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Unemployment In The European Community

Volume 414: debated on Wednesday 12 November 1980

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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 how the current level of unemployment compares with that in other member states in the European Community, what steps are being taken through the Community to combat unemployment and what their effect has been on the United Kingdom.

My Lords, unemployment rates in the member states of the European Community are not directly comparable because of differences in concept and coverage. United Kingdom unemployment is now a little above the Community average of 6·;5 per cent., which itself is made up of some wide variations. I am arranging for the information issued by the statistical office of the European Communities to be placed in the Library of your Lordships' House.

High levels of unemployment are of concern throughout the Community and regularly engage the attention of the Council of Ministers. The main need is to create new job opportunities, and that of course involves getting inflation down and ensuring that the Community's industries remain competitive against those of the rest of the world. While the main thrust of this approach remains the responsibility of the member states, the Community can help by co-ordinating economic and social policies and by making the best use of Community resources.

The Community does have important financial instruments in the regional and social funds. The regional fund supports industrial development in the assisted areas and the associated investment in infrastructure. The European Social Fund provides Community assistance towards training, retraining, resettlement and job creation, of which at least half is reserved for schemes in regions of high unemployment, including the United Kingdom's assisted areas. This year the United Kingdom has been allocated £135 million from the social fund.

My Lords, while I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, I am sorry to say that I did not hear all of it because of a little disturbance going on opposite, but I should like to congratulate the Government because I understand that they have managed to get quite a lot of support from the EEC fund for a scheme in this country. I hope that will continue. Because of our contribution to the EEC I hope that we shall be able to benefit from whatever we can get from them for this purpose.

My Lords, perhaps I may reply briefly to my noble friend. First, I would apologise to the House for the length of the Answer, but, as I am sure the House will appreciate if your Lordships care to glance at the Question on the Order Paper, it is an extremely long and complicated Question to which I hope I gave a reasonable and satisfactory reply. My noble friend asked about the regional and social fund and I can assure her that the Government and indeed the Community are examining the question of the restructuring of the Community budget so that allocations from the social and regional fund will remain very much in line with our needs, and we hope that the entire budget can be restructured.

My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind that the figure of 6 per cent, that he quoted for the United Kingdom covers the most appalling black spots, where unemployment is 20 per cent., and sometimes 30 per cent., as a direct result of the Government's policies? What does he propose to do about it?

My Lords, that could be another very long answer but I think the Question on the Order Paper refers to the help that can be obtained from the Community and I hope that the noble Lord would not wish me to go into my lengthy Answer again. I can assure the noble Lord that the unemployment rate in the United Kingdom is substantially below that of at least two members of the European Community.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the crumbs which fall from the EEC table will not touch the serious unemployment that there is in this country, and is he further aware that, when he takes into account short-time working, people who do not register and the total unemployed, it all comes to over 3 million and that that is due entirely to the Government's monetary policy?

My Lords, I do not propose to attempt to reply on monetary policy but I do not think—and the House would not agree—that contributions from the EEC of £135 million from one fund and £163 million from another fund are "crumbs". If the noble Lord thinks that, he must have quite a large appetite.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the monies from the EEC supplement or replace national monies?

My Lords, in some cases it supplements but in most of the cases to which I have referred it is a contribution to the United Kingdom so that we may make the best use of our own resources.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware—and I ask this without trying to score any political point—

that some people are concerned about the de-industrialisation of Britain and would like to know, in view of the Treasury's report that one-sixth of manufacturing industry will be abandoned by the end of 1981, whether or not we have now reached a position where it is the policy to de-industrialise on a large scale and to take central Europe as the industrial area of the European Community, leaving Britain on the fringe as a de-industrialised area?

My Lords, I have tried to answer a number of different questions but I am afraid that the noble Lord's question, while valid, would probably be better directed to my noble friend Lord Trenchard, who answers questions on industry.

My Lords, given the questions and answers on this matter, would it not be a good thing if my noble friend made better known in this country the extent to which the recession is hitting other countries as well as ours?

My Lords, my noble friend has made the point very clearly. I am very grateful to him.

My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that we have a Conservative Government whereas some of those other countries have not, and that therefore we should be very much better off than they are?

My Lords, I think the colour is immaterial. The policy is what matters and we believe that this Government have the right and the courageous policy, and we intend to pursue it.