Over the last six months the trend in United Kingdom seasonally adjusted unemployment has been firmly downwards. The average monthly decrease over this period has been 17,000.
In welcoming that fact, will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that there has been a drop in the number of jobless over virtually the whole country and that the drop has been greater in the north than in the south? Will he also confirm that the trend in the number of jobless over the past three months represents the best performance over any three-month period in the last 14 years?
I confirm the last point made by my hon. Friend. The fall in the number of jobless people over the past three months, which has been accelerating, is the fastest since 1973. I am glad to say that unemployment has been decreasing throughout the country, but it has been decreasing fastest in the north, the north-west, the west midlands and Wales, which is very good news.
Is the Minister aware that the rapid pit closure programme has caused economic distress in many areas of the northern region, resulting in a much higher average rate of unemployment than in the rest of Britain? To what extent is he satisfied with the trend in finding jobs for the long-term unemployed, particularly in south Yorkshire and the Barnsley travel-to-work area?
I accept that the impact of the closure of uneconomic and redundant coal mines is quite severe in the parts of south Yorkshire represented by the right hon. Gentleman. Therefore, I trust that the efforts of British Coal Enterprise Ltd. and of everyone else in the region to attract alternative employment will have rapid success. There are signs that new employment is coming along, but it will take a long time to fill the gaps left by the coal industry. I am delighted to say that the increase in the number of self-employed people has been faster in Yorkshire and Humberside than in any other part of England.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm the accuracy of his Department's unemployment figures in the Library and thus show that the statement by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) that unemployment in my constituency had risen was totally inaccurate and misleading to the House? The truth of the matter is that the unemployment figures have come down.
I am delighted to confirm that. I followed the exchanges on unemployment in Langburgh between my hon. Friend and Opposition Members. My hon. Friend's knowledge of the area is unrivalled, and I am glad that he has been able to correct the attacks made by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth).
Does the record not show that in each of the seven years in which the Government have carried out their chosen monetarist policies unemployment has soared and that when the Chancellor announced his U-turn or body-swerve in the autumn statement of increasecl public expenditure, unemployment reached a plateau and dipped ever so slightly? Does that not show that the Conservatives were wrong for seven years, that a small movement towards the Opposition's policies have had a favourable effect and that we need a Government who will carry out those policies with vigour and conviction?
That is an original interpretation, but with his knowledge of these matters the hon. Gentleman knows that the total number of people working in Britain has been steadily rising since 1983. Britain has had a sustained recovery which is steadily producing more new jobs. Indeed, the increase in the number of new jobs is now overtaking the number of people coming into the market for the first time and looking for those jobs.
Our public spending plans could not be described as adopting the Opposition's policies. As I understand it, the Opposition are committed to increasing public spending by at least £10 billion, most of which would be spent on providing new jobs in the more Left-wing town halls up and down the country.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many skilled jobs are vacant in a number of factories in my constituency and that many people would be happy to come from the north to take up those excellent jobs? Will he try to do more to enable people to move from the north to the south with greater facility?
I accept that skill shortages are already beginning to appear in large areas of the south, including my hon. Friend's constituency. We keep stepping up the adult training programme and increasing the number of people trained and we have just introduced the job training scheme to train those who have been unemployed for more than six months. I know that many people would like to move into my hon. Friend's constituency and take up the jobs, but it is to the housing market, including the private rented sector, that we must look for further reform to make that easier.
First, I apologise to the House for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who, unfortunately, has had to seek emergency dental treatment. May I put it to the Paymaster General that, although the nation would welcome a genuine reduction in unemployment, everyone knows that, unfortunately, in the past six months the trend has had more to do with the fiddling of figures, upon which the Government have embarked, and the number of people on Government schemes, who now number nearly 1 million, which is almost as many as were unemployed in 1979 when the Government took office? What discussions has the Paymaster General had with the Prime Minister about her promise of a return to full employment? Can he give us some idea of the time scale envisaged?
First, I send my genuine good wishes to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who I know is suffering from a painful condition. I only hope that he does not barrack the dentist while he is receiving the treatment of which he is plainly in need.
I shall not use this opportunity yet again to go over the arguments about whether the figures are genuine or whether everything is accounted for by schemes. At an Action for Jobs breakfast my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that she saw no reason why we should not look in the longer term to a return to full employment. If we can sustain the present rate of growth in the conomy, low inflation, good industrial relations and the continuing creation of additional jobs in the economy, that is a perfectly worthwhile objective, but we need to sustain the present recovery for quite a long time yet.