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Employment

Volume 901: debated on Sunday 2 March 1975

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Health And Safety

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he expects to take a decision on the location of the headquarters of the Health and Safety at Work Commission.

The Health and Safety Commission has informed me that a thorough study is now being undertaken on the question of its ultimate location. The Chairman of the Commission expects to be able to let my right hon. Friend have his recommendation in the early part of the new year.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Safety in Mines Research Establishment, which now comes under the Health and Safety Commission, and its executive, is already located in Sheffield? Does he agree that if the Health and Safety Commission and its executive are dispersed from London it will make sense for the Commission's extensive laboratories, at present situated at Cricklewood to be located near the Safety in Mines Research Establishment at Sheffield?

No doubt this will be one of the factors which the Commission will bear in mind in making its recommendations.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Hardman Report on the relocation of Government Departments did not lead to Yorkshire and Humberside getting one extra job? Will he bear in mind that a favourable decision on the location of this body in or near my constituency, where the unemployment rate is 14 per cent., would be warmly welcomed?

I am sharply aware of the unemployment problems in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall). I am sure that he will not let the claims for South Yorkshire go by default, but I hope that he will bear in mind our recent announcement that the Manpower Services Commission will be located in Sheffield.

Pay Settlements

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on increment payments and the £6 limit.

Incremental and wage-for-age payments which are made according to a well-defined range or scale, already in operation before 11th July, may continue at the same level as in preceding years for those earning less than £8,500 a year. This is on the condition that, together with the annual pay increase, the payments under such a scheme do not raise the pay bill for the group concerned by more than £6 a head.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not without significance that the people who drafted that reply for my hon. Friend—the same people who are advising the leadership of Birmingham city council that it must fork out £1·5 million more in increments—are the very people who stand to gain most by the continuation of incremental payments over and above the £6 limit? Is he aware that the situation is not as he has just described it?

I take full responsibility for what I have just said. Ministers who make statements at this Box have every bit as much concern for the policy accepted by the Government and the TUC as have those trade unionists who are engaged in negotiations on behalf of local authority employees.

Since the £6 limit ends next August, do the Government propose, in the new year, to publish a White Paper about their future intentions, or will they simply let matters drift?

The Government, as of now, have no intention of publishing a White Paper. Like many other people concerned with wage negotiations, we are considering the effect of the current policy in a whole series of areas. We must take account of that in discussing any developments of this subject.

Will my hon. Friend tell us where is the equality of sacrifice for those workers who produce the wealth of this country who are subjected to an increase limit of £6 a week, if they can get it—and in many cases they are having a job to get even half that—compared with the situation of people like Mr. Eric Sosnow, the boss of United City Merchants, a stockbroking firm? Is he aware that Mr. Sosnow has just awarded himself a £200-a-week pay rise, which brings his total earnings for the year to £35,756? Why does my hon. Friend not start sending messages to Mr. Sosnow?

I do not know the present salary or wage of the gentleman to whom my hon. Friend referred, but subject to its being more than the £8,500 limit, I should say that my hon. Friend has just described to the House a flagrant breach of the Government's policy.

School Leavers

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will now take further action to help the employment prospects of school leavers and to improve training facilities.

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the present number of school leavers still without a job.

40, 402 school leavers under the age of 18 were registered as unemployed on 13th November 1975. The question of further action to help school leavers will be considered when we can assess the impact of the measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 24th September.

I unreservedly welcome the recent further fall in the number of unemployed school leavers, but does the Minister accept that there are strong indications, particularly among young women in the North-West, that there is still substantial unemployment among those who left school in the last 18 months, and that this goes unrecorded in the official figures?

Of course we are concerned about the unemployment figures, but of the 500,000 children who left school in July only 40,000 have not now found jobs. We regard that figure as still too high, and hope that schemes like the school leaver recruitment subsidy will substantially affect these figures shortly.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the speed with which applications from local authorities and others under the school leaver job creation scheme are being dealt with?

Local authorities have made a very good response, and we have approved 178 projects, creating 3,000 new jobs. This is a pretty rapid response to the initiative of the Government and the Manpower Services Commission.

