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Unemployment Statistics

Volume 19: debated on Tuesday 2 March 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the current percentage levels of unemployment in the United Kingdom, the European Economic Community, Norway, Sweden and Austria, respectively.

Exactly comparable figures are not available—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah".]—they very seldom are—but in December 1981, the latest month for which information is available for all the countries, the United Kingdom rate, on a partly standardised basis, was 11·3 per cent. as compared with 9·0 per cent. for the European Community as a whole. In Norway the national rate was 1·9 per cent., for Sweden 2·9 per cent. and for Austria 4·1 per cent.

As the United Kingdom in the 1950s and 1960s had rates of unemployment which were similar to those in Austria, Norway and Sweden, is my right hon. Friend prepared to mount a special study to find out why those smaller countries are apparently more successful in tackling unemployment, particularly when they have been deprived of the dramatic benefits of EEC membership?

My hon. Friend is, perhaps, on to an interesting point when he says that we should think about the causes of those matters. I am puzzled that the Swedes are so guilt-ridden about not being members of the Community that they commit suicide at twice the rate of the British—or perhaps it is because unemployment in Sweden rose by nearly a half in the second half of last year. I suggest to my hon. Friend that it is rash to draw such a conclusion from the statistics that he uses.

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that young people in the North of England are so guilt-ridden at not having a job that they are committing suicide? Will he explain why Britain, which has one-fifth of the European Community's population, has one-third of European.unemployment? Does not that have something to do with the fact that the fiscal and monetary stance of the Government has been three times as restrictive as that of any other European Government?

No, Sir, not at all. The hon. Gentleman would do better to examine what happens in, for example, Germany, in relation to labour law, and what has been happening to the unit labour costs there. He should also reflect on the fact that the fiscal and monetary stance of this country during the period when the disaster was being prepared for British industry was the fiscal and monetary stance of the party of which the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) is a member. [Interruption.] If Opposition Members cannot listen for a moment, they would be advised to learn to do so. I repeat that the damage that was done to the economy when money was being poured into it at an unparalleled rate until the IMF had to take over control is largely responsible for our difficulties today.