HL Deb 04 February 1985 vol 459 cc825-8
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 conclusions they draw from the statistics contained in the press notice issued by the Department of Employment on 3rd January 1985.

The Minister Without Portfolio (Lord Young of Graffham)

My Lords, the press notice referred to indicated that on 6th December 1984 there were 3,219,000 unemployed claimants in the United Kingdom. The figure for 10th January, published on 31st January, was 3,341,000. The most recent seasonally-adjusted figures show an increase of 18,000 in the month to January and that the average monthly rise in unemployment in the three months to January was 9,000 compared with an average monthly rise of 15,000 in the previous three months.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. Would the Minister not agree that, however those figures are massaged or presented, they show a further serious deterioration in the employment situation in this country which cannot be dismissed by such phraseology as was used by the Prime Minister in another place last week when she referred to "a disappointment"? The Secretary of State for Employment, I understand, also used the same description. When is the situation going to alter and the present trend be reversed, bearing in mind, of course, that it is obvious that such measures as have been taken so far by the Government are not sufficient to alter the situation?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his slightly gloomy interpretation of the figures, but I think I should remind your Lordships' House that, of all people of employable age in the United Kingdom, no less than 66 per cent. are in employment, whereas the comparable figure for Germany is 61 per cent. and that for France is 60 per cent. If we look at employment, which is the positive way of looking at the whole picture, we can see that we have at long last created an environment in which new business is flourishing and employment is again on the increase.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, can my noble friend say what is the position with regard to the self-employed? Is it not true that the number of self-employed in this country is steadily increasing, and is this not, in the long run, extremely beneficial for all concerned?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that question. It is true that from 1971 to 1979 the number of self-employed declined by 100,000, but, happily, since 1979 it has increased by about 450,000; so it stands today at nearly 2,300,000, and is rapidly on the increase.

Lord Cottesloe

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many more people are employed in this country now than were employed a year ago?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that question, but I am afraid I must have some notice of it. All I can say is that in the last 12 months about 300,000 more jobs have been created; and the figure is on the increase.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, with regard to the figure of the percentage employed, may I ask the noble Lord to what extent the increase in the number of married women in jobs, particularly part-time jobs, accounts for part of that figure? May I also ask him whether it means anything more than that the living standards in this country are now such that it requires two breadwinners in each family to make ends meet?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, it would be a brave man indeed who would criticise or seek to give the credit for the present unemployment situation to the great growth of equal opportunities in this country. It is an undeniable fact that over the past 25 years we have seen both a great increase in the number of women in employment and also an increase in part-time jobs. Indeed, there is an argument that, according to the number of hours which were worked 40 years ago, we are all working part-time. There is no question that, as the years go by, we shall see, first once again a growth in the number of women in employment, and, secondly, a move towards part-time employment.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the figures, as he has said, are not only gloomy but extremely serious? While the average figures are very serious, the figures in some parts of the country—Wales, the North-East, Scotland—are very bad indeed. The Government are creating an intractable problem. Is the noble Lord further aware that, while we respect him very much, we understand he was appointed to his present office to find solutions, and that at the present time, according to reports, he is working on a plan to seek to resolve this very serious problem? Can he tell us whether that is true, what his plan is, or whether he can announce when it is likely to be published?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, there is no doubt that many decades of action by Governments, of all colours, have contributed towards the employment situation within the last few years. There is also little doubt that as the change in the postindustrial society comes about, there are areas of the country in which it would be impossible, no matter what action were taken by Government, to resuscitate the old industries. What Her Majesty's Government are trying to do is to bring about conditions such as exist today in Scotland, where more people are employed in electronics than in ships, steel and coal put together; and, indeed, to look at the great growth of new industries between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The circumstances will change, and I hope very much that the work I am doing will contribute to that. But in all circumstances it requires that we look towards the future and stop looking back to the past.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, with great respect, I asked the noble Lord to indicate precisely what he is working on. He referred to the work he is doing now. Can he tell the House, in view of the gravity of the situation, precisely what he is doing to seek to find a solution to the problem?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I would do anything to satisfy the noble Lord's curiosity, but in the circumstances I feel that I must wait until we know the actual results of the work that I am doing at the moment.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the figures are both inexplicable and heartbreaking?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships' House would accept that no one particular party has a monopoly of concern as regards the figures. Of course they are heartbreaking and the very least that any of us in this House would want to do is to ameliorate the position. Where we differ is as to the best route to take to ameliorate the position. I, for one, am convinced that the Government are on the right course.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, does my noble friend have any statistics about people who, while in part-time employment, are at the same time registered as unemployed?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that question, but I am afraid that the answer is not capable of dissertation.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, would not the Minister agree, on reflection, that he was perhaps rather unwise to attribute the increase in the number of women in part-time employment to the equal opportunity policy, having regard to the fact that nearly all those women are working in low paid jobs which are exclusively done by women and which men would not want to take at that rate of pay?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. I would remind the noble Baroness that when I became an articled clerk, the sight of a woman training to become a solicitor was indeed remote and rare. Now almost the majority of solicitors are women, and the growth of women in all types of employment is quite marked and not confined merely to low paid jobs.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that enough has been done within the public service itself to create new jobs by the elimination of overtime, by job-sharing and by early retirement? If not, how many additional jobs does he think can be created within the Civil Service by these means over the coming year?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am not aware that any artificial means of creating jobs actually lasts. We are seeing a trend towards part-time employment and a trend towards shorter working hours. I suspect that that will happen naturally. One thing about which the Government are resolved is that it should not happen artificially.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, I think that we should pass on to the next Question. Important as this Question is, I think that we have spent more than our fair share of time on it.

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