Home Page

Column 131

House of Commons

Tuesday 14 February 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Labour Statistics

1. Mr. Alton : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many men and women living on Merseyside have been unemployed for longer than five years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. John Lee) : In October 1988, the latest available date, there were 15,626men and 2,433 women in Merseyside who had been unemployed for more than five years.

Mr. Alton : In the light of those damning figures and the 98,419 people on Merseyside who are currently out of work, will the Minister promise that even if tomorrow's figures show some overall reduction in unemployment, there will be no question of complacency in areas such as Liverpool, where the Allerton road jobcentre in my constituency is advertising just 92 jobs in a city where about 24 people are chasing every vacancy? Does the Minister agree that it is vital to remove every possible barrier which might prevent people from seeking skills and training? Does he further agree that we should abolish the national insurance surcharge, which is too often a tax on jobs in areas of high unemployment? Does he also agree that it is quite wrong--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has already asked three questions.

Mr. Lee : I will attempt to answer two of them. Of course the Government are not complacent about unemployment on Merseyside. Indeed, substantial amounts of Government money have been poured into Merseyside through a whole range of Government programmes. The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that there has been a significant reduction in unemployment in his constituency, which has fallen by just over 21 per cent. in the past two years, and that unemployment is falling steadily in the Merseyside area. The hon. Gentleman may also recall that Liverpool city council's original attitude in not exactly welcoming employment training has not helped.

Mr. Wareing : Is that not a ridiculous end to the Minister's answer, when he knows full well that his right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of the Environment have cut Liverpool's rate support grant so

Column 132

often in the past? Instead of coming up with Mickey Mouse employment training schemes which do not even cover all the young people unemployed in my constituency, he should talk to people who really know the area and then get together with his right hon. and hon. Friends to do something about the infrastructure, such as the road and rail network. Is it not time that the Government paid as much attention to the social and economic infrastructure of Merseyside as they do to the Channel tunnel?

Mr. Lee : The hon. Gentleman is being extremely churlish. The Government have pumped hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money into Merseyside, and in the past two years unemployment in the hon. Gentleman's constituency has fallen by 24.78 per cent.

Youth Training Scheme

2. Ms. Armstrong : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment whether he has any plans to increase the safety of YTS trainees ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls) : I repeat what I told the hon. Lady in the reply that I gave on 6 December, which is recorded in the Official Report at column 143-- namely, that health and safety remains of paramount importance in YTS.

New developments currently in hand include the issue of a new health and safety training package aimed specifically at young persons and new advice for managing agents who monitor health and safety at work placements.

Ms. Armstrong : Is the Minister not horrified at the rise in accidents involving YTS trainees? Can he tell the House how enabling young YTS trainees to work longer hours--to do night and shift work and to work for up to 53 hours per week--will improve health and safety for our young people?

Mr. Nicholls : The hon. Lady seems to be working on the assumption that the YTS accident rate has increased dramatically. She should know that that is not the position. The rate of accidents and fatalities involving YTS trainees is the same as that for young people working outside the scheme.

If the hon. Lady believes that she has conclusive evidence that altering and rationalising hours of work must inevitably lead to further accidents, it would be interesting to see that evidence. I must tell the hon. Lady that there is no indication from anywhere else that such evidence exists.

Mr. Andrew MacKay : While safety measures must be enforced for YTS trainees from that for everyone else, does my hon. Friend agree that there is a great deal of nitpicking by Labour Members who are jealous because YTS is working so well?

Mr. Nicholls : Nits will pick.

Mr. Fatchett : Is the Minister aware that his answer sounds both smug and complacent? As the Government have presided over an increase of more than 100 per cent. in YTS accidents between 1984-88, is it not time that we had some real constructive action from the Minister--or is

Column 133

he so insensitive to youngsters and to those on YTS courses that he is quite happy to see such carnage among young people?

