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Long-Term Unemployment

Volume 931: debated on Tuesday 3 May 1977

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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.