Skip to main content

Employment

Volume 931: debated on Tuesday 3 May 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Disabled Workers (Medway)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest figure for unemployment amongst registered disabled workers in the Medway employment area; what percentage of all registered disabled workers in the area this represents; and what are the corresponding figures for general unemployment in the area.

I am advised by the Manpower Services Commission that on 14th April 1,022 or 18·4 per cent. of registered disabled people were unemployed in the Medway employment area. The corresponding figures for general unemployment in the area were 13,459 or 5·7 per cent. My hon. Friend will wish to note that the latter percentage relates to an area which includes Dartford as well as the Medway area.

Does the Minister accept that those figures reveal a disgraceful situation that is common throughout the country and that they reflect the failure of industry to meet quota obligations? Is it not now time to introduce legislation instructing the Employment Services Agency to publish the names of firms which refuse to meet their quota obligations?

The numbers of registered disabled people unemployed in the Medway area dropped between March and April, contrary to general trends.

It was not a large drop, but it is encouraging. The Employment Services Agency has accepted the need for a sheltered workshop in that area to be provided by Remploy. I do not know whether my hon. Friend was aware of that. Finally, it is not an offence to be below the quota, although I agree that that is an unsatisfactory situation.

I think my hon. Friend will agree that the main effort must be to get disabled people into jobs, and the Government have been advised by the National Advisory Council for the Employment of the Disabled and by the Manpower Services Commission that they favour persuasion rather than coercion. However, there must be a more positive policy of persuasion, and to that end we have announced measures in recent weeks—the capital grants scheme and the job introduction scheme. Later this month the Manpower Services Commission will be launching an employers' guide. I hope that the measures will be effective and that my hon. Friend will support them.

Is the Minister aware that the whole House is extremely worried about unemployment rates among the disabled, particularly because the Government have not taken up their share? Can he give us any further information about the Government taking up their quota, as we all hope will happen?

It is too soon to answer the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. However, I have been in touch with all my ministerial colleagues and urged them to take up the matter in turn with the industries for which they have responsibilities and to draw attention to the situation. I have also written to the chairmen of disablement advisory committees asking them to take this matter up with local authorities, because local authorities leave much to be desired. It is too soon, however, to give any more figures that could be helpful to the House.

Did not the Minister hear the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden)? He asked the Minister to publish the names. That was the essence of the question, to which we want an answer. Is the Minister aware that the Government have no moral justification in pressing private firms to employ their quota when every Government Department except two has failed to employ its quota of 3 per cent. disabled people?

I have already replied to the latter part of that question, and I have answered the first part by pointing out that the Government, the Manpower Services Commission and the National Advisory Council are against the kind of suggestion that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden), because that would cut across the efforts that they intend to make—particularly positive efforts—to achieve greater employment for the disabled through more persuasive policies.

Is the Minister aware that a number of sheltered workshops for the disabled throughout the country are short of orders, partly because of the general economic climate and lack of industrial output but also because Government Departments are not placing orders with them? Will Government Departments and nationalised industries give orders to them?

This is under active consideration. A working party has been set up by the Manpower Services Commission in conjunction with the National Advisory Council on a priority supply scheme. I hope that we shall have some firm proposals on that in the near future.

Unemployed Persons

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest unemployment figures; and what is the trend revealed by these.

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest unemployment figures; and if he will make a statement.

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the present level of unemployment.

At 14th April, 1,335,635 people were registered as unemployed in Great Britain. The seasonally adjusted figure is 1,269,200. These figures are provisional. Although the total number of adult unemployed has fallen by 11,506 since the last count, after seasonal factors have been taken into account the unemployment level has increased by 1,100. It has now been nearly static over the last seven months. It is, of course, still far too high.

How does the right hon. Gentleman see the longer-term trend in unemployment, bearing in mind the number of school leavers who will be seeking jobs in three months' time? Does he see unemployment rising to a figure of, say, 2 million? How can the trend be reversed without massive investment in the manufacturing of new products for which industry needs higher confidence and lower inflation than at present?

