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Column 274happening outside his responsibility. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, such matters are the responsibility of the police and, ultimately, the Home Secretary.
Mr. Heffer : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to delay the House, but I have been talking to some of the young students outside. They have letters from their Members of Parliament saying that they can enter the House and speak to them. On their way to the House- -they had not even reached the bridge ; they were simply walking along the Embankment--they were directed elsewhere. They produced their letters and said that they were going to see their Members of Parliament. They were actually told that if they continued they would be arrested. I do not know where we are going. There should be a statement from a Minister so that we can raise these matters with him.
Madam Deputy Speaker : As the hon. Gentleman knows, Mr. Speaker has no authority to bring a Minister to the Chamber. The points of order raised earlier and those raised now have undoubtedly been heard by members of the Treasury Bench.
Mr. Stan Crowther (Rotherham) : I do not intend to comment on the very important points raised by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard). I want to take this opportunity to express my great concern, and that of many others, about the growing skills shortage. The problem has been developing for a number of years. The sheer complacency of the Government about such a serious matter is most alarming. No one could possibly pretend that there is a shortage of people available for real training. Unemployment levels in many parts of Britain, including my constituency, are still disgracefully high. A Government who manage to produce both a record level of unemployment and a dramatic shortage of skilled workers demonstrate a rare degree of incompetence.
The problem affects industries at many levels. For example, the Engineering Council is constantly reminding the House and the Government about the inadequate number of graduate engineers coming out of universities and polytechnics each year. The Trade and Industry Select Committee has just completed a long and detailed inquiry on information technology. Witness after witness told us of the difficulties facing companies trying to find skilled people. We were given an estimate of up to 30,000 unfilled vacancies in data processing.
Manufacturing, Science and Finance, a major union in the industry, said that the shortage of skilled people was the major factor inhibiting the information technology industry in the United Kingdom. Other evidence showed that the annual demand for graduates in that industry is currently 5,900, rising to 8,200 within the next five years. On present trends, there is apparently no possibility that the number of people coming out of universities and polytechnics will meet that demand.
How have the Government reacted to that? They go to the EEC and tell our Community partners that they are opposed to any increase in expenditure on the COMMETT programme. Many hon. Members know that the COMMETT scheme sponsors and develops close links between industry and higher education establishments in technology training. The Commission says that the present budget of £48 million a year is totally inadequate. The
Column 275Government consider that to be far from inadequate and want to reduce that amount. That is how they react to the serious shortages of graduates leaving higher education with degrees in engineering subjects.
We have to set all that against the fact that in Britain the number of young people in higher education, as a percentage, is far smaller than in all other industrial countries. In the 20 to 24-year-old age group, 20 per cent. are in higher education in Britain, compared with 56 per cent. in the United States of America, 42 per cent. in Canada, 39 per cent. in Sweden and 24 per cent. in South Korea, which is now developing into a major competitor in many industries. How can we go on like this? Surely no one can claim that freezing student grants and introducing repayable loans will help us in that respect. Skills shortages occur in many industries, but I shall refer only to two or three further examples, because of the time factor. Local authorities are worried about the shortage of environmental health officers and trading standards officers--people who have a vital role in protecting the public and who are the key people in consumer protection. There are hundreds of unfilled vacancies for such posts. The number of people leaving universities and polytechnics with environmental health qualifications is less than half the number needed annually. The problem is becoming significantly worse each year.
Local authorities say that the problem is that there are not enough training places at universities and polytechnics. I wrote to the Under- Secretary of State responsible for higher education. He said that that was not the problem ; that some courses had been under-subscribed ; and he then washed his hands of the matter. Yet somebody should be concerned about it. Public health is being put at risk, and somebody in the Government should be worried about that. In the other skills shortage about which I shall talk, there is no question of courses being under-subscribed--they are not. Yet the Government have decided to cut the number or places at veterinary schools by about 10 per cent., although the number of applicants is far in excess of the places available. People with good qualifications are not accepted on courses, but the Government are cutting the number of places available.
Many people think of vets as amiable chaps who look after cats, dogs and parrots, but in fact their vital role is to protect the public against diseased and infected meat and dairy products. Someone should be worried about that. The Government react by cutting the facilities for training new vets. Some of their Lordships must be concerned about that, in view of the serious outbreak of food poisoning in the other place not long ago. Incidents of food poisoning are increasing notably year by year, so it is precisely the wrong time to run short of environmental health officers, trading standards officers and vets. I see no sign that the Government are worried about that.
