.

5.24 p.m.

The Marquess of Ailsa

My Lords, I wish to make a few comments concerning the problem of unemployment. While I am fully prepared to accept that there are over 3 million persons currently drawing unemployment benefit, I find it difficult to believe that there are a similar number who are actually desiring to work. I get the feeling that there is a lack of will and a lack of desire to work. Some years ago I had the privilege of being in charge of an organisation which organised young adults' clubs and the purpose was to train young people to take up employment. We had some very nice young people, but if the truth be told they were not very keen on employment.

I go further and speak of some of my personal experiences as a very, very minor employer. Most of my staff have come through various youth employment schemes, but a great number who have been tested on the way have failed. I also have direct knowledge of those who have found it better to leave my employment and to be counted as unemployed, although there is still a vacancy for them. Whenever one advertises vacancies, one is not overwhelmed with a rush of those even seeking details of what the job is.

I can now go slightly further than my own personal experience to that of an industrial organisation which has recently had the same task. They want various forms of trained or semi-trained industrial workers. They advertise, but people do not come forward. If they wish to employ people, they have virtually to steal them from somebody else; so while I have every possible sympathy for those who generally wish to work and are unable to do so, I find it hard to believe that there are not a great many who rather enjoy the situation that they are currently in.

5.26 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, let me commence by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, and complimenting him on the remarks that he made in his speech. It is obvious, when he looked back to his earlier days in the political arena, that he was comparing what is happening today with some of those very difficult years in the early 1930s. I, for my sins, am old enough to remember those, and I think he spoke from the heart.

But in order to deal with this problem—which is without question the most urgent and dangerous problem which we have to deal with today—I do not think that you can cull one section of the community out and say this is how you would deal with them, because just over 12 months ago I happen to have been one of the types of people that this Motion speaks about. By a quirk of the electorate, in June 1983 I found myself for the first time in the dole queue, after having left school at 14 years of age and never having been out of work for a day. It was the most traumatic few weeks that I ever experienced in my life. I was made aware eventually that I might be sent to this place. I just do not know what I would have done if that had not happened. I suspect that although I am a highly skilled engineer (and I have made every thing from locomotives to Churchill tanks during the war and helped to erect some of the massive turbine sets that are now servicing our grid) I would have been surplus to requirements.

I do not believe that any retraining programme for people of my age group will bear very much fruit because whether we like it or not as we grow older we are not as receptive to the assimilation of knowledge as are younger people. The managing director of the turbine generating division of GEC, which I used to work for told me at the time that I had been in Parliament for only about three years, about the type of machine that was being installed in Trafford Park in Manchester where I once worked. But I would have been at a loss, after a lifetime in engineering, to cope with that machine unless I had started from square one.

I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I cast my net a little wider because I believe that there is such an interdependence among the total unemployment situation we face that it would be wrong to concentrate on a specific group. I also say that at this point in time, though it would be very helpful perhaps to make more finance available individually to cushion the blow, most of the people involved in this age group are people of dignity who want that dignity restored and want the chance to work again, if that can be done.

The noble Lord the Minister, who is to reply to this debate, will know that since my ennoblement 12 months ago I have repeatedly questioned Her Majesty's Government on the unemployment situation. He will also know that the answers given in this Chamber by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, who is now a member of the Cabinet and who at that time held Government responsibility in the House for employment, showed a steadily worsening situation in terms of real jobs for school-leavers and adults both men and women. One of the most serious and worsening situations was the continual rise in the number of long-term unemployed.

In my opinion, at times the noble Earl, who I repeat then had responsibility in this House, treated this very tender subject with some diffidence and disdain that was not warranted. He reiterated on more than one occasion, as Ministers have done in another place, that it is not the Government's responsibility to create jobs, but it is the Government's responsibility to create an economic climate where, subject to the usual market conditions, industry itself will expand creating the increase in employment which we all so earnestly desire.

But is it not obvious to anybody watching the situation closely and listening to ministerial answers that, although the number of jobs coming on stream has increased, the dimension of this is nowhere near sufficient to reverse or remedy the present situation, and there are no factors emerging at the moment that suggest any significant change in that situation?

In order to illustrate the present situation, may I, by leave of the House, draw the attention of noble Lords to the Answers which I received from the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, to two Questions which I put to Her Majesty's Government on 24th and 25th October. On 24th October, I asked what was the number of people employed in the manufacturing industries for each year from 1979 to 1984. The answer that I received from the noble Lord showed that on the latest figures the number had been reduced from 7,113,000 employed in 1979 to 5,480,000—a drop of 1.6 million plus in our manufacturing base, which I suggest to the noble Lord is the most important section of our working community. So that is the dimension of the fall there.

