Orders of the Day — Employment Opportunities

– in the House of Commons at 6:54 am on 23rd July 1981.

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Photo of Mr Raymond Powell Mr Raymond Powell , Ogmore 6:54 am, 23rd July 1981

It is with trepidation and anxiety that I open this debate on measures to promote and preserve employment opportunities. These issues deserve the time and interest of this House, at whatever time of the morning or night.

No problem is more important to the people of this country than unemployment. It eats at the roots of our democracy. It bedevils all economic theories. It creates violent behaviour in peace-loving people. It escalates the problems of mental stress, marriage breakdown, child battering, wife battering and mob violence and demoralises people to suicidal tendencies. Therefore, all hon. Members should recognise that the people are becoming disillusioned daily by the Government's actions, and distressed and dismayed by the increases in the unemployment figures. To those without jobs for long periods, the feeling of absolute demoralisation encourages actions that are usually totally foreign to the individual.

The opportunity to work, to contribute the fruits of one's labour to the support of oneself or one's family, to benefit society and the community by the use of one's skills and talents, is essential to the dignity of every human being. To achieve that, we must uphold our pious hopes and dreams. We must face realities and introduce policies that will ensure employment for all our people. Thai is why I wanted to participate in the debate this morning.

Today unemployment is registered at the astronomical figure of 2,851,623— 171,153 higher than last month, which means that one in every eight of the working population is unemployed. We accept that there are many more not registered that are not included in the total recorded so that the true figure is well over 3 million—even as high as 3½ million. That should stir hon. Members to action. It should stimulate our thoughts to remedies and not just to pious political platitudes.

For two years I have listened to the words of right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches, blatantly boasting of a passionate concern for those of our people without jobs. Within a month their policies have resulted in a further 250,000 being put out of work. Where is the compassion? Why do they persist in their expression of extreme concern for our society? Why do they persist in telling the nation that they will provide area help and special measures to cure the curse of unemployment?

The Conservatives said that to get elected. They bribed and cajoled and deliberately employed Saatchi and Saatchi in a compaign that promised commitments that they knew they had no hope and no wish to fulfil. Therefore, when the people rebel and take to the streets to demand that they fulfil promises made only two years ago, the Government run for cover behind water cannon, CS gas, armounx1 vehicles and so on and put all the trouble-makers in Army camps and other places of detention.

The Government were not elected on policies to make 3 million people workless. They were not elected to create the social unrest that they have deliberately set on course.

I do not share in acquiescing in the deliberate attempt to undermine, pressurise, exploit and demoralise into passive acceptance the people whom I represent. We shall fight the Government—who have no mandate for the policies that they have introduced—on the streets, on the hills, in the vales of Wales, the Highlands of Scotland or even the heartland of England. We will win, because the people are not prepared to slip back to the conditions prevailing half a century ago.

I repeat the warning that was given by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs some 12 months ago of risks of further serious social disorder as a result of the high and chronic levels of unemployment, especially among young people.

I have listened to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Industry and the Secretary of State for Employment all stressing the aid that is given to industry and the assistance that is given to alleviate the problems of unemployed young people. I have read of the sums of money that will be allocated to provide temporary jobs. It all appears very impressive, and at a Tory tea party it would receive a standing ovation. Even in some Tory regional conferences it would raise a cheer. But those who attend such gatherings are usually well fed, well clad and blessed with company directorships or something similar.

The realists are the hundreds of thousands of people who were on the Liverpool-to-London march, the Cardiff march and the many other demonstrations against this Government that have occurred in the past two years. They know the score, because they are the people suffering the aggravation, the discontent and the degradation brought about by this reactionary, anti-union, anti-worker and anti-caring Government.

I often wonder whether the Secretary of State for Employment, having delivered a speech in his usual gentle, unassuming and kindly manner expounding his caring and sharing philosophy, expects Opposition Members to give him a standing ovation, or whether he expects a flood of mail from the 1 million young people seeking work, jubilant because the measures that he is to introduce will give them the chance to get on the youth opportunities programme and receive the princely payment of £23·50.