I shall now move from tragedy to farce and comment on the employment training scheme. There is serious doubt about how much real training will be involved in the so-called training scheme. One reason why we doubt the commitment of the Government--I am glad to see that the Secretary of State for Employment is here--is that they have abolished most of the industrial training boards and their own Training Commission. How seriously are they committed to training? Who will monitor the level of training that takes place on the so-called employment training scheme?
Column 276I shall quote a few sentences from papers that have been put out in my area by three of the managing agencies that exist to operate the scheme on behalf of the Government. It would be unfair to name them, as they presumably all operate on the same lines. The papers are issued to the public--or to their clients, as they call them. One paper says :
"This is work you can request during your normal visits and which is covered by the set charge of £1 a week.
Social visits--Chatting, sitting with the elderly or the infirm Prepare simple meals
Collecting and filling prescriptions
Clean the bath or sink."
Another scheme offers shopping, collecting pensions, cleaning, fire- lighting and wheelchair outings.
The people who will be engaged on these operations are described as trainees--I emphasise that word. Another scheme offers light repairs to trousers, skirts and curtains and a bit of gardening. What kind of training is that supposed to be? That has nothing to do with training. It is undermining the social services. It is providing a home help service on the basis of cheap labour. No one can pretend that 18 or 19-year-olds, however splendid and caring they may be, can provide a proper substitute for the dedicated, mature women who are the backbone of the home help service.
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler) : The hon. Gentleman must understand the history of the programme. The community programme has provided community services of the kind to which he has referred for a number of years, but the community programme did not provide training in addition. The situation arose--which I am sure the hon. Gentleman deplores--where people provided a service for the community, but did not receive training to enable them to find jobs. We are trying to consolidate some of the community services and to give people training so that they can fill the vacancies that are available now. The hon. Gentleman should consider the matter more carefully if he has a serious interest in reducing unemployment.
Mr. Crowther : I entirely understand the point that the Secretary of State has made. I am aware that the employment training scheme has taken over from the community programme. However, at least the community programme did not pretend to be a training scheme. I cannot see that the activities that I have described have anything to do with training. The employment training scheme is a form of cheap labour to undermine the social services. I can see no other explanation for it.
There is no shortage of opportunities for putting young people into proper training schemes. People are desperately needed in the skills that I have already mentioned. During their time on the employment training scheme, our young people will be running errands and doing a bit of gardening. They will not be trained to fill the 30,000 vacancies in data processing, for example. Will they be trained to go into the innumerable unfilled vacancies in a variety of important skills? They will not. It is nonsense to pretend that the scheme has anything to do with skill training. If the Government are seriously concerned about training, they should enable people to take real
Column 277apprenticeships and to join training schemes that will equip them with the skills that industry so desperately needs. The present scheme is no substitute.
Without that crucial training for skill, this country will go naked into the single European market. If, as a nation, we do not have the skills to match our competitors, both inside and outside the Community, we shall be eaten alive inside 10 years.
Mr. Dudley Fishburn (Kensington) : There is one sector of our vibrant economy in which employment is falling. Opposition Members may jeer about that decrease or, in their paradoxical way, even cheer about it. It is in the great service industries of the City of London. There are a number of reasons for the fall in the number of City jobs, not all of them bad. For example, in the Government bond markets, where there were far too many players, substantial numbers have been laid off, precisely because the supply of their lifeblood--Government debt--has itself been stopped. There is no more Government debt--only repayment--and I imagine that gilt dealers are the only people in the City of London who may be hoping for a revival in the Labour party's fortunes.
A number of people in the investment, banking and financial services industries have also been laid off, in part because of over-expansion prior to big bang, in part because the security markets are dull, and in part because of the welcome competition that has been introduced into the City by the Government, which has cut prices and therefore forced cuts in costs. At the same time, the City is faced with the ever-increasing costs associated with the implementation of the Financial Services Act 1986.
As announced in the Gracious Speech, we are now to have a Companies Bill. That Bill will have the chance to increase employment not just in the City, but, far more important, throughout the entrepreneurial business community, which has provided almost all the net new jobs in Britain.