Will the Minister now answer the Question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold)? The situation in the North-West is not as good as that in other parts of the country, so could he or his right hon. Friend make particular reference to this region, to reduce the number of school leavers who are still unemployed?

I recognise that this region has possibly the greatest problem of any region in respect of school leavers, but it has been made a special development area and we hope that the measures that we have already announced, together with extra training facilities, and so on, will have a substantial effect on these young people's prospects.

Is my hon. Friend aware that these measures have had no substantial effect on the unemployment of school leavers on Merseyside, many hundreds of whom face a very dismal and bleak future? Will he take special and specific action in this region to ensure that these children have a prosperous employment future?

I accept that some of the prospects of young people in the North-West and Merseyside are grim, but they would have been very much worse if measures introduced by this Government had not been implemented. They have not been in operation for very long and I think it would be better to wait for a month or two to see how they work.

Is it not a fact that young people who left school, had a job for only a week or two and then became unemployed, are not included in the unemployed school leavers' figures? Is it not inaccurate to suggest that only 40,000 of the 500,000 school leavers of July are still looking for a job, because the 40,000 relates to those who have never had jobs? Many others are now unemployed. Will the Minister give an indication of the size of the youth unemployment problem?

It is true that some young people who left school and then lost their jobs will not be shown in the figures. I have tried to give figures which are properly comparable with those of previous years, and there has been a record reduction in the number of school leavers unemployed in the last two months.

Disabled Persons

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he intends to amend the employment quota scheme for disabled workers.

I plan to announce the Government's proposals on the future of the quota scheme later this month.

Is my hon. Friend aware that proposals to change the scheme will be welcomed by disabled people who have come to regard the present scheme as a cruel farce? Will he ensure that his proposals are more enforceable and effective than the present system, under which only 40 per cent. of the firms bother to meet their obligations? Will he also ensure that those firms who are in breach of the law are prosecuted?

I share my hon. Friend's concern about firms who do not comply with the quota scheme, though it is important to bear in mind that firms do not have to comply with the quota if they are given permission from my Department. I am sure that my hon. Friend and I are both concerned about the 20 per cent. of firms—totalling 10,000—who neither employed their quota nor obtain the necessary permission from my Department. I authorised prosecutions recently. In one case I was described as a bureaucratic madman and in another the defending solicitor said that he could not understand why his clients were being prosecuted. With regard to possible changes in the scheme, I think it would be unwise to anticipate the statement that I shall be making.

With regard to the 60 per cent. of firms which employ fewer people than their quotas, have the Government given any thought to a form of tax relief to firms to encourage the employment of disabled people?

Financial incentives have been considered by the National Advisory Council for the Employment of the Disabled. I repeat that it would be unwise for me to anticipate the statement that I shall be making later.

Is my hon. Friend aware that it would be disastrous for unemployed disabled workers if we simply dropped the quota scheme and left a vacuum? Does he agree that the Government have a clear duty to make the scheme work effectively, or replace it with a better scheme? Is he aware that the best way of solving the problem would be to make every employer pay for the 3 per cent. quota, whether he employs disabled people or not, because then the boot would be on the other foot and instead of thousands of disabled people begging employers to take them on, employers would be looking for disabled people to work for them?

There have been statements in the Press about the future of me scheme that my hon. Friend may eventually find to have been misleading. With regard to the other part of his question, he will know that this was one of the options canvassed in the consultative document of 1973, and it has been examined by the National Advisory Council. While the problems are easily identified, the solutions are more difficult to find.

Railway Employees

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied with the operation of the closed shop now in force for employees of the British Railways Board.

The operation of a closed shop agreement between the British Railways Board and railway unions is a matter for the parties concerned in the industry.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that it is a serious erosion of individual freedom that all future entrants into the employment of British Rail will have to belong to a union, regardless of any deeply held religious beliefs or grounds of conscience? Will he confirm that if any present employees of British Rail are dismissed for refusing to join a union, they will be entitled to unemployment benefit?

The hon. Gentleman has given a misrepresentation of the agreement reached between British Rail and the unions. It is a post-entry scheme, in any case. The agreement, in general, has taken into account decisions made by this House on the subject, and that is the right way for them to proceed. No dismissals of British Rail employees have yet taken place, so the question of eligibility for unemployment benefit does not arise.

