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House of Commons

Tuesday 17 January 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Port of Tyne Bill


Order for Third Reading read.

[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

Read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

Oral Answers to Questions


Vocational Training

1. Mr. Jim Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment whether he has any plans to establish an inquiry into the effectiveness of vocational training for young people ; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler) : The Government made clear in the recent White Paper, "Employment for the 1990s" that YTS has succeeded in training substantial numbers of young people for jobs. To ensure its continued effectiveness, the scope and role of the scheme will be kept under review as too will the developing inner-city compacts and the extension of the technical and vocational educational initiative to all secondary schools and colleges in Great Britain.

Mr. Marshall : I thank the Secretary of State for that reply but I could not help noticing an element of complacency in it. Does the Secretary of State accept that Britain continues to lag behind our main competitors in the provision of adequate vocational training for young people and that that is likely further to undermine Britain's competitiveness, especially after 1992? What further effective steps does the Secretary of State intend to take to ensure a better and adequate vocational training for young people?

Mr. Fowler : We are taking a whole series of steps to seek to improve training for young people, unemployed people and people at work. I entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman has said about the importance of that. The fact that YTS has been successful can be established from the figures in the hon. Gentleman's own city of Leicester. I am sure that he will be pleased to know that in the past two years in Leicester an average of 86 per cent. of people on YTS have gone into jobs, further education or training.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : Does the Secretary of State accept that what we really need in the provision of training for young people is a far more co-ordinated approach between schools, technical colleges, the careers service in

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particular and the employment and training agencies? How does the Secretary of State see that approach developing further?

Mr. Fowler : I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need the greatest degree of co-operation and co-ordination that we can get. We have just begun the compact initiatives in inner cities, which are exactly in line with what the hon. Gentleman wants--co-operation between industry on the one side and schools on the other. I am glad to say that all the signs are that although they were begun only a few months ago they are already developing into what I believe will be an outstanding success.

Mr. David Nicholson : Is it not the case that more than three quarters of YTS leavers go into jobs or further training? How does my right hon. Friend see those prospects improving or shaping in subsequent months?

Mr. Fowler : My hon. Friend is right--about 76 per cent. of YTS leavers go into jobs, further training or education, and 80 per cent. of the leavers who were asked afterwards whether they were happy with their training said that it was worth while. In the next few years opportunities for young people will undoubtedly increase. Indeed, the opportunities and outlook for young people in this country have scarcely ever been better.

Mr. Meacher : But have not the Government created skill shortages by running down skills training in the past 10 years? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that last year craft and technician qualifications in chemical and electrical engineering were down to only 30,000, which is less than a third of the number in France and less than a quarter of the number in Germany? Is he further aware that in the service sector the number of people gaining qualifications in retailing in this country is now less than one ninth of the number in France? Against that background, is it not perfectly clear that there is not a skills gap but a skills chasm, and that since this Government have been in office it has been widening?

Mr. Fowler : Typically, the hon. Gentleman is wrong in virtually everything that he says. In fact, there are now 428,000 people in training under YTS-- [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will listen to the figures, he will find out. There are now 428,000 people in training under YTS. That is a greater number of young people in training than ever before.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the German experience, which I believe has a great deal to teach this country. That is why, for the purposes of improving training we have put forward the proposal to have training and enterprise councils locally based, industry-run and employer-led. Training has already improved, but it will improve substantially more.


2. Mr. Tracey : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what contribution the tourism industry made to United Kingdom invisible earnings in 1988 ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. John Lee) : Estimates published last week show that overseas residents spent more than £5.4 billion in the first 10 months of 1988.

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Mr. Tracey : My hon. Friend has provided excellent figures, but how do they compare with other factors in the invisible earnings sector of our economy? Will he consult our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport on how much better they could be if London's traffic and transport were sorted out?