The Companies Bill will need to do several things. First, it will need to simplify company accounts. Millions of people are now new shareholders who have been brought into the capitalist fold. The old, unreadable company accounts, behind which the accountant could hide in a camouflage that only he could understand, are incomprehensible to them and need to be simplified. Company accounts must be improved, within tighter parameters. They must be made more easily comprehensible, with certain factors, such as the value of the assets of a company being made more clear. That will be notably tame when it comes to valuing "goodwill", as we ever more develop the service industries. Goodwill is the difference in value between a company's assets and the price that another is prepared to pay for them. Thousands of new companies have been created each year under this Conservative Administration, creating more jobs than ever. Yet they have to spend too much time and money wrestling with the red tape required in the public accounts that they need to produce every year, under a system that is at least 50 years out of date.
The second area with which the Companies Bill will have to deal, if it is to increase employment, as many of us hope it will, is mergers and acquisition policy, both
Column 278national and international. I trust that nothing in the Companies Bill will make takeovers more difficult, more murky or more prone to Government interference, except solely on the ground of competition. Takeovers, national or international, increase prosperity and investment ; most important of all, they increase jobs. The creation of jobs of the right kind stems directly from the market for takeovers.
If the Companies Bill does nothing else, it must allow more openness than we have had in the past. It must ensure that in the process of a takeover wrongdoers are spotted earlier and are stopped with a heavier hand than in the past. Like company accounts, takeovers, mergers and acquisitions should be made more straightforward and easier.
I hope that the Government will not introduce into the Bill anything that smacks of protectionism or xenophobia. This country thrives on having its markets open to the world--its financial markets as well as its industrial markets. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment knows, that freedom increases prosperity and the number of modern productive jobs. Britain thrives in overseas markets. After Japan, we are the largest creditor nation in the world, with a high and growing net overseas investment. The fact that in America and Europe tens of thousands of people wake up in the morning and go to work for a British company increases the wealth and employment in this country. It is no accident that countries with the highest investment overseas, such as Japan and Switzerland, have the lowest unemployment within their own boundaries.
The new self-confidence of British industry has encouraged it to fight for, and capture, some of the most famous commercial names in the world ; nor have big companies alone led the massive investment of British wealth overseas for the benefit of the British people. Overseas takeovers by British industry represent millions of pounds and thousands of companies, and guarantee prosperity, jobs and income in the British home market.
All that is done through the City of London. It is imperative that the City should remain unencumbered with nationalist measures, and that it should be free to act on the instructions of British industry anywhere in the world. Of course, that means we must maintain a two-way street ; and the more bustle there is on that street the better. It means that British companies must be free to purchase and invest abroad and that foreign companies must be able to do the same, and receive a welcome when they invest in Britain. Nothing is more economically illiterate or politically unsound than to bemoan each and every act of foreign investment or takeover. Such acts should be welcomed as acts of confidence in Britain. They should be welcomed by all who seek to further our prosperity and to increase the employment opportunities available to our people.
Ownership is becoming ever more fluid, and it is becoming a less important factor in international wealth creation. A few months ago I was on the north slope of Alaska, from which the United States gets most of its domestic oil. The major oil company there is BP. But no manager on those oilfields felt that he was working for a Limey company. Indeed, he would have been wrong to think so, as at least 30 per cent. of BP is owned by people outside the United Kingdom. The ownership of new global corporations is becoming ever more diffuse and muddled, and it is rapidly changing.
Column 279That is a good thing, and only the most old- fashioned would bemoan it. The Government would do a great disservice to our wealth creators and job creators, to the City of London and to industry, if they were tempted to tip into the Companies Bill any measure restricting this move to greater globalism, or any barrier to Britain's industrial investment in the world and the world's investment in Britain. 5.59 pm
Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East) : Recently we have seen a credit-driven consumer boom. In the past couple of weeks I have received an unsolicited letter from a credit company offering me a plastic card which would solve all my earthly problems, an unsolicited letter from my bank offering me a large loan, and a letter from my building society offering to give me 90 per cent. of the difference between the valuation of my house and the rest of the outstanding mortgage. The covering letter was lyrical in stating that if I wanted a new car, a holiday in the sun or a conservatory, I was not to delay--the money was ready and waiting for me. I am certain that other hon. Members have had similar letters, and in every tabloid newspaper the public is offered credit.