Perhaps I may add, in view of the grotesque misrepresentations that have appeared in the newspapers over the last day or two, that I have no powers over the decisions of the Commissioners and others concerned with the payment of unemployment benefit. That is quite right. It does not enter into my powers or province in any way. A leading article in The Times today, for example, was based on wrenching a single sentence out of a whole letter, most of which the paper did not print. On the basis of that, they called me a fascist. That shows the discrimination and taste of Dr. Goebbels.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us on the Labour Benches—I would hope all of us—take strong exception to the editorial in The Times today? To suggest that my right hon. Friend is a fascist, or anything like a fascist, is grotesque, as he says. Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us, including me, have suffered over the years by being dismissed by employers and not receiving unemployment benefit, quite wrongly, because we have had an argument with a foreman and have been dismissed on the basis that we committed industrial misconduct? Is my right hon. Friend aware that we need to consider the matter with a view to protecting workers, rather than the other way round?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said. I fully agree that die circumstances in which unemployment benefit is paid are nothing to do with the other question. The two matters are entirely distinct. For anyone to try to push them together is a misrepresentation of the facts.

When the right hon. Gentleman talks about decisions made by the House, is he not aware that we expressed concern, certainly on the Opposition Benches, during the passage of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill and then during consideration of the amending Bill, about the erosion of personal liberty to which his measures were leading? In view of the great anxieties in the nation as a whole about the erosion of personal liberty, would it not be wise for the right hon. Gentleman to drop the amending Bill?

What I said was the literal fact. The British Rail agreement takes full account of the decisions on the subject made by the House, decisions with which the right hon. Gentleman agreed. Therefore, I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman is complaining about. British Rail took account of all that had been settled. Much misrepresentation goes on about this matter. I understand that the Opposition have agreed that the closed shop should no longer be illegal. Why do they not acknowledge that, if it is a fact? That is what they voted for. They agreed to it, so let them not make these accusations.

We are deeply concerned to ensure that the liberty of the individual shall be protected in trade unions. The proposals which we have put forward for dealing with the matter and which the General Council of the TUC has accepted, can protect the individual as well as trade unionism better than any of the proposals made by the Opposition.

The right hon. Gentleman is quick to complain about misrepresentation by other people, but he does not hesitate to misrepresent the views of the Opposition and many other people on every possible occasion. Is he aware that we have always tried to write into any provisions for the closed shop safeguards for the individual, including proper safeguards for expulsion or exclusion? We believe that there should be an independent tribunal for the purpose, and not the trade union organisation, which will be judge and jury in its own case.

It is not a question of the trade unions being judge and jury in their own case. We have argued the matter many times, and the House has voted many times for the view that we accept on the matter. We believe that those proposals will provide better safeguards for trade unionists than were provided before. The right hon. Gentleman is running away from the simple fact that he and his hon. Friends sought to deal with the matter by outlawing the closed shop. That was proved not to work, and therefore we have sought a better protection for both trade unions and the individuals concerned.

Community Industry

8.

the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied with the operation of the Community Industry Scheme; and if he will make a statement.

Yes, but if the hon. Member has any particular points to raise I shall gladly look into them.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish to pay tribute to those who have contributed to the Scheme, but is the Secretary of State serious in his commitment to expand it, bearing in mind that the salaries offered to area managers approximate to those offered to personal secretaries in the Civil Service?

I am grateful for the tribute that the hon. Gentleman pays, and I add my tribute to the work of the Community Industry Scheme. I am not aware of any representations on the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but I shall consider it. I am grateful for the response to the increase in numbers. An extra 1,000 places were announced on 26th November, and I am still considering a further expansion.

Merseyside

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will take urgent and specific action to reduce the level of unemployment on Merseyside.

The Government fully recognise the seriousness of the employment problem on Merseyside. It formed a major topic of discussion when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and I met the Executive Committee of the North West Regional Council of the TUC on Monday 24th November. Merseyside already has special development area status and is benefiting from the measures that we have recently taken to mitigate the worst effects of unemployment.

