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House of Commons

Tuesday 6 December 1988

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


River Humber (Burcom Outfall) Bill


Port of Tyne Bill


Read a Second time, and committed.

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Alton : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many employment training scheme places have been taken up on Merseyside since the inception of the scheme.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler) : At 25 November there were more than 3,250 people on employment training on Merseyside.

Mr. Alton : Although it is good news that 3,500 people are now taking up training, 31,500 people under the age of 25 are unemployed in the Merseyside area yet paradoxically, the Merseyside chamber of commerce points to a skills shortage. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is worth looking again at issues such as the remuneration of people on the schemes, and does he agree that it is futile for people to indulge in litigation that is costly to the ratepayers when what is needed is co- operation between local authorities and the Government to put many of these unemployed young people into work?

Mr. Fowler : Yes, I agree that the aim must be to try to provide training for as many unemployed people as we can. About 15,000 employment training places are now available on Merseyside, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bring that to the attention of his constituents.

Historically speaking, Liverpool city council's action to punish local voluntary organisations and employers who co-operated with employment training was clearly against the interests of the unemployed. That is why we sought judicial review and won in the High Court. I hope that that is now behind us and that we can all get down to making employment training work on Merseyside.

2. Mr. Favell : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received on his proposed alterations of training arrangements.

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Mr. Fowler : The White Paper "Employment for the 1990s", which I published yesterday, sets out new ways in which training and enterprise activities are organised and delivered both nationally and locally.

I held a number of meetings prior to the White Paper and will now hold discussions in a number of areas concerned with training.

Mr. Favell : The Government are to be congratulated on recognising that training requirements differ not only from region to region but from town to town. Centralised planning is not the answer ; local involvement is the answer to getting things moving. That is how our great towns and cities were built in the first place. The training and enterprise councils are a marvellous idea. When can Stockport have one? If we can be the first in the north-west to get one, we shall leave the rest standing.

Mr. Fowler : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are not yet quite in a position to set out the prospectus for training and enterprise councils ; it will be set out in the next few weeks. I shall bear Stockport's interest in this very much in mind.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's general point. This is training for the local labour market. It is training for industry and it is relevant to jobs. That is what the new organisation is all about.

Mr. Wallace : As well as providing training for the unemployed, I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that it is important that companies invest in training the employees who already work for them. To that end, has he considered giving credit or assistance to companies that invest more than most in training, and giving it at the expense of the companies that are not pulling their weight in providing training for their employees?

Mr. Fowler : There are no proposals on that in the White Paper, but what the hon. Gentleman said about companies training their own staff is crucial. As we go into the 1990s, the difference between one company and another will be largely the difference between the people, and the skills and training of the people, in those companies. The responsibility for training people in employment must obviously rest with the employers.

Mr. Couchman : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with the diminishing pool of young labour and the intense competition for it, it becomes ever more important to attract older workers back into employment? Will he launch an initiative into recruitment and retraining of that group of potential workers?

Mr. Fowler : Yes, a whole range of lessons about the new labour market of the 1990s will have to be learnt. One of the chief lessons is that we must train people who are already in employment to be as adaptable as possible to new skills. Another clear lesson is that we must examine alternative forms of recruitment. We need recruitment of unemployed people, women, older workers and ethnic minorities. Those are all opportunities and I hope that employers will take them.

Mr. Meacher : Why should employers who already show less interest and devote less money to training than employers anywhere else in Europe show any more interest or spend any more money as a result of the Minister's latest proposals? Why should they who have so manifestly neglected their own employees improve on the dismal

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record of ET? Will the Minister confirm that ET has failed to attract anything like enough long-term unemployed to fill the 187,000 designated places? More than half way through the first six months, fewer than one third of the places have been filled.

Mr. Fowler : On the first point, the hon. Gentleman is simply out of date on the attitude of employers to training in employment. More employers than before are now training in employment and a whole range of schemes such as the compacts initiative--the most recent--are proving employer's interest in training. In spite of all the opposition and the attempts at sabotage by the hon. Gentleman, the employment training programme has got off to a very good start. That is no thanks to the hon. Gentleman or to the Labour party. They have played a discreditable part in the whole employment training issue and they have no credibility whatever.

Small Firms

3. Mr. Lord : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on his Department's initiative to encourage the Government to purchase goods and services from small firms.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. John Cope) : The Government are committed to improving value for money in purchasing and small firms have an important part to play in achieving this. I therefore discussed with ministerial colleagues ways to increase their Department's purchasing from small firms. Departments that are large purchasers now publish booklets designed to help small firms become suppliers to the Government and, in collaboration with the central unit on purchasing, we shall shortly be publishing further guidance for officials on small firm purchasing.