On the current discernible trends, increases in manufacturing output will not be sufficient to offset the increase in the numbers who will be seeking work, not only among school leavers but among additional numbers of women. The straight answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that the trend will not be reversed to the extent that the whole House would wish unless there is much more manufacturing investment. That is why my right hon. Friends and I attach so much importance to the development of the industrial strategy.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these shameful and continually high figures are costing about £75 million a week when one takes into account redundancy payments, unemployment and other benefits and loss of tax? Does he not agree with many people not only in the House but outside that the arithmetic of the Budget strategy is totally wrong, and that instead of shedding crocodile tears he should get along to the Treasury and tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it is time to adopt an alternative strategy and to reflate the economy?

I accept that there is a high public expenditure element in the present level of unemployment and that it is not confined to unemployment benefit. I do not believe that the Budget strategy alone can contribute much to improving the employment position by reflating the economy. The scope for that is limited and is probably within the present Budget considerations that will be before the House in the Finance Bill.

It is no good having a substantial increase in demand until we can increase capacity to satisfy it. The Budget strategy has to be seen in the context of what we are able to do to support investment and increase output generally.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, since the unemployment percentage and the ratio of unemployment to vacancies have consistently been far worse in Lancaster than in Hull and Grimsby, the time is now ripe to elevate Lancaster to development area status?

I shall look carefully at the relative status of various areas for development, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has done recently. Without a general upturn in the economy, there will not be large numbers of foot-loose industries looking for sites. The flexible powers that the Government possess and are taking to assist areas are a better way of dealing with problems such as those faced by Lancaster.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is considerable excess capacity in British industry and that the unemployment in Britain, Western Europe, America and Japan is an indictment of the capitalist system and that only real Socialist interventionist policies can begin to deal with this serious problem?

Interventionist policies are necessary, and we need international cooperation to overcome some dimensions of the problem. However, if we are to see the problem of inflation attacked simultaneously with the problem of unemployment, we must go for a greater use of existing capacity. Running industry at well below full capacity results in higher unit costs. If we could get up to 99·9 per cent. use of capacity, we could reduce costs as well as improve the employment situation.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that the Welsh unemployment figures are much higher than the national average? What plans has he to give a boost to the Welsh economy in the near future?

I accept that the Welsh figures are a cause for serious concern and are higher than the national average. That is why one of the two changes in development area status affected an area of Wales. The greater flexibility of the job measures, including those that we shall have to consider as a result of the Holland Committee's report, can be particularly significant in Wales.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that employment will not come down until he makes it worth while for employers to employ people? Will he look at the position of apprentices? Is it not time that the Government put apprentices on an equal basis with students so that those who employ and train them should receive grants equivalent to those enjoyed in the case of students?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept that employers do not usually employ people unless they consider it to be worth while. In present circumstances, the Government judge it right to assist employers to employ people. That is one of the major purposes behind the temporary employment subsidy and one of the reasons why we are supporting employers who are taking on thousands of apprentices and receiving the advantage of Government grants for the first year of training. We shall continue to do that, and we have recently announced that in special development areas we shall pay direct grants to small employers to increase employment in manufacturing industry.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that in these and previous figures the proportion of unemployment among the under-25s has been rising steadily and that, given the size of the age groups coming on to the market in the next few years, we have a structural problem of youth unemployment that requires long-term measures to deal with it?

That is certainly the case. We have tended to measure youth unemployment by the number of unemployed school leavers and we have addressed many special measures precisely to that area. Their great success is shown in the drop from 199,000 unemployed school leavers in July to 31,000 in March. These figures bear testimony to the success of the measures. My hon. Friend has clearly reflected the concern of the House at the fact that there is youth unemployment well above school leaver level, and we shall be addressing ourselves to the problem of the 16 to 18 age band when we consider the report and recommendations of the Manpower Services Commission in this area. I also agree that there is another dimension to the problem that can be measured by unemployment among those aged between 18 and 25.