On the following day, 25th October, I asked Her Majesty's Government whether they would list the number of people unemployed for over one year, two years and three years: in other words, the group of people who are now classified as long-term unemployed. The answer from the noble Lord indicated that the number of people unemployed for over three years had more than trebled from 109,591 to 376,273. Other figures which were quoted in the Answer showed the same trend in the case of those unemployed for over two years and over one year, and, as I understand it, the latest information shows a further worsening of the situation.

I fully accept the noble Lord's answers to these questions, regarding the increased measures that the Government announced during the autumn, and the comfort that 247,000 more people are in work than a year ago. Of course, I welcome the information on both counts. But the underlying trend, according to the latest figures and predictions, is that under the Government's present policies unemployment will continue to rise unless there is a dramatic change in direction.

I have just quoted a number of statistics to support the case for a substantial reflation, as I think there should be, by the Government in the public sector in order to assist us in dealing with the present dangerous situation. But could any statistic illustrate more starkly the peril we are in than the one given by the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, in his both moving and compassionate maiden speech in this Chamber? I want to put on record that I considered it a tremendous privilege to have been able to be present and to listen to that speech, so I pay him my compliments on that.

But what he said was that unemployment in this country now stood at one in eight—I assume that this means the available workforce—and that next year it would be one in seven. I have to put it to the Minister: what are the predictions for 1986? Does it mean one in six and, in 1987, one in five? If that is the type of ball game that we are in, then the sooner people are made aware of it, the better. But these are strange results coming from a Government which fought the last two general elections with one of their main platforms being a reduction in unemployment.

While we in our debates on unemployment, both in this Chamber and in another place, quote statistics at great length in order to argue our case, these are meaningless if you are one of the army of unemployed who want to work. If you are in that position, your unemployment is total and not just a part of general statistics. It is a personal tragedy which no statistics can adequately illustrate.

I now come to what could possibly be done to help the situation, some of which could be done fairly quickly. I go back to three or four years ago, when the TUC were the first to put forward proposals for a general Government—inspired reflation to take place in order to provide some relief from the present situation. Obviously I am referring to the public sector. Now, in addition to the TUC, we have other national organisations supporting to various degrees those proposals of the TUC. For example, the CBI, I think the Institute of Directors and the national bodies representing the building industry in a wide spectrum—and nobody could suggest that, apart from the TUC, there is much sympathy for my party among those bodies—are now on record as supporting such a policy. In addition, we also have the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, the Secretary of State for Energy and a number of other distinguished Tory parliamentarians, who would grace any Conservative Government with dignity and distinction, calling for such a change in Government policies. For what are we waiting?

Not for one moment am I suggesting that Her Majesty's Government are solely responsible for the present unemployment situation. I think it is accepted and recognised by most people that the increase in unemployment by 3 million people since 1979— though only 2 million are shown in the global figures—is half due to the world recession and half due to the Government's own policies, and I submit that now is the time for these policies to be changed in the interests of all concerned.

People—certainly those in the building industry— waited with great expectation for the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, but, in a phrase that has been coined, it went down like a lead balloon. He did nothing at all, except cut the money that was to be made available. As surely as night follows day, further unemployment will occur in the building industry. It is on record, and I raised it myself only a few weeks ago in this Chamber, that the Policy Studies Institute report of a short time ago—and this is in line with some of the points which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool made—recommended an annual additional investment of £3.5 million over the next 10 years in the public sector for the building of new houses for the maintaining of our existing stock and for the building of new roads and the maintaining of our present ones, in order to arrest the serious deterioration in our national infrastructure. The Chancellor's statement contained only further cuts. Therefore it contained no comfort.

Most of my life has been spent in a big city not far from Liverpool, to which the right reverend Prelate drew our attention. I was born and spent most of my life in Manchester. It is becoming more and more apparent to people in the North that the big cities of the North, such as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield, are deteriorating at an accelerating rate because of the lack of, or reduction of. resources made available by this Government. I urge the Minister to use his good offices with Her Majesty's Government to make these resources available, thus enhancing the quality of life in those areas. It is a measure which would also have the effect of substantially reducing the record high levels of unemployment which those areas have been experiencing for a long time.

Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have expressed sympathy with the unemployed but have done little or nothing about it. It is almost like attending a funeral to express sympathy when the death itself could have been avoided. The nation quite rightly united behind the Prime Minister in the fortitude and compassion shown by her during the appalling events at Brighton some weeks ago, but would it be asking too much to ask the Prime Minister and her Government to extend similar compassion to many areas in this country which are dying, both as communities and in a social sense, from the disease of unemployment?