As a result, we have had a big increase in demand. The Government have finished with monetarism and do not worry too much about the money supply, but demand has come up against capacity restraints. Because of deficient investment in past years, British industry has become debilitated and enfeebled, so cannot cope with the extra demand ; and because of the lack of training as soon as the economy picks up, we run into skills shortages.
Manufacturing production has just returned to its 1973 level, but the British public are now buying 25 per cent. more manufactures than in 1973, so we are importing electronic goods, household appliances, motor cars and clothing and much else. That has led to a horrendous trade deficit and to a balance of payments crisis.
However, a part of that demand has gone into the domestic economy, which has led to a growth in employment and is welcome, but I wonder how much extra employment there has been. Some Government statements are exaggerated and it is difficult to get a clear picture. On 2 November, the Select Committee had as a witness Mr. Bernard Casey, who is a research fellow at the Policy Studies Institute. He said : "The statistics have been mucked around with very badly and it is difficult, much more difficult, to know what is going on and that is a great problem."
Britain counts unemployment differently from other countries. We count the number of people in receipt of benefit, whereas they count the number of people seeking work. Benefit figures bear little relation to the number of people looking for jobs. To be unregistered unemployed is as distressing as to be registered unemployed. One of the changes since the previous Gracious Speech is that all 16 and 17-year-olds have been eliminated from the figures altogether because they are no longer eligible for benefit. Again, one would imagine that the drop in unemployment would be reflected in the extra number of people employed, but there does not seem to be much connection between the two. The number of people in employment has not increased as much as the decline in the number of claimants. Full-time employment in manufacturing continues to decline, but there has been a growth in part-time
Column 280employment. A large number of these part- time jobs are taken by full-time workers who take a second job, so are counted twice. Because only part-time work is available, many people do two or three part-time jobs, so we get double and treble counting. The picture is murky. Further evidence is that the number of vacancies has not increased. It is difficult to get at the facts because we are not necessarily comparing like with like as a result of the changes in the way in which statistics are compiled.
Ten years ago we had 90,000 people who had been unemployed for two years or more. Now there are seven times that. The number of people unemployed for over five years continues to increase, even according to the benefit figures. If the Secretary of State disputes that, he can give us the figures when he replies, but they are my figures. What is the future for the unemployed?
The trade deficit is unsustainable in the long term, so the Chancellor of the Exchequer is now squeezing the economy. Some of us can remember the days of stop-go, after which we had North sea oil which solved that problem. But the revenues from the oil have been wasted, and we are returning to a classic stop. Billions of pounds will be taken out of consumption if the Chancellor's measures work. If we are to end our overseas deficit, the growth is likely to slow to a rate which will be inconsistent with a growth in employment. The Chancellor's weapon is increasing interest rates, but I cannot think of a cruder, blunter weapon than that. That is supposed to bear down on inflation, but it is more likely to bear down on investment. Borrowing may not be stopped because people will be encouraged to borrow more because the prices of their houses are rising so fast. Lenders, who are receiving higher interest rates and find larger payments going into their accounts, may spend that extra income, so we may get the worst of all possible worlds and the measure may be highly counterproductive. If interest rates push up the exchange rate higher that it would be otherwise--that is already happening--it will hit British exports and will not help us with our balance of payments deficit.
It is prudent, therefore, to expect that unemployment will remain static at about 2.5 million or 3.5 million, depending on the definition of the unemployed. The Government take that view and have taken it into account in their public expenditure forecasts. We have the so-called British economic miracle and so-called overheating, while about 3 million people remain unemployed because of the past lack of investment and training.
The Government's method of approaching long-term unemployment is employment training, which I fear is going off at half cock. The Secretary of State knows that the job training scheme, the previous programme which was similar, was a complete flop, but the Government have not learnt the lessons of that failure or rectified it. Employment training is grossly underfunded and is an inadequate response to skills shortages and the plight of the long-term unemployed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) pointed out, the quality of training is also suspect. During the six-month courses, only two days a week are directed to training and the other three are for so-called work experience. The Government invest £17.50 a week in each trainee. What private training organisation would offer to train anybody for that sum?
There is a derisory supplement on top of benefit of £10 a week or £5 a week after removing travel allowances.