Mr. Lord : Can my right hon. Friend tell the House precisely which Departments have taken part in this initiative and what part they have played? Is he satisfied that both the Government and small businesses are benefiting from what is happening?

Mr. Cope : I am satisfied that both Government and small firms benefit from the initiative. It is all about value for money. All Government Departments are playing a part to some extent, but the purchasers which play a particularly big part include the Ministry of Defence, the National Health Service, the Crown Suppliers, HMSO and the PSA as well as others and ourselves.

Mr. Cryer : While wishing purchases to be made from small firms, may I ask the Minister to tell us whether a small firm is defined as one with under 200 employees, as a result of the Bolton committee report, or whether it depends on the EEC definition, which is that a small firm contains under 500 employees? Has this initiative been cleared with the Commission because, with the advent of 1992, will not preferential treatment to United Kingdom small firms be in breach of the treaty of Rome competition rules? Are we at last to take an initiative that is independent of the EEC?

Mr. Cope : No, we do not give small firms favoured treatment in the sense of giving them contracts that we would otherwise give to large firms, except where they give us value for money. In that respect, the EEC has nothing

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to do with it and we can act entirely independently. For statistical purposes we use the Bolton committee definition. Given his experience in these matters, the hon. Gentleman will know that that is 200 employees in manufacturing firms and that various criteria are used for other types of firms.

Tourist Information Centres

4. Mr. Gregory : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what information he has concerning the number of tourist information centres which stay open for the winter period ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. John Lee) : Currently, out of a total of 562 tourist information centres in England, 394, or 70 per cent., are open during the winter months.

Mr. Gregory : We must be losing an enormous opportunity by not having more tourist information centres open in the winter months. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a national scandal that such attractive venues as the Tower of London, which last year attracted about 2.3 million visitors, closes its information centre from autumn to Easter? Will he hold discussions with local authorities so that more tourist information centres are open to disperse visitors throughout the United Kingdom?

Mr. Lee : My hon. Friend is right. We should like more tourist information centres to stay open for longer periods. The majority of those that are open only during the summer are in fairly remote areas. I gather that the Tower of London TIC is located in a temporary hut that is unsuitable for winter use, but discussions on that are taking place between the London tourist board and the London Docklands development corporation.

It is a shade depressing to note that the tourist information centre in York is closed on Sunday mornings.

Mr. Fearn : Does the Minister agree that the success of TICs is due entirely to the tourist boards? Does he further agree that his current review of tourism should not damage in any way the network that those boards have set up?

Mr. Lee : I certainly would not say that the success is due solely to tourist boards, although they have had a considerable influence. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the money for the tourist information centre in Southport, which I opened about a fortnight ago, came from the local authority, English Heritage and the tourist board. It is a partnership.

Invisible Exports

5. Mr. Butterfill : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what was the total value of Britain's invisible exports in 1987 ; and what percentage of this sum is attributable to the tourism and leisure industry.

Mr. Lee : In 1987 United Kingdom invisible exports amounted to £80 billion. The tourism account amounted to 8 per cent. of this, or £6.2 billion.

Mr. Butterfill : Does my hon. Friend agree that that creditable figure reflects favourably on the investment by the industry and on the activities of the British Tourist

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Authority and the English tourist board? What does the figure represent in terms of tourist numbers, and what effect has it had on employment?

Mr. Lee : Last year was a record year for visitors to this country, with 15.4 million coming here. For the nine months to September the figure is about 2 per cent. up on the same period last year, at 12.5 million. Jobs in tourism and hospitality are increasing at an average rate of 1,000 a week.

Ms. Short : Is the Minister aware that the tourism and leisure industry is one of the worst payers in Britain, yet it is a profitable sector? Is he further aware that 40 per cent. of the work force are paid less than £132 a week, yet he tells us that the minimum protection provided by wages councils will be reduced? How can he justify that? Jobs are no good unless they give people decent incomes and dignity at work. The Minister is encouraging low-paid work, no training and a slum economy. That is the future for Britain.

Mr. Lee : May I say in personal terms that we are sorry that the hon. Lady is not in her customary place. Salaries and overall conditions of employment in tourism and hospitality are improving. Many of the better companies in the industry put huge amounts of money into training. I agree that more emphasis must be placed on training and the overall remuneration package, because staff turnover in the industry is unacceptable. But the position is getting substantially better.