Is my hon. Friend aware that those measures are not good enough, and that the level of unemployment on Merseyside is a terrible indictment of this Government? Does he accept that the unemployment situation there is now almost of crisis proportions? Will he give us not words but action to bring down the level of unemployment?

I do not accept that the level of unemployment on Merseyside is an indictment of this Government. The measures to assist Merseyside include an expansion of Community Industry, a vast expansion of training places, from which Merseyside has benefited, the temporary employment subsidy and the school leavers' recruitment subsidy. In addition, there were 90 offers of selective assistance under the Industry Act, which have created or saved 15,000 jobs.

Merseyside has a grim unemployment total at present. It is a serious matter. The Government have taken a number of important measures, which assist, and they will continue to view the matter with great concern.

Why will not the Government give unemployed school leavers the opportunity to create their own jobs, so long as they are for community betterment?

There is nothing to prevent arrangements of a voluntary nature, which I think the hon. Gentleman has in mind. What we have done in addition to that sort of initiative is to create jobs under the Job Creation Scheme and the Community Industry Scheme. One welcomes any initiative to ensure that young people facing unemployment are not also faced with idleness, and that they can do something of use to the community.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in spite of the Government measures he has outlined, Merseyside has 50 per cent. of the total unemployment in the whole of the North West Region? Is he also aware that the ship repairing and shipbuilding industries face massive lay-offs in the near future, and that Plessey is in the same position? In those circumstances, there will be further lay-offs of many workers in the near future. Does my hon. Friend accept that the projected situation is one of unemployment increasing rather than decreasing, and that therefore the pointed remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) are relevant?

We are very concerned about the prospective redundancies at Plessey. At my right hon. Friend's request, the Chairman of the Post Office has put revised proposals to the telecommunications industry which should reduce the level of redundancies.

Some of the other points that my hon. Friend raised are matters for other Departments. There is a vast programme of advance factory development for the North-West and Merseyside. The assistance given under the Industry Act, the other measures that I mentioned and the advance factory programme show that the Government and the country have faith in the ability of Merseyside and the North-West to take advantage of an upturn.

Does the Minister accept that the whole of the North-West is aware of the problems of Merseyside? The Minister has already dealt with the measures which are being taken to help that area. Does he further accept that the more he tilts the balance of advantage in favour of Merseyside, the worse it will be for the intermediate areas of Lancashire, one of which I represent, where the unemployment rate is now 7·4 per cent. and rising steeply, and where the ratio of unemployment to job vacancies is 55 to 1? Will he please assist our area to become a development area?

It is not my responsibility to declare development areas. That is a matter for the Department of Industry. The hon. Lady has a point in that if a great deal of assistance is given to one area it can drain resources from another. I defend the special development area status accorded to Merseyside. As my hon. Friends have said, the area has serious unemployment problems. It is right that the Government should recognise them and do everything in their power to relieve a difficult situation.

Unemployment Statistics

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied with the accuracy of monthly unemployment figures; and if he will make a statement.

The figures relate to people who register as unemployed. This is a well-defined basis used by successive administrations over many years, and I am satisfied that it should continue.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Centre for Policy Studies is saying that the monthly unemployment figures are misleading?

I am aware of the claims made by the Centre for Policy Studies. However, it is the claims of the Centre that are misleading. It is a fact that the Centre misleads when it subtracts large numbers from the published unemployment total and then describes the much-reduced figure as the actual figure of unemployment. I certainly do not wish to discourage intelligent analysis of the unemployment statistics—indeed, my Department is publishing full information to facilitate and encourage informed appraisal of the unemployment position. The basis of our statistics is clearly set out and it is quite untenable to claim that they are misleading. I therefore believe that the Centre for Policy Studies is doing a grave disservice to the proper discussion of this subject by trying to minimise the serious and appalling figures facing us.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that one of the most significant figures in the unemployment statistics is that dealing with the number of vacancies? Is he aware that many employers do not notify local employment offices of their vacancies, and therefore the figure is suspect? What action is the right hon. Gentleman taking to ensure that we get a much more accurate figure for the number of vacancies available?