Mr. Nicholls : In using words such as "smug" and "complacent", the hon. Gentleman merely illustrates that it is unwise to write one's supplementary question before hearing the answer to the main question. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to suggest that there has been a major increase in YTS accidents he and his hon. Friends should know that the bases on which accidents are recorded were changed in 1986. If one takes that into account-- [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should know about that by now--he has been told often enough. If one takes that change into account, the figures are remarkably stable. The hon. Gentleman should realise that fatalities are recorded on a different basis for YTS trainees as for employees. On that basis, the figures are stable. It is not complacent or smug to try to do away with some of the scare stories that Opposition Members are constantly putting around to terrify people off YTS.

Mr. Bellingham : Does my hon. Friend agree that the key to the safety of YTS trainees is proper training? My hon. Friend will be aware of the excellent work done by the construction industry training board in that respect. Does he agree that it is crucial that that board should remain in its present form with a statutory levy?

Mr. Nicholls : That does not arise from this question, but I agree with my hon. Friend thus far--training is obviously vital and any YTS provider must have approved training organisation status. One of the key ingredients of that status is that such providers have proper safety and training arrangements for the young people in their charge.

Job Creation

3. Mr. Boateng : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many full-time and part-time jobs were created in the 12 months to September 1988 in the greater London region.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler) : In the year to September 1988 the work force in employment increased by 25, 000 in greater London. The only available information about full and part-time employment in greater London is for women employees. Those figures are provisional and show an increase of 15,000 in women full-time employees and a decrease of 1,000 in women part-time employees.

Mr. Boateng : In the same period, some 65,000 disappeared off the unemployment benefit register. What has happened to the 40,000 or so people who can no longer be found? Have they disappeared into some kind of twilight zone of fake statistics? Will the Minister give resources to organisations such as Brent Asian Professionals Association, Operation Fullemploy and others trying to provide real training for real jobs? What does he intend to do to encourage employers to provide workplace experience for young people who are currently deprived of it?

Mr. Fowler : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also continue to support, as I take his remarks to do, the employment training programme. The figures for

Column 134

unemployment and employment are done on different bases. The labour force survey will show a more accurate picture of the growth in employment. That will be available in about a month. The hon. Gentleman should wait for that survey because he will find that some of his questions will be answered.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that unemployment in London has gone down so sharply. I am also sure that he will welcome and recognise the current estimate that there are about 150,000 vacancies in London and about 250,000 unemployed people. In other words, there are opportunities for people to take on work in London.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the problem in north-west London is not unemployment, but that there are not enough people to fill the vacancies? The Government have done a great deal already. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that they will continue to do as much as possible to find people to fill those vacancies and to train them?

Mr. Fowler : The figures that I gave show that there are about 150, 000 vacancies in London. We estimate that 50,000--one third--of those vacancies do not require any previous training. The other vacancies require such training and it is for that reason that the employment training programme has been introduced. I am glad to tell the House that there are about 140,000 people on the employment training programme. That demonstrates its success and the big start that it has had despite opposition from Labour Members.

Mr. Leighton : Will the Secretary of State clear up a mystery? He keeps referring to 150,000 vacancies, but when the long-term unemployed go for their restart interviews fewer than 1 per cent. of them get a job. How does the Secretary of State explain that? Is he aware that the 150,000 vacancies to which he referred when he answered questions a month ago no longer exist? They generally last only a couple of weeks and go primarily to people already in employment and switching jobs, or to those who have recently become unemployed. The people still unemployed since that answer a month ago are the long-term unemployed, largely because of employer prejudice against them. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to deal with that problem?

Mr. Fowler : The hon. Gentleman is wrong on several points. First, the London labour survey that we have published shows conclusively that there are many unfilled job vacancies in London. There is no doubt about that. No one in the employment sphere doubts that. Many of the people who are unemployed require training. That is what employment training is about. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would have some influence on his Front Bench colleagues and get them to support that programme.

With regard to restart programme outcomes, the hon. Gentleman will understand that after their restart interviews many people go into employment training or to job clubs, which is one of the surest ways of finding employment.