Mr. Harry Greenway : How much did those 15.4 million visitors bring in foreign exchange? Is there a limit to the number of foreign visitors who can be accommodated comfortably in tourist inns?

Mr. Lee : I am sure that we can accommodate substantially more than we do now, and we want the number of tourists to increase. Of the £18 billion a year in total tourist revenue, £8 billion comes from visitors from abroad.

Mr. Strang : What effect will the appreciation of sterling have on invisible exports in general and on tourism in particular?

Mr. Lee : The hon. Gentleman will have to ask the Treasury about invisible exports in general. The balance of payments deficit on the tourism account increased from about £1 billion in September last year to about £1.8 billion in September this year.

Labour Statistics

6. Mr. Jack : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the current levels of unemployment in the north- west of England.

Mr. Lee : In October 1988 the level of seasonally adjusted unemployment in the north-west region was 307,900, a fall of 61,500 over the last 12 months.

Mr. Jack : I welcome my hon. Friend's excellent answer, but will he confirm that unemployment in Fylde has fallen by 28 per cent. in the past 12 months and that Lancashire as a whole has benefited from falls in unemployment as a result of the Government's policies, which have attracted about £85 million worth of inward investment into the north-west?

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Mr. Lee : My hon. Friend is right. He is well aware that the unemployment level in his constituency has fallen by 28 per cent. The unemployment level in Lancashire as a whole has fallen from just over 62,000 in October 1987 to 48,000 in October 1988--a total fall of more than 14,000. Other programmes are designed to bring about an even greater fall, and there are nearly 13,000 participants with training managers under our employment training scheme. The new training and enterprise councils, referred to by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment yesterday when he introduced his White Paper, will also have a beneficial effect in the fullness of time.

Mr. Pike : Does the Minister recognise that people in the north-west will be concerned about pay levels and the future of wages councils after the Secretary of State's statement yesterday? We fear that in the north- west that that will mean lower wages. Low pay in the north-west has not solved the unemployment problem so far. Does the Minister accept that jobs in manufacturing are 38 per cent. below the 1979 figure? When are the Government going to do something about that and get us to export more goods than we import?

Mr. Lee : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is so churlish as not to draw attention to what has happened to the level of unemployment in his constituency over the past 12 months. The level has fallen by over 1,000, or by no less than 24.49 per cent. He knows how well north-east Lancashire is doing at the moment, because his constituency adjoins mine. His comments are completely incorrect.

Mr. Neil Hamilton : Although the news that my hon. Friend has announced today is good, does he accept that there is a lot more yet to come? Does he also accept that when the unified business rate is introduced, and the existing business rate is abolished, that will be the greatest possible assistance to manufacturing industry in the north-west and should lead to significant reductions in business costs, and therefore to more jobs?

Mr. Lee : My hon. Friend is right. In the north-west the unified business rate will have a beneficial effect on manufacturing industry, and therefore on employment.


7. Mr. Flannery : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many people who have been on Government training schemes were removed for the duration of their training from the unemployed register since 1979 for each year, respectively, to 1988 and in total.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls) : No such estimates are available

Mr. Flannery : That is a disgraceful and dodging answer. The Minister should get hold of those figures, because they completely condemn the Government. Is it not true that the Government have used 24 different mathematical methods to get the unemployment figures down? The Government's unemployment figures bear no relationship to reality. However, the figures that I have

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asked for would show how many people were being trained--badly--only to keep them off the unemployment list.

Mr. Nicholls : No. The hon. Gentleman is wrong in all three propositions. Clearly figures cannot be available, and are not available, in the form that he requests. If they were, the records would have to show the origins of people on various training schemes and their destinations afterwards.

With regard to the way in which the figures are compiled, the hon. Gentleman should be aware that there have been only seven changes which have affected the unemployment count since 1979. Two of those changes were statistical and five were administrative. Only two led to any difference in compilation. Obviously the hon. Gentleman will not take my word for that. If he cares to check the record, he will find that the previous shadow spokesman for employment made the point on television, when the same accusation was made some little while ago, that if he were in government he would have no intention of changing the base on which the figures were compiled. Obviously he changed his mind by the time that he came to the House, but after all that is politics in the Labour party.

Mr. Paice : Is not training substantially different from unemployment? Unemployment is a total waste of human resources, whereas training seeks to build on human resources and to provide benefits for the future. Apprentices were never included in unemployment statistics, so why should anyone on a training scheme be included?

Mr. Nicholls : My hon. Friend has made his point. The dismal and consistent way in which the Opposition regard these matters is that they believe that employment training is offered simply to massage the unemployment figures. Unemployment figures have decreased anyway because of the strength of the economy. Employment training gives a real opportunity to the unemployed to get back on the right side of the economic fence, but the Opposition have not yet grasped that.