Mr. Lee : I take the point that my hon. Friend has made about London traffic and transport. That is an issue that we discuss with transport colleagues in the tourism ministerial co-ordinating group. In the invisible earnings sector, overseas earnings from tourism amount to about 40 per cent. of the size of the separate financial services sector. In the first nine months of 1988, other overseas earnings were slightly larger than exports of road vehicles and aircraft combined.

Mr. Key : Does my hon. Friend agree that our cathedrals and cathedral cities have a central role to play in the development of the tourist industry? Will he speak to his ministerial colleagues to see whether there are ways in which the Government could take a positive role in helping the deans and chapters?

Mr. Lee : I know of the continuing interest that my hon. Friend takes in cathedrals. Of course, our cathedrals and churches are major national tourism assets. Indeed, I recently visited Winchester cathedral and saw what has been achieved there and its potential. Once again I make the point that that is just the sort of issue that I can consider with ministerial colleagues in our tourism ministerial co-ordinating group.

Mr. Kilfedder : The Minister will agree that, despite terrorism, tourism in Northern Ireland is doing reasonably well, but will he use his influence and ask tourist agencies to persuade people perhaps, to extend their visit to England and visit Northern Ireland, too?

Mr. Lee : That is an interesting point. I shall put that proposition forward to my ministerial colleague in charge of tourism in Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), to see if something can be worked out.

National Training Task Force

3. Mr. Greg Knight : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many representations he has received on his proposal to create a national training task force contained in the White Paper, "Employment for the 1990s", and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Fowler : I have received a number of representations on the proposal to create a national training task force. This has now been appointed and I am delighted that leading figures in industry and commerce, education, training, voluntary bodies and trade unions have agreed to serve on it.

Mr. Knight : Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a most important body which will have responsibility for steering training in the future? Will he tell the House whom he has appointed to serve on the national training task force, or at least give us one or two names of those appointed, and how he envisages them carrying out their role?

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Mr. Fowler : I will not set out all the people who are on the national training task force, but suffice it to say that they include the chief executive of IBM UK, the chairmen of the Scottish Development Agency, Tarmac plc, HTV Limited, and National Freight Consortium plc, and the president of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, whom I am sure the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) will recognise. The fact that such leading figures are taking part shows the importance that industry generally and the leaders of industry are placing on training.

Mrs. Mahon : Does the Minister have any plans to do anything about training for the growing army of homeworkers, which is an emerging subculture in our sweatshop economy? What training plans does he have for people currently earning 24p per hour as a result of the Government's policies? What instructions has he given to the task force to help those people?

Mr. Fowler : I do not believe that those people come under the remit of the task force. I shall, however, consider any evidence that the hon. Lady wishes to send to me. The whole purpose of the task force is to get the training and enterprise councils established to encourage training by employers throughout the country.


4. Mr. Wood : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many trainees have been on the YTS since its inception ; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. John Cope) : Since its introduction in April 1983, 2,320,000 young people have taken part in YTS, which shows that its value is recognised by young people and by employers.

Mr. Wood : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Stevenage the success of the YTS is widely recognised? Will he tell me more about how many people have achieved jobs, further training or, alternatively, started full-time education compared with the position in Stevenage?

Mr. Cope : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said just now that 76 per cent. of the country's YTS leavers go into jobs or further education. That percentage is exactly the same in Stevenage, although, in Stevenage a slightly higher proportion of YTS leavers go into jobs and a slightly lower proportion into further education.

Mr. Nellist : Is the Minister aware that in the past eight years there have been 50 fatalities in YTS? I welcome the offer that the Minister made on Wednesday night concerning Derek Cain. Following his tragic death in 1982 on a youth opportunities programme in Sheffield, his father was offered £52 compensation, but three days before Christmas the High Court overturned that decision and awarded £20,000 compensation and costs of up to £100,000 against Plumb's, the Sheffield firm.

