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Volume 774: debated on Monday 25 November 1968

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity if she will make a statement on the current unemployment situation.

The trend in the seasonally adjusted figures of wholly unemployed, excluding school leavers, has turned downwards since August. The figure has fallen by 56,000 over the past three months from 585,000 or 2·5 per cent. in August to 529,000 or 2·3 percent. in November. The total number of persons registered as unemployed on 11th November, the date of the latest count, was 561,000. The seasonally adjusted figure of unfilled vacancies for adults rose by about 16,300 between October and November, and now stands at 211,000. It has increased on average by about 10,700 a month in the three months August to November.

While I am glad that there is some progress in the figures and leaving aside the crocodile tears of hon. Members opposite, will my right hon. Friend accept that unemployment is of the utmost domestic concern to the Labour movement nationally and that there can be no complacency or acceptance of high unemployment figures by this side of the House?

Is not this about the twentieth month in 1967–68 when unemployment has been above 500,000? Can the Minister say what level of unemployment is acceptable to this Government within the meaning of the term "full employment"?

The hon. Member knows perfectly well that the purpose of our policy is to continue reduction in unemployment, which we are now glad to see taking place. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] The answer to his question is that a level of unemployment acceptable to me is the lowest possible level consistent with this country's survival on the balance of payments side.

The House will have been interested to hear the right hon. Lady say that the Government's policy is to continue a downward trend. Can she therefore confirm that the Chancellor's latest measures are calculated to bring about a continuance of the downward trend of unemployment?

The Chancellor's latest measures are designed to secure a sound foundation on which the expansion movement which has begun can continue. [Hon. Members: "Answer."] As the right hon. Member is perfectly well aware, the new measures will to a large extent reduce imports and set resources free for exports rather than reduce output and employment.