Mr. Simon Coombs : Does my hon. Friend agree with the assessment that in 1991 the London Docklands will have created 80,000 new jobs as a result of £4 billion in private investment? Can he tell the House how far that process has gone?

Column 135

Mr. Fowler : Ther is no question at all that the development of the London Docklands will bring, and is already bringing, new jobs to London. It is a great commentary in defence of our policy there that an area that was previously very much running down has been revivified by private investment for the benefit of people in London and for jobs.

Mr. Strang : How is it that in the greater London region--the centre of the so-called jobs boom--in May 1979 when the Government took office unemployment was 110,000 but now, on the basis of the Government's new method of calculation, it is 250,000 and if we used the method of calculation suggested when Labour was in power it would be 340,000, which is an increase of 200 per cent? Is it not time for a little less euphoria from Ministers and a little more action to tackle unemployment, not least in areas such as Hackney and Peckham where it is more than 20 per cent.?

Mr. Fowler : There is neither euphoria nor complacency. Unemployment has fallen dramatically in this country in the past 18 months. The most distressing aspect is the Labour party's refusal to welcome the good news that many more people are in jobs. It is about time that the Labour party came up to date and started backing a programme for training long-term unemployed people or they will have no credibility whatever.

Loan Guarantee Scheme

4. Mr. Carrington : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress of the loan guarantee scheme.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. John Cope) : The loan guarantee scheme will continue in operation and the maximum loan under it will increase from £75,000 to £100,000. Nearly 21,000 guarantees have been issued for a total of £680 million of loans since the LGS started.

Mr. Carrington : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. He will know how welcome is the great success of this scheme, especially the increase to 85 per cent. in the loan guarantee scheme for the inner city task force areas. Is my right hon. Friend also prepared to give an estimate of how much each job created under the scheme has cost since the start of the scheme?

Mr. Cope : We estimate that the net cost per person is about £450 per job, which compares extremely favourably with the other schemes that the Department operates.

Mr. Rowe : Does my right hon. Friend accept that that remarkable achievement is welcome to us all? Will he confirm that a substantial number of now large employers started under the loan guarantee scheme and that a great many of the firms that started under that scheme are still in business after three years?

Mr. Cope : Yes, the majority of firms which started under the loan guarantee scheme continue and are successful, although obviously not all of them. They include some of the great high street firms such as Sock Shop and Waterstone's the bookshop, which are constantly mentioned.

Column 136


5. Mr. Battle : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment whether he has any plans to increase the non-work content in YTS ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Cope : We have no plans to increase the non-work content in YTS. The emphasis is increasingly moving towards achieving approved vocational qualifications by the most appropriate route rather than specifying particular routes.

Mr. Battle : Is not the reality that the non-work content is being decreased and the Government are watering down the original YTS requirements as set out in the new training initiative in 1981 by reneging on the 20-week on-the-job off-the-job training promise? Are not the Government using the scheme not for real and useful long-term training, as the Minister suggested earlier, but as a means of making out to us that the unemployment figures are falling?

Mr. Cope : On the contrary, we are introducing increased flexibility into the youth training scheme in cases where it can lead to approved national vocational qualifications. We have introduced the changes to increase the number of people who achieve qualifications on the scheme. That is why we are varying the mix.

Mr. Paice : Does my right hon. Friend agree that increasing the role of vocational qualifications in the youth training scheme is warmly welcomed by employers and would-be employers who recognise qualifications as an important achievement? Does he also recognise that the training standards advisory service within the Training Agency ensures that all managing agents are constantly improving the quality of their training, which matters more than simple duration?

Mr. Cope : Yes, we have for some time been emphasising the importance of the quality of training, through the work done by the training standards advisory service, among others, but quality and qualifications are also important to the young people.

Mr. Nellist : Would not a guarantee of stability, or better still an increase in the proportion of non-work training, for people on the youth training scheme also serve to reduce accidents which have grown from 69 fatal or major accidents per 100,000 trainees in 1984 to 143 in March 1988? Should not parents who send their sons and daughters on a youth training scheme in the morning be able to have confidence that they will return home at night with the same number of limbs as they had when they left?

