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Unemployed Persons

Volume 929: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest total number of unemployed; and how this compares with February and October 1974.

At 10th March the provisional number of registered as unemployed in Great Britain, excluding school leavers, and seasonally adjusted, was 1,268,100, compared with 549,800 in February 1974 and 608,400 in October 1974.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that these are disgraceful unemployment figures? Are they what the Government had in mind three years ago when they conned the electors into believing that it would be "back to work with Labour"?

The figures reflect in part the efforts that the Government have successfully made to retain the level of employment in this country to a greater degree than most other countries in Western Europe. In the period to which the Question relates—namely, between March 1974 and March 1976—the fall in the number of people working was only 233,000. The fact that the rise in unemployment was three times that is largely due to the fact that many more people are seeking employment. That will continue to be the case for some time to come. It is against such an objective assessment that the House must judge the measures that the Government bring forward to deal with an appalling problem.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the working people of Stechford are fully aware that there would be twice as many unemployed if the Tories were in power? Will he take note that the Tories themselves clearly recognise that fact? Does my right hon. Friend discern any trend that shows that in the near future more people are likely to be employed?

If Opposition Members were as assiduous in their study of what is happening in industry as they are in focussing on the particular problems of unemployment they would realise that such a trend exists. The number of people employed in vehicle manufacturing rose by 16,000 between January 1976 and January 1977. The number employed in the textile industry increased by 9,000 in the same period. The number of people employed in chemical manufacturing increased by 7,000. There is every evidence that the support of the industrial strategy for manufacturing industry is resulting in many more jobs.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware how much avoidable unemployment is caused in many instances by the refusal of the Department of the Environment to give local authorities permission, under Section 42 of the Community Land Act, to sell land to employers who are willing to go to areas as long as they can buy the land, so creating local employment.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]

Will the right hon. Gentleman take over from the Department of the Environment the question of the release of land under Section 42 of the Community Land Act, so that employment can be provided?

I am not aware that this is by any means a general problem. I know of only one or two very isolated cases of employers seeking to purchase land in which there is difficulty in creating new employment. In the overwhelming number of cases in which employers are prepared to move into areas and to obtain land to create employment they receive nothing but great assistance from Government Departments.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that these unsatisfactory unemployment figures are largely due to inflation of long duration, precipitated by the reckless monetary policies of the last Conservative Government?

I agree with my hon. Friend that our inflation problem is one of the major constraints in dealing with unemployment. These "disastrous" figures which are being referred to arise at the end of two months which have seen successive drops in total unemployment, one of which was a drop of 38,000 in four weeks.

How does the Secretary of State reconcile what he has said about his concern for employment and what one of his colleagues said about the neutrality of his Department on the closed shop issue with the disclosures in the Business News of The Times this morning of the deplorable episode involving Tattersall Advertising Limited, in which an organisation in his Department—ACAS—was used to enforce a closed shop on that company?

The rôle of ACAS is to conciliate and avoid disputes. That includes any disputes arising from breaches of closed shop agreements.

Is not the Secretary of State's statement today and his answers to Questions a shameful indictment of the Government's pathetic employment record? Is he not aware that our figures are now above the average for EEC countries? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I have the latest figures here: ours are above the average. Is he not further aware that the Prime Minister said last Wednesday in the House that he thought that the trend in unemployment over the next few months would certainly not be downwards? Would he now tell the House, the country and the electors of Stechford the Government's forecast for unemployment over the next year?

I sometimes wonder what the right hon. Gentleman's programme is before he comes into the House to utter some of these phrases like "shameful indictment". If he would only pause to consider what I have reported, he would see that it includes a drop of 26,000 in the number of unemployed between January and February, a drop of 38,000 between February and March and an increase in the numbers employed in vehicles of 16,000, in textiles of 9,000 and in chemicals of 7,000. I hardly think that figures like that justify such phrases as "shameful indictment" of the Government, especially against a background of a major recession.