HL Deb 20 October 1986 vol 481 cc11-2

3.8 p.m.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the costs of, and the number of personnel required in, counting the unemployed, paying unemployment benefit and maintaining records.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Lord Young of Graffham)

My Lords, the cost of counting the unemployed, paying unemployment benefit and maintaining records is expected to be some £277 million in 1986–87; about 28,500 staff are engaged in this work. These figures include the cost of paying supplementary allowances to unemployed people. A very small proportion of these resources is devoted to counting the unemployed and maintaining records.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I wish to thank the Minister for his reply and the work he has obviously done to arrive at the answer. Would he not agree that it is a rather serious situation when we are spending so much in order to count, and pay, those of our fellow Britons who are unemployed? Would he not further agree that perhaps we have not got to the root cause of unemployment? Would he not also agree that in the past four or five months of the Callaghan Government unemployment began to decrease from 1.3 million to almost 1.2 million? It was decreasing. What has happened thereafter which has now sent the figure soaring to nearly 3.5 million?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to tell the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, that it was world conditions since 1978 which caused unemployment to more than double in the United Kingdom; to more than double in France; to more than double in Germany; and to nearly treble in Spain. Economic conditions at that time had a great deal to do with it. If we look round the whole of Europe, we will see that unemployment is endemic to Europe. The costs that we incur here are possibly greater than the costs that are spent in European countries because we pay unemployment benefit for longer periods than most other countries.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am sure that the House would agree that the noble Lord has striven to introduce all sorts of schemes to help alleviate the effects of unemployment. Would he not agree that that is not enough? It is not possible to give comfort to any British family where the breadwinner and the son are on the dole by saying: "But do not worry, so are the French; so are the West Germans; so are the Belgians." They do not accept that. They know that during the past few months of the Labour Government unemployment started to come down. It has now risen astronomically. Perhaps there is one basic cause of unemployment in this country which we could tackle together.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, if there was an answer, and if there was an alternative policy, I suspect that the socialist Government of France; the socialist Government of Spain, the socialist Government of Italy and the socialist Government of Ireland would have seized upon such a policy, even if this Government would not. The simple fact is there was no easy answer to unemployment. We are all making progress, and I suspect that the progress we are making is as good as anybody. The noble Lord will have to comfort himself with that. Let me assure all in your Lordships' House that high unemployment is not very conducive to the employment prospects of politicians, and no government actually wants or welcomes high unemployment.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, would the noble Lord correct his statement that there was a socialist government in Ireland?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, over the period we were talking about, and in the period 1980 to 1985 or 1986 there have been socialist and centre governments in Ireland.

Noble Lords