Mr. Cope : The hon. Gentleman should not try to frighten people in that way. In the first place, he is two questions late. Secondly, he will have heard my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), say that the reporting of accidents changed in 1986, as the hon. Gentleman should well know.

Strikes (Lost Working Days)

6. Mr. Wood : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many working days were lost through strikes in (a) January 1979 and (b) January 1989 ; and if he will make a statement.

Column 137

Mr. Fowler : Nearly 3 million working days were lost through strikes in January 1979. The latest figure available for November 1988 shows that 175,000 working days were lost. Those figures show the very substantial improvement that has taken place in this country's industrial relations record in past 10 years.

Mr. Wood : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the present position is an astonishing contrast with that of the 1970s and owes a great deal to the Government's step-by-step employment policies during that period? Can my right hon. Friend give further details about the average number of strikes in the 1970s compared with the figure for 1988?

Mr. Fowler : There is no question but that industrial relations in Britain have improved substantially. The Labour Government achieved in one month the number of days lost through strikes that now take a year to come by. That gives some idea of the vast improvement that has taken place. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right to say that one reason for that is the reform of industrial relations law in Britain.

Mr. Cryer : Is the Minister aware that he talks a lot of claptrap about this? Can he give us for each year the figures for days lost through strikes compared with the number lost through industrial injury and unemployment? Is it not a fact that, year by year, the number of days lost through industrial injury and unemployment far exceeds the number lost through strike action, which leads one to question the Government's position when they produce venomous and vicious legislation against the trade unions but do nothing about industrial injury and very little about unemployment?

Mr. Fowler : The hon. Gentleman has just established beyond any doubt that he is the world expert in claptrap. In the year to November 1988 there were 746 stoppages. That compares with an average in the 1970s of 2,631. As for working days lost, in the 1970s the average was almost 13 million ; today it is just under 4 million. The hon. Gentleman cannot seriously argue that that is not a very substantial improvement.

Mr. John Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Government's record on improved industrial relations is most commendable, but that two further measures could be taken? First, he could pursue with renewed vigour the arrangement to set up more no-strike agreements, beginning with our prisons. Secondly, he could abolish the closed shop.

Mr. Fowler : I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says. The step-by -step process of reform of industrial relations is not complete and the job has not yet been finished. It is still the case that in some industries no one can get a job unless he has a trade union card. That represents a barrier to employment and, as my hon. Friend will know, it is something that we are reviewing urgently and on which I shall wish to make a statement in due course.

Demolition Sites (Fatalities)

7. Mr. Rooker : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many employees have been killed on demolition sites in the past five years.

Column 138

Mr. Nicholls : Between 1 January 1983 and 31 March 1987 the number of deaths associated with demolition activities of employees reported to the factory and agricultural inspectorate division of the Health and Safety Executive totalled 53. The provisional figure for deaths in the period 1 April 1987 to 31 March 1988, the latest date for which information is available, is 13.

Mr. Rooker : I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he accept that there can be a problem about employees and that in addition to the figures that he has given at least another 12 people per year are killed on demolition sites? One such is the case of Seamus Cleary, who was working on the demolition of the Ansell's brewery site in Birmingham for the notorious contractors, Doyle's. At the inquest the man's family and friends told the coroner that he was an employee, but Doyle's insisted that he was not. This is a serious issue to which I have drawn the Department's attention in the past. People on demolition sites ought to be clearly identified so that someone is accountable and responsible for their health and safety. Companies such as Doyle's should not be able to employ lump labour and then not take responsibility when tragedies of this kind occur.

Mr. Nicholls : I am not in a position to comment now on the specific case that the hon. Gentleman raises. If he wishes to raise it with me in correspondence I will of course, look at it. Perhaps I could clear up one misconception under which the hon. Gentleman seems to be labouring. With regard to fatal accidents in construction, those who are non-employed but within the ambit of a construction site are also covered. The figures do not apply simply to those working on the site.

