HL Deb 18 July 1991 vol 531 cc271-4

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the number of people unemployed on the latest date for which figures are available.

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

My Lords, in June 1991 seasonally adjusted unemployment in the United Kingdom was 2,301,000.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, why is it that after 12 years of unrestricted power, after an economic miracle and having been told that there would not be a recession, the best that this Government can do is to produce the figure of 2,301,000 unemployed—the 15th consecutive monthly increase? Is it not the case that we now have the fastest rising level of unemployment in the western world? It will almost certainly reach 3 million, not least because of low growth, low investment and the fact that 2 million of the jobs lost are in manufacturing industry.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, obviously I am concerned about the plight of the unemployed. However, the latest figures show that for three months running the rate of increase in unemployment has been falling. The RPI has fallen by five full percentage points since its peak in October. The increase in average earnings has fallen by one-and-three-quarter percentage points since last summer and interest rates were again reduced last week. We are determined to ensure that we not only get inflation down but that we keep it down. That is the way to ensure a resumption of economic growth and, with it, to improve job prospects.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, would it not be more intellectually honest to recognise that there is no such thing as unrestricted power and that with the economic state of the world the parameters governing individual governments are limited in availability and scope? Also, unemployment is not wholly within the power of Her Majesty's Government.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I agree with my noble and learned friend. Rising unemployment is not unique to the United Kingdom. Most other major industrialised countries have also experienced increases in unemployment over recent months, including the United States, Japan, France and Italy. Only a few days ago, figures were published showing that unemployment in France has increased to its highest level since records began.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, as my noble friend suggested to the Minister, our manufacturing base under this Government has been dangerously run down. Thousands of industrial jobs have been lost. Is the Minister aware that 900 businesses are collapsing every week, with similar job losses? The Rover Group announced yesterday that it is to shed 1.200 industrial and manufacturing jobs. According to yesterday's report of the Select Committee on Energy in another place, the coal industry is facing another rapid decline and 30,000 jobs are threatened. Soon thousands of servicemen will be dumped on the dole. When will all this end?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, one of the problems is that the unit wage costs of manufacturing are 11.2 per cent. higher than previously. Unit wage costs continue to rise faster than those of our international competitors. That puts at risk our ability to compete in both domestic and foreign markets. Jobs will not be created unless pay settlements are kept at realistic levels. However, productivity is rising again; output per head in the three months to May 1991 was 1 per cent. higher than in the previous three months.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, notwithstanding the point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, the policy of the Labour Party, if applied, would produce a massive increase in unemployment?

Noble Lords

Give us a chance!

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Opposition are calling for a chance. They should recall that unemployment has doubled under every Labour government since 1929. The policies advocated by that party make it clear that it would happen again if Labour ever gained power.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, in the light of the disturbingly large increase in the number of young people who are unemployed, will the Government ensure that training and enterprise councils have sufficient resources to enable them to fulfil the Government's guarantee of training or further education for every school leaver?

Viscount Ullswater

Yes, my Lords. Of course it is immensely important that young people in our society are properly trained and educated. We encourage them to stay on at school but we have guaranteed them a place on youth training if they are not employed. That guarantee remains.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that when the Labour Party left office in 1979, the unemployment figure was 1,200,000? It later rose to over 3 million under his Government and at present it is approaching twice the figure that applied when the Labour Government left office. Does the noble Viscount realise that he is being complacent? Is he aware that in Crawley—a Tory heartland—unemployment in the past two years has risen from 2,811 to 8,300? That is an increase of 295 per cent. In Reading—another Tory heartland—one-third of all offices and shops are empty. In Newbury there has never been such a recession. Will the Government do something about that and get rid of the complacency with which they approach the problem?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, of course the noble Lord finds instances where unemployment has risen in areas of traditionally low unemployment. That is quite natural. He said that we were complacent, but I do not accept that. This year alone my right honourable friend has announced three measures to help the unemployed in order to get them back to work.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that in this country there are now more people in employment than ever before? Those figures also ought to be taken into account.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the figure of those in employment is over 26 million. There has been an increase of over 2.8 million since 1983 in the number of people employed—a larger increase than in any other European country. The proportion of the UK population of working age in employment is higher than in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Ireland. Unemployment is higher in France, Italy, Ireland and Spain.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, is the Minister aware that much of the present unemployment is among professionally qualified and skilled people? Therefore, it is not helpful to such people to suggest that training and further education will help them because they believe themselves already to be trained or skilled. What action will be taken to help such people?

Incidentally, with reference to the comment about the number of people in employment, how many of those jobs are part-time compared with those that are full-time? Those are the figures with which we make comparisons.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the noble Baroness refers to the problem of people losing managerial jobs. That is why my right honourable friend has announced an increase in the number of job clubs. Some of that increase is accounted for by executive job clubs. We hope that will help solve that problem. It is true that the number of part-time workers has increased. I understand that 25 per cent. of the workforce in employment at March 1991 comprised of part-time workers.

Earl Russell

My Lords, in replying to my noble friend Lord Rochester, the Minister referred to a guarantee of a youth training place for 16 and 17 year-olds. Is the Minister aware that the report conducted by MORI and published by the Department of Social Security the day before yesterday revealed that 48 per cent. of 16 and 17 year-olds applying for severe hardship payments had no youth training place? In the light of that information, would the Minister like to reconsider the word "guarantee"?

Viscount Ullswater

No, my Lords. Youth training is voluntary and some of the young people referred to by the noble Earl do not wish to take up youth training.

Lord Kinnaird

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that although we in this House are just as much concerned about the number of people unemployed as anyone else, these repeated Questions that are always on similar lines and are asked like clockwork do absolutely nothing whatever to alleviate the situation?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I must agree with my noble friend. However, this matter is obviously of concern to all noble Lords on both sides of the House.

Lord Blease

My Lords, is the Minister aware that of the 11 areas listed in the survey, there are at least five regions of the United Kingdom with a chronic long-term unemployment problem, of which Northern Ireland is one? In Northern Ireland 30 applicants are chasing every job. I believe similar statistics apply to other areas of the United Kingdom. Is there not a need for Jobcentres to be more efficient and for training measures to be targeted more closely to the employment market?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that there is a higher rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the country. However, as I said, the employment service will provide more opportunities next year. The numbers of opportunities available for unemployed people will increase from 650,000 this year to 900,000 by next year. I believe that is a good target to aim for.

Lord Blease

My Lords, will the Minister answer my question about Jobcentres? They are central to the problem of unemployment. If they are not targeting the job market effectively they are failing in the job they were designed to carry out.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Jobcentres are doing an extraordinarily good job. They are placing people in employment daily. The flows out of unemployment are averaging 278,000 a month.

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