Unemployment in the United Kingdom, measured on the consistent seasonally adjusted series, was 2,175,000 in April 1991. It remains the case that there are now 1·3 million more jobs in Britain than in 1979 and over 3 million more jobs than in 1983. Job prospects will again improve following the resumption of economic growth.
The Minister's statement will not offer any hope to the quarter more people in my constituency who have become unemployed since last year. Does he agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that such levels of unemployment are a price well worth paying for the faint or, should I say, vague signs of recovery that only his right hon. Friend discerns in the economy?
The point made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was that it is essential to overcome inflation if we are to restore competitiveness to our economy and create the conditions in which jobs can once again grow. If the hon. Gentleman is as concerned about unemployment as he claims to be, will he talk to his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench and get them to abandon their job destruction package, which will destroy so many jobs in Britain?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Opposition cling to that absurd policy which is denounced on both sides of the House and which would undoubtedly destroy jobs on a devastating scale; yet they claim to be concerned about the fate of the unemployed.
With an estimated 5,500 compulsory or voluntary liquidations in the first quarter of this year in England and Wales, can the Secretary of State give us some idea how many jobs have been lost in small businesses this year? As banks are allegedly charging interest rates well above the base rate, what advice does the Minister with responsibility for small businesses give to the banks?
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that one would need to take net figures for job creation if one were considering small businesses separately. The latest figures that we have show that during last year over 800 more businesses a week were starting up than were going out of business. It is typical of Opposition Members that they are keen to talk about businesses closing down, but they consistently fail to recognise the new businesses that are starting up and being created every day in Britain.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the minimum wages policy which exists, perhaps in name only, throughout the European Community and America is allowed to exist only because the levels of wages under it are so low and that the entry of the East Germans, whose attempt to raise wages artificially has created enormous unemployment, shows that if the Opposition were to try to impose their policy it would undoubtedly create enormous unemployment and dislocation in the labour market?
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I take this opportunity of correcting a fabrication that is being put about by the Opposition. It certainly is not the case that a statutory minimum wage exists within the EC. That is far from the truth. A statutory minimum wage exists in only four countries in the Community. In those countries, the points made by my hon. Friend are absolutely right: the minimum wage is honoured more in the breach than in the observance. If Labour Members are interested in reducing unemployment, they would do well to recognise that in socialist France and Spain, which have a statutory minimum wage policy, unemployment is far higher than in this country.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that this country has not only the fastest rising unemployment of any nation in Europe and in the western world, but falling output and investment and it is also cutting training for the unemployed? When will that unique combination of economic failure and political indifference end? When will the Government start to restore the training budget for the unemployed by introducing the work experience programme that they need and taking responsibility for the unemployment that they are creating?
The hon. Gentleman knows that only a short time ago I announced an increase of £120 million in resources for employment training. It is beyond dispute—the hon. Gentleman consistently fails to face up to this—that had Labour been in office over the past few years, unemployment would be much higher than it is today. Were Labour to gain office again in the future, unemployment would be very much higher than it is today. That is why the British people will never make the mistake of electing Labour to government.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that employment in Portsmouth is much better than it was at the time of the last general election and that the policies of private enterprise are the best to carry forward employment prospects? Will my right hon. and learned Friend keep emphasising that Labour's job-destroying policies are the last thing that the people of Portsmouth want and that every previous Labour Government have left office with higher unemployment than they inherited?