During my maiden speech, delivered in this Chamber about 12 months ago, I warned that people suffering from the adversities of unemployment over a long period would not wait for ever and might resort to measures through the ballot box, and outside it, which are completely contrary to our democratic beliefs as socialists, or whatever colour we carry. I suspect that we are now seeing the first signs of this type of action. I am not referring to the insupportable brutality which has been evident during the miners' strike, but to the disenchantment which is spreading rapidly among, mainly, younger people in this country who believe that no future is being offered to them. I am pleased to have had such an attentive audience. We ignore what is happening at our peril.

5.43 p.m.

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

My Lords, on one point I can certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick: that we are debating a tragic problem. During the first part of his speech the noble Lord gave an account of his own experience. Unemployment undoubtely represents hardship and a waste of human opportunities. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye for having introduced the debate and for making clear that whereas a great deal is often said about the problems of the young unemployed there is a greater problem with older workers who in some ways face even greater difficulties.

But it does not help to pretend that there are easy solutions. Unemployment has been rising, under successive governments, for the last 20 years. Many remedies have been tried and failed, but the root causes—economic decline and loss of international competitiveness—have been left unchecked for too many years. The Government believe that only by reversing those trends and ensuring that we have an efficient, competitive industry selling more goods and services can we ensure long-term sustainable growth in output and jobs. Put in blunt terms, that means real jobs for real, deserving people.

Let me look at the brighter side. There are indicators which point to the success which this country has achieved as we have begun to win our way out of recession. Our gross domestic product is at its highest ever level. Total investment for the first half of this year was up 10 per cent. compared with the figures a year earlier. Retail sales are up; inflation is down. Industrial and commercial company profits are, in their turn, up. It is a strong picture of economic recovery. It has to some extent been reflected in the labour market. Vacancies have reached their highest level for four and a half years and the number of people in work has increased by 250,000 during the last year. However, the problem is that there has not been any impact on the total unemployment figures.

Since 1979, about 400,000 people have joined the labour force. We are therefore having to run, in terms of job creation, even to stand still. Our prospects depend, I suggest, most of all upon achieving strong, sustainable growth, which means that we have simply got to do more in terms of cutting costs, increasing competitiveness and adaptfng to changes in technology and demand. That includes manufacturing, as the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, said, with his very long experience of the manufacturing sector. As my noble friend Lord McAlpine of West Green said, it includes also the services sector, where, during the last decade, over 1 million new jobs have been created and where 270,000 new jobs were created last year.

Since the Government came to office we have eased the burden of the employment legislation on small firms. We have reduced labour costs by, for instance, introducing the young workers' scheme and by abolishing the National Insurance surcharge, which undoubtedly acted as a tax upon jobs. We have taken action to modernise training and to make it more relevant to the needs of industry. We have done everything we can to encourage enterprise, both through the Department of Trade and Industry's schemes of assistance for small and medium sized firms and also through the highly popular and successful enterprise allowance scheme. We have encouraged the adoption of new technology. This is one area where new jobs, skills and markets can replace the old. Here in particular the Government can help industry.

Last year the Government spent £200 million on schemes to promote the use of micro-electronics. Fears are sometimes expressed about new technology bringing about job losses. In the short term that must be true, but new technology also creates new jobs. Home computers and video recorder markets come to mind. The consequences of not competing in new technology are likely to be far more damaging to job prospects in the longer term.

The Government's emphasis upon education and training for the future will ensure that we are equipped to meet the challenge of new technologies. In particular the Micros in Schools scheme, which ensures at least one micro computer in each secondary school, is an initiative which should ensure that the young people of today are equipped with skills for the future.

I would suggest to my noble friend who opened the debate that older people need not miss out. It is important not to underestimate the flexibility and positive response to change of many older workers, nor the continuing value of their experience and knowledge. In that respect, I would refer to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, which he has made on previous occasions: that there are difficulties connected with the retraining of older people. The noble Lord is speaking from experience. However, we ought not to underestimate older people. Research suggests that with the right methods of training and a positive attitude, extensive retraining can be achieved and that in many cases the previous work experience of older workers proves to be an advantage. We ought not to run away with the idea that youngsters always have the advantage. That is certainly not the way in which the Government are tackling retraining.

I turn to the training and employment measures generally which the Government have introduced to help employers create jobs by encouraging enterprise and the efficient operation of the labour and product markets and helping people to equip themselves to perform the new jobs so created. Older workers can and do benefit from the training opportunities scheme and the developing programme of adult training. From the speech that he made, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Roberthall, will welcome the news that from April 1986 the adult training strategy should provide one quarter of a million training opportunities in a full year, which compares with some 110,000 under the existing programmes. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment has already announded in another place that the community programme will be linked with short courses of work preparation and basic skills training as part of the adult training strategy.