Column 281Those who move from the community programme will see major cuts in the allowance that they receive. I cannot understand why the Secretary of State will not allow employers of the trainees on their three days' work experience to top up the allowance. Under YTS, an employer may top up the allowance, but under ET, he may not. It would not cost the Government a penny. It is perverse not to allow employers to top up. Work experience means doing what an employer tells one to do for three days a week, and if the employer wants to give a top-up I should have thought that the Government would have allowed it.
When the Select Committee on Employment interviewed representatives of the Training Commission, they suggested four reasons why the previous programme failed. First, there had to be realistic targets in the form of numbers. Secondly, there had to be adequate financial incentives. Thirdly, the programme had to be sold better to employers. Fourthly, and importantly, the Government had to win the co-operation of the partners necessary to deliver the programme. Those partners are employers, local authorities, voluntary organisations and trade unions.
The Government did not take that lesson on board and have not gained that co-operation. They have not obtained agreement. The programmes can be run only on the basis of voluntary co-operation and consensus. It is all very well for the Government to have a majority in the House and to push through measures here, but that does not solve the problem outside the House, where they must deal with the trade unions and obtain their co-operation. One of the main lessons that the Government must learn is that the trade unions are not the enemy within. If any of the programmes are to work, the trade unions must be regarded as an essential partner.
Recently I have been obliged to follow in the footsteps of the Secretry of State around various foreign parts. In Boston, Massachusetts, and in Sweden we spoke to the same people as he did. In each place that we visited in Sweden, the people said, "I have brought you some more people from England. You will remember that nice Mr. Fowler. Here are some of his parliamentary colleagues." The Secretary of State will agree that none of those countries regards the trade unions as enemies. In Boston, Sweden and Germany the unions are considered valuable and essential partners. The Government have got it wrong, and the schemes will not work until they change their attitude and work with the unions.
The new programme appears to be flopping because it is not attracting enough people. The target is 600,000, with 300,000 at any given time. The Secretary of State will tell us how many people are on the programme, but I doubt whether the figure is even 100,000. If I am right, that represents less than one third of the target. The programme will flop because the Government did not learn the lessons.
I wish to be constructive, so I shall give the Secretary of State some suggestions. When he announced the scheme, I suggested that he should double the allowance. That modest idea would cost £180 million. My second suggestion is that he should give a job guarantee to everyone who goes on the programme. Sweden had a temporary jobs programme. It is no longer necessary,
Column 282because it has little unemployment. The figure of 1.8 per cent. is largely made up of people who cannot speak Swedish or who are severely disabled. But when it had what it considered to be serious unemployment, at 3.5 per cent., it had a temporary jobs programme in which local authorities and employers were given a subsidy to employ additional workers. In the previous Parliament, the Select Committee published a report advocating job guarantees for the long-term unemployed on that basis. We could start that type of programme for those who have been unemployed for two years or more, which would involve 600,000 people.
There is work enough to be done. One need only consider the state of our housing, house repairs and social services to know how much work there is to be done. I was told that the Secretary of State was impressed by what he saw in Sweden. I urge him to adopt a similar programme. If we gave a subsidy to the private employer to take on additional workers, it would mean that, instead of paying benefit to the unemployed person to do nothing, we would pay that money to the employer to take on an additional worker at the proper rate for the job.
Mr. Ian Bruce : If the hon. Gentleman agrees that we should encourage everyone to take up some form of training, would that not force people who take unemployment benefit for doing nothing to accept that training or lose their benefit?
Mr. Leighton : I am not sure who is supposed to be taking benefit but doing nothing. The programme should be voluntary. The unemployed want to work ; they want proper jobs. I do not believe that the majority of the unemployed are scroungers who do not want to work, and there is no evidence to suggest it. Instead of adopting a heavy tone, it would be far better to introduce a voluntary scheme and try to win people's co-operation.
It is a crazy idea to abolish the Training Commission, which used to be the Manpower Services Commission. The Government have been trying to undermine the MSC for some time. The MSC was meant to be an independent organisation- -at some distance from the Government--of partners in the labour market. But increasingly the Government gave the orders for the MSC and turned it into a tool, or handmaiden, of Government. A year ago, they ended the balanced structure of the MSC by swamping it with an extra six employers' representatives. They were already planning the White Paper, which I understand will be published in a few weeks' time, in which the entire nature of the organisation would be changed. The Government pounced with glee on the TUC decision on employment training. That vote was the cue to abolish the MSC, not the cause. We shall wish to scrutinise that White Paper.