Is not the Secretary of State aware that young people on the YOP usually are worse off than on the dole? Is he not aware that parents are helping their children to go to and from work and contributing to the extra costs of lunches, and so on, out of their incomes just to ensure that their sons and daughters have jobs to go to, be they temporary or otherwise? Is he not aware that unscrupulous employers are using the scheme to exploit young people at the expense of others in full-time jobs? Is he not aware that the TUC has expressed grave concern about this matter?

Despite the past co-operation of the unions—NALGO, NUPE and the TUC—to assist in the implementation of all these schemes, we still find them inadequate and in real need of fresh and positive thinking. But what hope have we, when this Government have met the TUC only twice in two years? What is the reason for that? Do the Government want confrontation with the unions, and not consultation, or are they afraid of the arguments?

Yesterday, the Manpower Services Commission published its annual report. I quote the chairman, Sir Richard O'Brien: Unemployment will go on rising in the coming year. The Commission was unable to meet the needs of the labour market in its employment and training services. He goes on to say that at least 350,000 would have been added to the unemployment figure had not the special employment and training measures been introduced. What would the unemployment figure have been then?

The report highlights the concern of the commission about the serious decline in the number of apprenticeships, reporting a fall of 10,000 and the redundancy of 2,000 apprentices. It further calls for all 16 to 17-year-olds to have some training, if not continuing in further education, and expresses the wish that employers should rethink their approach to this matter, showing them and the Government that the provision of skilled manpower in the right numbers and skills and at the right time is essential to the nation's economic well-being. The report refers to South Wales as the area suffering the greatest hardship—the black spot of the Principality. It is referred to with figures substantially gloomier than last year's. Not only are 60,000 more people out of work, but jobcentres have 25 per cent. fewer jobs to offer.

Wales, renowned as the land of song, has very little to sing about after two years of this Government. The jobless in Wales shot up by nearly 11,000 last month alone, and this figure is only the tip of the iceberg. There are even worse figures in the pipeline. There are now 161,107 jobless in Wales—a post-war record—representing 14·8 per cent. of the working population. The increase of 10,755 last month included 4,000 adult jobless and 6,724 school leavers. There are now 15,148 young people jobless in Wales.

A further rise in school leavers' unemployment is inevitable next month and in September, because many young people still have to leave school and are unlikely to register as unemployed immediately because they cannot get State benefits until the normal end of the summer holidays. Previously the money was available when they left school. These youngsters, I am sure, will remember this when they get the vote in two years.

There are 17·1 per cent. of the male and 11·3 per cent. of the female working population without jobs in Wales. In some areas the figure is much higher. Parts of my constituency have 25 per cent. out of work.

The escalation of unemployment throughout the Principality and the country is a major reason for mounting an attack on the Government's policies. I applaud the decision of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to censure the Government. I would give him every support if the demand extended over weeks of the recess, because the need is there—the need for debate, the need to find solutions, the need to rid ourselves once and for all of this cancer in our society. This scourge of mass unemployment demands the time and attention of all hon. Members, even at the expense of their long holidays.

Tomorrow, or perhaps today, the Secretary of State for Employment will meet the Wales TUC. They hope to discuss the state of the economy and the conditions of industry in Wales, but I am sure that the main topic will be unemployment, especially youth unemployment. I warn him before the talks that 40,000 more young people will be coming on the register and seeking work within the next few months. Whatever agreements he has already reached with her ladyship will have to be amended if he is to find jobs for those already seeking work without those that I have just mentioned.

The right hon. Gentleman wrote to me this week with the customary letter telling me that he would be visiting the Ford plant at Bridgend. I hope that he will find the time to visit industrialists on the opposite industrial estate at Bridgend and discuss their problems. Their firms are not multinationals; they are the small businesses that the Government promised to help, promised to start—promised as the answer to all of our problems. They are the ones that are going to the wall, the ones with cash flow problems brought about by high interest rates and a calamitous fall in consumer demand. They are the ones to whom the right hon. Gentleman should find time to talk.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will find time to visit Maesteg in the Llynfi valley area, where his ruthless Government's policies have absolutely ripped the heart out of a town that only two years ago was bouncing with prosperity. Shops were busy and full of goods, the market was packed with produce and there were waiting lists for stalls and shops. Two years of a Tory Government has put paid to all that, with between 20 per cent. and 25 per cent. unemployment, and closures and redundancies on a massive scale. Only last week there was an announcement from Revlon that a further 400 jobs are to go, reducing the labour force from 1,700 to fewer than 300 in two years. That is the state of one small town in my constituency.