Sir Cyril Smith : Is the Minister satisfied with the attitude of school leavers to training? Is he aware that in parts of the north and midlands--where I have an intimate knowledge of a certain engineering industry; I stress that it is knowledge of a certain engineering industry, not just of a certain engineering company--there is a terrible shortage of suitable applicants for apprenticeships? Would it not be better for the Government to meet their to talk about the possibility of their being encouraged to carry out their own training schemes? Can the Minister persuade his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science that there is more to life than computers? My information is that school leavers are interested only in entering the computer industry and are not interested in engineering or manufacturing skills.

Mr. Nicholls : There is a great deal in what the hon. Gentleman says with which I can agree, although I prefer not to follow him in generalising about the attitudes of school leavers. One of the problems for employers now is that there are increasingly fewer school leavers, because of demographic changes. The hon. Gentleman made a fair point about the need for employers to be involved in the training of young people. The proposals announced

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yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, when he spoke about the White Paper on training, will ensure that employers are able to play a proper part in training.

16 to 18-year-old Workers

8. Mr. Franks : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on his plans to remove barriers to employment facing 16 to 18-year-old workers.

Mr. Fowler : The Employment Bill published on 1 December will remove a mass of outdated restrictions, particularly on the hours that under-18s can work in industry and shops. That will make it easier for employers to take on young people and increase the opportunities open to them.

Mr. Franks : I welcome the greater job opportunities that will arise from greater flexibility, but will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to reaffirm that the greater opportunities will not diminish the necessary restrictions which protect the health and safety of young people?

Mr. Fowler : I certainly confirm that the aim is to increase employment opportunities and flexibility, but we shall retain all the protections that the Health and Safety Commission has advised are still necessary for health and safety reasons, such as restrictions on working with dangerous machinery, lead and hazardous processes. All those protections will be retained. It is the legislation on working hours that will be tackled.

Mr. Eastham : Surely the relaxation of working conditions for young workers will bring about a deterioration in working conditions, the like of which we have not seen since the last war, since when young workers have not had to work night shifts and extended hours. Is the Secretary of State implying that anything goes under the new legislation, other than health and safety protection?

Mr. Fowler : What I am saying is that the law, self-evidently, needs to be modernised. We issued a consultation document which set that out in detail. We seek, for example, to tackle the present position, whereby if a group of 16 to 18-year-olds work in the same factory, they have to start work at the same time, have their tea break at the same time, eat their lunch at the same time and finish work at the same time.

Mr. Nellist : And they should be given the same wages as other workers.

Mr. Fowler : The hon. Gentleman must calm down. That is an absurd proposition and is recognised as such by young people.

Mr. Riddick : Is my right hon. Friend aware that one existing barrier to the employment of 16 to 18-year-olds, and other workers, is the continued existence of the pre-entry closed shop? Is he aware, for example, that my local council, Kirklees, continues to hoodwink new employees into joining a trade union by putting compulsory trade union membership into their contracts of employment, despite the fact that that closed shop

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would not stand up in a court of law? Does he agree that that sort of abuse makes it inevitable that he will have to outlaw the pre-entry closed shop?

Mr. Fowler : It is exactly for reasons of that kind that, in the White Paper published yesterday, I made it clear that the Government are to review the operation of the pre-entry closed shop. Clearly, by definition, the pre-entry closed shop acts as a barrier to employment. We shall review it and act on that review.

Mr. Fatchett : Will the Secretary of State explain why this country, unlike any other Western European country, including our major competitors, France and West Germany, wants to abolish protection for young workers? Is it not the case that this Government's ideology and dogma demand that we have a part-time, low-paid, low-trained young work force? Is that the Government's ambition, and is that why they are introducing such measures?

Mr. Fowler : The aim is to try to get young people the job opportunities which I think they want. We are not in any sense abolishing protection for young people. What we are relaxing are the hours of work. I have made it clear that we are retaining all the protection of the Health and Safety Commission and the restrictions, for example, on 16 to 18-year- olds working in gambling, gaming, pubs and such places. Those restrictions have been retained. What we are doing is modernising the law.

Mr. Butler : Does my right hon. Friend agree that a major barrier to the employment of young people is the lack of skills among them? What words does he have for Warrington borough council, which is refusing to participate in employment training because of Left-wing ideology?

