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Unemployed Persons

Volume 901: debated on Sunday 2 March 1975

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


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.