Will the Minister now give me, the House and the other 49 families who have suffered bereavements, a categorical assurance that when his Department considers the written judgment of 22 December in that case it will, where necessary, advise the other 49 families of the possibilities of similar legal redress for the deaths of their sons and daughters?

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Mr. Cope : Since 1983, when YTS started, there have been 34 fatalities. Incidentally, 13 were road traffic accidents--such accidents do not count in the normal health and safety statistics, but we recognise them when they occur on YTS. Any accident, whether it occurs at the workplace or on the road, is to be deeply deplored. We must do what we can to avoid them.

When we were discussing the Cain case the other night I told the hon. Gentleman and the House that when we get the written judgment we shall certainly review the case carefully with two things in mind. The first is to see whether there are any lessons to be learnt from the health and safety point of view. We applied quite a lot of lessons immediately after the Cain case and in the early stages of YTS. In fact, the entire health and safety regime of YTS is quite different from what it was under the youth opportunities programme in 1982 when Derek Cain was tragically killed. We shall also consider the individual cases to see if we can learn anything with regard to compensation, as mentioned by the hon.Gentleman, or in other ways. In the judgment the judge said that in his view the case was not a precedent, but we shall study each case carefully.

Mr. Dicken : Dow my right hon. Friend accept that youth unemployment among the under-25s has fallen by 37 per cent. in the year to October? That is well below the European average. Does he also accept that about three quarters of those on YTS secured jobs at the end of their training and that there are 130,000 vacancies on YTS? Does that not sing the praises of the Conservative Government and their training schemes?

Mr. Cope : It does indeed. As a matter of fact there are 129,000 places available on YTS.

Mr. Fatchett : Does the Minister recognise that the answer he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Conventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) will do little to lessen many people's fears about the safety record of YTS? Will the Minister give a much clearer indication of the criteria that will be used when he comes to judge cases for possible compensation?

Mr. Cope : They will have to be the legal criteria ; there are no others that I can responsibly use.


5. Mr. Bevan : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many overseas tourists visited Britain in 1988 ; how much they spent ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Lee : Figures are not yet available for the whole of 1988. Provisional estimates show that in the first 10 months of 1988 there were 13.8 million visits to Great Britain by overseas residents. During that period overseas residents spent some £5.4 billion on goods and services in Great Britain.

Mr. Bevan : American tourism is a major contributor to invisible earnings and the balance of payments. What effect does my hon. Friend think the unfortunate bombing of the Boeing 747 flight 103 at Lockerbie will have on it, and how does he assess the effect it will have on dollar earnings?

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Mr. Lee : American visitors to this country are extremely important, but in normal years for every one American who comes here to visit about four visitors come from other countries. The air disaster at Lockerbie is bound to create a degree of apprehension, so the industry will have to work harder at selling itself in the United States. I must make the point, however, that the current fatality rate for United Kingdom fixed-wing transport aircraft, including the sad M1 tragedy, is one fatality per 3.4 billion passenger kilometres flown.

Mr. Cryer : Did the Minister see the delegation from the Settle- Carlisle area representing small businesses, whose members pointed out that if the Settle-Carlisle railway closes people will not be able to travel to cities such as Bradford and Carlisle, which will suffer a loss of turnover? They also said that in the Settle-Carlisle hinterland served by the railway hundreds of jobs in small businesses will be lost. In view of those representations from the small business sector, will the Minister tell his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport that the railway line should be kept open on the basis of keeping jobs?

Mr. Lee : As the hon. Gentleman knows, I know the Settle-Carlisle area well. With my hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Department of Transport I attended a presentation last week by the English tourist board and the consultants on the work that they have done. My hon. Friend the Minister of State is considering the future of the Settle-Carlisle line at this moment.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : As the hon. Member representing the premier tourist area of Wales, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees that what overseas visitors most want is all-weather, all-year, high quality accommodation and facilities? Will he direct his Department's policy to that end?

