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Unemployment: Use Of Manpower Resources

Volume 416: debated on Wednesday 14 January 1981

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2.43 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 whether they have any long-term strategy for using the inexhaustible reserves of physical and moral energy released by unemployment and whether they will consider setting up a separate agency to start work on this problem.

My Lords, the Government believe that the best use that can be made of the energies of the unemployed is for them to return to work as quickly as possible. To this end the Government's policies are designed to bring down inflation and help create a climate in which investment and growth will lead to more permanent jobs. In the meantime, the Government firmly believe that the best and most cost-effective method of alleviating the unemployment problem is through the programme of special employment measures announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment in the other place on 21st November 1980.

My Lords, I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, as a priority, they will endeavour to find or invent, for those unfortunates whose numbers are liable to increase over the years, some less negative words than "unemployed" and "out of work", both of which descriptions, burdened with those fearful negative prefixes "un" and "out", have the inevitable effect of eroding human dignity and self-esteem. In my humble profession (and I hope I may say our humble profession, perhaps) we call it resting.

My Lords, I certainly would not quarrel with the noble Lord when he asserts that the self-esteem of people out of work, in the majority of cases through no fault of their own, is a very important factor. That is why our special employment measures provide real work experience and real jobs sponsored by the Government, in order that that self-esteem should not be lost.

My Lords, is the noble Earl not aware that unemployment is increasing every day, and that it is the responsibility of the Government? I believe that they are destroying the manufacturing base of some of our great industries purely because of a doctrinal approach.

My Lords, this is a large and controversial issue, but the noble Lord will know very well that it is in the interests of no Government, even at the most basic economic and political level, that people should be out of work. The problem with present-day unemployment is that it is the consequence, first, of a long competitive decline in British industry, and, secondly, of the inability of modern Governments of either political complexion to reflate without galloping inflation.

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that those of us who saw the hungry 'thirties—ultimately, Members on both sides of the House, and all types of politicians—believe that it would have been wise to employ the unemployed intelligently in rebuilding harbours and roads? Furthermore, in view of the fact that we are going to introduce 44-tonne waggons, I could find employment tomorrow morning for those men who use their muscles and shovels if the Government would guarantee them wages that would give them dignity and a sense of joy in existence.

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, has raised this point because that is precisely what the Government are doing in the new community enterprise programme, which is designed to concentrate upon environmental improvement and such projects and which comes into effect in April 1981.