The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) has three jobs and gets paid for every one of them.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the new jobs that the country so desperately needs can come only from the private sector? Will he therefore pay no attention to the left wing of the Labour Party, which thinks only in terms of public expenditure and does so much to undermine the confidence of British industry on which future employment depends? Will the right hon. Gentleman continue with his policy of telling the left wing to belt up?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that those of my hon. Friends whom he describes as "left wing" are concerned about a number of elements in the private sector. They make regular representations to me about unemployment in the private sector in their constituences. I do not agree that the only way to deal with unemployment is to look to the private sector. There are significant services in the public sector which we should be seeking to improve. So far as we can do that consistent with our capacity to pay for these services, we must see that as one of the ways of dealing with unemployment.

Vacancies

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what effect the Government's special measures have had on filling the number of skilled vacancies.

The special training measures, assisting approximately 60,000 young people with their apprentice and other long-term training by August 1977, have been designed to make sure that sufficient skilled manpower will be available in the future. My right hon. Friend announced on 3rd March that a further £46 million was to be allocated which should support an extra 41,500 training places next year. The special measures provisions have also enabled the Training Services Agency to increase the numbers trained in skilled occupations under the Training Opportunities Scheme.

I thank the Minister for those figures. Does he recognise that high unemployment still masks a grave shortage of skills in the Northern Region? Does he agree that any area depends on skill for its industrial health and strength? Will he therefore agree that a good case can be made for retaining the excellent work force employed by C.A. Parsons at Newcastle?

It is important to have as great a skilled work force as possible in the North-East. I was there last week and representations were made to me. I assure the hon. Member that the Government are very concerned about the work force of C.A. Parsons.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the shortage of apprenticeships that are available today? Does he realise that there are already indications that if and when the economy takes off there will be a grave shortage of skilled apprentices? Does he not believe that at this time we should realistically consider whether the State should take responsibility for the training of all young people between the ages of 16 and 20?

The Government are proud that they have managed to sustain the level of apprentice training during a difficult period. It is not practicable for the State to take responsibility for the training of all young people between the ages of 16 and 20. Industrial training is primarily the responsibility of employers.

Dock Work Regulation Act

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received in relation to bringing into force the Dock Work Regulation Act.

None, Sir. But in response to inquiries I have explained that the Act will be brought into force after consultations about the membership of the new board have been completed.

Is the Minister really saying that Members of the Liberal Party, who said that there would be no Socialism in our time and who opposed the Act, have not made representations that it should not be brought into force? What, then, was the point of the Lib-Lab pact for the Liberals?

Does my hon. Friend realise that there is a great deal of concern in the industry, particularly on the trade union side, about the establishment of the new board and the removal of many of the anomalies in the docks industry which can be dealt with through the Dock Work Regulation Act? May I impress upon him the need to go ahead and implement the Act as soon as possible?

The fact that we have received no representations is an indication of the important and constructive effect that the Act will have on this difficult industry. We are seeking to complete consultations as soon as possible.

Is the Minister aware that many small ports, such as Mostyn in my constituency, much as they welcome the respite that the consultations have provided, are living in an atmosphere of great uncertainty? Does he recognise that that atmosphere is worsened in my area because it is precluded from development area status? Can the Minister give an assurance that nothing in the Act will have the effect of putting small ports such as that at Mostyn out of business?

The hon. Member raises a particular problem. The situation was fully explained to him when the Act was going through the House. He knows that the classification of dock work will depend upon the recommendations of the board when it is established.

School Leavers

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what new measures he is proposing to introduce to improve the employment prospects of school leavers.