Mr. Lee : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a tremendous amount of investment in the industry at present--about £2 billion worth of new construction is under way, and a goodly proportion of that is increasingly geared to all-weather leisure facilities.

Mr. Madden : Does the Minister realise that about 20,000 men, women and children from the Indian subcontinent, Nigeria and Ghana are being denied the opportunity to visit the United Kingdom because they have been refused visitor visas? Will he conduct an urgent inquiry into the often bizarre reasons why those people are denied visas, in the hope that many more overseas visitors from those countries will be able to make the visits that they urgently want to undertake in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Lee : The hon. Gentleman is a sufficiently experienced parliamentarian to know that that question should be directed to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Gregory : Does my hon. Friend agree that more overseas tourists would come here if our tourist information centres were better located? In particular, will he examine the situation in the biggest gateway into Britain, Dover, where the only way to find a tourist information centre is to travel on the road out of Britain?

Mr. Lee : No Question Time would be complete without my hon. Friend raising the subject of tourist information centres. I know how dear this subject is to him and how

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important he believes it to be. We have about 560 tourist information centres. They are of increasing quality and are extremely important to our tourist industry. I take the point about Dover ; I have had a number of representations about it and I am looking into the matter.


6. Mr. Ian Bruce : To ask the Secretry of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress of the restart programme.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls) : Since July 1986, more than 5 million interviews have been carried out under the restart programme, of which just under 90 per cent. have resulted in an offer of positive help being made. The restart programme now offers interviews at six-monthly intervals to everyone who has been out of work for six months or more. In addition, certain clients are now offered follow-up interviews in order to provide further guidance and support. Since September 1988, the programme has delivered the Government's guarantee to people aged between 18 and 24 who have been unemployed for between six and 12 months of the offer of a place on employment training, in a job club or on the enterprise allowance scheme.

Mr. Bruce : I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent reply and report. I am sure that all hon. Members will welcome the fact that so many people are being helped back into employment. Can my hon. Friend tell us the proportion of people going into employment training from a restart interview and the number going into direct employment from the interview? Does he have any figures on those matters?

Mr. Nicholls : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is entirely right. The purpose of restart interviews is to try to help long-term unemployed people to find a job or some other suitable opportunity instead of simply leaving them to languish out there. My hon. Friend asks about referrals to employment training. About 130,000 people have been referred since ET started in September 1988.

Mr. Haynes : Is the Minister aware that the Government's pit closure programme has encouraged people who worked in the industry for I know not how many years to accept redundancy? Now they are being told that they will have to go on to the restart programme. After all this time and after promises were made when redundancy was accepted, they are now told that if they do not sign on for restart they will have their benefit cut. The Minister should be ashamed of himself.

Mr. Nicholls : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making his point so clearly. The terms and conditions of deals worked out with the miners are more properly matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. In general terms, it has always been the position that anybody signing on and claiming benefit has to be available for work. That is a general rule.

Mrs. Maureen Hicks : In testifying to the fantastic reduction in the number of unemployed in the west midlands--one of the best figures in the country and due in large measure to the restart programme--may I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees that the main problem now

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is no so much one of finding jobs for the unemployed, because vacancies exist, but unfortunately in recognising that many of the unemployed are unemployable? Employers with vacancies are finding that prospective employees do not come up to the calibre that is required, and when they are taken on for employment training many of them lack basic numeracy and literacy skills.

Mr. Nicholls : All that I have seen during my relatively short time in this job leads me to the conclusion that very few people are unemployable. I accept, however, that many people need much care and help to get themselves back into the labour market, and the overwhelming majority of unemployed people want to take advantage of that. We are specifically spending about £1.5 billion on employment training so that we do not leave people to languish without the skills that they might need but help them to get back into the labour market.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : Why was the Minister so coy in responding to his hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) about the number of people helped back into full-time permanent employment? Perhaps I can help him. Will he confirm that surveys show that perhaps only 1 per cent. of people in the restart scheme are going into full-time permanent employment? Given that the bulk of restarts lead people into the now discredited ET schemes, will the Minister tell the House when the Government will seriously begin the process of offering the long-term unemployed adequate skills training so that they can get back into real work?

