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Job Vacancies

Volume 979: debated on Tuesday 19 February 1980

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

In January there were 1,404,389 people registered as unemployed in Great Britain and the numbers of notified unfilled vacancies were 184,626 at employment offices and 19,147 at careers offices. I am naturally concerned about the current level of unemployment, but our economic policies are aimed at providing the right climate for an expansion of genuine employment.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government are working on the assumption that there will be 2 million unemployed by early next year? Has he studied the business forecast by the Charterhouse City group, which predicts 500,000 more unemployed this year? Will the Secretary of State assert his responsibility in the Cabinet and join his anonymous colleague by rejecting the A-level of economics of the Treasury Bench and placing the economic policy strategy emphasis on growth and higher employment instead of deflation, unemployment and confict?

The public expenditure White Paper announced that the figures that the Government were working on for the year 1980–81 were 1·65 million unemployed. That is consistent with the forecast made by the Manpower Services Commission which was available recently for the Select Committee. I have never sought to conceal from the House the fact that unemployment in the present world situation is bound to rise.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it does not lie in the mouths of right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, to raise the question of unemployment when they presided over its doubling when they were in office? Will he further say that the two obstacles in the way of reducing unemployment are the present high levels of wage settlements and interest rates?

The last two matters are of great importance. Part of the reason for our policy of reducing public expenditure is to enable the PSBR to come down. That will be an enormous aid to reducing unemployment and it is a factor that I take into account. I agree with the other point that my hon. Friend made.

Does the Secretary of State understand that in the appalling figures he has quoted he hides the disaster of areas such as the North-East? Does he realise that it is high time he fought his corner in the Cabinet in an effort to spend more money on job creation schemes in regions such as the North-East?

I fully appreciate the serious problems of the North-East. We shall not resolve the problems of unemployment and so on by thinking that we have only to spend more Government money. That is precisely why interest rates are so high and why unemployment is created, because of those interest rates.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the unemployment figures from his Department are fundamentally bogus because they make no distinction between those who are genuinely and unwillingly unemployed and those who are willingly unemployed and members of the black economy?

There is always a great deal of argument about how unemployment figures are computed. As a trend, the figures are reliable. Regrettably, that trend is upwards and it will remain so until, first, the world situation improves and secondly, until we stop buying other people's goods and make them buy more of ours.

Which of the Government's present economic policies is the Secretary of State confident will reduce unemployment in areas such as the North-West, which have lost assisted area status?

A general upturn in the economy. That will come about only when we reduce our unit costs, sell more abroad and stop importing so much.

Does the Secretary of State recall that he made a bold forecast a year ago that a Tory Government would stimulate the economy and create a better climate for industry and commerce? Has not the opposite occurred? We now have soaring inflation while production and investment are falling. Record interest rates are destroying small businesses and jobs and we are heading towards 2 million unemployed and the collapse of the economy. Should not the right hon. Gentleman be hanging his head in shame?

The only mistake that I made was to be more optimistic than I should have been about the state of the economy when we took it over from the right hon. Gentleman.