We are always hopeful that employers will notify us as much as possible, and anything that can be done to encourage them to do so will be of assistance. It would be wrong on that account to think that the figures we publish are misleading. The basis on which they are formulated is known. It is wrong for anyone to suggest that they give a misleading picture to the country.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the figures can be misleading, in that they include thousands of people who have had a magnificent golden handshake at 61 or 62 and have no intention of ever returning to work, but who go to the employment exchange week by week to preserve their pension rights? Does my right hon. Friend not agree that this is a contribution to misleading figures that ought to be examined?

I do not think that such people alter the total figure to any significant degree. The Centre for Policy Studies is trying to pretend that the actual unemployment figure can be almost cut in half by the methods it employs. That is a quite false representation of the situation. The figures are serious, and there should be no attempt to minimise their importance.

Whatever the arguments over the detailed interpretation of figures may be, is it not a fact that if we look at the figures we see that unemployment has doubled during the lifetime of the present Government and that it will continue at record levels through next year? Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any indication when it will be coming down?

The figures have certainly risen seriously over the past year and a half or more, just as they have in all other Western countries. In some of these other countries they have risen a good deal further than they have in this country. The cause of the problem cannot be sought solely in events that have taken place in this country. Something can be done to deal with this—only something; I do not want to exaggerate it—by the kind of measures that the Government announced in September and by further measures of that character. I fully agree with those of my hon. Friends who insist that many more far-reaching measures than that will be required to deal with the full unemployment problem. It is to those measures as well as to the intermediate measures that we must apply our minds.

Rhyl

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest figures of the percentage unemployed in the Rhyl travel-to-work area.

On 9th November the rate of unemployment in the Rhyl employment office area was 12·4 per cent.

Is the Minister aware that that overall figure conceals the fact that male unemployment in the Rhyl area is now 17·6 per cent.? Does he not consider that this provides the justification for at least conferring development area status on this part of North-East Wales? Does the Minister also not consider that the limits to the extent to which the Government can help in such cases are acutely illustrated by the fact that the latest advance factory to be built in Rhyl, occupied by an enterprising firm, employs a total of six people, shortly to rise to 12? In those circumstances, should not the Government do everything in their power to assist worthwhile schemes for creating employment in the area, such as the proposed leisure centre, which is being sabotaged by the Minister's colleague in the Department of the Environment?

I confirm that male unemployment in the Rhyl travel-to-work area is about 17·6 per cent: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that one of the difficulties about new projects when they are brought to an area is that they may be capital- rather than labour-intensive. The measures that the Government have taken to aid recruitment of school leavers and to establish job creation schemes are having some effect upon unemployment in this area, which is emphasised at this time of the year by the seasonal nature of the employment in which some people engage.

Unemployed Persons

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what were the figures for unemployment in October; and if he will make a statement.

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people in the unemployment total for October were unsuited to regular full-time work.

The latest figures, for 13th November, show that 1,120,137 people were registered as unemployed in Great Britain. It is not possible to make firm estimates, each month, of the number unsuited to regular full-time work.

So as to avoid confusion in the tragic circumstances that we are discussing this Question Time, will the Secretary of State give his opinion of the figures published by the Centre for Policy Studies for October, which amounted to about half the official published total? Will my right hon. Friend cause his Department to carry out an investigation into the basis on which the Centre arrives at its figures, and will he publish the findings of his Department?

I am grateful for the Questions that my hon. Friends have tabled on this subject. I have sought to give my view and that of the Department. We regard the statistics put out by the Centre for Policy Studies, as it calls itself, as completely misleading. We think that they do not do any service to the present situation. We are fully in favour of having detailed discussion of the unemployment figures, but not for the purpose of trying to pretend that the problem is not extremely serious. It is extremely serious, and we want the real facts to be known.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he regards men who belong to the wrong union as being unsuited for employment? Does he agree that in giving nods and winks to the tribunal that will hear the case of the "Ferrybridge Six" he was acting in a grossly improper way, not merely adding to his efforts to give trade unions excessive power but also attempting to influence the course of a tribunal and deny to those who are denied the right to work even the right to unemployment pay?