As I informed the House on 3rd March, more funds have been allocated for the extension and expansion of the special measures introduced by the Government during the past 18 months for alleviating unemployment. A considerable proportion of this extra money will be devoted to providing additional assistance for young people currently unemployed and those school leavers who will be seeking unemployment—I am sorry; seeking employment—this summer.

I have just received the report of a working party of the Manpower Services Commission on the feasibility of ensuring that all unemployed young people between the ages of 16 and 18 are given the opportunity of training or part-time further education, of participation in a job creation programme, or of work experience. This will be given careful consideration, and I will make a statement about it in due course.

Apart from the Minister's Freudian slip, does he agree that, of all forms of unemployment, unemployment among school leavers is the most shameful? Does he realise that his proposals for the inner city areas barely scratch the surface?

Of all forms of unemployment, unemployment among young people is the worst. I hope the hon. Member will acknowledge that we have already made considerable progress with that problem. In his constituency in particular there has been a significant fall in such unemployment over the last two years. I hope that a wide-ranging, constructive debate in the House and throughout the country will arise as a result of the report. I hope that we shall be able to debate how far it is possible to expand and develop and find a solution to the problem of unemployment among those who are between 16 and 18 years of age. I hope that we shall be able to co-ordinate existing methods to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that young people want work and not work experience? Does he recognise that there are likely to be many thousands of young people on Merseyside this summer who will gain no work experience? What further measures are being taken to provide employment opportunities in that area? Does he not agree that we need an emergency crash programme?

I agree that many young people want work first of all rather than work experience, additional education or specific training. I would be misleading the House if I did not indicate the judgment that there are many thousands of young people who will not obtain jobs after the school leaving day on 28th May this year unless they can be helped by additional training such as that provided under the work experience scheme. We have found that those who undertake such training find jobs more readily than they did before. I agree that a crash programme is necessary, but it must contain elements that will assist people to get work.

Does the Minister agree that the number of unemployed school leavers would still be at 200,000 if he had not spent £500 million on artificial job creation?

I accept that the 200,000 figure that we reached last year would not have fallen by anything like the amount that it did but for a number of measures, including job creation, work experience and so on. That is not an argument against using special measures to help young people in a period of recession and demographic increases in unemployment. Rather, I think that it is a reason for examining such measures as we are running, seeing how effective they are and deciding whether we want to pursue them, to develop them or to replace them by other measures. If we fail to do that, we shall be failing these young people.

Will my right hon. Friend accept from me that there is a feeling of almost total hopelessness and disillusion among school leavers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".]—at a time when their hopes should be highest? Will he also accept that the crocodile tears of the Conservative Party, which failed to invest in British industry in order to ensure jobs for school leavers, are noted on the Labour Benches? Will he also guarantee that more steps will be taken at least partially to reflate the economy—something that the Conservative Party would never dream of helping to do—in order to ensure that these young people are given jobs?

One of the things that worry me enormously is that I find in certain areas—not uniformly across the country, but in certain areas only—a sense of disillusionment among young people, and a sense of hopelessness—[An HON. MEMBER: "And among old people."]—but it is not general. I still take some comfort from the fact that the majority of youngsters leaving school still believe that they should be able to find not only some sort of a job but a job that will be satisfying to them and one in which they can deploy their own particular talents. I think that they are right to expect that, and I think that because, inevitably, youngsters cannot control all the factors that will determine whether or not they get jobs, it is up to those of us who can do something about it to respond to their particular needs.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that perhaps the worst aspect of the present unemployment situation is the growing inability to provide jobs for younger people? Will he give the figures not only for school leavers but for the number of people under, say, the age of 18 or under 25 who are today unemployed? Will he also give the House an assurance that the report of the Manpower Services Commission will be published soon and that there will be a full-scale debate on this problem very soon in the House?

