HL Deb 18 February 1993 vol 542 cc1241-4

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the total number of people unemployed on the latest date for which a figure is available, and what is the estimated cost to the Treasury of that number of unemployed.

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

My Lords, in January 1993, seasonally adjusted unemployment in the United Kingdom was 2,995,100. In Great Britain estimated total expenditure in this financial year on benefits to the unemployed is £9.3 billion.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, the Minister will accept that the figure for the unemployed is not 2 million but 3 million. Will he agree that on this momentous day the Government should take time to reflect on the devastation that the scourge of unemployment has caused for many families? As the Government have now been in power for 14 years, is not that figure a disgrace in a modern civilised society? This is the 33rd consecutive monthly increase in unemployment. Will the Government at long last accept some responsibility for the terrible figure which we have heard today and not continue to blame the rest of the world for it?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the unemployment figures for December are difficult for both the individuals involved and their families. They are also of deep concern to the Government. Unemployment is of course of concern to every government in the European Community. However, the Government's employment and training measures are designed to ensure that unemployed people can take advantage of the turnover in the labour market, and they are seen to be working. The only real basis for economic growth and lasting employment is low inflation and a competitive and efficient economy.

Lord Renton

My Lords, in view of the large number of unemployed that we have, should we not be doing all we can to dissuade people from coming here from overseas to obtain employment?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, there is a work permit regime in place which means that people have to be skilled in those skills which the country does not possess before they are given a work permit. I think that that is the best way of continuing.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is now a frightening disparity between rising unemployment and the endless erosion of our manufacturing industry? Today's figures reveal that the unadjusted figure for unemployment is 3,062,000 and still rising. That is a growing mountain of human suffering, which comes from the party opposite, which can be labelled the party of poverty and the dole.

Is the Minister further aware that in manufacturing industry we have lost 600,000 jobs in the past two years? Therefore, is not rising unemployment and the collapse in manufacturing industry a recipe for economic and industrial disaster equivalent to that in the 1930s?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I think that I have told the noble Lord before that manufacturing employment has been decreasing for a long time. That is often the result of high investment in manufacturing where there is robotisation and computerisation, which have the effect of losing jobs. But the most important thing that the Government can do is to make certain that help for the individual is given top priority. That is why the Employment Service and the TECs provide such a wide range of measures to give people the relevant skills and keep them in touch with the world of work.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, I ask this question as one who lived as an adult through the 1930s, to which reference has already been made. Is it not time that we all had the intellectual honesty to know that, although bad policies can damage the situation, worldwide recession is not something which individual governments can do much to improve?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I am pleased to hear the words of my noble and learned friend. He has put into perspective what is happening in the world. I believe that noble Lords opposite tend to consider this country in isolation, whereas it is important that it should live in the global markets and be competitive.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, I too lived through the 1930s and watched Roosevelt dealing with the situation by placing orders for the New Deal. What plans have Her Majesty's Government for loading the construction, engineering and building industries with new orders where the Government are a major buyer?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Autumn Statement did exactly that. It encouraged investment, it reduced interest rates, and of course there is a whole range of government spending: £1 billion spent in support of policies for the inner cities and urban areas, largely through the Department of the Environment. That is helping the construction industry. We are constrained by what the Government can spend, and the IMF quite rightly points out that we should not just continue spending without thought.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, will the Government spare us the illogical fallacy which they continually repeat and which was in the noble Viscount's supplementary answer this afternoon? While it is the case that inflation can endanger employment and jobs, it does not follow that low inflation will of itself create any jobs at all.

Further, will the noble Viscount now recognise that it was the nostrum of the 1980s that the future of this country lay with the service industries, financial and other services, and that manufacturing did not really matter all that much? Does he agree that that has now been shown to be a disastrous policy?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, if we are serious about reducing unemployment—and I am sure that the noble Lord is—it will require restraint from the majority in work. If higher output is to lead to job growth without inflation, then wage settlements must not lead to earnings pushing ahead of productivity. The key to Britain's improved economic prospects is greater competitiveness from British firms in the global markets. That means producing quality goods at the right time, at the right price.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, the noble Viscount did not begin to answer my question but merely repeated the fallacy.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the desperation facing some people? For example, is he aware that at Leyland Daf 1,560 men and women were sacked without notice, without consultation and with only the minimum state redundancy pay, even though their agreements, their contracts of employment, stipulated that they should receive more than that? Why could the Government not have been more helpful in the way that the Dutch and Belgian Governments have been helpful in a similar situation?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness will recall how helpful governments were to British Leyland over a number of years. She will recall the billions of pounds that were put into British Leyland, I am afraid to no effect. Indeed, the Government have been in touch with the Belgian and Dutch Governments; officials from the DTI are making considerable progress with the receivers to make certain that as few jobs as possible are lost at Leyland Daf.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, is it not significant that there are new jobs being created in Scotland, coming from France, which indicates very clearly what folly would be committed were this country ever to sign the social chapter?

Viscount Ullswater

Yes, my Lords. I believe that the Hoover deal indicated that this is not only a good place to work but a good place to invest. What is important is that there is a large turnover of jobs in the economy. Even in recession most people are successful in leaving unemployment behind after a relatively short period. About a quarter leave unemployment within a month; about half leave within three months; and about two-thirds leave within six months.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that in the 1930s my father came from the Rhondda to the South East to find a job, which he succeeded in doing? But does he agree that it would be no good him doing that today because unemployment in London and the South East is now 1.4 billion, representing 11.7 per cent. of the population of the South East? What is he going to do about that? Is it not a disgrace that people in the South East should be treated that way? Will he set up a South East development board? What does he intend to do?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that unemployment in the South East has risen more than it has both in Wales and in the North. On last month's unadjusted figures, unemployment fell in the North. What that means is that it has levelled out over the areas of this country. The service industries, which are predominantly in the South East, need more activity in the economy and then jobs will grow.

Lord Eatwell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the impression he has attempted to convey—namely, that the Government have a policy against unemployment—is exposed as a disreputable sham by their own figures in the Autumn Statement? On page 53 of that document the Treasury tells us that in 1996 unemployment will be the same as it is today. Is the Minister refuting the Treasury's forecasts?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Government do not forecast levels of unemployment.

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