I repudiate entirely all the suggestions which the hon. Member made. The only excuse that can be made for his utterance in the House now and that which he has made before

is that he was presumably basing himself on a single sentence or two from my letter which has been circulated by Mr. Nicholson. If the hon. Gentleman had read the whole of my letter he could not, I hope, have sought to give circulation to the complete misrepresentation which he has now repeated in the House. If lie read the whole of the letter—[An hon. Member: "Put it in the Library"] I shall. It he reads the whole of the letter, which has not, as far as I know, been published by a single newspaper in this country, he would not make such misrepresentations.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he rejects the view of the Centre for Policy Studies that 250,000 of the unemployed were unsuited for regular employment? Does he realise that many of us on the Government side of the House welcome his rejection of the interpretation of the figures by the Centre and are grateful for his assurance that he will not accept advice from those who seek to minimise the unemployment problem facing this State?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for calling attention to that claim. It is one of the claims that should be repudiated. It is quite wrong that an organisation should spread the story that several thousands of people are unsuited for regular full-time work when they are looking for work but cannot get it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the unemployment figure in Scotland is totally unacceptable to the people of Scotland? Further, does he understand that the Government's credibility over the question of unemployment will be severely tested by the decision which they take in connection with Chrysler, at Linwood?

I agree that the unemployment figure in Scotland is intolerable, just as it is in England, Wales, Mersey-side and many other areas. It is very bad in Scotland, but it is very bad in other areas, too.

I believe that the major objective of Government policy must be to take a whole series of concerted measures to try to reduce the unemployment figures. The purpose of part of those measures must be to deal with inflation, which is part of the cause of part of the problem, but there must be a whole series of measures designed to deal with this tragic problem. I am not seeking to minimise it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he and his Government and his hon. and right hon. Friends are responsible for the state of employment in Britain? Would it not be more honest and less hypocritical of him, if he were to admit that his past policies, the Government's failure to control inflation and the so-called social contract, have been, in large part, responsible for today's unemployment situation, instead of trying to worm out of it by talking about the Centre of Policy Studies?

Even the right hon. Gentleman has a duty to try to understand the problem. If he wishes to arrive at a correct analysis of the problem, he must take into account the very heavy unemployment not only in this country but throughout the Western world. No description of the situation which leaves those factors out of account can be a correct diagnosis. The right hon. Gentleman must understand that.

Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman must understand—this is extremely important—that one of the main causes of the recession throughout the country and the Western world has been the oil crisis and the increase in oil prices and, perhaps even more, the way in which different countries reacted. This country sought to secure a much more sensible policy in reacting than did some other countries. If our advice had been followed, the unemployment situation would have been a good deal more manageable than it has been. However, we intend to take all the steps we can to overcome it.

In addition to what the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) has just told us, would he like to say what impact the Opposition's demands for immediate cuts in public expenditure would have on the employment figures?

I think that the Opposition are so incapable of answering for themselves that I do not see why I should try to help them out.

Would it not be more honest of the right hon. Gentleman if he were to admit that at the election only 15 months ago the Prime Minister went round the country saying that unemployment was under control and was likely to fall? Why have not the Government the guts to admit that they were wrong? It is about time they resigned.

I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman should be huffing and puffing so much today. Perhaps he is worried about the possibility of his own unemployment. If he wishes to contribute to the debate on unemployment, he should understand the real causes and not be content with his present parrot cry.

Football Matches (Prime Minister's Visits)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister on how many occasions during the past year he has been invited to pay official visits to football matches.

As the House knows, my right hon. Friend is attending the European Council Meeting which opened in Rome yesterday and is continuing today. I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend receives numerous invitations to football matches played under a variety of different codes, and during the last 12 months he has been able to accept on five occasions.

