Unemployment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:58 pm on 25th June 1980.

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Photo of Mr James Craigen Mr James Craigen , Glasgow Maryhill 5:58 pm, 25th June 1980

The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) coped admirably with his Catch-22 situation, because he made a number of pertinent points about the Northern region. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) knows, the Select Committee on employment took some interesting evidence in Newcastle and is fully aware of the problems that he outlined and the hammer blow that the closure of Consett would be to that area.

I was sorry that the Secretary of State for Employment did not open today's debate, because anyone who was looking for a positive and constructive statement on the Government's intentions towards employment generation must have been sorely disappointed. I realise what a toom tabard we have in the Scottish Office at the present time. It was a disgrace to give the House the kind of historical treatise that it was given this afternoon.

The sad thing is that this will be only one of many debates on the subject of unemployment at a time when we can see a rising graph in the unemployment figures.

It is a frightening fact that the Government are prepared to watch the pool of unemployment grow into a dam that will overwhelm the economy of Britain. There is evidence of a fall in retail turnover in the past month, and that is only the beginning of a downward trend in the economy of Britain. There are Tories who imagine that unemployment is something that many prefer. There may be a few who are happy to be idle, but the majority do not seek unemployment.

There are now 52,600 people out of work in Glasgow. Among males, the figure has risen to 13·6 per cent. The bleakness of the position is revealed in the figures for the two employment exchange areas that converge on my constituency. In one there are 4,455 on the unemployment register, with only 161 vacancies, while in the other there are 7,839 on the unemployment register, with only 458 vacancies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme pointed out so effectively, people will remain on that register for longer and longer periods.

That is not the position throughout the length and breadth of Britain. In London and the South-East, two thirds of the males on the unemployment register have been registered for less than six months, whereas in Merseyside a half of the males on the register have been registered for more than six months. There is a considerable unevenness in the distribution of unemployment. Moreover, I am concerned about the fact that in my area we are seeing more redundancies and indications of short-time working in the pipeline.

The Secretary of State did not give way to me when he was speaking about apprenticeship opportunities. I wanted to tell him that an engineering company in my constituency, which I shall be visiting on Friday afternoon, took on seven apprentices last year, but this year it will take on only two. At one employment exchange last year 80 vacancies were registered by the local authority. This year, only eight have been registered. That is another indication of the extent to which public expenditure reductions are beginning to take their toll.

We hear a great deal about entrepreneurs. That word has become more and more fashionable. The present rate of interest is enough to frighten off anybody thinking of starting a new business, to say nothing of those who spend sleepless nights worrying about how to keep their existing businesses viable. The main problems that worry industrialists in my area are interest rates, the high level of inflation and the value of the pound. The Government should do something to reduce the level of interest rates. We read that Germany will have an inflation level of 4 per cent. next year. The Government should also reduce the artificially high level of the pound, which has greatly affected our exports.

If the latest predictions of the IMF are correct, it is clear that Britain will have to do more to satisfy the home market rather than continue to see a flood of imports. Part of the problem is that Britain has a singularly effective retail distribution network. We are too good in that area of activity, and we tend to facilitate the inward movement of goods and services.

North Sea Oil has become a chloroform that is producing a coma in our industrial community. When we waken to the realities of the industrial surgery that is taking place throughout the country, we shall realise the grave conditions that youngsters and older people will face in the 1980s. If we treat the younger generation as improvidently as the Government are apparently treating the great reserves of North Sea Oil, Britain will face a chilling future. It will deserve all that it gets. because the youngsters in Britain are also our resource for the future.

I notice that there is a growing restlessness which, as yet, has not articulated itself on the Conservative Benches, but it is coming. The CBI sent us a newsletter saying that it backs the Government but that it wants "some flexibility". As the number of redundancies and, more especially, bankruptcies begins to grow, the Back Benches will begin to turn. There comes a point where loyalty ceases to be a virtue and becomes a vice. Bearing in mind the parliamentary arithmetic we know that we shall not win the vote in the Lobby tonight, but we need more Tories to speak up for sanity.