Mr. Nicholls : I have been accused of many things at the Dispatch Box, but coyness has never been one of them. The whole point of a restart interview is to look at people who are either long-term unemployed or heading that way and to try to make some positive offer. In some cases, that could lead to a job right away but all sorts of other disposals can also help. It may be a question of referring people to job clubs, about 440,000 have been submitted to such clubs. It might be a question of referring people to the enterprise allowance scheme ; and there have been about 200,000 referrals there. People may also be submitted for jobs ; about 460, 000 have been so submitted.

There is a whole range of options that long-term unemployed people need to help them. In saying that we cannot guarantee people a full-time job right away, the hon. Gentleman is like other members of his party--he is still living in the 1950s.

Centre for European Business Information

7. Mr. Ian Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what use has been made by firms of the centre for European business information set up within the small firms service.

Mr. Cope : Over 2,400 inquiries have been made to the European information centre since it was set up in the London office of the small firms service in December 1987.

Mr. Taylor : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Is the part payment with the European Commission helping to set up other regional centres? Can he give us some more information about those centres so that more small firms can use them? That will enable them to defend their home

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market and to expand in the European Community through a better understanding of the rules and regulations in the Community.

Mr. Cope : The Community is making proposals for a further 20 centres throughout this country and others overseas. Three other centres are already functioning in Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow. The four that operate at present are pilot centres. They can be contacted through our own small firms offices all over the country and it is extremely important that small firms in particular make use of them.

Mr. Soames : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the high degree of language skills that will be required by business men seeking to operate in the wider Community after 1992? What steps is his Department taking, through the small business service and its European assistants, to provide further teaching and guidance for small business men to help them expand their language skills?

Mr. Cope : The small firms service and the European information centre are not in the business of training ; they are in the business of advice and counselling, but the Training Agency is paying attention to the problem of language training which, as my hon. Friend says, is extremely important as 1992 approaches.

Mr. Skinner : In view of the fact that more than 150,000 small firms have gone bankrupt or suffered company liquidation in the 10 years of this Government, including the small firm that succeeded in Alf Roberts' corner shop in Grantham, which went bankrupt last year, and in view of the 18 per cent. borrowing rate for small businesses, as declared by the Financial Times last week, what advice will the Minister be giving to small firms now to help them keep their heads above water?

Mr. Cope : The number of small firms which started up and succeeded exceeds the number of those to which the hon. Gentleman draws attention which did not succeed. It is most important to obtain proper advice and counselling. The advice that I would give to people thinking of setting up in business, or who are already in business, is to make sure that they obtain proper advice. It is widely availale both from our small firms service and from local enterprise agencies and others where expert counselling is available. The figures show that those small firms that take advice are much more likely to succeed.

Small Firms Service

8. Mr. Hayward : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many centres are now operated by the small firms service in the United Kingdom ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Cope : The small firms service in England operates through 11 centres and six inner-city sub-offices. There are two centres in Scotland and one in Wales operated by the respective development agencies.

Mr. Hayward : My right hon. Friend referred to the six inner-city sub-offices. How successful are those offices and what efforts are being concentrated on trying to achieve a growth in the development of small firms in inner-city areas?

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Mr. Cope : A number of our main offices are also in inner cities. About eight of the 11 are in inner cities in England, in addition to the six special offices to which I referred. Everyone in the inner cities is now within easy reach of a small firms centre as well as a local enterprise agency. We are also trying to build up the number of ethnic minority counsellors and special inner-city advisers and many of our counselling offices are also in inner cities.

