HL Deb 10 June 1986 vol 476 cc121-6

2.55 p.m.

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 whether they propose any further measures to deal with the question of unemployment other than those already announced, bearing in mind the recent release of the Manpower Services Commission corporate plan report.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, we value the contribution that the Manpower Services Commission makes to employment and training and note its plans with interest and approval. Since the preparation of the MSC's corporate plan, we have made extra resources available for the nationwide restart programme which offers special help to all those people unemployed for more than one year. The commission now expects to help and advise almost 4 million people to find work, train or update their skills this year, compared with 3 million last year.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply and, naturally, for the report, which contains some optimistic predictions. But is it not a fact that the report also says that unemployment, especially long-term unemployment, is likely to remain with us until the 1990s and that 24 per cent. of all the people unemployed have been so for more than two years? May I ask the Secretary of State when he expects this figure to start to fall significantly in real terms?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the corporate plan of the Manpower Services Commission is of course its corporate plan. Perhaps I may read one extract from it: With the prospect of a roughly stable level of unemployment over the period to 1990, the number of long-term unemployed should begin to stabilise in the early part of this planning period". It goes on to say: The number of people unemployed for more than three years is likely to continue to grow for some time". That is the forecast for planning purposes which the Manpower Services Commission has made itself. I have said in your Lordships' House in answer to another Question that I hope very much that by the time the figures for the number of long-term unemployed are published at Christmas time we shall see that they are beginning to decline. I very much hope that is so because in common with all in the Government I recognise that one of the great areas in which we have to work hard is in trying to help those who have been out of work for more than one year.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, did the Minister see the BBC "Panorama" programme last night which showed that there are more unemployed in the county of Cleveland than elsewhere in the country? Does he recall that a Conservative Government when faced with a similar problem years ago appointed a Minister—the revered noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—specially to deal with the problem? What are the Government going to do about unemployment in the North-East?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the first thing the Government have to do about unemployment generally but also about the specific problem in the North-East is to recognise that we live in a world of change and that we have to prepare ourselves for tomorrow's conditions. Nothing any government could ever decide will restore the same outline of industrial occupations that used to exist in Middlesbrough, in Cleveland and in the North-East as a whole. It is of fundamental importance that we recognise that. We have announced an enterprise company for British Shipbuilders. We have announced in Middlesbrough itself that we are making it part of our inner-city initiative. We are urgently looking at all ways in which we can help with the real problem which, in common with our other neighbours in Western Europe, we have in adapting to change in the evolution of the Industrial Revolution.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the noble Lord is again talking about comparability with Europe. Is he aware that the rate of male unemployment in this country is nearly twice that in France, Germany, Italy and the United States? Is he further aware that fewer men are employed in this country today than were employed before the outbreak of the First World War? Is this the kind of stability of unemployment the noble Lord is looking for?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, that is quite a separate question. I have not checked on the number of people employed before the First World War. I would find it difficult to assume that that is correct. But the facts which I can tell the House and which I think are important to all of us, since the noble Lord talked about Europe, are that in the period from 1981 to 1985 our unemployment rate and that of France has each grown by about 36 per cent., while that of Italy has grown by 49 per cent., and that of Germany by 81 per cent. Those are the realities of the world in which we live and they are the realities of the world that we are determined to face.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the Minister consider as a further measure contacting those learned societies that specialise in science and technology, who are of the opinion that by advancing science and technology, they can create more jobs, while not necessarily bringing down the level of unemployment? They believe also that they can make a contribution to achieving that which the Minister wants to achieve by Christmas—a massive reduction in unemployment—from the point of view of encouraging science and technology, with the Government giving a lead.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's suggestion. I shall of course listen to advice from any quarter, and I do so constantly. Perhaps I may correct one point. What I said was that I hope very much that when the figures for Christmas are published, we shall see that long-term unemployment is beginning to reduce. I am not making any forecast about the general level of unemployment.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, from my reading of the Manpower Services Commission's report, I fail to find any specific reference, although there may be a reason for this, or I may have overlooked it, to Wales and the position in Wales. Will the Secretary of State indicate at this stage whether there are any specific proposals dealing with Wales in relation to this important matter?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the Manpower Services Commission includes Wales and there is a separate committee for the Principality. I am sure that that which we are talking about includes Wales, but I shall examine it specifically in relation to Wales.

