HL Deb 12 November 1985 vol 468 cc135-7

2.41 p.m.

Lord Stallard

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 were the numbers of unemployed persons in the United Kingdom for 1979 and 1985 respectively; and what were the numbers of vacancies registered for the same years.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, on 10th October 1985 the number of unemployed claimants in the United Kingdom was 3,227,000; and in October 1979 the number of people claiming benefit was 1,268,000.

On 4th October 1985 the number of unfilled vacancies at Jobcentres in the United Kingdom was 206,000. In October 1979 there were 246,700 unfilled vacancies.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for that reply. Has he seen the chart in the latest bulletin published by one of his departments—the Department of Employment—which shows that unemployment is up by about 2¼ million since 1979 and vacancies registered at the Jobcentres are down by about 50,000 compared with 1979? I know that the noble Lord is giving the Government's latest and newest presentational interpretation of this situation. Will he accept that new presentations are not what we need? We need a new policy—a policy of regeneration of our manufacturing and construction industries. When will he give us some information about that?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I shall accept completely that this matter is not about presentation. However, what it demonstrates, and what the figures which I read out demonstrate, is that you cannot have an effect without a cause. I suspect that the differences which we saw in unemployment in 1979, 1980 and 1981 were more a result of the overmanning of British industry and of many years of other Governments' policies, than anything else. What we can see today is that jobs are now growing at a rate unequalled in Europe; that there is steady, real and sustained growth in the economy, and that the growth this time is going to stay.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, in answer to a similar Question from me a week ago, the noble Lord said that there were other countries in the EEC with a higher unemployment rate, as a percentage of the workforce, than existed in this country. Will the noble Lord tell us which are those countries? He muttered something about Spain and Portugal, which are not in the EEC. Is there a single country in the EEC which, so far as the workforce is concerned, has an unemployment rate equal to that in this country?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, perhaps I should inform the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, that Spain and Portugal have been admitted to the EEC; they take full membership from 1st January; and I meet with their Ministers when I meet the social affairs Ministers in Europe. Spain and perhaps Portugal and Ireland are countries which have a higher rate of unemployment. I am happy to provide the noble Lord with the details, but if he wishes to debate the matter then perhaps he should put down a Question.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, will my noble friend tell the House how many people were employed in this country at the beginning of the six-year period starting 1979 and again in 1985?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, mid-1979 there were 26,021,000 in the civilian labour force. Today there are 26,639,000 in the labour force. Therefore, there has been an increase of some 600,000. As regards the employed labour force, which my noble friend specifically mentioned, in the second quarter of 1979 24,775,000 people were employed, whereas the number of people employed in the second quarter of 1985 is 23,692,000. Therefore, it is absolutely true to say that there are fewer people today in the employed labour force than there were in 1979.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, what is the use of bandying figures about in that fashion and wasting time? Even if the figure were reduced to 1 million, would not that be a disaster? Would it be anything for the Government to boast about? There ought not to be any unemployed at all. No matter which Government are in office, if there are 3 million unemployed, how do you explain it?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I wish to assure the noble Lord that I know of no other way in which to answer a question about figures than with the figures themselves. The figures which I was using did not particularly show the Government in a good light and nor have I ever claimed to hide beneath the figures as such. There is only one way in which unemployment can be cured in this country and in all the other countries in Europe where it remains the "European disease"; that is by working hard at the problem and by creating the conditions in which enterprise will flourish and real jobs will come back into existence.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is not the noble Lord in danger of being fooled by his own propaganda? Is it not a fact that the reason for the sharp rise in this large pool of unemployment since 1979 is that the Government themselves, by imposing swingeing increases in taxes, increasing health charges and other charges, and cutting down on public expenditure have deliberately created it? Is not that the real reason? Will not the noble Lord accept what my noble friend Lord Stallard said—namely, that the way in which to cure unemployment, the way in which to get unemployment down below 1 million (and my noble friend Lord Shinwell is absolutely right in saying that any unemployment is unacceptable) is to increase expenditure on infrastructure, housing, roads and so on?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I totally refute any suggestion that unemployment was created deliberately by this Government; and I suspect that it would not be created deliberately by any Government. If I were looking for the cause and effect of unemployment, I would not look in the direction of the Government or the Government's policies. Would I not be tempted to look a little perhaps at overmanning in industry, the restrictive practices of trade unions and the sheer uncompetitiveness of British industry which, in 1979, 1980 and 1981 brought home the chickens to roost?

Lord Grimond

My Lords, am I right in thinking that the noble Lord is particularly concerned about unemployment in the inner cities? Will he say whether or not the measures so far taken have come up to his expectations as far as the inner cities are concerned? Will he further say whether the speeches reported in today's papers, indicating that the Government are apparently very willing to invest, mean that there will be bigger investment in the infrastructure, roads, buildings, drains and so forth of the inner cities?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I suspect that it would be more profitable if noble Lords were to restrain themselves until a Statement is made a little later on about the Government's future plans. However, it is safe to say that no Government can, at the moment, be pleased with the results of policies in the urban cities. I do not believe that anyone has the particular answer, but it is something which we are seeking. This Government are as determined as any Government to see that the very difficult problems of inner urban deprivation are cured.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, will the noble Lord be good enough to clarify the answer which he gave to my noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby? Which EEC countries did he have in mind as having higher unemployment rates than our own?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I offered to send the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, a note. I shall leave a note in the Library. However, it is an entirely different Question.