Mr. Fowler : That is utterly deplorable. The fact is that at the moment we have about 700,000 vacancies in the economy. Councils which refuse to co-operate with employment training should urgently reconsider their position, because those whom they are affecting are unemployed. I think that the action they are taking is immoral.

Labour Statistics

9. Mr. Rooker : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment in how many parliamentary constituencies unemployment fell by 40 per cent. or more between August 1984 and August 1988.

Mr. Nicholls : Between August 1984 and August 1988 unemployment fell by 40 per cent. or more in 136 parliamentary constituencies in Great Britain.

I shall arrange for details of these constituencies to be placed in the Official Report.

Mr. Rooker : The Minister can save himself the time and trouble, because those figures are already there. They show that, of those 136 constituencies, 130 are constituencies of hon. Members who represent the Conservative party, and six-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Rooker : -- and six are the constituencies of hon. Members representing the Labour party. When will the constituents of my hon. Friends benefit from what has

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he obvious targeting of Government grants, Government decisions, investment and planning appeals and applications, which have clearlybrought about such a disproportionate, unfair fall in unemployment between the constituencies of the two major parties in this House? Clearly that has not happened by accident. We want a fair share. MrNicholls : Unlike so many of his hon. Friends, the hon. Gentleman haa great deal of credit on this side of the House for the usual quality of his contributions. I am afraid that on this occasion he has let himself down sadly. The hon. Gentleman knows that the only targeting that has been done on this matter--I acknowledge it at once is the extremely skilful way in which the hon. Gentleman has targeted his question. The hon. Gentleman is talking about the reduction in the unemployed, expressed as a percentage of itself. Obviously, if unemployment is low, any reduction in the number of unemployed people would have a correspondingly greater effect in percentage terms. If he considers the fall in unemployment over the past five years and looks at the figures that have been produced in The Independent, he will find that, on average, for each Labour constituency the reduction was 1,516, compared with 1,304 on average for each Conservative constituency.

Sir Bernard Braine : Will my hon. Friend confirm that in my constituency of Castle Point the reduction of unemployment in the period mentioned in the question was 52.5 per cent. and that that is clearly a reflection of growing confidence under this Government among employers and of good practices by local authorities?

Mr. Nicholls : My right hon. Friend makes the point exactly. Many ingredients underpin these figures, but if an area has an extrmely supportive Member of Parliament, a local ethic that praises employment and a local authority that supports employment training measures, it is more likely to do better than those that do not. Even on the basis that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) chooses to present his question, there are many Labour constituencies that also have figures of which he would approve.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Is it not true that many of the firms that have been set up in constituencies in the north-west, certainly in the Workington constituency, are labour-intensive only because of cuts in regional support? Is it not further true that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer finally decides to go into reverse gear and pursue a policy of credit-restriction-induced deflation of the economy, we shall then really be able to measure how successful the Government have been in relation to small firms in areas such as my own?

Mr. Nicholls : I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has a fine line in economic illiteracy, but it will not do. Even on the basis on which his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) chooses to compile the figures, we find that in Workington the rate of unemployment has been reduced by 40.1 per cent.

Mr. Rowe : Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that the Rochester-on-Medway city council has held the rate steady for 12 years, except for two years, when it

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reduced it, that unemployment has fallen dramatically and that that is a direct consequence of good housekeeping by a Conservative Administration?

Mr. Nicholls : Again, my hon. Friend has made the point exactly. In his area, employers who are obviously trying to improve their businesses, or employers who are thinking of moving into the area, will find that there is a benign climate. It is a great pity that such a climate is not found more commonly in constituencies that are represented by Opposition Members.

Mr. Meacher : Is the Minister not aware that the unemployment that the Tories created in the early 1980s led to the loss of 2 million full- time jobs, whereas the reduction in unemployment since 1986 has involved almost exclusively part-time jobs? Will he confirm the Government's figures, that in the last two and a half years the number of full-time jobs has risen by only 56,000? Does

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that not show that the Government's much- trumpeted reduction in unemployment is as unbalanced as it is deceitful?

Mr. Nicholls : No, it does not. It shows that the hon. Gentleman is fixed on the proposition that if he repeats nonsense often enough it becomes the truth. The fall in unemployment during the last 12 months has amounted to 504,000. It is now running at 7.7 per cent. and it has been down for 27 months running. If the hon. Gentleman cares to look at international comparisons he will find-- [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may not have asked for it, but he is going to get it. In terms of international comparisons, this country is doing extremely well. The trouble with the hon. Gentleman is that he is so locked into the past that he thinks the only reputable job is one that is absolutely full time. Patterns of employment in this day and age are far more varied than that.

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