Smith attacks 'horrendous' increase in jobless figures

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A STRONG attack on the 'horrendous rise in unemployment' was made by John Smith yesterday as a new Cabinet committee met for the first time to review measures to help the jobless.

As the December figure moved towards the 3 million mark, the Labour leader challenged the Prime Minister during Commons questions: 'In view of the horrendous rise in unemployment announced today, over 61,000 in one month, when is he going to recognise that his economic policies have failed the nation and are now blighting the lives of millions of British families?'

John Major said the figures were deeply disappointing, but he added: 'They reflect the job losses in the pipeline that were announced last autumn and have now come through.'

While sharing Mr Smith's concern, he said he also shared the objective of seeing 'unemployment falling and people getting back into secure and into lasting jobs'. To achieve that, Mr Major said, there had to be 'a dual strategy for long-lasting solutions to unemployment - firstly, a solid foundation for economic recovery with low inflation predominantly amongst them, and, secondly, wide-ranging help for the unemployed.' But, he insisted: 'That is in place.'

Jumping back to the attack, the Labour leader said: 'The Prime Minister expresses concern for the unemployed, but is he not the one who told us 'if it isn't hurting, it isn't working'? Was he not the Prime Minister whose first reaction when the pit closures were announced was that they had to be closed 'cleanly and quickly', and whose Chancellor believes that unemployment is a 'price well worth paying'?

'How can we possibly believe that his expressions of concern are genuine when we take all these factors into account?'

Mr Major said: 'One of the principal causes of unemployment in countries around the world, as well as here, is the difficulties faced with inflation.

'It is this Government that has had the courage to stick with policies to get inflation down. And the reality is, despite all his rhetoric, neither he nor his friends have set out a coherent policy for dealing with unemployment.'

Having heard the Prime Minister's attack on Labour proposals for a windfall tax on privatised utility profits, Mr Smith said: 'Does not he realise that the nation is tired of these feeble and lame excuses? And they are also tired of him blaming everyone in the world but himself.'