The fault for all this can only rest on the suicidal monetarist policies of the Government. The Welsh Development Agency's managing director, Ian Gray, warned recently in his annual report for 1980–81 that an increase in the number of empty advance factories in Wales was inevitable over the coming years. Empty space was now up to 10 per cent. of the agency's portfolio, as compared to 6·7 per cent. last March. Mr. Gray further reported that 23 companies in which the WDA had investments totalling £1·6 million had ceased trading or gone into receivership. What a dismal outlook for thousands out of work in Wales.

Some of us look for solutions too. Having expounded at some length on the cause of the problems, I firmly believe that the unemployment figure could be drastically reduced if we immediately introduced voluntary retirement at age 60, with payments of at least 50 per cent. of earnings during the five years to 65. This would help those of 60 and over in poor health to be financially able to retire voluntarily. It would greatly assist the opportunities for firms to employ young people, and could set the pattern for reducing the retirement age permanently.

Many of us on the Labour Benches also believe that money for numerous MSC schemes could be directed to local authorities where apprenticeship and training could be organised in the well-established facilities which are already becoming redundant as a result of local government cuts. With extra help local authorities could provide not only the training and skills needed but jobs in numerous areas of the social services where cuts have created such tremendous strains.

Let me list for consideration by the Government the alternative strategy that might create jobs. We are continually asked for alternatives, although the Prime Minister was named "Tina," which represented her philosophy that "there is no alternative."

I list my suggestions for public investments and national planning aimed at revitalising our industry. They are, public sector regeneration of the building programme, a curb or stop on private capital going out of the country, selective import controls to protect jobs, especially where there is unfair competition from subsidised imported goods, expansion of British Steel's capacity to meet the demands that these new schemes will create, higher public spending on social and community services, lower income tax for the mass of working people, lower direct taxes such as the national insurance surcharge, higher capital spending to modernise the nationalised industries and lower interest rates. Let us also build a Channel tunnel. I sincerely hope that on Monday when the right hon. Lady makes a statement, she will reconsider her dogmatic attitude and consider the points I have mentioned.

A young person of 24 came to my surgery on Saturday. A graduate with a first-class honours degree, that young person has been out of work for more than 12 months. We have in my constituency doctors and nurses, graduates and skilled persons seeking work, with little if any hope after all their years of study and hard work. That situation must be changed.

I end with the words of a young person from Maesteg writing about 1981:

  • "The pupils are dispirited and difficult,
  • The Schools are short of Books and Teachers,
  • Paperworkers and Teachers are unemployed.
  • The sick are sicker and dying,
  • The Hospitals are short of Doctors and Nurses,
  • Doctors and Nurses are unemployed.
  • The old are poor and cold,
  • The Gas and Electric made profits,
  • The prices are going up again.
  • The unemployed are disillusioned and multiplying,
  • The factories are cold and empty,
  • The Government doesn't care."

Photo of Hon. Peter Morrison Hon. Peter Morrison , City of Chester 7:16 am, 23rd July 1981

I also met a young person, of about 18 or 19, in my constituency at the weekend and he said to me "Thank goodness that we at last have a Government who understand about living within their means." He realised that a country cannot go on living beyond its means.

It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) reiterate what the Leader of the Opposition has said about the programme that the Labour Party would introduce in the unlikely event that it was returned to power. But how would a Labour Government pay for that programme? It is all very well to call for lower interest rates and higher capital expenditure, but they would be printing money and if they did so on the scale that the Leader of the Opposition would like, inflation would take off. The hon. Member must understand that that would result in unemployment on a much greater scale.

That is how the Labour Government went from 1974 to 1979 and I hope, for the sake of the hon. Gentleman's constituents, that he will think carefully about that programme before advocating it so readily. It would not be in his constituents' interests. Past actions along those lines are the reasons why his constituents find it difficult to get jobs.

The Government's aim is to create conditions in which output, and therefore employment, can grow. Output is no longer falling, but new growth cannot take place until world conditions are right. Every country is suffering from a recession and we are no longer markedly worse off than many.

