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Government Measures

Volume 961: debated on Tuesday 23 January 1979

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13.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further measures he has for reducing unemployment; and if he will make a statement.

Consideration of a programme of measures for 1979–80 is at an advanced stage.

Is it not apparent to my right hon. Friend and others in the Cabinet that, as free competition could not solve unemployment, and as bribing private enterprise to the tune of £12 million a day is not solving the problem, the only way out is to plan unemployment away completely? Does he agree that the proposals laid out in the Labour Party's draft manifesto, namely, the 35-hour week, planning trade, restoring cuts in public expenditure, early retirement and mandatory school grants are the only way forward? If my right hon. Friend takes these on board, urges his hon. Friend sitting next to him to vote for them on the National Executive and challenges the Tories, we might get back into power in order to plan unemployment away.

I am highly interested in my hon. Friend's manifesto proposals, as I am in those of other members of the National Executive, including my colleague in my Department. But we have considerable experience in this Government of the exent to which we can use special measures, including those that my hon. Friend calls bribes. We have experience on which to judge whether we want to include more extensive measures of planning, including planning agreements, in an election manifesto with a view to dealing with specific employment problems.

Do the Government's plans for dealing with unemployment in 1979–80 which are at an advanced stage, take account of the likely cuts in public expenditure which the Prime Minister seemed to indicate would be necessary?

No, they are not based on propositions for cuts in public expenditure. They are based upon ways in which we might make more effective some special measures that we are already running, and upon introducing other measures which will take over the role of the temporary employment subsidy, which has to be terminated as a result of the restrictions placed upon us by the EEC.

I represent an area which has one of the highest concentrations of unemployment in the country, namely, Sunderland. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, if there is a continuation of vastly inflationary wage increases, it will only exacerbate the problems of places like Sunderland?

If we have highly inflationary wage increases, particularly in the manufacturing industry sectors which put up our unit costs, they will certainly seriously exacerbate the situation.

Is it not abundantly clear to the Secretary of State from all the questions that have been asked today by his own supporters that they are absolutely split on their policy? Is he not aware that the Government are being constantly undermined by the Left wing of the Labour Party? We have now had five wasted years in which unemployment has got steadily worse. Have we not now reached the end of the road for the present Government?

No. What is clear from the questions that have been put to me this afternoon is that my hon. Friends are deeply concerned about the continuing problem of unemployment, about the effectiveness of measures which we have already introduced, and about finding ways, including better planning, of bringing about a return to full employment in this country.