This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including the President of Cyprus, the Prime Minister of Barbados and Mr. Rajiv Ghandi. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having a meeting later today with the President of the Federal Republic of Germany. This evening I shall attend a supper given by Her Majesty the Queen on the eve of the marriage of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to the Lady Diana Spencer.
Following the speech made yesterday by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are carrying out a review of all wages councils? Is she aware that many of my hon. Friends and I believe that their activities can be an obstacle towards making jobs available, and that without them there could be fuller employment?
We have no immediate plans for legislation on wages councils. The minimum wages that most councils prescribe for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds vary from about £32 to £50. We hope that the wages councils will take into account the statement that was made yesterday about help for those who are employed and in receipt of a wage of less than £40, so that they may take the same approach as the Government. It is vital to get more young people into jobs.
When the Cabinet had before it the proposals that the right hon. Lady announced yesterday, had it also before it the unpublished forecasts of the Manpower Services Commission, which are reported in The Times today and which predict that for the next 30 months there will be an increase in unemployment, including, at the end of that period, over 1 million who have been unemployed for a year? Did the Cabinet have those forecasts before it? Does the right hon. Lady agree with them? Does not she think that it would have been a good idea to report the matter to the House?
We had no new forecasts before us. If there are any such forecasts from the Manpower Services Commission—I saw the report in The Times—I do not know of their existence. We wished to take the measures that we took and reported to the House yesterday because we wanted to do everything possible to reduce unemployment among young people and to help older people who are without jobs. We thought that the best way to do that was to proceed, as we said, with the extension of the job release scheme.
Does not the right hon. Lady agree that those figures are extremely serious? Will she report to the House on them before the House adjourns for the Summer Recess? The right hon. Lady has not told us whether she has considered those reports. It is a most serious forecast from the commission about unemployment over the next two or three years. When will the right hon. Lady face the situation?
I understand, and I tried to point out to the right hon. Gentleman, that there are no new forecasts. We are naturally concerned about the present situation and about the fact that more school leavers will come on to the register. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should also take into account the fact that some hon. Gentlemen behind him spoke in the debate yesterday and said that they are just as concerned as we are about the present position. They had no immediate solutions.
Whatever the right hon. Gentleman does or does not do, we believe in tackling the problem in two ways. We try to tackle the problem of unemployment at its root by increasing competitiveness and getting more jobs. In the meantime, in the shorter term, we must try to relieve hardship and suffering, as we said yesterday.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that since the wages councils cover about 10 per cent. of employment, their abolition would probably do more for employment, even than the useful measures that she announced yesterday?
I said earlier that we have no immediate plans for legislation on wages councils. I hope that they will take into account the measures that we proposed yesterday and the fact that many of us are very concerned to get more young people into employment, and also to provide employment for older people, by ensuring that firms become competitive. That must mean that people price themselves into jobs, because that is the only way to long and lasting full employment.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on the Government's highly relevant and important decision to establish 80 new centres of information technology? An unfortunate and inaccurate impression exists, particularly in the Portsmouth and Havant area, that the Government are not greatly concerned about the consequences of the dockyard closure. Will she therefore consider most carefully establishing one such centre in that area?
I shall certainly communicate what my hon. Friend has said to the Minister for Industry and Information Technology. On the general point, we are anxious that there will be sufficient properly trained people in this country for the new technology, because that is the kind of industry that this country must have if we are to increase the standard of living and the prosperity of our people.
The hon. Gentleman has over-assessed the amount that goes on unemployment and social security benefits. My recollection—I speak from memory—is that the sum paid out in unemployment and social security benefits for the first three months this year was about £750 million. It is much easier to pose the problem than it is to provide permanent, good jobs for our people. There is only one way to do that, and it is the way that the right hon. Gentleman refuses to follow. May I quote:
There is in fact only one way to stop our industrial decline. We must prevent our unit costs from rising so much faster than
our competitors. By far the best way to reduce unit costs is to increase productivity by increasing output per head. Unfortunately, this can be achieved only on the shop floor of the individual firm There is no general policy through which the Government can perform the miracle".
So said the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) in a speech that he made in September 1979.
Did my right hon. Friend notice during the course of, yesterday's debate that when the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) was asked about the cost of the spendthrift programme put forward by the Leader of the Opposition earlier in the afternoon, he admitted that the programme had not been costed? Is that a sensible way for Her Majesty's official Opposition to embark on policy-making?
Will the Prime Minister tell us today, and preferably now, why one major aspect of her Government's policy—of any Government policy—was not mentioned in her speech yesterday, and that is regional policy? Is it because it is such a monumental flop? In the Northern region last week unemployment rose to 15·6 per cent., which is the highest rate in the United Kingdom. Is she aware that it has risen every month since her Government came to power? What does she intend to do about it? Will she do something new to change the policies that she repeatedly told us yesterday were so successful?
The hon. Gentleman is not correct. Grants under regional policy were included in the £1 billion which at present goes largely to the private sector.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who for many years have visited Keswick were shattered by what happened to the town and its theatre? Does not she believe, despite the superb effort by the police, that the arrest of 14 is barely a deterrent, and that many of those roving gangs will continue to pose a threat to helpless communities unless they are told that their bikes will be impounded if they go on in this way?
If my memory is correct, I understand that those young people were fined £1,000 each by the magistrates' court. Doubtless, the magistrates regarded that as a deterrent sentence. We must leave law and order to the police, and the law to the magistrates.
In view of the enormous sacrifices that have been made by Scottish fishermen since 1977 to conserve herring stocks, and in view of the notorious inaccuracies in the reporting process by foreign fleets, will the Prime Minister take a leaf out of the Icelandic book and take all means at the Government's disposal to protect Scotland's herring industry?
I answered a question on that subject earlier this afternoon. The surveillance by the United Kingdom fisheries protection fleet will be increased. The fisheries catches will be reported twice a week. We intend to close the fishery when the scientifically recommended total allowable catch is taken.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm today that before we come back in October Ministers will have published specific proposals to defend commercial and domestic ratepayers against the depredations of the likes of Mr. Ken Livingstone and his grizzly friends throughout the country?
It is quite clear that some defence is needed against the reported activities of Mr. Ken Livingstone. I believe that the consultative document will have been published by that time. I shall endeavour to see that it is done.
Has the Prime Minister noticed that the building industry is forecasting a still further increase in unused resources? Should we not therefore distinguish more sharply between current and capital expenditure? While keeping current expenditure under strict control, has not the time come to encourage productive investment?
A good deal of current expenditure is spent on maintenance, which affects the building industry. We have encouraged capital expenditure by a number of measures. We have increased the capital allowances on industrial buildings from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent., with the specific intent of helping industry and increasing the amount of work available to the construction industry. The rate of development land tax has been lowered to a single figure of 60 per cent.—a further help to the construction industry. The capital programme of 30 new town development corporations will cost £275 million this year. Two nuclear power stations are being constructed. There is a heavy hospital building programme and the roads programme is costing more than £900 million. All that is for the building and construction industry.