Will my right hon. Friend ask the Prime Minister, when he is next able to accept an invitation to a football match, kindly to descend temporarily from the directors' box into Spion Kop and go outside the ground, both before and after the game? When he sees the disgusting behaviour of a section of the crowd, as he undoubtedly will, will he consult the Home Secretary, the Attorney-General, the Minister responsible for sport and all the football clubs, not just Leicester City—unfortunately, we are not clear of this trouble, nor is anyone else—to see what can be done to curb football hooliganism?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is never reluctant to leave the directors' box. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Minister of State responsible for sport and recreation set up a working party to look into the question of crowd behaviour. It has already issued a number of recommendations to league clubs and will shortly be reviewing the progress that has been made. In cases where its recommendations have been fully implemented, the frequency and seriousness of incidents has been substantially reduced, and the measures taken by British Rail and the traffic commissioners have eased the problem of transport to matches.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's reply to his first "First Division" question; I hope that he avoids relegation.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government are likely to designate Category 1 grounds early next year under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act? As the question of finance is critical, may I ask what progress the Government have made with the Pools Promoters Association on the provision of finance from which clubs can help to improve their grounds?

I hope to stay in the "First Division", along with my own team, Leeds United. The Pools Promoters Association and the Football League have already established the Football Grounds Improvement Trust to assist clubs in meeting the requirements of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act and in generally improving their facilities.

Cbi

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister what plans he has to meet the leaders of British industry.

Q8.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend is frequently in touch with leaders of British industry at NEDC—where the TUC and the CBI are represented—and on other occasions. Meetings are arranged as necessary.

Is my right hon, Friend aware that in the last 10 years London has lost 500,000 manufacturing jobs, that in my constituency of Edmonton the unemployment rate has doubled in the past year, and that there are parts of London where the unemployment rate is higher than it is in some development areas? When my right hon. Friend next meets the leaders of industry, will he propose, as a matter of urgency, that discussions take place between the Government, industry, the Greater London Council and the trade unions, to see what can be done to tackle the increasing problem of losing manufacturing jobs from London and give it the highest priority?

I am well aware that there are many parts of the country which are not assisted areas but in which the rate of unemployment is higher than in some assisted areas. That is one reason why, last September, my right hon. Friend and I extended the temporary employment subsidy for assisted areas to cover the whole country. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, it is misleading to talk about unemployment levels by constituencies, especially in London, because workers living in one part of London can and normally do find work by commuting to another part. The Greater London travel-to-work area had an unemployment rate of 3·1 per cent. in October—well below the average rate for the United Kingdom as a whole and under half the average rate for the development areas. In the light of that fact, I do not think that it would be right to take special measures to help the GLC area.

When the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister meet the leaders of British industry, do they ever ask them why manufacturing industry has failed to invest over a long period? If they do, what reasons do the industrial leaders give? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in a recent report of the National Economic Development Office that tried to ascertain the major constraints on British manufacturing industry investment over the last 10 years, the view was put forward that the reason was not lack of finance or lack of markets but lack of continuity of Government policy, because of constant chopping and changing about? What proposals have the Government to bring continuity into industrial and economic policy?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I, and my right hon. Friends, rarely meet leaders of industry without discussing with them the problem of investment. We get varying replies about the reasons for British industry's comparative failure to invest since the war. As I pointed out in the debate in the House last week, the investment performance of our manufacturing industry has been sadly declining since the Second World War, irrespective of the rate of inflation and of the rate of return on capital. Studies done by the NEDC, which have been considered by the CBI and the TUC, suggest that the so-called stop-go policies have been no more a factor in deterring investment in this country than they have in other countries which have a better record. The question of what is required to promote and stimulate manufacturing investment is an immensely complicated one, and hon. Members on both sides of the House would be mistaken in believing that there is a single and simple answer to it.

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that the Government have said that public sector expenditure must be restrained so that the resources thus made available can be devoted for investment in the private sector? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance to industry in London that it will receive its share of those resources which are to be made available?

I have made clear on many occasions, as has my right hon. Friend, that the Government intend to give priority to measures that will stimulate investment and improve performance in British manufacturing industry as a whole, and that this will require our giving a lower priority to other areas of public expenditure. I hope that my hon. Friend will support us.

Has the right hon. Gentleman noted the strong expression of belief by the leaders of British industry that the contents of the Queen's Speech did not honour the undertakings given to them at the recent Chequers conference? In view of the grave financial, economic and unemployment situation in this country, what proposals have the Government to restore confidence to British industry?

