Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th July 1978.

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Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft 12:00 am, 4th July 1978

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Bulmer). I wish that he could have had the opportunity to participate in the debate because I know that he has sat patiently throughout, but I promised the Chair to begin my remarks at 9.5 p.m.

This has been the most extraordinary debate. If we are to judge by speeches made by Labour Members, it is hard to realise that we have been debating, towards the end of a Parliament and after four and a half years of Labour Government, the fact that there are 1,446,000 unemployed in Britain. I include school leavers, because they are as much unemployed as the others. When I think of the performance of the Labour Party on the many occasions when, in the days of a Conservative Government, we debated unemployment figures far lower than the present figures, I wonder what has happened to the Labour Party's attitude to unemployment in the past four years.

I picked up a cutting recently from a Scottish newspaper in which Mr. James Airlie, the shop steward convenor at Govan Shipbuilders who master-minded the famous UCS work-in, when commenting on the proposed cut-back involving nearly 3,000 jobs at the Singer plant on Clydebank, said: If these jobs were being lost under a Tory Administration, all hell would be breaking loose. We must get this matter in perspective. We have given the Labour Government the benefit of the doubt on many occasions, and we have not pushed them too hard. We have recognised their difficulties over the oil crisis, but the figure of 1·4 million unemployed has now been with us for two years. Nothing we have heard this afternoon from either the Labour Government or their Back Benchers, has given the country any idea how they expect to get us out of our difficulties. The whole attitude of Labour Members has been to defend the present position. They have given no idea of the action which the Government are to take to improve the situation.

The Secretary of State for Employment spoke in glowing terms of the small firms employment subsidy. I thought that had missed something. Therefore, I looked at the figures to see the take-up under the scheme. The figures show that for the latest available date 3,907 jobs have been provided. I do not decry that figure, but we are talking about an unemployment total of 1·4 million.