On Monday and Tuesday next week, I have been invited, with the chairmen of employment committees of other national Parliaments by the Commission in Brussels to attend a seminar to discuss the social dimension of the single market. I suspect that they will ask me for the official British view, so I must get it right. I have done some research and I have discovered a speech by the Secretary of State. He will tell me whether I should use his words in Brussels. On 7 November he said :
"There is an understandable concern that the creation of the single market in 1992 could open the door to a flood of new labour market regulations. Let me make the Government's position on this absolutely clear."
Column 283Where would politicians be without that phrase?
"We believe more regulation is the wrong approach we do not welcome--and we will resist--a formal, legalistic, regulated system of worker participation ; of rights for workers ; and of regulation of part-time work and similar measures."
For good measure, let me quote a question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson). It says : "To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make it his policy to convene a national conference involving representatives of Government, business and trade unions in order to discuss and evolve a national strategy for the social dimension of the single European market."--[ Official Report, 14 November 1988 ; Vol. 140, c. 407. ]
The blunt monosyllabic reply was no.
When I am asked what is the British attitude to the social dimension, I shall say that the Government do not believe in it ; they do not want it ; they are against the social dimension.
Mr. Fowler : I hate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's fun, but when he visits Brussels for a couple of days he will take with him the employment figures and he will point out that more jobs have been created in Britain since 1983 than in the rest of the EC and it is the reduction of unemployment and the creation of new jobs that we regard as the real social dimension.
Mr. Leighton : The Secretary of State has just confirmed what I said --that he does not believe in what is called the social dimension. I shall take the employment figures if I can obtain accurate ones. There is some difficulty in that.
I shall have to say that, if I understand the Queen's Speech aright, the Government are about to take away workers' rights in small companies. We shall have a sort of two-tier labour market, with some rights in large companies but none in small companies. The Secretary of State will remove the protection for young workers--the most vulnerable. Presumably, there will be Bills to encourage small boys to go up chimneys. I suppose that is one of the Victorian values. The Government are going backwards. Their policy is perverse, misguided and misconceived. The Secretary of State should be bringing forward plans for child care, about which we have heard nothing. There should be real programmes for training. Employment training does not affect the 90 per cent. of people who have employment. He should have a policy of co-operation with the work force instead of whittling away what few rights they have.
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : Like many other hon. Members, I welcome the news, which will be gladly received by so many of our pensioners, that we are to see an improvement in the means-tested benefits that are coming forward. As we have often said, improvements in our economy allow us to help those most in need. It should be underlined that it is not just that people who are over 75 have not had the benefit of Serps ; unfortunately, they had a Labour Government who destroyed their savings. Those who thought that they had been thrifty enough to ensure that they would be well looked after in their old age saw their savings being whittled away. I want to talk in particular about employment. There has been a real change in the climate over the past few years. I have regular meetings with DSS managers in my
Column 284constituency, and I ask them about the market. It has been excellent to see unemployment in my constituency virtually halved over the past two years.
Seven, eight or nine years ago many Tories were reluctant to talk about reductions in employment. They basically said that in future manufacturing industry would not be able to increase employment. I was one of those few foolish people who said that unemployment would come down, and indeed it is doing so. I welcome that.
Despite the excellent figures, we should all constantly remind ourselves that there are still far too many people unemployed. We still have an enormous task to ensure that those who are still on the unemployment register, or who are becoming unemployed because of changes in work practices, will quickly be put back in to work. I welcome the changes in YTS. We are twisting arms a little, but sometimes that is a sensible way of ensuring that people leaving school will not sit on the social security register and expect not to continue their training or obtain work. As Opposition Members have said, if somebody is to lose his YTS benefit, he must have had a genuine offer of work. It is not good enough for the Government simply to promise people a YTS place. If they cannot fulfil that promise, people should not lose their benefit. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that carefully and ensure that people who have not had the opportunity of youth training do not lose benefit. I welcome the tightening up of the test for work. The long-term unemployed can in time begin to justify the fact that they are no longer looking for work. I ran an employment agency for 12 years. It is important to understand that people need to have their morale boosted, and need to be wound up again to go out and find work. It is not that such people are lazy, but that while several years earlier they may have made valiant efforts to find work, they just stop looking. That is why the Government were right to set up job clubs and so on, to help such people.
