HL Deb 14 November 1991 vol 532 cc652-6

3.18 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the total number of unemployed at the latest available date.

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

My Lords, in October 1991 seasonally-adjusted unemployment in the United Kingdom was 2,472,900.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that that is the 19th consecutive monthly increase? Does he agree that with such a massive number of people now unemployed and with further increases to come there will be no decrease in that number during 1992? Is the Minister aware that the two greatest worries at present are the continuing and substantial increase in youth unemployment and the continuing increase in long-term unemployment? Both are most serious matters. As present policies are manifestly unsuccessful, will the Government consider and implement the many constructive suggestions made from these Benches in yesterday's debate on unemployment?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I will confirm that this month's rise in the seasonally adjusted number of unemployed is the smallest for over a year. It is the third consecutive month that the rate of increase in unemployment has fallen. The figure for seasonally adjusted unemployment rose by 15,700 in October compared with 32,300 the previous month and 55,900 the month before that. In addition, over 400,000 people left unemployment in October, more than in any month in the past three years.

I should also point out that the numbers on the claimant count fell last month. That run of figures provides clear evidence that the worst effects of the recession on the labour market are behind us.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that as recently as yesterday your Lordships' House had a full-length debate on this subject? Is it really necessary to continue this today, even on the weekly Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, my noble friend reminds me of a debate which took place yesterday. During that debate I was glad to have his support from the Bench on which he now sits. We had that debate and I believe that the Government gave a full reply.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, will the noble Viscount confirm that the unemployment percentage which we have in this country is well below the national average of the EC, particularly when unified Germany is included, and is among the lowest in the world? That is not at all bad considering we are in the middle of a world recession.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord that. The European Community figures are muddled at present because of the impact of eastern Germany. We only have a figure for western Germany and, therefore, the figures are not complete. The figures for the United Kingdom are about average within the EC.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is not the Minister aware that the recent figures show a serious and disturbing trend in the manufacturing industry? Is he not aware that in the month of September jobs in manufacturing fell by 18,000 and in the past 12 months they fell by 348,000, which is 280,000 more than the previous year? Does not the noble Viscount agree that that is an extremely serious trend in manufacturing which is the backbone of the nation? What do the Government intend to do to stop that rot?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I have answered that on a number of occasions. I agree with the noble Lord that his figures are correct. However, jobs in manufacturing have been reducing since 1966 during the governments of both parties. Therefore, it is not a question of one party reducing the numbers.

The percentage of GDP of manufacturing has remained consistent over the past 10 years. That indicates that manufacturing output is being effectively carried out. Many of the jobs are being reclassified as service jobs because many services have been contracted out.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, if we all wish to help the unemployed—and I am sure we do—is it not right to stop denigrating every aspect of this country's economy so that we create a little more confidence?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I agree with my noble and learned friend. This Government have put forward more provision to help the unemployed than any other previous government.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, is not the Minister aware that the effects of unemployment are now being felt throughout the economy? Is he aware of the report which appeared in the newspapers today of massive underwriting losses in the insurance industry? The bulk of those are apparently due to UK mortgage problems. Those arise because of repossessions as people who are unemployed cannot afford to keep up their payments. What will the Government do about that situation?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, we receive conflicting reports. Recently the CBI and the IOD surveys showed increasing business performance and optimism consistent with increasing economic activity. Only yesterday a further CBI survey showed that manufacturers from nearly all regions expect a recovery over the next four months.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, will the noble Viscount agree that the constructive suggestions that were made in yesterday's debate on unemployment did not emanate only from the Labour Benches?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I do not believe that any of us have the entire wisdom on this matter.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, does the noble Viscount accept that the fall in claimant count to which he referred results more from the massage of the statistics than from the generation of genuine jobs? Does he further agree that the number of genuine job seekers is far above the figure to which he has referred?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, no, I do not accept either of those propositions.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, despite what the Minister said earlier about conflicting reports, can I draw his attention to the Stock Exchange and the Financial Times today which have expressed grave anxieties about the smallest increase in employment for some time? As they both agree, that is a very dangerous sign for the future. Will the Government take cognisance of the Financial Times and the Stock Exchange as well as the wisdom of these Benches? Will they try to correct their policy in order to reduce unemployment?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I am not certain that the Government drive their policies on the back of the Stock Exchange. I believe that one reflects the other. We have put in place sufficient assistance so that those who are unfortunate enough to lose their jobs have the best possible help in finding another job, and quickly.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, can the Minister give the up-to-date statistics of how many people are working today and how many people were working 10 years ago?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the workforce in employment is over 26 million, which is 800,000 more than there were in 1979. There has been an increase of 2.6 million jobs since March 1983.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I trust that the noble Viscount will confirm, as he did a week ago, that the figures for employment which he now gives include 6 million part-time workers?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, yes, they do. It is important that part-time workers are in the economy. That is a sign of increased market flexibility. The survey carried out by my department shows that only 6 per cent. of those working part-time do so because they could not find a full-time job. The majority prefer part-time work.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the lack of interest shown by the government Benches in yesterday's debate and the complacency with which they deal with this matter each time it is raised is causing a great deal of anxiety outside this Chamber? Is he not aware that in the first nine months of this year over 33,500 firms collapsed, which is a 71 per cent. increase? Firms are collapsing at the rate of 200 every working day. Is that not a matter of anxiety for the Minister? Does he recognise that the price which is being paid for that part of government policy is hundreds of thousands of jobs and lost businesses and homes? Does he agree with his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that that is an acceptable price to pay? Will he tell us what price will be paid before we reach a solution?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I do not believe that any government enjoy seeing increasing unemployment figures, and yet that is what most governments have seen. It will not be a new situation for any Labour Government. Those figures have increased each time the Labour Party has been in power. At present we are trying to make certain that we create a climate for businesses of all sizes to thrive. We are trying to do that. There are more small businesses in this country than ever before; at the end of 1989 there were 1.2 million more businesses in the United Kingdom than there were in 1979. That is a measure of our success.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the catering, leisure and tourist industries are good examples of his last statement? They present enormous job opportunities at the present time.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I am happy to agree with my noble friend. The leisure industry has seen an increase of some 25 per cent. in the number of jobs available. Some noble Lords have said that those are not real jobs. My goodness, the people working in them feel that they are real jobs.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, will the noble Viscount confirm that the figures issued today show that in London the rate of unemployment is now above the national average? Will he also confirm that the figures show that there has been virtually no increase in the number of vacancies? Is he aware and does he agree that there is no prospect of a fall in unemployment over the next year mainly because the Government insist on maintaining interest rates, in real terms, at double what they were last year? If the Government want to do something about unemployment, will he advise his colleagues substantially to reduce interest rates immediately.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the rate for Greater London is approximately the same as for the total of the United Kingdom. I agree with the noble Lord. However, what is important is not the number of vacancies but the flows out of unemployment. They have been averaging 275,000 over the past few months, they reached 359,000 in September and are over 400,000 this month. That shows that many people are obtaining jobs.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many people in your Lordships' House believe that the way in which he has answered some difficult questions in regard to a difficult problem deserves the thanks of the House?

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