Perhaps I may deal with those questions in reverse order. Certainly I shall approach my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House with a view to having an early debate. I have already been in touch with the Chairman of the Manpower Services Commission regarding publication. I am expecting the report to be published this month. As regards the number of unemployed young people, including school leavers under the age of 18, the figure peaked at 268,000 in July 1976 and then declined steadily until January, when the figure was 122,000. At the next count on the age basis, I shall provide a more up-to-date figure than that.

I do not accept that we are incapable of dealing with this problem. We have attacked the problem at the point of the school leaver with a very considerable measure of success. In succeeding years we have developed more effective measures in that area. What we now need to do is to go on to deal with the problem measured against the wider basis, and first of all on the 16–18 age group, which is a matter of primary importance to us now, although that would not preclude our looking at the problem again on the basis of a longer time scale later.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that any action indicated in this sphere must be initiated within the next two weeks in view of the large number of youngsters coming on to the labour market at the end of the month and the very low level of juvenile vacancies advertised in local offices? In that context, will the Government consider the possibility of allocating grants or subsidies to all those companies that are willing to employ a larger number of apprentices than is needed by their organisations, thereby guaranteeing a skilled work force when the economic miracle comes?

I am already examining as much evidence as we can find about the position of the Easter school leavers, who are the main immediate issue. It appears that about three-quarters of them have obtained jobs. We shall be dealing with a little over one-quarter—about 19,000 school leavers registered in career offices. That is one of the reasons why we have carried forward the existing measures to assist them into August this year, in advance of determining what we are to do about the Holland Report.

I very much appreciate that Scottish school leaving dates are different and that there are Christmas school leavers and May school leavers in Scotland. However, I am giving the House an indication, which is the best and latest indication I have, of what happens to young people leaving school now. The best indication comes from the English and Welsh school leavers. Of course, in England we shall also have young people leaving school on 28th May. I very much agree that we must continue, through the industrial training boards and through the Training Opportunities Scheme, to support and maintain the level of intake into vocational training.

Unfair Dismissal Procedures (Overseas Workers)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he intends to bring forward new legislative proposals for the application of unfair dismissal procedures to people whose employment takes them abroad for substantial parts of the year.

I am aware that the effect of recent case law is to deny to some people who ordinarily work part of the time abroad the right to complain of unfair dismissal. A case on this is now pending in the Court of Appeal, and the Government will consider whether legislation is necessary when the Court of Appeal's decision is known.

Is the Minister aware of the distress and difficulty that this is causing to people affected, including some in my constituency? Could we at least have an indication from him of when he expects the Court of Appeal to decide this issue? If it decides that Parliament made a mess of it the first time round, could we have an undertaking that something will be done about it in this parliamentary Session, and not the next Session?

I understand the widespread concern, which the Government share. I cannot forecast when the case will be dealt with by the Court of Appeal. It has been pending for some months. I hope that it will be high on the list. Certainly, if the Court of Appeal decision goes what would be the wrong way for the hon. Gentleman and myself, I give him the undertaking that we shall act as swiftly as possible. As he will know, there is a Private Member's Bill before the House in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), which is not yet printed. We should have to look carefully to see whether that would be a suitable vehicle. Equally, we shall have to look carefully at the implications of the judgment in relation to the form of words used in other statutes, such as the Contracts of Employment Act and the Employment Protection Act.

Does my hon. Friend recall that about 37 weeks ago some waitresses who were working for Trust Houses Forte hotels were unfairly dismissed and that they have been on strike ever since, and that as a result of the efforts that have been made by myself and some others—including some who are now Ministers—in refusing to attend any functions at these hotels, Trust Houses Forte, which employs the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) as a consultant—

and has had the freedom in the last 12 months to pay a £12,000 increase—

Order. I call the hon. Gentleman to order. He was rude in the extreme. I want to tell him that he was quite unworthy of this House in what he has just done in refusing to acknowledge the Speaker. If others behaved in that fashion, this place would be impossible and would not be representative of the British people.