Mr. Soames : Does my hon. Friend nevertheless agree that these are very serious figures? Is he sure that every step has been taken by the Government to ensure that safety rules are observed on demolition sites in accordance with the strict letter of the law?

Mr. Nicholls : My hon. Friend is entirely right to express concern. The point that has to be made clear time and again is that neither the Government nor the HSE can act as the industry's safety officer. The prime responsibility in preventing accidents and fatalities must rest with the work force and the employers. The black spot construction report showed that 90 per cent. of deaths between 1981 and 1985 were preventable, 70 per cent. being preventable by positive management action. I am satisfied that the HSE and the Government are doing all that they can, but so long as even one death is occurring that effort must continue.

Job Creation

8. Dr. Moonie : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what was the fall in unemployment, and the number of jobs created in the United Kingdom, in the 12 months to September 1988.

Mr. Fowler : In the United Kingdom in the 12 months to September 1988, the level of unemployment fell by 526,400. Since then, there has been a further fall of 152,600. Provisional estimates of the work force in employment show that there has been a net increase of

Column 139

402,000 in the 12 months to September 1988. But that last figure is subject to revision when the labour force survey is published.

Dr. Moonie : Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many of the jobs gained have been full-time jobs, and how many part-time?

Mr. Fowler : Yes, Sir. Over the past 12 months about 55 per cent. of the jobs obtained have been full-time and about 45 per cent. part-time.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson : If my right hon. Friend compares the people in the various age groups that have found employment, will it be found that those who are aged over 50 or disabled receive a proportionate number of jobs, or do they need special assistance?

Mr. Fowler : Both groups require special help, and in terms of the employment training programme, we are trying to provide it both for the over-50s and, particularly, for the disabled. That is a continuing element in our policy, and it will continue to be a priority.

Mr. Wallace : Of the 152,600 people who have come off the unemployment register since September 1988, how many are aged between 16 and 18 who have been unable to find a YTS place, and who are no longer entitled to receive income support? Does the growing number of young people so affected give the Secretary of State cause for concern? It appears that there is a gap in the training provision, which does not cater for people unable to find a YTS place.

Mr. Fowler : I am always prepared to consider individual cases of people who have been unable to find a YTS place. At present, there are 120,000 vacancies on the YTS programme in all the regions of the country. Our information is that all who have applied for a YTS place have been able to obtain one. If the hon. Gentleman gives me an example of where that has not occurred, I am prepared to investigate it.

Mr. Favell : A man of 50 obtaining a job can often give 15 years' service to his new-found employer. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be advertisements stating, "No one aged under 50 need apply"?

Mr. Fowler : I wish to ensure that employment opportunities exist for people of all ages. Many people aged over 50 have the experience that enables them to take up new jobs, at a time when many more vacancies are occurring. I feel sure that employers will increasingly want to appoint older workers ; that trend is already visible.

Mr. Ashley : Will the Secretary of State make a special effort to provide jobs for the disabled? The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys reveals that only 31 per cent. of disabled people of working age have jobs.

Mr. Fowler : The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The employment training programme already makes special provision for disabled people, and I am glad to tell the right hon. Gentleman that take-up of those places is very high.

Mr. Knapman : Does my right hon. Friend agree that employment is at a record level, that output is at a record level, and that the MacInnes report is pseudo-academic bunkum?

Column 140

Mr. Fowler : The report is certainly discredited as a statistical exercise. Unemployment is falling fast, and is now below that not only of the European Community average but of a host of European countries. That is a very welcome trend.

Mr. Meacher : Will the Secretary of State confirm that the British Government are the only Government in Europe to use the benefit claimant count as a measure of unemployment, and that ours is the only country to knock people off their entitlement to unemployment benefit and then parade that as a cut in unemployment?

Will the Minister confirm also that the Government's labour force survey, which uses the same international measure of unemployment as all other countries but which, significantly, the Government have not published for the last two years, reveals that unemployment today in Britain is still over 2.6 million and that the Government's claim on Thursday that unemployment has now fallen below 2 million will be completely and utterly bogus?

