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Economic Progress Report No 125

Volume 413: debated on Monday 13 October 1980

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2.47 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government to what extent they approved the content of the Economic Progress Report No. 125 of September 1980.

My Lords, the Economic Progress Report is published monthly by the Treasury, and the contents are approved by a Treasury Minister. If there is any particular item in the issue to which the noble Lord refers on which he would like further explanation, perhaps he would let me know.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer. Could I ask him now, however, whether he really believes that language such as quoted by my noble friend in the supplementaries on the last Question really gives the impression that the repor is dealing with real people in the realt world? I refer to the quotation:

"… insufficient adjustment by pay negotiators to announced monetary targets …".
Would he not accept that to go through a long discussion on unemployment without saying, in September, that the actual figure of unemployed was 2 million and more does not do credit to an objective Treasury publication?

My Lords, I am sorry if the noble Lord feels that he has cause for complaint about the Economic Progress Report. It is widely regarded as a useful and informative document. Inevitably, if it is going to describe what is happening in the economy, it should describe what the reasons behind developments in the economy are, and the particular phrases to which the noble Lord refers seem to me to be a perfectly legitimate explanation of what in fact has been happening. So far as the level of unemployment is concerned, there is in fact, right on the face of this document—and I have it open in front of me—a chart which shows both world and United Kingdom unemployment for the whole of the period from 1970 to 1980.

My Lords, that very passage in the document shows the total ignorance of the Government and their servants—

Would the Minister not agree that to say "world unemployment" is nonsense—complete nonsense? Because that would include India and Africa, and nobody knows what world unemployment totals. They should be a bit more careful in their phraseology.

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is on a very narrow point indeed. In a document of this kind, which is intended to give information, the expression "the world unemployment" relates obviously to the major industrialised countries; and, indeed this is made clear in the footnote to the table itself. So far as the noble Lord's economic theories are concerned, he knows as well as I do that they are not accepted by the Government.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his incredibly skilful batting causes great pleasure on these Benches? Is he further aware that because of his great skill we do not support him perhaps as much as we should, because we cannot do nearly as well as he does?

My Lords, is it not the case that his noble friends would support him rather better if they had more ammunition?

My Lords, there is more than adequate ammunition available to support not only me but the Government as a whole. I gather that the real complaint about the Economic Progress Report is that it contains too much of this ammunition.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that this mutual congratulation sounds like an extension of a certain party conference in Brighton?

My Lords, can the noble Lord explain to us why the balance in our favour on invisible exports has gone down by over 20 per cent. for the first half of this year compared with the first half of last year?

My Lords, if the noble Lord wishes to follow a point of that kind, I shall be happy to write to him.

My Lords, will the noble Lord expect support from the Benches behind him and in the other place when his policies and his batting have produced 3 million not out?

My Lords, I made it quite clear; and I am sorry if the noble Lord was not listening—

My Lords, I made it clear that the level of unemployment is not the result of Government policies; it is due partly to the level of activity in the industrialised world as a whole and partly due to the level of pay settlements.

My Lords, in view of the last remarks by the noble Lord the Minister, may I ask whether he is aware of the article in the Sunday Telegraph which pointed out how unpleasant it was that an impassioned plea about unemployment in Consett was greeted at the Conservative Party Conference with slow clapping and laughter?

My Lords, neither I nor the Government are in any way responsible for reports which appear in the Sunday Telegraph. Particularly without notice of the report in question, the noble Baroness will hardly expect me to comment on it. But I will say that we have repeatedly said how very, very much we deplore the present level of unemployment. No one feels more strongly on this than do the Government themselves. It is because of the depth of feeling on the part of the members of the Government about this subject that we have striven so hard to draw the simple facts of economic life to the attention of wage bargainers on both sides of industry. I have never sought to place the blame solely on the unions; I have always referred to the level of pay bargaining. We are just as anxious as the noble Baroness, if not more so, to see a permanent and lasting reduction in the level of unemployment.

My Lords, after that long and informative reply, perhaps we may move on to the next Question.