Later

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. While accepting that when an altercation took place in Question Time I was regarded as unworthy by some hon. Members in this House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."]—especially by those who line their pockets past and present from other jobs, particularly on the Conservative side, at a time when there are 1½ million people unemployed—

Will the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) come to his point of order?

Notwithstanding that, I am still unaware of why I was called to order by you, Mr. Speaker. At the time I was deeply engrossed in exposing Trust Houses Forte for refusing to allow pickets of the Transport and General Workers Union—

Order. I am sure the hon. Member realises that he cannot pursue now the question that he was advancing earlier. I want to know what point of order he wishes to raise with me. He must either come to the point or resume his seat.

Taking account of the fact that I was deeply engrossed in making that point, I want to know why I was called to order when Ministers had taken twice and sometimes three times as long to give their answers. Perhaps tomorrow, Mr. Speaker, you and I could examine the number of inches in Hansard to see who spoke the longest. If I was called to order on the matter of content, I want to know. Will you explain to me the reason for calling me to order, because I am unaware whether it was because of the length or because of the content?

I will explain to the hon. Member why I called him to order. It was because he refused to sit down when I rose to my feet, and he went on for several moments after I had shouted "Order". If there is no respect for the Chair in this House, democracy itself is undermined.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I, too, would like clarification of this matter. I cannot understand whether my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was stopped for being too long or because he was making comments that obviously were not liked by some Conservative Members. It is still not clear to me whether he was stopped because he was speaking for too long. We are often stopped because we take too long. I have been stopped many times for that reason. However, I would object most strongly if I were stopped because certain Conservative Members did not like what I had said.

Order. It is not a matter of whether one side or another likes what is said. I was rising to ask the hon. Member for Bolsover to come to the point of his question. The hon. Member is quite correct—the answers were very long today; but when the Speaker rises he is entitled to expect the courtesy and support of the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order is not unconnected with the bellowing of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in that it relates to what I regard as an abuse of the Order Paper and the procedures of the House by the Prime Minister and the Civil Service Department over matters connected with the Trust Houses Forte dispute. It was reported three weeks ago that the Civil Service Minister had issued instructions to all Government Departments not to use any premises of Trust Houses Forte. I wrote to the Prime Minister seeking clarification—

Order. Will the hon. Member tell me the point of order so that we may move on?

I sought guidance from the Prime Minister whether that action had his approval, and all I received was an acknowledgment from No. 10 Downing Street—

Order. It would help the House if the hon. Member would come to the point of order that he wishes to raise with me, and if he would tell me what he wants me to do, if there is anything that I can do.

I placed a Question for Written Answer on the Order Paper yesterday asking the Prime Minister when he would answer my question. The answer that I received was that the answer was contained in a letter that I would receive yesterday. I have not received that letter. Then, on today's Order Paper there was clearly a planted Question tabled by the hon. Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Hatton) asking the Civil Service Department to detail the arrangements whereby Government Departments had been instructed not to use any premises of Trust Houses Forte for hospitality. What protection do Back Benchers have from the connivance of the Civil Service Department and Labour Back Benchers who are trying to prevent Opposition Back Benchers from receiving answers to Questions placed on the Order Paper some days previously?

The hon. Gentleman's point of order has been heard by those concerned as well as by myself. I shall examine the matter to see whether there is anything I can do, but I very much doubt it.

Long-Term Unemployment

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will initiate a study into methods of reducing long-term unemployment, including an examination of the effect of gradually reducing the retirement age for men and women.

Methods of reducing unemployment in the long term are among the topics which are under virtually continuous review by my Department and by the Manpower Services Commission. The question of a gradual reduction in the retirement age for men and women is primarily one for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. However, as part of the series of special measures to relieve unemployment we have introduced the job release scheme, which enables older workers within a year of pension age to retire early and make way for younger unemployed people.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is time for his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to do something about it? Does he accept that a great part of our unemployment is long-term and structural? Is he aware that irrespective, almost, of investment patterns there is a long-term tendency for the average number of hours worked per individual not to be reduced, which can be countered only by reducing the working week and working life?