The enterprise allowance scheme has been excellent in encouraging people who have always assumed that they must look to others to find employment for them, to create their own employment. That has been one of the Government's great successes and one that we cannot emphasise too much.
The restart programme is also excellent. It helps people, through the medium of job clubs or employment training schemes, to feel that the Government are trying to give them the boost and help that they need. The message coming from south Dorset, from Weymouth and from that area is that the employment training schemes are working. We must congratulate the companies and the civil servants who are making the scheme work well.
As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, good quality training is essential, but we must ensure that there is a market, with sufficient training places, so that people can choose the type of training that they want. It is no good Opposition Members drawing attention to all the vacancies within the computer industry. We need people with the right educational background in the first place in those jobs. Semi-literate people with learning difficulties will welcome fairly simple jobs and simple training. After all, a large number of people on our unemployment registers require simple training to get them back into simple work. That is useful and helpful. Opposition
Column 285Members are wrong to suggest that we are undermining the social services fabric of Britain by training people to help the elderly and the social services.
I welcome all that we are doing. We should be concentrating on getting people back to work. A job start bonus might be a good idea. We know that people find it difficult to return to work, to make that jump from dependency on benefit, particularly if they have children and receive housing and other benefits. It is too easy for people to fall into the black economy, and even to become involved in benefit fraud.
I have often said that it would be sensible for the Government to use sincere and easy methods to discover whether people are working. I ran an employment agency in Yorkshire for 12 years. For the first eight years, neither the DHSS, as it was, nor the Department of Employment inquired whether there was any fraud among people who had registered for work with me, who were working on a temporary basis, and were also registered for benefit. All our workers were signed on. We informed the tax office that those people worked for us, but the information was not available to the people at the social security office--or at least, they did not seem to look at it--and it was not available to the unemployment benefit office.
One gentleman was caught because he was doing three jobs and receiving benefit. He decided that someone with whom he had been working had probably shopped him, so he decided to shop that person. After seven years, for the first time, the Department sent someone to our employment office to ask for a list of all those who were working for us. We replied, "Of course, we can give you a list. We are happy to do so." We supplied the list, and it turned out that over 30 per cent. of the people who were drawing wages from my company, who were paying taxes and national insurance, were defrauding the social security system.
I ran the company for another five years, but, after we volunteered to the social security and unemployment benefit offices that we were happy to provide them with any information that they required, not once did those responsible come back and check whether others were defrauding the system. In the present climate, when we need more people to work and to be on training schemes, it is important to ensure that those who are in genuine need receive their benefit, but that we catch those who are ripping off the system.
I welcome the fact that we shall get away from the silly and archaic rules whereby young people and women are not allowed to work in a normal, sensible way like the rest of us. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment knows Chelmsford well. When I was a youngster, I used to get up fairly early in the morning and sort papers before the paper-boys went out. My normal evening job was to deliver groceries, and my Saturday job was to sell records at Bond's store--I am sure that my right hon. Friend remembers that well. In the summer, when I did not have to go to school, I worked at the County Cleaners during the day, and in the evening shift I worked at the laundry next door, doing the sheets for Butlin's. I am sure that that experience did me no harm and that I should benefit from returning to such a working environment these days, with the lazy life that I lead as a Member of Parliament.
Column 286I was probably breaking all the laws under the sun, but it does no harm to young people when they have the opportunity to go out, particularly during the holidays, to learn about what real work or manual labour are all about. Those who are doing training schemes and who want to go on and do extra work should be allowed to do so. The only sour note of my speech--I say this advisedly, with one of the junior Ministers present--is that we heard nothing about the dock labour scheme in the Queen's Speech. I am sure that a proposal will be made in the near future to get rid of that one anomaly in our employment law.
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) made one valid point with which all Opposition Members will agree, and we hope that the Secretary of State will take it on board. It was about youngsters aged 16 or 17 who do not have the opportunity to go on a training scheme, and who should not be deprived of their sole source of income. That is happening up and down the country--for example, in the city that I have the honour to represent, together with the Secretary of State for Employment, Birmingham. However, the right hon. Gentleman does not like the word "Birmingham" to be attached to the title of his constituency. If schemes are available, that is fine, but we know that hundreds or thousands--the number is indeterminate--are deprived of their benefit income when they have not had the opportunity to participate in a scheme, which is unfair.
