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Unemployed Persons

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd June 1976.

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Photo of Mr John Stonehouse Mr John Stonehouse , Walsall North 12:00 am, 22nd June 1976

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the number of unemployed and the percentage rate in the West Midlands and in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, respectively, at the latest available date; and how he expects the situation to develop in each of these areas.

Photo of Mr Albert Booth Mr Albert Booth , Barrow-in-Furness

On 10th June 1976 the total number unemployed and the percentage rate of unemployment in the West Midlands was 127,148–5·6 per cent.; in England, 1,060,721–5·4 per cent.; in Scotland, 144,134–6·7 per cent.; in Wales, 73,796–7·2 per cent.; and in Northern Ireland 53,954–10·4 per cent.

I would expect falls in the current high levels of unemployment accompanying our recovery from the present economic recession to vary on an industrial rather than a geographical basis.

Photo of Mr John Stonehouse Mr John Stonehouse , Walsall North

Are not these the worst figures since before the war? For all their talk, the Government have failed. To what extent has the protection of jobs in Wales and Scotland worsened the employment position in England?

Photo of Mr Albert Booth Mr Albert Booth , Barrow-in-Furness

These are extremely bad figures; there is no denying that. I take the view that the development area policies of successive Governments have resulted in unemployment in Wales and Scotland in relation to other parts of the country being lower at this time than during any other slump. The recent measures that we introduced to alleviate unemployment were not confined to the development areas in recognition of the fact that there was an inordinately high level in other places.

Photo of Geoffrey Robinson Geoffrey Robinson , Coventry North West

Referring to the point made earlier by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), with unemployment in the West Midlands being above the national average, as it has been for some time, may I ask whether we may have a categorical assurance from my right hon. Friend that relaxation of industrial development certificate policy in the West Midlands will continue as industrial recovery gets under way and that firms which want to expand in the West Midlands will be able to do so?

Photo of Mr Albert Booth Mr Albert Booth , Barrow-in-Furness

I appreciate the way in which my hon. Friend has pursued this matter with me both from his constituency and in the House. I have looked into it most carefully. It is not the case, however, that jobs in the West Midlands are being hampered by the IDC policy. The situation is being helped now by greater flexibility. I am sorry to say that the causes of high unemployment in the West Midlands are to be found elsewhere and in areas which are possibly more difficult to deal with than the IDC policy.

Photo of Mr Douglas Henderson Mr Douglas Henderson , Aberdeenshire East

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is unfortunate that the figures should be produced on the day on which he has to answer Questions on the subject? The figure for Scotland, which is quite appalling, will be inflated in 10 days' time by 65,000 school leavers, who, if they do not obtain jobs, will increase our rate to about 10 per cent. Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question which the Secretary of State for Scotland ducked in his reply to the debate last night? Will he tell those school leavers just what chance they have of getting a job in present circumstances?

Photo of Mr Albert Booth Mr Albert Booth , Barrow-in-Furness

On the timing of Questions, obviously I would have preferred a little longer to study the figures. I have, however, examined the position in Scotland against the current figures, and I have found that our manpower measures as of now are producing only about 18,000 jobs in Scotland. There is obviously a long way to go yet on the take-up of these measures.

As to the specific problem of school leavers, we anticipate that there must be a substantial increase in these projections of the number of unemployed school leavers in Scotland, and therefore we must do our utmost to see that we achieve this year what we achieved last year by special measures—a dramatic reduction in the number of unemployed school leavers.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

The IDC policy as such is not responsible for the level of unemployment in the West Midlands or anywhere else. The responsibility lies with the fact that our policies do not match up to the immediate needs of the situation. Will my right hon. Friend indicate to the House what measures the Government intend to take rather than give platitudes in dealing with this crisis?

Photo of Mr Albert Booth Mr Albert Booth , Barrow-in-Furness

I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's analysis of the situation. In light of the figures I have announced, one is justified in saying that the measures taken to deal with the problem are not sufficient. Nevertheless, the West Midlands area has benefited not only from the Job Creation Scheme, the temporary employment subsidy and the school leavers' recruitment subsidy, for which I am responsible to this House, but from measures taken by the Secretary of State for Industry to support the machine tool industry and the vehicle building industry. I contend, therefore, that against the worst economic recession the country has known since the 1930s we must go on to seek to develop more effective measures and a more effective policy. It is not the case, however, that we have not attempted to deal with the unemployment problem outside development areas.

Photo of Mr Alexander Fletcher Mr Alexander Fletcher , Edinburgh North

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the Government's devolution proposals will increase competition for scarce jobs between one part of Britain and another? Will he explain how those proposals and policies will improve job prospects throughout the United Kingdom?

Photo of Mr Albert Booth Mr Albert Booth , Barrow-in-Furness

I must concede that I have been unable to make such an effective appreciation of the devolution proposals. However, I cannot on the evidence before me see how the proposals can aid the overall employment situation or the situation in individual countries within the United Kingdom to which they apply. They will, of course, raise the problem of how far individual national agencies dealing with economic measures can work effectively as opposed to a system in which some of the measures and policies are worked out in a co-ordinated manner on a United Kingdom basis.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams:

Will my right hon. Friend indicate how the figures compare with those of France and Germany?

Photo of Mr Albert Booth Mr Albert Booth , Barrow-in-Furness

I cannot give the exact figures, but on the last comparison which I made the situation in those countries was comparable to ours, although in the case of France our position was slightly better.

Photo of Mr Anthony Grant Mr Anthony Grant , Harrow Central

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is no evidence that under any Government, when an industrial development certificate is refused for a relatively small firm, the firm is likely to expand in a development area? Is he aware that it simply does not expand? Therefore, while I welcome the more flexible policy that the Secretary of State announced, I should like to know why on earth the Government tightened the policy when they came to office.

Photo of Mr Albert Booth Mr Albert Booth , Barrow-in-Furness

I agree to the extent that one cannot conduct an IDC policy in isolation and one cannot expect that when a firm is refused an IDC for one location it will automatically move to another area which is aided. The decision to tighten up was taken in conjunction with other measures of special help to development areas. One of the actions we have taken, recognising the problem now, is to permit the replacement of factories which have fallen out of use in some of those areas, including the West Midlands, and we believe that this can be of much more assistance than the IDC policy.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the whole House will regard these figures as extremely grave? Is he aware that, whereas the figures in other countries are now improving, our figures are getting worse? Does that not reinforce the need for a change in economic policy, although not the change indicated by the Secretary of State? Does he accept that the best way to get industry moving and to reduce the unemployment figures will be to change economic policy so that the Government are seen to be supporting private industry and private investment, in which case the country could feel confidence enough to invest, which it is not doing now? Is he aware that when we get the investment we shall get the jobs?

Photo of Mr Albert Booth Mr Albert Booth , Barrow-in-Furness

Since the Government are advocating a change of industrial strategy and economic policy I must, of course, agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is a need for change. As for the comparisons with other countries, it is true that they are improving their position. Some of them have a great deal of room for improvement compared with Britain. In Belgium, for example, the seasonally-adjusted figure is 8·6 per cent. In Canada it is 7·4 per cent. and in the United States it is 7·3 per cent. I agree that the French figure has fallen, but against these considerations is the fact that there was a substantial increase in Government expenditure here to deal with the problems, particularly of employment. We believe that to be justified and we believe that it has held our figures at a lower level than those in many comparable industrial countries through a year of deep economic depression.