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Unemployment Statistics

Volume 21: debated on Tuesday 30 March 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the most recent unemployment figures.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the latest unemployment figures.

Unemployment fell this month by over 52,000—the largest fall for the month of March since the current series of figures began in 1948. Following the slowing in the underlying rate of increase in recent months and the fall in inflation, prices and interest rates, there are some grounds for hope that the increase in our competitiveness has begun to arrest the growth in unemployment.

Does the Minister agree that the fall of 52,000 and the drop to below 3 million have been produced by doctoring the figures and persuading about 30,000 men over 60 to go on to long-term supplementary benefit on the basis that they are then removed from the unemployment figures? Instead of twisting the figures, will the Secretary of State devote his energy to creating the real jobs that were promised in the Government's massive advertising campaign in 1979? When do the Government expect unemployment to fall to the level that they inherited from the Labour Government in 1979?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is "No". The answer to his second question is that Governments do not create jobs. Customers create jobs when they buy goods. When customers come forward to buy the goods offered by British industry, British industry will have an increasing number of jobs to offer, but not before.

Is the Secretary of State satisfied with the current level of unemployment in the construction industry of 25 per cent. in England, Scotland and Wales and 47–5 per cent. in Northern Ireland? Will the right hon. Gentleman get on his bike and bring his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment—the Minister for Merseyside—to Liverpool, where unemployment stands at 45 per cent., to examine the state of the industry there?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his original wit. I assure him that I am not happy about the level of unemployment in the construction industry. We have helped to reduce interest rates, although this is not understood by the Leader of the Opposition, to assist particularly the house building section of the construction industry. When other aspects of Government and local government expenditure, especially wages in local government, are better under control, there will be improved prospects for new construction work in local government services.

Has my right hon. Friend studied recently the OECD unemployment statistics? Will he confirm that over the last three months the rise in unemployment in this country has been markedly and indeed dramatically lower than in almost every other OECD country? To what does he attribute this development? Does he agree that it would be helpful occasionally if, while not denying our problems, people were made more aware of the extent to which other countries are suffering simultaneously?

My hon. Friend is right. The increase in unemployment in a number of other OECD countries is very much greater than in Great Britain. The reason, I suspect, is that our economy is becoming more competitive than theirs. Some countries—especially those that are pursuing Socialist policies—are finding their currency flat on the floor, their interest rates roaring up and their rate of inflation much higher than ours.

Is the Secretary of State not concerned about the major growth in long-term unemployment in this country? Is he not also concerned that his present handling of manpower services may result in the TUC commissioners on the Manpower Services Commission reappraising their participation in these services?

Of course I am concerned about the growth in long-term unemployment. It is part of the longterm problems that previous Governments did not successfully tackle. The consequence is inevitable. On the issue of the MSC and the trade union commissioners, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not believe every piece of tittle-tattle that he reads in the newspapers. I, for my part, hope that the TUC commissioners will remain, alongside the CBI commissioners and the others, within the MSC. It would be extraordinary, at a time when the Government have made available more money than ever before to the Manpower Services Commission to implement, in particular, the new training initiative, about which there is virtually unanimous agreement, for anyone to suggest that any part will walk out of the commission.

Is my right hon. Friend able to explain why the Opposition are so displeased that unemployment Ls falling? Is he aware that his hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology is visiting my constituency today to inspect one of the largest computerised traffic control systems to be exported by Plessey Controls Ltd. to South America? Does this not show that if one gets out and gets export orders, and that if one produces the right goods at the right time and the right price, one can succeed?

My hon. Friend is right. That is the way to save jobs. It is extraordinary that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) should have referred to a fall of 52,000 in the level of unemployment as a tiny number. I wonder what he would have said if it had gone up by 52,000. Would that have been a tiny increase?

How long does the Secretary of State expect registered unemployment to stay below the 3 million mark?

I think probably for a month or two until young school leavers come on to the register. That is the time, as every year, when we expect an increase in unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman will obviously take great delight in seeing an increase in the number of people out of work, but he should not laugh too much about it. It is clear that the underlying rate of increase is slowing. The right hon. Gentleman might have to laugh on the other side of his face before the general election.

No one is laughing about this matter. We on the Opposition Benches are taking it seriously. Will the right hon. Gentleman admit that the White Paper on public expenditure published at the time of the Budget contains a Government forecast that registered unemployment will stay well above the 3 million mark for the rest of this year at least? Is that not shameful?

As the right hon. Gentleman will recollect from his days in the Cabinet, such figures are most certainly not a forecast. The right hon. Gentleman will also recollect that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made the point that provided inflation continues on its downward path—the signs are very good—provided that interest rates continue on their downward path, which means better control of Government expenditure—that is being achieved—provided there is increasing productivity, which is also being achieved, and provided that there is resonableness in wage demands, the prospects will be much better than the line in the White Paper to which the right hon. Gentleman refers.