Lord Roberthall

My Lords, if the Minister will allow me to intervene, those figures are very encouraging—but do they all apply to the people in the category we are discussing tonight?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, they do not all apply to older people and it is not possible for me to give a forecast to the noble Lord as to how that split would come.

I will say a few final words about the Community Programme. Of the 200,000 or so who pass through that programme in a year, some 50,000 are likely to benefit from such training when the arrangements are fully in operation. Again, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Roberthall, that I cannot say how many of them will be older people and how many younger. But older workers have much to offer on these programmes—for example, in teaching their skills, in supervising or in otherwise leading young people on the programmes.

My noble friend Lord Balfour put forward the idea of minders or helpers for the long-term unemployed— particularly for the older long-term unemployed. The Government feel that this is an interesting concept and one which could well be explored further. I will draw it to the attention of the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission, Brian Nicholson, since I believe that posts of that kind could possibly be funded through the Community Programme.

Opportunities for unemployed people of any age to take on voluntary work are at present provided through the voluntary projects programme and the Department of Health and Social Security's opportunities for volunteering scheme. Nearly 100,000 are participating in those schemes; there is no need, with those schemes, for time to be spent unemployed and wasted. The enterprise allowance scheme, which I have mentioned, is of particular interest to older and more experienced people, as it enables them to leave employment to set up a business for themselves. My right honourable friend has recently announced a 25 per cent. increase in the enterprise allowance scheme, which means that some 62,000 unemployed people will have the chance to start up in business for themselves in 1985.

The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, asked if in allocating more money to the enterprise allowance scheme there is to be an increase in the £40 per week now available. The enterprise allowance will indeed be increased in due course, broadly in line with state benefits. However, the extra money for the enterprise allowance scheme to which I am referring now is to help meet additional demand for the scheme.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberthall, referred to the speech of my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham during the debate on the gracious Speech, when my noble friend referred to the retraining of the long-term unemployed. He was speaking then of the expansion by the Manpower Services Commission of its training for enterprise programme, which is designed to provide further help to those who are starting up or running small businesses. It is an earnest of the Government's concern to help those with the initiative and experience to create real jobs in the private sector.

Some noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, have referred to the job release and part-time job release schemes enabling those nearing retirement age to give up all or part of their job early in exchange for an allowance, provided that their employer undertakes to replace them, directly or indirectly, with an unemployed person. The scheme particularly benefits people one year from pensionable age, but disabled men from the age of 60. Although the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, expressed regret that the qualifying age cannot be reduced at the present time, nonetheless some 86,000 older workers are enjoying early retirement by virtue of these schemes, and their jobs have consequently been released for unemployed people.

The long-term rate of supplementary benefit and national insurance credits have—as your Lordships will be well aware—been made available to men aged 60 and over. However, within the employment and training measures which I have been speaking about, some priority has undoubtedly been given to younger people. The right reverend Prelate spoke of the social consequences of unemployment for young people, and I say to him that I really do believe the youth training scheme is a significant step forward in preparing young people for the world of work. Early results are showing that the scheme is placing 60 per cent. of its trainees in employment and a substantial further number into education and training. Apart from that scheme and the young workers scheme, the measures to which I have referred are open to people of all ages and are used by people of all ages.

My noble friend Lord Balfour and other noble Lords asked in essence this question: what about the future? There are too many different economic and social assumptions to be made affecting future levels of employment and unemployment for the Government to do other than that which all governments have done before; that is, not make predictions about what will happen. But we do not accept that it is inevitable that unemployment should remain permanently high. The right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, and the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, in winding up from the Opposition Front Bench, called in essence for more public expenditure as being a solution. But as public expenditure has claimed an increasing share of the national income over the years, so, inexorably, has unemployment risen.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords,——

