This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Now that the official figure for unemployment has exceeded 3 million, is the Prime Minister proud of the fact that she has brought so much despair to so many families in the United Kingdom? Is she proud of the fact that she and the Government have created more havoc in the British economy than the German High Command in the whole of the last war? Is she proud that, to carry out this ill-fated monetarist experiment, she has had to increase taxes? [Interruption.] Is it not time—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]
In response to the hon. Gentleman, of course we all deplore the tragic fact that unemployment has reached 3 million and so many people who want to work find themselves without a job. Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman says, Conservative Members also feel very strongly about this.
I find the comments of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and his reference to the German High Command utterly distasteful, particularly for those who suffered or lost relatives in the last war.
There is a certain amount of encouraging news. There is now less short-time working, more overtime, an increased inflow of vacancies and an increased stock of vacancies, and unemployment is rising at a lesser rate than it was.
I have but one comment to make about the hon. Gentleman's reference to Germany. Perhaps he will bear in mind that in the past year unemployment in West Germany rose by 586, 000, which is not very different from the 651, 000 by which it rose in this country.
No one in this country, whether a member of a union or not, must be allowed to jeopardise the freedom of the press. I condemn any action, whether by trade unionists or others, which tends towards that end. All industrial action loses jobs. It does not gain them.
As the Budget Statements and the Budgets of the right hon. Lady's Chancellor of the Exchequer have contributed so much to the terrible figures published today, will she give us an assurance that at the meeting of the Cabinet on Thursday there will be no more cuts, no more deflation, no more monetary madness and no more of the measures that have contributed to this terrible disaster for the nation?
The short answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that I cannot say what will take place at Cabinet next Thursday. Cabinet agendas are not revealed. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman only that the meeting will be interesting, as usual. I know that encouraging figures are never of any interest to the right hon. Gentleman or to Labour Members generally. However, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will note that our average record on inflation is now better than the record achieved throughout the previous Labour Government's term of office. Inflation is coming down, and it is vital that it should if we are to have a soundly based recovery.
May I also point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, possibly due to my right hon. and learned Friend's last Budget, the December current account surplus was nearly £500 million and that our productivity record this year put us at the top of the league table of the industrialised countries, and that is something of which we should be very proud. Our reserves are up to $23 billion, unlike during the equivalent period when the right hon. Gentleman was a member of the Labour Government, when they were down to $4 billion and we were broke.
Cannot the right hon. Lady appreciate that when the figures of unemployment reach a total of this nature it is an insult to the unemployed to talk of the encouraging figures presented to the nation, especially when most of her figures are misleading?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!".] Does she not understand that the productivity figures are not back to what they were at the end of 1979? Does she not understand that the inflation figures are not back to what they were when she came to office? Does she not understand that on all these fronts she has taken measures that have pushed up the total of unemployed? Now we are told by the Secretary of State of Employment that we have not reached the peak. What is the peak that the right hon. Lady and her Government are heading for?
If the right hon. Gentleman studies the productivity figures for the right measure, which is productivity per man-hour, he will find that they have now reached an all-time record. If he will kindly tell me what other figure he challenges, I shall try to respond to him. As for inflation, the right hon. Gentleman's average record in 1974, his first year, was 16·1 per cent. whereas ours was 13·4 per cent. During his second year of office his average record on inflation was 24·2 per cent. while ours was 18 per cent. In his third year in office his average rate of inflation was 16·5 per cent. and ours is 11·9 per cent. That is the answer—we are better on all counts.
The right hon. Gentleman will find the vacancy figures in the Department of Employment's press notice. The number of vacancies—the number of jobs now being notified to job centres—is increasing. The stock is greater than a year ago. The fact is that the right hon. Gentleman brought down unemployment temporarily at the cost of reflation, which increased unemployment later. If the right hon. Gentleman is really interested in the figures—[Interruption.]
If the right hon. Gentleman is interested in ascertaining the facts, he will have observed that the total population of working age will increase by about 1 million during the period 1980 to 1985. We had a peak of schoolchildren reaching school leaving age of 16 years this last year of 920, 000. Of course these demographic factors have to be taken into account in judging the tragic figure of unemployment. The only real answer to the right hon. Gentleman is one that he will not accept, and it is that the consumer decides whether jobs go.
In view of the delays that certain education authorities have suffered—notably Manchester—in receiving decisions from the Secretary of State for Education and Science on education reorganisation plans, will the right hon. Lady tell us when the parents, pupils and staffs of schools in Croydon that will be affected by reorganisation plans may expect to receive an answer to the submissions that were lodged with the Minister on 6 August?
I am not quite certain to which schools or to which sort of notice the hon. Gentleman is referring. I take it that he is referring to a section 13 notice under the Education Act 1944. If he is, there has inevitably to be a two-month period for representations to be made to the permanent secretary. The representations then have to be evaluated by the Secretary of State. They must then be discussed before a decision is reached. The hon. Gentleman must put the precise case to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.
Will my right hon. Friend take time today to welcome the moves made last week by the Bank of England, the Bundesbank and the Dutch to make a combined effort to bring interest rates down? Will she encourage them to do it again this week? Will she also encourage the American authorities to join in this venture?
The move to lower interest rates last week by a number of the banks in Europe was very welcome. It would hardly have taken place had we run the high deficit that Labour Members wish us to run. It is a fact that fear of the United States having a high deficit is holding up interest rates here.
On the day when unemployment is announced to have passed 3 million, is the right hon. Lady aware that official Government returns show that there are over 5, 700, 000 persons living in poverty on supplementary benefit, that it is officially estimated that there are a further 1, 100, 000 living in poverty but not claiming benefit, and that a majority of these are the unemployed and their families? Is she not ashamed that under her regime no fewer than one in eight of the British people are living in poverty, which is the highest figure for 50 years?
The hon. Gentleman will be the first to know that every time social security benefits are increased more people are eligile to come into benefit. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman's definition of poverty is based on those who are able to draw social security benefits. If he studies the record of the last Labour Government, he will find that increases in benefits usually led to an increase in the number of people eligible to draw them.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the public concern at the increasing number of offences of rape? If, as I understand it to be the case, my right hon. Friend has ordered a review of that problem, could she state what form it will take and how long it will take to be completed?
We have considered the recent cases very carefully. Hon. Members will know that there was an advisory group on the law of rape, chaired by Dame Rose Heilbron. That was an excellent group. Most of its recommendations were implemented, with the unanimous approval of both sides of the House. Furthermore, building on that, the Criminal Law Revision Committee is now carrying out a comprehensive review of sexual offences, including rape and allied offences, and the penalties for them. [Interruption.] In October 1980 it published a working paper and invited comments. Those comments are still being received. The committee's intention is to produce a report that places the law on rape in the context of sexual assaults. That refers to the law on rape in England and Wales. The law is different in Scotland. I have thought it wise to attempt to discuss the recent events and cases—[Interruption.]—which, although they may not have given cause for concern to Opposition Members—[Interruption.]—have given cause for concern to many others.
I thought it wise to discuss with Dame Rose Heilbron recent events and the concern that people feel following her report of 1976. I am happy to say that she has agreed to come to see me. We shall discuss those matters to see whether any further steps are required. With regard to the law in Scotland, there is a possibility of a private prosecution. Therefore I can say nothing further about that.