Today's theme is social security, but I should like to refer also to other aspects of the Queen's Speech. The result of one narrow aspect of the Government's social security policy is that mothers in my constituency are deprived of a total of £20,000 a week as a result of the freezing of child benefit in 1988-89 and the failure to uprate it properly in 1985. The mothers of 20,000 children in my constituency are now deprived of more than £20,000 a week, and little of it will come back by way of family credit--that is not the intention. I suspect that, if more than one quarter came back, the Government's budget would be thrown into confusion.
It would be churlish not to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on finding a little money for the pensioners. The credit does not seem to lie with the Secretary of State for Social Security. However, in the west midlands, particularly Birmingham, pensioners are bitter about a potential threat to their concessionary bus passes as a result of the Department of the Environment's policy. That crucial point is not touched on in the Queen's Speech.
The Secretary of State for Social Security today made great play of statistics. Some are valid, but the vast majority of our constituents do not believe the Government when they tell them that they are much better off. Is it any wonder that, in the midst of what by any stretch of the imagination is a retail boom for those who are doing all right, one shop in my constituency that has constant queues of customers, often on the pavement and round the corner, specialises in selling yesterday's bread? That is no criticism of the shop or the product--the shop is conforming to health standards--but let us face the facts. It has already been said that far fewer elderly people die of hypothermia in the colder European countries such as Scandinavia and Germany than in this country. I have
Column 287never seen any examples of a retail boom in the European countries that are our economic competitors in shops that specialise in selling yesterday's bread. What an indictment of 10 years of Thatcherism. A week ago I received a letter from one of my constituents, an elderly gentleman in his 70s. Last December I assisted him, as any other hon. Member would, by making inquiries and obtaining supplementary benefit for him and his wife of 41p a week. He had been trying to get more money for ages. He said that he would be eternally grateful for that 41p a week. The couple had already been to the DHSS and had been turned down. Mr. Payne says :
"since April 1988 all this has ended.
I am 77 years of age and my wife is 74. We own our 2 up and 3 down house in Kingstanding and as it is 55 years old it requires quite a lot of maintenance such as pointing of the outside walls and the renewal of the cast iron guttering and rain pipes.
Our total income is £68.80 per week and we have £843 savings in a Building Society, which we are saving for funeral expenses. As I have said, you got us Supplementary Benefit of 41p, and we did not pay General Rates, but of course since April 1988 we have lost the Supplementary, and we are now paying £3.28 General Rates per week and £2.55 Water Rates per week. Also my wife's late mother suffered from glaucoma, and lost her sight so that can be an added worry, in having to find the money for a regular sight test."
This contradicts some of the points made by my hon. Friends, but Mr. Payne also says that, like many people, he does not like the means test, but :
"May I add that I am not afraid of any means test as considering the number of forms I have filled in for the DHSS/Rates/Tax Office etc., I am sure most of my personal affairs are on various computers already."
It may be that he and his wife will, because of their ages, benefit from today's announcement, and that will be fine. However, they will not get back the money they have already forfeited, because losing their 41p supplementary benefit cost them a fortune in general and water rates. Judging from today's comments by the Secretary of State, they will be worse off in October 1989 than they are today. That is a measure of the extra £200 million that the Chancellor has made available.
The Queen's Speech referred to a strengthening of the National Health Service. That comes from the same Government who managed to turn a £1 billion pay increase for nurses into an utter fiasco. We are told that nurses should stop complaining and shut up because they have been given a 17 per cent. pay increase. However, all right hon. and hon. Members know that average percentage figures can be grossly misleading.
In the west midlands region, 42 per cent. of ward sisters received a 4 per cent. increase ; 33 per cent. of staff nurses received 4 per cent. ; 47 per cent. of state enrolled nurses have been given 4 per cent. ; and 90 per cent. of auxiliaries also received 4 per cent. Last week I visited the intensive care unit of Birmingham children's hospital together with my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) and for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis). We were given the example of six grade C enrolled nurses receiving pay increases of 7.1 per cent. and three grade D state enrolled nurses receiving 28.4 per cent. The average for that group of nine people is 14.2 per cent., but two thirds of them received only a 7.1 per cent. increase. That proves how grossly misleading averages can be. It is part of the reason why nurses are so damned angry.