Mr. Rowe : In view of the excellent record of the small firms service, it would not be at all surprising if my right hon. Friend was at times tempted to be complacent. Is he aware that the only criticism that I have heard is that the reliance on retired business consultants or business consultants who come from large firms occasionally leads to inappropriate advice? Is he keeping a close watch on those who have felt less satisfied with the service than the vast majority?

Mr. Cope : Inevitably, those who are retired or semi-retired are more likely to have the time and inclination to help small firms. That is understandable, but we want to get as much of a spread as we can.

Tourism (Casinos)

9. Mr. Atkinson : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he has included consideration of the casino industry in the current review on tourism.

Mr. Lee : The review team has consulted with a large number of people involved in all aspects of the tourism industry, including casinos.

Mr. Atkinson : Will my hon. Friend confirm the valuable contribution that the casino industry makes to British tourism, not least in my constituency of Bournemouth? But does he agree that that contribution is nothing compared with the contribution that the industry makes in Europe to tourism there? Will he now seek to remove all those petty restrictions, such as the 24-hour rule, which are proving so damaging to our casino industry?

Mr. Lee : I acknowledge the contribution that casinos make, although their importance can be exaggerated. I am conscious of my hon. Friend's constituency interest in the matter. When the review team received consultations and representations, no particular issues were raised by companies with casino interests, though obviously Home Office Ministers will receive and hear the comments of my hon. Friend regarding casinos.

Mr. David Shaw : Will my hon. Friend confirm that the current review will include a sufficient number of cases to enable it to examine small businesses and the contribution they make to tourism? Will he ensure that the review results in suggestions being made to encourage more growth in small businesses involved in the tourism industry?

Mr. Speaker : In the casino industry.

Mr. Lee : I hear the comments that my hon. Friend makes about the review. I am satisfied that the review team had adequate opportunity to hear a whole range of representations from large and small firms--including casinos.

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Construction Industry (Deaths)

10. Mr. Doran : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what action he intends to take to reduce deaths in the construction industry.

Mr. Nicholls : Prime responsibility for health and safety rests with employers and others in the industry. However, new regulations are being prepared which provide for the management and co-ordination of health and safety on multi-contractor sites ; which increase the number of safety supervisors in smaller companies ; and which amend the site notification procedure to identify sites where there are high risk activities. The introduction of regulations which would make the wearing of safety helmets compulsory on construction sites is also planned.

In addition to concentrating on the inspection of the more hazardous activities in the industry, Health and Safety Executive inspectors will also be paying more attention to the quality of site management and its ability to manage health and safety. They will be looking at the level of training and supervision that has been provided and the precautions that have been taken to prevent accidents. They will pursue their inquiries and any enforcement action to the highest levels in companies which do not measure up to the standards expected of them.

Mr. Doran : Is it not a fact that the number of deaths and fatalities in the building and construction industry is increasing dramatically and that two major contributory factors are the failure by the Government to deal with self-employed and lump labour and the great reduction in the number of health and safety inspectors? Considering the number of deaths, it is as though we have a Piper Alpha disaster in the building industry every year. Will it take a disaster of those proportions to encourage the Government to take real action to stop deaths occurring in the construction industry?

Mr. Nicholls : The hon. Gentleman is right to remind us that the number of deaths in the construction industry has risen and is rising and is at a wholly unacceptable level. But I do not accept his analysis entirely of the reasons for that. In terms of the number of inspectors employed, it must be remembered that merely employing inspectors does not automatically produce a reduction in fatalities, and there is no evidence to suggest that it does. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wants the figures--and at least he, unlike some of his hon. Friends, is paying attention to my reply--in 1979, for instance, there were 86 inspectors employed in terms of construction, at present there are 90 and HSE has plans to recruit another 10.

Mr. Simon Coombs : Is my hon. Friend aware that the Health and Safety Executive is experiencing difficulty in recruiting new inspectors in some parts of the country? That is not because of the overall lack of resources but because the wage levels offered are uncompetitive with the private sector in those areas.

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