THE prospect of households facing higher mortgage rates sooner rather than later has been raised with the unexpectedly sharp fall in unemployment across Britain.

The number of jobless people across the UK plunged by 167,000 in the quarter to November - the second biggest fall on record - to 2.32 million, the lowest for almost five years.

In Scotland, the fall in the jobless total was also steep with a drop over the period of 25,000, taking it to 176,000.

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The Scottish unemployment rate of 6.4% is the lowest since April 2009 and compares to the UK rate of 7.1%, which is within a whisker of the Bank of England's review figure of 7%.

As the jobs data was released so too were the minutes of the ­January meeting of the Bank of England monetary policy committee (MPC).

These made clear that there was no immediate need to raise rates from their historic low of 0.5%. They also stressed that, when rate rises did come, fragile prospects for growth and low inflation would mean they would be gradual.

Yet analysts, who had pencilled in the first rate rise for 2015, brought forward their predictions.

Michael Saunders, Citi's chief UK economist, brought his forward by six months to the fourth quarter of this year. He added: "We expect the MPC will lift the policy rate to 2% by late 2015, still leaving policy supportive of growth."

While a rise in interest rates from 0.5%, where they have been since March 2009, might be bad news for mortgage-holders, it will be good news for savers, whose accounts suffered from very low returns for five years.

Other official figures showed:

l Those claiming jobseeker's allowance in December fell by 24,000 to 1.25 million, the lowest figure for almost five years (down 1900 to 113,800 in Scotland);

l Those in work reached a record high of just over 30m, resulting in an employment rate of 72.1% (2.56m in Scotland, up 10,000 on the previous quarter) and

l The number of unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds fell by 39,000 to 920,000 (down 3000 in Scotland).

During Prime Minister's ­Questions, David Cameron highlighted the numbers, telling MPs "youth unemployment is coming down, long-term unemployment coming down, the claimant coming down, and unemployment overall coming down".

He added: "There should not be one ounce of complacency. There is still a huge amount to do to get Britain back to work but there are 280,000 more people in work.

"That is 280,000 more people with the security of a regular pay packet coming in for themselves and their family."

A clash occurred when the PM insisted that most Britons, when tax cuts were taken into account, were better off.

Ed Miliband accused Mr Cameron of being out of touch and that since the election average wages were down by £1600 a year, "meaning that for many ordinary families life is getting harder".

At Holyrood, John Swinney welcomed the fall in the jobless figures but stressed the economic recovery remained fragile due to European trading conditions and the UK Government's "continued pursuit of austerity".

The Scottish Finance Secretary said: "Consistent increases in employment levels show that the policies of the Scottish Government to create jobs and boost the economy are making progress but we know that many employers continue to face what are very challenging conditions."