I wish those newspapers well in their efforts to print on the latest equipment. Management and everyone else, including trade unions, are entitled to take full advantage of the law.
Today unemployment reached 3·4 million, the highest ever. When unemployment was 1·1 million in 1979 the Prime Minister confidently promised that she would reduce it. Will she give the same promise now?
I am the first to admit that, following several months of falling unemployment, the unemployment figures published today are deeply disappointing. Just as we did not claim that last year's figures meant a reverse of the trend when they were better, so it is too early to say that two months' poor figures indicate that unemployment is rising. The fact remains that the number of people in work has increased by over 700,000 since March 1984.
The Prime Minister must know that that claim about 700,000 is not valid. Even the Bank of England's system of calculation demonstrates that the number of jobs in terms of full-time equivalents has fallen. Is it not the truth that the Prime Minister does not know how to get unemployment down and does not care about it? If she did, she would not let it go on increasing all the time.
On the two points that the right hon. Gentleman has raised, we create more wealth and, therefore, more jobs, only by creating more goods which will sell competitively in world markets. That is the only way. With regard to what he said about the growth of jobs, the best indication of that is provided by the Department of Employment's official count every three months. He mentioned the Bank of England's adjustment, which referred to full-time equivalents. [Interruption.] Yes, many of the jobs have been part-time, but what is wrong with that? May I point out that the bank's adjustment, based on the assumption of a full-time employee equivalence, is inevitably uncertain. More important, it relates solely to employees and so completely ignores the net increase of over 400,000 in the number of self-employed since March 1983.
Given that, like unemployment, the view of the country about the credibility of the Prime Minister has today reached an all-time high, with 56 per cent. of people not believing her explanation of Monday, can she give us a full, honest and careful answer to this question? Was she or her Office consulted about the decision to prohibit three senior officials of the Department of Trade and Industry from giving evidence to the Select Committee on Defence? If she authorised that prohibition, does she intend to make sure that no civil servants speak to Officers and Members of the House? Is she going to cover up for what she has done or is she going to let her civil servants tell the truth, even if she cannot?
With regard to the two parts of the hon. Gentleman's question, I set out in my speech on Monday the full circumstances of the Solicitor-General's letter, its disclosure and the establishment of the inquiry, and I pointed out that the accuracy of the statement was checked with all concerned. That is what the hon. Gentleman does not like and cannot get over.
With regard to Select Committees, the Government want to co-operate with them. Those officials who advise on policy and who are, therefore, in a position to help the work of the Select Committee on Defence on the defence implications of the Westland affair have co-operated fully and will continue to do so. I am bound to say that the Committee's request for private secretaries and personal staff to give evidence has major implications for the conduct of the Government and for relations between Ministers and their Private Offices, which will need to be thought about very carefully.
We shall be in touch with the Committee and shall give any requests proper consideration. Perhaps right hon. and hon. Members of the Opposition will remember the time when the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster under their Government refused to appear before a Select Committee.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, despite the GATT, the world's trading nations are effectively engaged in an intensive trade war, in which competition is increasingly exercised by means of the competitive devaluation of currencies and that, in an era of floating exchange rates, to believe in free trade is to believe in pure fantasy? Will she urge our colleagues in the International Monetary Fund to agree that it would be better for world trade and growth if we were to move not towards something like the European monetary system, which is merely a bunch of floating currencies, but towards the restitution of a fixed exchange rate regime?
As my hon. Friend is aware, competitive devaluation is no long-term substitute for each factory and firm becoming competitive in the sale of its own product. As to fixed exchange rates, unless the underlying economies are also run very similarly to one another, fixed exchange rates do not last long and lead to devaluation.
With regard to Select Committees, does my right hon. Friend agree that any sanction that may be imposed belongs to the Chamber of the House and not to a Select Committee? Secondly, when she is seeking to avoid a clash between the Select Committee and Whitehall, will she bear in mind that there is a power in Select Committees to receive evidence and to treat it on a confidential basis, and that this might provide a way out of the dilemma?
As I indicated in the previous reply, I shall, of course, be in touch with the Committee and shall, of course, give any requests proper consideration.
The answer that the Prime Minister gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has very serious implications for the conduct of business in this House. She will recall that in her own two statements on this whole matter she laid great stress on future inquiries by our Select Committees. She has absolutely no right now to place any fetter on anyone they may wish to call.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look carefully at what I said. Of course the Government want to co-operate with Select Committees. Those officials who advise on policy and are therefore in a position to help the Defence Select Committee's work on the defence implications of the Westland affair have cooperated fully and will continue to do so. Civil servants are responsible either to their Ministers for policy or to the head of the Civil Service.
Was it not the Prime Minister herself who asked for the Westland saga to go to a Select Committee of the House? Why is she now openly obstructing the work of that Select Committee by preventing, by diktat almost, Miss Colette Bowe and Mr. Charles Powell, Mr. Ingham possibly and Mr. John Mogg from giving evidence? Does she not realise that one cover-up begets another cover-up and another cover-up ad infinitum? When will she come clean and admit that there is a lot more to come out in that Select Committee and that on Monday she did not give a full report of what happened?
I gave a very full account and it was meticulously checked for accuracy, by, among others, the head of the Civil Service, to take into account the report which I had made to the House. I gave that account. It was accurate.
When my right hon. Friend is looking into the precedents concerning Select Committees and Ministers and public officials, will she refresh her memory of the circumstances in which the then Attorney-General, Mr. Sam Silkin, refused to appear before the Select Committee on Trade and Industry when it was looking into the recovery operation following the crash of Chrysler? That is quite an interesting precedent, which might do with refreshment.
I do not have details of that one. I have details of the reply, which I recall on Monday 19 January 1976, when the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had received an invitation from the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee — [Interruption.] Yes, the reply. He had received an invitation to attend and give evidence on public expenditure on Chrysler. He went on to say:
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, who has direct ministerial responsibility for this, was to give evidence on behalf of the whole Government."—[Official Report, 19 January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 287.]
He went on to say that evidence had been given on behalf of the Government and that he was declining to give evidence to the Select Committee.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that on this day, when the highest levels of unemployment ever known have been recorded, due to the Government's policies, it will not go unnoticed by the people that, when the printers' unions have taken a stand to protect jobs—6,000 more jobs are at stake—the Tory Benches cheered to the echo the mention of Murdoch, and, of course, the anti-trade union legislation that makes it more—[Interruption.]
I totally reject what the hon. Gentleman has said. If industry had not been able to become thoroughly competitive under the policies of this Government we should have lost whole industries, and the unemployment position would have been infinitely worse. Restrictive practices and overmanning do not save jobs. They lead to the loss of more jobs in the end.