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Labour Statistics

Volume 128: debated on Tuesday 1 March 1988

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3.

To ask the Secetary of State for Employment what has been the percentage increase in unemployment since May 1979.

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the level of unemployment.

Between May 1979 and January 1988 the seasonally adjusted level of adult unemployment increased by 122 per cent. on a consistent basis. The figure has now fallen by 647,000 since July 1986—which is the largest sustained fall on record — to 2,563,100, which is the lowest figure since April 1982.

Is the Minister not ashamed to come to the Dispatch Box to give those figures? Why is his boss, the Secretary of State for unemployment, swanning around the United States of America? No doubt he is cooking up some workfare scheme for the unemployed instead of coming to the Dispatch Box to tell us how the Government will create real jobs for unemployed people and get unemployment down to the level that they inherited from the last Labour Government.

My right hon. Friend is in the United States to promote the "Invest in Britain" campaign, which will help with jobs for this country. I am proud of the fact that unemployment has been going down strongly for the past 18 months in all regions, particularly in the hon. Gentleman's constituency in Falkirk, where it has been decreasing faster than the national average.

As the spectre of unemployment recedes, presumably to the political disappointment of many Labour Members, does my hon. Friend agree that one of the major challenges with which industry and the Government are faced is skill shortages? Can he offer some hope that this matter will be dealt with?

Yes, I can. However, when employers talk to me about skill shortages I always ask them how many people they are training. It is surprising how few have made the connection. We now have the new training programme that was announced by my right hon. Friend the other day, which will help considerably in this regard.

Has the Minister noticed the statement that was issued yesterday by the Society of British Aerospace Companies Ltd. It challenges the Government's assertion that 2·3 per cent. of gross domestic product is spent on research and development. Its calculations show that only 1·9 per cent. is spent, which is considerably below the amount spent by our nearest competitors. Is not that failure to invest in research and development reflected in the increased levels of unemployment from which we have suffered since 1979?

My Department does not deal with these figures, and I have not studied the report that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I was talking about investment in skills, which is important, and which we are keen to encourage.

Is my hon. Friend aware that some parts of the country that have been associated with traditional manufacturing industry and high levels of unemployment have experienced some of the most spectacular falls in unemployment? Will he pay tribute to the spirit of enterprise that has been shown in my constituency of Bury, North, where the level of unemployment is down to 7 per cent.? Will he pay tribute to the hard-working staff of the job centres in Bury and Ramsbottom, whose efforts have contributed to that fall?

Yes, the staff in jobcentres in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere have played a large part in the success. It is also a very good thing that over the year unemployment has been falling fastest in the west midlands, Wales, the north-west and the north, which are the most difficult regions.

Is the Minister aware that the Government's own "Labour Force Survey", just published, shows that in the year to mid-1987 the number of new jobs created was just 31,000, while the Government claim that over the same priod unemployment was cut by 221,000? Does that not prove that the Government's much vaunted big cut in unemployment is largely bogus and has much more to do with deterrent restart interviews and tighter availability for work rules than with any genuine creation of new jobs?

On the contrary, we have been creating new jobs very rapidly in recent years. The hon. Gentleman will see that if he compares our figures with those for overseas. Since June 1983 more new jobs have been created in this country than in the whole of the rest of the European Community put together.