Lord Belstead

Before giving way, my Lords, I will suggest that, if public expenditure were in itself a solution, there would have been almost no unemployment problem for many years now. Indeed, if one takes the specific example of Liverpool, that is an area which has received a higher level of government assistance than any other area in the country. Of course, to be realistic, there will continue to be massive government help to the Merseyside area; I am certain of that. There will continue to be the large amount of some £2¼ billion in special employment and training measures. But, if we are to make an impact on the figures, we shall have to do far better in selling more goods and services at home and abroad.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving way. I did not mean to convey the impression that I thought expansion into the public sector was a cure for all ills. I believe it is the quickest way of providing some relief, but it would only be part of a package. When I spoke of a 50/50 split between the international recession and government policies, my point was that some aspects of the public sector have suffered literally thousands of jobs being wiped out because of the withdrawal of government finance from local authorities.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord is always very fair in debate and I hope that I am not being unfair when I say that his last few words nonetheless, came awfully close to saying that public expenditure in itself will and should simply support jobs. It is no use saying that the public sector should go on being supported because there happen to be jobs in the public sector—and regardless of the fact that some real jobs for the future can be created elsewhere. But perhaps I ought to study more closely what the noble Lord said; I know that the noble Lord will look at what I said.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, if the Minister will allow me to intervene for just a moment, when we on this side of the House talk about the public sector, we mean this: when I was the leader of Fulham Borough Council, I was giving orders worth millions of pounds to private builders, to private entrepreneurs, to the people who make books for schools, and to the people who build schools. There is nothing magic about the public sector. When the public sector was expanded in 1937/38, it not only enriched the life of Britain, but most valuably helped to recreate the apprentice system, which served us so well after the war.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not think that we can go any further down this particular road. It is interesting that the words "public sector" did not, I think, pass my lips. Noble Lords have perhaps got them slightly on the brain. What I said was that while the amount of public expenditure in this country has claimed a greater and greater part of the national income, so nonetheless unemployment inexorably has risen. If it was the case that public expenditure was a panacea for all ills we would not have had a problem with public expenditure for many years now; but we have had a problem because public expenditure of itself is not a cure and I do not think it is going to be for the future.

May I very quickly answer some questions from your Lordships? There is one important question from the right reverend Prelate who questioned the management proposals for the development of the employment service. The aim of these proposals is to provide an effective service which meets the requirements of the labour market of the 1980s. I am advised that the proposals in fact envisage an increase in the number of Job Centre outlets with greater variation in different offices to reflect local needs and circumstances. I assure the right reverend Prelate that the underlying strategy is to promote an efficient and effective service to be maintained.

The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, kindly gave me notice of three questions which he asked. The first was whether the amount of job splitting allowance to be paid to employers will cover the costs of the arrangements being made. I should like to say to the noble Lord that a sum of £840 in this particular respect is being considered at present. The noble Lord also asked whether the Government are considering the restructuring of national insurance contributions and whether there was any prospect now of reducing from 60 to 55 the qualifying age for the higher rate in the supplementary benefit scheme. On both those questions the Government are certainly looking at any cost-effective ways of trying to help the unemployed. Certainly I will, as the noble Lord asked, draw the attention of my right honourable friend to those two suggestions. Without going into detail, the noble Lord will know that I shall say, on his second suggestion, that it is a very expensive suggestion indeed.

My noble friend Lord Balfour gave us an extremely interesting account of what my noble friend had seen and learnt of the provision of facilities for older unemployed people at Toynbee Hall. I simply say to my noble friend that there are other facilities to be found. For instance, I am told that Hammersmith and Fulham, under their urban programme, run a scheme called Alternatives which provides counselling and leisure guidance for unemployed people aged 35 and over. The scheme is funded to the extent of £25,000 in the past financial year by the urban programme; a programme which provides money specifically for sport, leisure and recreational facilities in inner-city areas.

There is one last question to which I should reply and that is form my noble friend Lord Ailsa who referred to those who, he felt, might lack the will to work. Recent research suggests that the vast majority of people who are suffering the tragedy of unemployment genuinely want to get back into work; but as the time goes by one can understand how difficult they find it. There may be a problem of skill mismatch; but here we hope that the youth training scheme and the adult training strategy will help.

I am grateful to your Lordships for bearing with me in answering this debate because it is a subject on which it is quite clear that all noble Lords, many having a close knowledge of the subject, feel very deeply. I will only say, in concluding, that on behalf of the Government we are spending—it may have sounded from the debate that so little is being spent—on the special training and employment measures alone some £2¼ billion. I think that some of the ideas put forward in this debate can be explored within that very large budget for those measures. I assure your Lordships that we shall continue to keep that programme of measures under review in the light of the financial and economic situation. We shall look very carefully at the sound ideas which have been put to us today. But, ultimately, our prospects have to depend on achieving strong and sustainable growth, which means we must be prepared to respond quickly and flexibly to changes in technology and demand. Through that method I believe we can ensure a future for all our citizens of all ages.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, in view of the number of speech-hungry noble Lords I see all around the Chamber, there is nothing for me to do except to thank those who have kindly taken part in this debate, to thank the Minister for his reply, and to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.