Lord Gibson-Watt

My Lords, when my noble friend looks into this matter, will he not find that the diversification of industry in Wales, and particularly in South Wales, has been one of the outstanding achievements of the present Government? Although the figures are still far too high, the ongoing success there is well worth recognising.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that question. We are living at a time of considerable industrial change. We are living at a time when we see the extractive industries—coal and many others—going through the kind of difficulties through which manufacturing industry went in 1980–81. We should be trying to help facilitate the change and not hinder it in any way.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that since our exchanges last week, when the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, and I mentioned shipbuilding redundancies, there have been a further 450 engineering redundancies in the town of Blaydon? How much further do the Government intend to let the situation in the North-East of England deteriorate? As I told the noble Lord last week, it is worse than in the 1930s. Why does the noble Lord not buy himself a cloth cap, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor did when he was appointed, and get up to the North-East, not on a cosmetic tour but to see what the Government can do to help?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I have spent a considerable amount of my time in the North-East. I am very aware of the problems; but I should be misleading your Lordships' House if I, or the Government, were to hold out any hope that we could change the state of the world's shipping industry; that we could somehow conjure up orders for ships that are not required; that we could somehow so transform our industry that we would turn the clock back 25 years to find ourselves where we were then. This Government are determined not to waste the golden opportunities of the 1970s, when we should have looked at the problems and dealt with them. But we shall deal with them today, so that the 1990s will be a time when the North-East, together with the rest of this country, can go forward.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that while the change in industry is a major reason for the problems of this country and of many others in relation to unemployment, there is another major contributory cause to the absolute level of British unemployment? It is that this country lost more than half its share of world markets between 1960 and 1975 under governments of every party.

Baroness Stedman

Under governments of two parties, my Lords.

Lord Young of Graffham

Yes, my Lords, we lost a considerable share of world markets. However, we must recognise also that the Industrial Revolution is still continuing; that it is just beginning to arrive in some parts of the world; that even today it probably only covers half of the world; and that we will always have competition from those parts of the world that can afford to have the latest plants and can certainly pay the lowest wages.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he has studied the Question that is before him? It asks the Government, whether they propose any further measures". I also ask the noble Lord whether he has read yesterday's Hansard, when his noble friend Lord Caithness waxed eloquent about the Channel tunnel and the 65,000 man years of employment that it will provide throughout the country and in the North-East in particular? If that is the case in relation to a civil engineering project such as the Channel tunnel, then would it not be right for the Government to stimulate the economy by building more roads, and more schools, reviving the inner cities, and undertaking all kinds of other civil engineering projects? That would do what the Channel tunnel is expected to do and revive the economy and provide jobs.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me of the Question, but I am less grateful to him for going on to matters quite outside the Question, although I am happy to deal with them. The Channel tunnel is important in its own right. It has, as a very welcome by-product, the creation of 65,000 man years of employment, which will happen in the North-East. But infrastructure work is important in itself, and it is not of importance merely for the creation of jobs. Otherwise, we shall run the risk of going the way that Australia has gone.

I need not remind any of your Lordships that the finance minister of Australia has said, "We must stop this, otherwise we are in danger of turning into a banana republic". An Australian Government that was elected on an election platform of infrastructure spending to promote employment has today soaring inflation, balance of payments problems, and increasing unemployment.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend not aware that in yesterday's issue of The Times it was stated that in the South and South-East there is a shortage of skilled workers, including engineering workers? Is there not some way in which my noble friend could use his powers to match up the surplus in the North with the shortage in the South?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, one of the great problems from which we suffer in this country is the immobility of those with skills. Indeed, I suspect that there are many shortages in the South that could be filled by those who come from the North. We have a problem with accommodation, and we are looking at that aspect urgently.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, the Minister referred to his reply last week, when he predicted that long-term unemployment would be reduced by Christmas or would be reducing in the next six months. In his earlier replies today, the Minister seemed to be saying that that reduction would be dependent on the impact of the MSC programmes. Do I understand the noble Lord correctly? Is he simply saying that there will be a reduction in the number of long-term unemployed because they will all be on training progammes, important though they are; or is he actually saying that there will be more jobs for the long-term unemployed by Christmas?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I said neither. I said that we have lived through a period of which I first became aware in 1982 when I went to the Manpower Services Commission. I said that we have lived through a period in which long-term unemployment has been steadily rising. I said that it has now peaked and levelled, and I hope very much when we see the figures for Christmas, we shall see that unemployment has been reduced. It is vitally important that we get those of our citizens who have been out of work for more than a year back to work. That is our objective.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister not aware, with reference to his reply to an earlier supplementary question, that neither Wales nor Scotland are featured in the report? The Manpower Services Commission will be reporting later on both these areas of the United Kingdom. Is the Minister also not aware that the report itself states that because of the criteria being altered by the Government, there are another half million people who could be added to the current figure of 3.28 million unemployed in real terms? Are we not in fact talking about 3¾ million unemployment and not 3¼ million, which is the number now being given? Also, does the Minister have any intention in the near or far future of altering the criteria yet again to mask the situation and not present it as it really is?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the noble Lord will see that the first paragraph of the report states very clearly that this plan details programmed development for Great Britain as a whole. It is intended to publish plan and review documents for Scotland and for Wales in June. Those will be the separate documents available.

Whatever the Manpower Services Commission's report may say, the last labour force survey discloses not that there are more than 3.2 million people unemployed but that if one accepts as a definition of unemployment those who are without a job and are seeking work, unemployment is beneath 3 million and falling. Your Lordships can measure any way you will, but if you take the figures which the Manpower Services Commission wishes to add into this report you must adopt the labour force survey definition and take a rather larger figure away.

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