My hon. Friend raises a number of complex and difficult matters. He talks about retirement, the working week and reduced overtime as well as reducing the retirement age. Many of these matters require discussion in depth in an international context. In that respect a good deal is now taking place. Indeed, these matters will be discussed this week at the Standing Employment Committee in Europe between trade unionists, employers and Social Affairs Ministers throughout the Community.

Have the Department or the Government laid any plans, or considered adopting an emigration policy, to reduce unemployment in this country?

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that in spite of our heavy unemployment there are still many vacancies at the coalfields? Will he consider discussing with his Department, the Department of Energy and the National Coal Board the reduction of the retirement age and the improvement of wages and conditions so that we can attract to the coalfields the people who are so urgently required?

I think I am right in saying that my hon. Friend has a Question on the Order Paper to that effect. If it is not reached, we shall undertake to draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Will the hon. Gentleman initiate an early study into the function of Professional and Executive Recruitment in view of its appalling record in placing people in jobs in the past three years—namely, 6 per cent., 4 per cent. and 5 per cent.? Will he use the money that is being spent by the service more usefully in other areas?

I reject the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. I think that the PER has a good record.

Construction Industry

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the current level of unemployment in the construction industry; and what percentage increase that figure represents over the equivalent figure for 1st March 1974.

At 10th February, the latest date for which an industrial analysis is available, 227,443 people who last worked in the construction industry were registered as unemployed in Great Britain. This figure represents an increase of 101·2 per cent. since March 1974.

Does the hon. Gentleman think that that dreadful figure of a 101 per cent. increase under his Government in any way represents a creditable or honourable record for the Administration?

I think that it is an extremely unsatisfactory figure. I believe that the Government acknowledged that in the debate last night. Through the hon. Gentleman, I ask his party's Front Bench to tell us what its policies are for the construction industry and whether it would be cutting back public expenditure in this area as savagely as it has threatened to do in other areas.

Is my hon. Friend aware that even in the construction industry unemployment is higher in some parts of the country than in others? Is he aware, for example, that of the 30,000 unemployed construction workers in the North-West over half of them are on Merseyside? Will he indicate what special and extra efforts are being made by the Government to ensure that there is extra construction work on Merseyside to begin to take up some of the unemployed skilled workers in the area and get them back to work in the industry?

I recognise the special problems of Merseyside in this respect. I must tell my hon. Friend that points of detail are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Certain measures have already been announced that will have special effect in Merseyside.

Has the hon. Gentleman mentioned in his discussions with the Secretary of State for Industry the desirability of increasing development grants for buildings and, if necessary, reducing grants for new machinery, which would give considerable encouragement for new industrial construction and would probably not result in any reduction in investment in new machinery?

That is very much a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. We shall draw his attention to the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Will my hon. Friend give an indication of what the general level of unemployment would be if the Government had imposed the massive cuts in public expenditure that Conservatives have been advocating?

I should hate to speculate on that figure, but we cannot get any intelligible answers from the Opposition on these matters.

Small Firms

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what research he has undertaken to assess the effect that legislation passed in the previous three years has had on new employment among small firms.

My Department and the Manpower Services Commission have jointly commissioned a study of the effect of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Acts 1974 and 1976, the Redundancy Payments Act and the Employment Protection Act upon companies' employment practices and policies. It is hoped that the results of this study will be available by the middle of next year.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware how pleased I am with that reply? Will the study aim to answer the question that is particularly relevant to the inner cities—namely, whether the Employment Protection Act is having a dragging effect on the ability of small firms to take on new labour?

Yes, I have said that it will be examining the effect of the Employment Protection Act and other legislation on small companies. I rather doubt whether it has had the effect that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. I know of no evidence to support the point of view that he has put forward.