We must put ourselves in the position to make the most of the upturn in world demand when it comes. Market forces necessarily encourage structural change and create new jobs. Many new jobs are created and many of the unemployed find jobs even during a recession. The hon. Gentleman may not know that in every month for the past three months at least 280,000 have left the unemployment register. The picture is not as bad as the hon. Gentleman has made out.

We can help the market to work by keeping down inflation and controlling public expenditure. We can remove unnecessary obstacles and reduce the amount of form filling that is required. We can provide incentives and services to encourage adaptation, new growth and labour market efficiency. We must make ourselves more competitive to ensure future jobs. Productivity is improving, but we are concerned to minimise the painful effects of necessary change.

I come now to the special employment measures. To hear the hon. Gentleman talk, one would not think that we had any special employment measures. We are spending over £1,000 million on measures to avoid unnecessary redundancies and provide real help to those who are worst affected by unemployment. New jobs are being created. We estimate that in private sector establishments which have expanded in the past year employment has increased by about ⅓ million. Not all those new jobs are an increase in employment as such, but they are jobs which would not have been there before.

I come next to international comparisons. The rise in unemployment over the past three months, compared with the previous three months, shows an increase of 9 per cent. in the United Kingdom. In France—which Opposition Members frequently quote, for perfectly understandable reasons—there has been an increase of 11 per cent., and in Holland the increase has been 14 per cent. So we are not doing too badly in that respect.

I believe—I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman agrees with me—that our future employment prospects lie basically with the small firms. They will provide more jobs than any other sector of the economy. The hon. Gentleman did not mention the Government's measures to encourage small firms. We have the business start-up scheme and the loan guarantee scheme. To provide tax relief, we have the relaxation of corporation tax and capital transfer tax. The rules on unfair dismissal, industrial tribunals and maternity leave have been relaxed, particularly for small firms. Moreover, planning control has been relaxed, and tax allowances on premises have been increased. Those are all ways in which we have helped small firms and which will, as a result, provide jobs.

I come now to the special measures. The youth opportunities programme provides a range of opportunities for unemployed young people in training courses and work experience schemes. It includes courses to prepare young people for work through employment induction courses, short training courses, work introduction courses, work experience schemes on employers' premises, and training workshops.

The weekly tax-free allowance, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, is £23·50. He says that it is too little. He should remember that it is £8·25 more than supplementary benefit. He should remember, too, that more than 10,000 young people are joining the scheme a week. If he thinks that that is too little, why are they joining? They join because they realise that the Government are offering them something that they want. If he wants the allowance to be increased, he should realise that there would be fewer opportunities for those young people. If the allowance were increased substantially, young people would be debarred from places in the future.

The scheme has been expanded to provide 450,000 opportunities in 1981–82. That is 180,000 more than were planned for 1980–81, and more than double the opportunities that were available in 1979–80. The emphasis in this expansion is placed on work preparation courses, good quality work experience schemes and training workshops, but all elements in the programme will be expanded and developed.

The job release scheme provides jobs throughout the working community. In 1981–82 we are spending £129 million. That means that at the end of June 1981, 53,900 people were being supported by the scheme. Because of the domino effect through the working labour force, that helps young, middle-aged and older people.

More than 550,000 people were covered by the temporary short-time working compensation scheme at the end of June 1981. The cost to the taxpayer and Government was £365 million. That is another example of how the Government care and help people who otherwise would be unemployed.

The community enterprise programme aims, until the end of March next year, to provide 25,000 filled places. That is another example of how the Government care. It will cost the taxpayer £95 million.

We are supporting 25,000 first-year apprenticeships and other forms of long-term training at a cost of £30 million. As the Secretary of State said in an announcement on 21 July, that help will be increased by £9·3million in 1981–82 and by £11 million in 1982–83 because we are so concerned that the level of apprentices has dropped substantially.

Within the remit of a good housekeeping budget—we must have a good housekeeping budget if unemployment is not to rise even higher—the Government are spending a large sum, about £1,000 million, to ensure that people who are out of work, or who might become out of work, are helped on a substantial basis. I hope that when the Opposition make their criticisms they will have constructive ideas about an alternative strategy. I have not heard of such a strategy so far from the Leader of the Opposition.