Of course I have noticed the statements made by Sir Ralph Bateman and those who, no less than the hon. Gentleman, have their constituencies. I also notice that in his speech yesterday Sir Ralph pointed out that next year will be a critical year for Britain. He believes that it could be the year in which we set our economy on that course which it has failed to follow since the Second World War, namely, a steady improvement in our relative performance compared with that of other parts of the world. I hope that we shall have the support of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends no less than that of both sides of British industry in ensuring that next year is indeed a turning point in that sense.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the leaders of British industry and many other people in industry are concerned about the point of re-entry after the current wage policy? Are the Government plotting a recommended course? When shall we have a statement about it in the new year?

The Government have made clear on many occasions that they believe it would be a great mistake to win one battle and then lose the war. It will, therefore, be necessary to continue an incomes policy following the end of the current wage round. My right hon. Friends and I will be discussing this policy with both sides of the House and industry in the new year. We are confident of reaching agreement on an adequate policy in good time before the next wage round begins.

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the leaders of British industry and the House how it can conceivably help confidence in investment in the future for the Government to proceed with the measures they are taking this afternoon for the nationalisation of the shipbuilding and aviation industry?

The right hon. Gentleman, whose integrity we respect, would not believe that it would advance the reputation of any British Government to betray the promise on which they fought and won the last General Election, and we have no intention of doing so.

Inverness

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Inverness.

I have been asked to reply. My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so, Sir.

If the Prime Minister has no present plans to go to Inverness I am sure that the Chancellor will agree that the Prime Minister—being a kind of movable feast—will eventually arrive there. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Prime Minister, when he goes to Inverness, to proceed by the A9, in the hope that that will lead to improvements being made in the road? Will the right hon. Gentleman also tell the Prime Minister that the Member for Inverness, estimable as he may be, was elected by only 32 per cent. of the electorate—

Not only the pavements are cracked. It would be appreciated by the electors of Inverness if a member of the Government could explain the justification for doubling the existing electoral injustice when the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments are introduced.

I shall bear in mind in future that the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) represents well under half his constituents. I am glad to say that that is not so in my case. I cannot guarantee, on my next visit to Inverness, to travel along the A9 road, but if I do so in the immediate future I shall be happy to find and be able to inform the hon. Gentleman that progress is satisfactory, that the first scheme at Almond Bridge, at Perth, is now open to traffic and that work is proceeding satisfactorily on six other schemes, at a cost of £29 million. I should be even happier to be able to inform the hon. Gentleman, as a minority representative of his constituency, that tenders have been invited for a further three schemes, covering 10 miles, and that procedural and technical preparations are going ahead to maintain a steady flow of other schemes.

Which does my right hon. Friend think more important to the people of Inverness—a monster plesiosaur in Loch Ness or a monster bureaucracy in Edinburgh?

I regret to say that I am incapable of deciding the precedence between those two monsters, but I do not believe that it was the purpose of my hon. Friend's supplementary question to suggest that the Government's proposals for devolution will require the creation of a monster bureaucracy.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that people in Inverness and the rest of the United Kingdom believe that the Government's White Paper on devolution will prove to be both unworkable and likely to threaten the unity of the United Kingdom? It is almost impossible for the House to keep its self-respect and at the same time implement proposals based on the detail of the White Paper. Will he therefore ask the Prime Minister to withdraw it in toto and start again?

I could scarcely fail to be aware that there is in the House a wide variety of views on the White Paper, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect that, given the known state of public opinion in Scotland and Wales, to maintain the status quo would be quite impossible and undesirable. That being so, some means must be found of satisfying the legitimate desire of the Welsh and Scottish peoples for more influence on their own affairs.

The Government believe that they have found the right balance between a number of conflicting alternatives, and I am interested to know that the two larger Opposition parties disagree totally about the direction in which the Government's proposals are mistaken. But there will be ample opportunity to consider the proposals now that the White Paper has been published, and a further opportunity after the publication of the Bill, in the spring. I am certain that the right way to approach this immensely important problem is at a pace which enables the peoples of all parts of the United Kingdom to express their considered views.