Unemployment

Part of Rating (Business Premises Relief) – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 24th June 1981.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South 6:30 pm, 24th June 1981

The right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) will excuse me if I do not debate incomes policy.

It is not news that we face the highest level of unemployment for 50 years, nor is it news that it is forecast that there will be 3 million unemployed by the turn of the year, and some forecasters suggest 5 million by the 1990s. However, it would be news if any hon. Member were able to say that man's needs in this country, let alone the needs of the Third world, have now been fulfilled, and therefore, we can plan for greater leisure. Therefore, the House is right to ask why this great evil has now hit us. Do we also have to ask that soulful question "Where on earth are the jobs to come from?"

I believe that we can and should again plan for full employment. I believe that we can get full employment with genuine jobs. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in her broad strategy over the past two years, has laid the foundations to achieve that. However, like any form of foundation, they are not attractive to look at, although they are fundamental to moving forward.

In the past two years my right hon. Friend has been trying to restore people's faith in money. She knows, as I know—and as I believe most hon. Members know—that it is the stability of money that is the basis of the Western world. Two-thirds of hon. Members know what they saw when they looked over the precipice of hyperinflation, as we did in 1975. There was not one hon. Member in the House at that time who liked what he saw.

My right hon. Friend has often referred to our international competitiveness; or, to put it more vividly, she does not accept—and I do not accept—that the United Kingdom's share of world trade will automatically continue to decline in the forthcoming years. There is no given law that says that our share of world trade must keep on declining. The obverse of the question is how one returns to increasing one's share of the trade. What can we do in the meantime? Many hon. Members this afternoon have referred to what we can do to ameliorate the problems which are associated with unemployment. As the right hon. Member for Stockton said, growth has to be one of the answers. However, that is too simplistic an answer, as he was the first to admit. The scale of the task is daunting. The Cambridge Economic Policy Group, in an article in the Lloyds Bank Review, suggested that it needed a 5 per cent. sustained growth to get unemployment down to an acceptable ¾ million by the mid-1980s. To use statistics to turn that round and to put it slightly more attractively, it would require a 1 per cent. rise in output above the gain in productivity.

There are those who have claimed in the past that North Sea oil would offer a panacea to take us through this difficult stage. I suggest that all of us in the House are now a little wiser. The contribution to the gross national product by North Sea oil is running at about ½ per cent. Therefore, it does not offer the total panacea. However, it removes one fundamental constraint which has been on the country since the war. It provides room for manoeuvre in terms of the balance of payments. Since the war, whenever this country has begun to get growth, we have had a balance of payments crisis and, therefore, we have had a stop-go policy. What North Sea oil is doing, and will continue to do for the rest of this decade, is to give us a degree of flexibility to go for growth.

I ask myself whether the Government's policies are moving us towards growth. I suggest that, casting aside one's own prejudices, the basic elements are being laid. When we look back on this period in about 10 years' time, we shall recognise that in the last two years my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has restored the competitiveness of British industry in a way that no other Prime Minister has done this century. To that extent, the key determinant is there.

There are areas where we have to do more. We need not a compromise but urgently to recognise the changed basis of international trade. There must be many hon. Members who, like myself, have worked overseas for British companies—I hope that there are. When I worked overseas, it was a question of one company competing with another. In those days, one never had to involve one Government or another. However, those days are gone. Today, trading requires a fusion of interest between Government and big industry. I should like to see more support for the export effort of this country from my right hon. Friend and her Cabinet. I want to see more urgency put into that than we have seen heretofore.