HL Deb 19 December 1990 vol 524 cc828-31

3 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which organisations they are consulting about unemployment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, employment department Ministers meet a considerable number of organisations in the course of their work and discuss a wide range of labour market issues. In addition, the Secretary of State for Employment attends meetings of the National Economic Development Council.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that whoever the Government consult on unemployment, they will be told that the increases that have arisen in each of the past eight months will continue for many more months to come, and that eventually the figure will reach 2 million? Is the Minister further aware that the situation arises directly from the sheer incompetence of the Government in dealing with economic policy, and in particular in relying almost entirely on interest rates? On this occasion, will the Minister spare us the fairy tale that current inflation and unemployment arise from excessive wage claims, as the Government know full well that workers are responding to the inflation which has been brought about by the Government?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, unemployment is still nearly half the level that it was in July 1986. The United Kingdom still has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the European Community. The unemployment rate in the United Kingdom is lower than the European Community average. Employment is at an all time high, and the workforce in employment has risen for more than seven years. It has increased by over 3.7 million since March 1983. There are more than 27.3 million jobs in the United Kingdom at the present time. It is a factor of the Government's success in their monetary policy that inflation has now started to fall and it will continue to fall. That will bring great benefit to everybody in the next year.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, was the Minister not informed during the course of his consultations that unemployment rose by 58,000 last month? That was the worst monthly rise since 1981. This year employment in manufacturing industry fell by 67,000 compared with 2,000 the year before. That heralds a deepening recession. Will the Minister therefore tell the House what steps the Government are taking to halt this cruel rise in unemployment and the erosion of our manufacturing base?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, as for the numbers employed in manufacturing industry, it may be of interest to the House to know that over the past four years there has been a drop of some 60,000. That is since 1986. However, in the last four years of the former Labour Government that figure dropped by some 600,000. Output under that Government also dropped, whereas under this Government it has risen by 18 per cent. over the past five years.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, the Minister stated that interest rates are falling and may fall faster. Does he really believe that the tens of thousands of families where the breadwinner is unemployed are interested in that statement? Is he aware that over the past year unemployment has risen very dramatically? It will be of no comfort to those who are on the dole to be told that the situation could be worse in France, Belgium or Germany. Does not the Minister agree that the Government should have consultations about unemployment with the Confederation of British Industry, the Trades Union Congress—despite the fact that those bodies are severe critics of the Government's policy—and representatives of the City of London, including the governor himself? Those people seem to know full well that unemployment is dangerous and that something should be done about it.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the worst disease of all is inflation. It is the Government's firm commitment to bring the rate of inflation down. In doing so, it is necessary for interest rates to remain at their current level until inflation falls further. The noble Lord suggested that the Secretary of State or employment Ministers should meet with the TUC and the CBI. Those Ministers meet with those bodies in the forum of the National Economic Development Council meetings which I referred to in my original Answer. My right honourable friend said in another place on 11th December: If anyone has any specific proposals to put forward in relation to unemployment, I shall be happy to consider them".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/90; col. 802.] There is no question of any Minister hiding behind any format that will not allow him to consider unemployment.

The Viscount of Oxfuird

My Lords, will my noble friend tell the House what level of compensation has been forthcoming from redundancy payments to unemployed people either through the Government or through industry?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, that question is a little further away from the Question on the Order Paper than I can stray today.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, will the Minister tell us why he used the year 1986 to illustrate his point?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the selection of the indices was chosen in 1985 when the indices were based at 100.

Earl Russell

My Lords, will the Minister consider a small amendment to his second reply to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand? He gave figures for falls in unemployment since 1986. Will he consider amending his statement and refer to recorded unemployment?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I do not remember giving figures for unemployment. I have given the figures for those who have lost their jobs in manufacturing industry. I said that over the past four years 60,000 people have lost their jobs in manufacturing industry.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that certainly on this occasion unemployment is biting deeply in the South, and more particularly in the South-East, of the country? Will the Minister pay special attention to that matter as it seems that the recession, and perhaps the slump to come, will hurt everyone in this country as it has never hurt them before?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I must agree with part of what the noble Lord has said. The Government certainly do not wish to see unemployment rise. Nothing that I have said has indicated that the Government are content with the situation as it is at the moment. The Department of Employment has developed a great many measures to cope with people who lose their jobs. That department has measures to help advise them how to obtain new jobs and to assist in many ways with the training and the re-training of those who become unemployed.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I hope noble Lords will realise that Question Time has lasted for 24 minutes. We should only have one further question from the Opposition Front Bench as we are straying far beyond the accepted principles of this House.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I thank the Minister for some of the information that he has given in reply to the questions that have been asked. However, does he not agree that in a situation in which the Government have changed about 16 times the way in which they compute unemployment statistics, people are therefore a little suspicious of the statistics that have been mentioned? Does not the Minister also agree that in the South-East there is now considerable concern in the finance sector where a number of large financial institutions have announced sweeping redundancies—for example, at Lloyd's and, today, Citicorp? That is a very worrying development.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I refute the proposition put forward by the noble Baroness about the statistics. The statistics are comparable. Those that I have given have been drawn up on a comparable basis. I agree that whereas there was a great shake-out of employment in the early 1980s in manufacturing industry, it would appear that there is about to be a shake-out of administrative posts—perhaps in the service industries—at this point in the decade.

Forward to