Unemployment

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th January 1976.

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Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone 12:00 am, 20th January 1976

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely. the rising level of unemployment, which has now reached 6 per cent. and the urgent need for Her Majesty's Government to take effective measures, includng early reflationary measures, to deal with this serious problem". I intend to argue three brief reasons—all connected with the procedure involved under the Standing Order and in no way approaching the subject matter of this motion—in my attempt to persuade you, Mr. Speaker, to grant my submission.

First, governmental responsibility is clearly established for this situation, as has been shown today at Question Time when a large number of hon. Members from all sides of the House submitted questions on this subject to the Government who accepted their share of the responsibility while at the same time rightly claiming that it was also partly the international economic situation which had led to the tragic level of unemployment now reached in the United Kingdom.

My second reason is that we cannot, under present circumstances, raise this matter in any other way because of the underlying agreement between the two Front Benches over general economic strategy. Given the prominent position enjoyed by the official Opposition under our rules of procedure, the fact that there is such a common strategy binding the two Front Benches who are agreed that reflation must not be used at this stage means that there is no way in which the House of Commons or any segment of it can express an opinion on what is the most important part of my motion.

My third reason concerns the time lag involved in any economic measures the Chancellor might take. I do not enter into the rights or wrongs of the Chancellor making statements outside the House. During the time when the House was adjourned the Chancellor has taken the occasion, on television, at Press conferences, in Jamaica and on all legitimate occasions to speak about this matter. There is no constitutional criticism implied here whatsoever. I am not fanatical about a senior officer of the Government not being allowed to say anything outside this House. My right hon. Friend must use the means available to explain his policies and elaborate them.

It so happens, however, that since the House was in recess the main political and constitutional forum of the nation was not in a position to question the Chancellor on the most important policy pronouncement he has made since last we debated economic matters. The Chancellor committed himself to a number of policy statements, including his rejection of any hope of our doing anything to begin reflating the economy. It is therefore right—given the fact that it will take at least seven to nine months before economic measures taken by the Chancellor now can percolate through the economy and have a serious effect in reducing the number of unemployed—that we should debate this matter.

We must bear in mind also that there are approaching 1½ million unemployed and that the Chancellor, like everyone else, cannot be certain that his figures are correct. Nor can those who advise him be absolutely certain. It is now the duty of this House of Commons forthwith to debate these measures so that we may ask my right hon. Friend to explain his policies and so that we may pass judgment on those policies.

I conclude with a general point. There has been great debate in this Chamber and throughout the land in recent years about the suggestion that Parliament is falling into desuetude. More and more, people are looking for other means, such as additional assemblies, of discussing matters. They feel remote from Government. I submit, without going into detail, that if there is such a dangerous development it is because we do not use often enough the means at our disposal—as previous generations of parliamentarians used to do when I was a younger man—to debate issues immediately. Here is an opportunity to do so and to return to a good tradition.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) for the notice he gave me of his intention to make this application. I have listened to him carefully. He has put forward very persuasive arguments. This is a continuing problem. I have a procedural decision to take—

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

In view of what I said a little earlier I can perhaps be rather freer in expressing my opinion. I think that this is a matter which should certainly be debated by the House for a full day. I do not think that a debate under Standing Order No. 9 is suitable. It may come to that. I think that notice should be taken of what the hon. Member has said and that there should be a full and proper day's debate in the House on this matter. In that spirit I must say "No" to the hon. Member's application.

Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson Mr Norman Atkinson , Haringey Tottenham

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. While welcoming the statement that you have made and noting the fact that the Leader of the House is in the Chamber may I—

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. The hon. Member has risen on a point of order. This is not a point of order. I would, with respect, suggest that he should not push it too hard for the moment. It might be counter-productive.