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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, can the Minister explain how the Government intend to tackle rising unemployment when they stand condemned by employers in the private sector construction industry for reducing investment in the fabric of our schools, our colleges and our homes in this country as part of their Budget strategy? That leads to job losses, lack of training opportunities and an increase in poverty.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness does not understand what a decrease in unemployment means. Despite there being half a million fewer people on the unemployment register now than over a year ago, we still talk about increasing unemployment. The noble Baroness is quite wrong in that respect. Further, if she studied page 71, Volume 2, of the Rowntree Report (which probably not many people managed to get into) she would see that improvements in education and training for unskilled workers are important, as is, in the European case, restructuring of taxation, especially payroll taxes like employers NIC, to reduce the relative costs of unskilled
Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister accept that access to further and higher education varies enormously from one area of the country to another and that the average figures that he mentioned conceal those enormous variations? Can he say, for example, how many children in the London Borough of Lambeth gained access to further and higher education in 1979 and 1985 respectively and whether as a percentage of the total the number of children leaving school without any qualification at all has decreased or increased since 1979 in that borough?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am not in a position to answer the question about the London Borough of Lambeth, but if the noble Lord puts down a Question to that effect I am sure it will be answered. I would give the noble Lord the figure I gave for the whole country. It is obviously an important one, as are the comparable figures, which I do not have to hand but which we all know about, which show the improvement that has come about in the qualifications of school-leavers, which is self-evident if the number going to university has increased from one in eight to one in three.
Lord Ennals: My Lords, does the Minister accept that some of us feel a certain sense of resentment that he should imply that we have not read the Rowntree Report which this House is debating on Wednesday? I can assure him that many people on this side of the House have already done so. But since he is in that sort of mood, so am I. I was surprised to see this Question on the Order Paper, as my understanding of the philosophy of the party opposite is that it is precisely to do thisto ensure that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, perhaps I may draw the noble Lord's attention to another part of the report which refers to one of the options that the noble Lord has just mentioned; that is, the poor are getting poorer. The other option is that more people are getting poorer. However, the report states that, by and large, it is the second of these options which seems to have happened particularly as unemployment has risen. Of course the snapshot taken by the Rowntree Report was of the situation two or three years ago, before unemployment started to fall. I would suggest that a snapshot taken today, with half a million fewer people out of work, would look slightly different to that of three years ago.
Baroness Seear: My Lords, will the noble Lord reassure my noble friend Lord Avebury that things in Lambeth are improving greatly since there have been so many successes of Liberal Democrats being elected to the council?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, returning to the reply which the Minister gave to my noble friend Lord Ennals, is he aware of the remarks of John Maples just a couple of months ago when he said:
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, if I remember the piece of paper which the Opposition have quoted from at lengththey do not normally quote from government or Conservative Party documents at such lengthMr. Maples was talking about the perceptions that some people have. I know that the Opposition hate to think about it this way, but the simple fact is that the vast majority of people in this country are markedly better off than they were in 1979.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I quibble with Mr. Maples in that regard because, while undoubtedly there are some people who are poorer, there will always be a bottom decile, although sometimes one would not think so when one reads the Rowntree Report. But the fact is that the great bulk of our people have seen their standard of living increase immeasurably.
Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that those in the lowest income group have a far higher standard of living than they did in 1979? Is it not also true, since 1979 and 1992, that the average growth for a household in this country is 36 per cent. above inflation? Is it not true also that pensioners now have an average growth of 56 per cent. above inflation? When will the other side work out that since 1997 we have had a Conservative Government who have made these things possible?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, my noble friend is of course right in what he meant to say and equally right, I am quite sure, in what he says about the future! I can confirm, as I have already mentioned, that average incomes have risen by over a third by 36 per cent.between 1979 and 1991-92. It is also particularly encouraging that pensioners have done well during this period, with an average increase of 56 per cent., and far fewer are represented in this bottom decile than were represented when the party opposite left power. It is one of the little contradictions that one reaches only towards the tail end of Volume 2 of the Rowntree Report the fact that the least well-off, as represented by the bottom 20 per cent. by income, have
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, instead of the selective use of figures, as shown by the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, and instead of the standard, smooth party political answers which he has read from a carefully prepared brief, will the Minister bear the following in mind? There is in Britain today a growing underclass of people who are deeply embittered and they are becoming alienated from our society. Given the Right-wing drift of this Government, unfortunately encouraged by the Prime Minister, I fear for the future. I hopethis is a general pointthat the Minister and his colleagues in government will reflect on the alienation of this growing underclass, because it is dangerous for our democracy and our democratic health.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I would not disagree at all with the noble Lord about the problem of an underclassperhaps we can debate whether it is growing or notwhich is caused not just by economic but also by behavioural reasons. We shall probably debate how far those are connected on Wednesday. I hope that I made at least some positive contribution when I mentioned that we take seriously the need to look for ways to continue the fall in unemployment, which, as I saidI underline this again because people seem unable to accept it has added up to more than half a million in the past year and a bit.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish will repeat a Statement being made in another place on Barings.