§ 3. Mr. Skinner
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what the latest unemployment figures are; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)
At 12th May, 1,285,716 people were registered as unemployed in Great Britain. The seasonally adjusted figure is 1,262,000. The fall in unemployment and the increased vacancies between April and May are encouraging, particularly taking account of the reduction in unemployment in the two previous months, though future prospects are still uncertain.
§ Mr. Skinner
I hope that I do not detect a blasé attitude developing on the Treasury Bench about unemployment and the prospect of even higher unemployment later in the year with the summer school leavers. Can my right 207 hon. Friend confirm that it is now costing about £4,000 million, taking into account all the benefits, including earnings-related benefits, redundancy payments, loss of tax revenue and tax relief in certain circumstances, to finance this mountain of misery? This is the era of the great debate about simplifying children's education, so can my right hon. Friend explain why, when we have 800 million bricks on the ground, 250,000 construction workers on the dole and thousands of people wanting roofs over their heads, his Department and the Treasury cannot match up these three simple facts and get the problem solved straight away?
§ Mr. Booth
I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no question of any Minister in my Department or on the Treasury Bench generally being blasé about the level of unemployment. The recent improvements are welcome, but they are small in relation to the total size of the problem. There are a number of ways of estimating the cost of unemployment, and it is far too high in terms of human misery and loss of potential as well as in financial terms. I am working with other Ministers in interdepartmental considerations between my Department, the Departments of Industry and the Environment and the Treasury on ways of dealing with precisely those major points to which my hon. Friend has referred.
§ Mr. Henderson
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that unemployment is well over 1 million, but does he recall that in the Common Market referendum campaign two years ago we were told that if we did not stay in the EEC unemployment would rise to 1 million? Does he think that unemployment is higher or lower than it would have been if we had not remained in the Common Market?
§ Mr. Booth
I recall many of the things that we were told would happen if we did not stay in the Common Market, and many of them have happened since our entry. How far they are attributable to our membership of the Common Market and how far to the world slump is a matter of speculation, but there is no evidence to show that membership of the Common Market has protected countries from the effects of the slump. Many Common Market countries, including our- 208 selves, are suffering seriously from those effects.
§ Mr. Heffer
In his interdepartmental discussions, has my right hon. Friend given serious consideration to the Ryder Report relating to Plessey on Merseyside and elsewhere? Is he aware that 1,400 more workers are likely to join the unemployment queues in Liverpool because of the failure to come up with the alternative proposals that the Ryder Report may contain? What are the Government doing about this matter, which is very important to Merseyside?
§ Mr. Booth
The report to which my hon. Friend refers has only just come into Ministers' hands. I was involved with Ministers in the Department of Industry in exploring the possibilities of creating alternative work or bringing additional work to plants affected by changes in the Post Office ordering programme. I expect that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will shortly be in a position to indicate the outcome of the two reports that were put in hand as a result of these discussions.
§ Mr. Prior
Is the Secretary of State aware that the unemployment record of the Government is disgracefully complacent? Is he further aware that remarks such as he has made this afternoon about the Common Market do nothing to create confidence in British industry? Is he not aware that lack of confidence in British industry and lack of incentive to work and get on is at the root of many of our problems today?
§ Mr. Booth
All that I said about the Common Market was that there is no evidence that membership in itself has protected member States from the slump. I do not see how that could undermine confidence in British industry. I hope that it might act as a spur to industry to make efforts to improve our productivity and performance in the future as a member of the Community. There is no question of any complacency on the part of the Government. In fact, through my Department and the Department of Industry we have mounted more measures to deal with the effects of the slump than ever before in the history of this country.