Mr. Fowler : The hon. Gentleman is running a bit scared-- [Interruption.] He is absolutely terrified that the figures next Thursday will go below 2 million, and that shows the hon. Gentleman at his contemptible worst. The comparison that I gave, which shows that the rate of unemployment in this country is below the European Community average, is on a standardised basis. There is no question about that. What the hon. Gentleman said about the labour force survey was wrong in practically every detail. I hope that by Thursday he will have done his homework.


9. Mr. Key : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on his assessment of the contribution of tourism to local economies in respect of English cathedrals and cathedral cities.

Mr. Lee : Precise figures are not available. However, English cathedrals and churches are estimated to be attracting a total of 30 million visitors a year, with consequent benefits to local shops, hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

Mr. Key : My hon. Friend will join me in congratulating Lichfield on receiving £1 million of taxpayers' money from the European Community for employment creation in connection with the cathedral because it happens to be in a development area. Is he aware that that puts a number of other cathedrals, including Salisbury, at a double disadvantage, first because they cannot get European Community money and, secondly, because of the Minister's decision to suspend section 4 grant as priming for tourism? Will he look at both those points?

Mr. Lee : English Heritage is theoretically able to support cathedrals, but it tends to concentrate its resources on parish churches, for which it is more difficult to obtain outside funding. I suspected that the question of section 4 would be raised at Question Time today. Section 4 has undoubtedly helped the tourist industry to develop. But we must now look at it in terms of the present amount of construction work that is under way right across the country. We calculate that there is about £2.5 billion worth of new construction work under way throughout the country in respect of tourism and hospitality. Section 4

Column 141

amounted to only about £13 million, and until the moratorium was announced by the Secretary of State, tourism was the only industry that had access to grant.

Mrs. Fyfe : Is the Minister aware that a dozen questions about tourism have been tabled today by Conservative Members? Could it be that some of them want to waste time--when we are supposed to be discussing employment matters--by going on about tourism?

Mr. Lee : Tourism is a vital industry to this country. It sustains 1.5 million jobs and is growing at the rate of nearly 1,000 net new jobs a week. It is a subject of considerable interest to my hon. Friends. When, in June of last year, we last debated tourism, only two Members of the official Opposition participated.


10. Mr. Adley : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment in what form he proposes to announce his conclusions following his review of tourism.

Mr. Lee : The tourism review report is still under consideration and no decision has yet been taken on how the conclusions will be announced.

Mr. Adley : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and I declare my interest in the industry. Will the Minister use the period of suspension of section 4, which is causing some concern, to consult his colleagues in the Welsh and Scottish Offices to see the great success that they have made of the utilisation of grant? Does he agree that there are regions of England where investment is still needed, and might he consider concentrating section 4 on those areas which still need investment?

Mr. Lee : Section 4 has been a great success in England, and, as I have said, a huge amount of construction work is under way. The outlook for our home tourism industry in 1989 is now excellent, with overseas package tours under considerable pressure.

Ms. Short : Does the Minister's review of tourism take into account that that highly profitable industry is notorious for low pay, and that prosperity is not brought to a country if those who work in an industry do so for very low remuneration? Will the Minister consider that, and has he any proposals to improve employment conditions?

Mr. Lee : The tourism review does not specifically examine pay. The hon. Lady does no service to herself or to her constituents by harping continually on low pay in the industry, as by and large the overall remuneration package is improving considerably.

Mr. Bevan : Will the review consider value for money in relation to the non-statutory regional tourist boards? Will my hon. Friend also consider the provision of alternative finance--perhaps through the private sector--as a replacement for section 4 grants when encouraging those who wish to enter the industry or to develop within it?

Mr. Lee : I know of my hon. Friend's deep commitment to the tourism industry. We are examining the question of the regional tourist boards. Let me say again, however, that a huge amount of private sector investment is under way.

Next Section

  Home Page