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Mr. Moate : Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that, as has already been said, jobs are being lost and that industrial investment in waterside- related schemes is being positively discouraged? He has said that the Government position is unchanged. In view of the overwhelming arguments for abolition of this archaic dock labour scheme can he do the House the courtesy of explaining why that position is unchanged?
12. Mrs. Mahon : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many and what percentage of full-time male workers earned less than the Council of Europe's decency threshold in the latest available year in the United Kingdom.
Mrs. Mahon : In that case, will the Minister say how many, and what percentage of, full-time male workers earn less than the decency threshold decided by the committee of expert advisers advising on the European social charter? In case the Minister has forgotten, let me remind him that it is 68 per cent. of all full-time average earnings.
Mr. Nicholls : I am not sure that the hon. Lady can have been listening to the answer that I have just given. She asked me about the Council of Europe decency threshold for a minimum acceptable level of earnings. Let me repeat that there is no such thing. Obviously, what she is thinking about is a recommendation of the Council of Europe expert advisory committee as to 68 per cent. of national average earnings. I repeat that there is no such thing as a decency threshold. It would be a good idea if the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends were to get a grasp of that fact.
Mr. Paice : Does my hon. Friend agree that any threshold relating to average earning is bogus because it is self-perpetuating ; as wages increase, so does the average, so there will always be, per se, people below that figure. Any such proposal is designed to give credence to those who want to criticise and abuse, such as the Opposition.
Mr. Wallace : Does the Minister agree that low-paid people would be helped enormously if the national insurance system were changed to allow a threshold rather than an allowance, so that if one earns an extra pound one does not have to pay £2 as a national insurance contribution?
Mr. Strang : Does the Minister acknowledge that 500,000 male employees and 2.3 million female employees will not benefit from any increases in allowances that might be announced this afternoon because they do not earn enough to pay tax? Do not Government proposals to abolish wages councils make it clear that the Government are pursuing policies to make the rich richer and the poor poorer?
Mr. Nicholls : The hon. Gentleman talks about deductions from those who are in work, but if he had his way and followed the policies advocated by his party, fewer people would have the opportunity to work.
Mr. Lee : The estimated annual 1 million visitors to Bristol and the high levels of investment in tourism projects show clearly that Bristol is sharing in the general prosperity and expansion of our domestic tourism industry.
Mr. Sayeed : I welcome my hon. Friend's reply, but is he aware that most tourists get no further west than Bath and appear unaware of the historic and architectural merit of Bristol? What are the employment implications of Avon county council's failure to take part in the West Country tourist board and Bristol city council's antagonistic and contemptuous attitude to tourism?
Mr. Lee : I am sorry that Avon county council is the only council that is not a member of its regional tourist board. I am happy to say that, despite that, about £34 million worth of investment has been made in Bristol. Exciting developments are under way in the harbour and waterfront area, a number of which I have seen.
Mr. Douglas : When the Minister goes to Bristol, he will no doubt visit the SS Great Britain, which is a monument to the British merchant fleet. Will he acknowledge that we have other monuments under this Government, such as our merchant shipbuilding capacity? What will the Government do about that?
Mr. Lee : I recollect that when I was a Minister at the Ministry of Defence I heard similar speeches from the hon. Gentleman. I suggest that he puts that question during Defence Question Time rather than at Employment Question Time.
Mr. Cope : Over 21,000 guarantees to a value in excess of £690 million have been issued since the loan guarantee scheme was introduced in 1981. Applications are currently running at nearly 200 a month.
Mr. Batiste : Does my hon. Friend agree that the loan guarantee scheme has been an essential ingredient in the spectacular job creation success among small businesses of the Yorkshire and Humberside region? Will he confirm that it is one of the most cost-effective job creation schemes that the Government have introduced and that it has a secure future?
Mr. Cope : Yes, I confirm all that. The scheme has an estimated net job cost of about £450 per job. It contributes much to the creation of small businesses and successful businesses that have grown much, such as the Sock Shop.
Mr. Fatchett : Will the Minister have a further look at the regional imbalance in the loan guarantee scheme and tell us what justice there is in the fact that the south-east receives considerably more than Yorkshire and Humberside?
Mr. Cope : Obviously, we respond to requests from individuals, from companies and from the banks. To a certain extent, the take-up achieved by the guarantee scheme in the different regions is a result of demand from interested parties, rather than action on our part to steer the scheme in a particular direction. The only thing that we do in that regard is to offer better terms for those in the inner cities.
Mr. Tim Smith : Is not the loan guarantee scheme just a rather expensive way in which to train bank managers? My hon. Friend should try to persuade bank managers to put less emphasis on the security on offer and more on the viability of the business plans.
Mr. Cope : I certainly do my best to try to persuade them of that important aspect of banking science. It is an important scheme because of its educational effect on some bank managers. At the same time, banks use it quite a lot and that is greatly to be desired.
15. Mr. Allen : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many employers were found to be illegally underpaying and how many of them were prosecuted in the latest available year by the wages inspectorate divisions covering the east midlands.
Mr. Allen : Is the Minister aware that the midlands inspectorate is based in my constituency and that when the Government came to power there were 26 inspectors, but now there are only 10? Will he visit that establishment and explain to the people why there has been a reduction in the numbers of inspectors when more than 4,000 cases of underpayment have been reported, but only nine have been prosecuted? When will the Government start to prosecute those people instead of harbouring them?
Mr. Cope : I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening to the reply that I gave earlier about the increase in the ratio of prosecutions to underpaying employers since the Labour Government left office. The level of compliance in the midlands has not varied significantly over the years.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Can I have an honest answer to my simple question? A large number of households in my constituency--families with children--have incomes of less than £100 a week. If I were an elector in my constituency I could not live on that sum. Could the Minister?
Mr. Wood : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is it not clear that the national dock labour scheme acts against the interests of the docks concerned and against the work force in those docks? Surely we should be persuading people working in those docks that it is in their interests to see a change in the scheme or, indeed, its removal.
Mr. Nicholls : I hear what my hon. Friend says and obviously he is supported by a great many of our hon. Friends. The question was about a meeting with the National Dock Labour Board and I doubt that there is much that I can add to that or to the points that my hon. Friend has just put.
Mr. Ross : --and it has also allowed the docks to plan their work properly? All the attacks from the Conservative Benches do not help those trying to have discussions within the dock labour scheme about how it can be improved in the best interests of the country and the economy.
17. Mr. McAllion : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what percentage of workplaces and workers were inspected by the wages inspectorate divisions covering the United Kingdom in the latest available year.
Mr. McAllion : Will the Minister explain to the House the standards which this Government apply to the question of law-breaking? On the one hand, the Government put in place a very severe system of penalties, fines and surcharges for those who cannot afford to pay the poll tax ; on the other hand, the Government virtually ignore employers who break the law and illegally enforce low wages on workers who are already exploited. Is it a case of no law for the rich and vicious laws for the poor?
Mr. Cope : On the contrary, we have improved the position. I have already said that 97 per cent. of workers are now paid at least the minimum due, and that is a higher percentage than a few years ago.
Mr. Fowler : Last Friday I published a prospectus inviting local groups of employers to submit proposals for forming training and enterprise councils in their areas. TECs will represent a fundamental change in the way training and enterprise activities are managed and developed. I have invited the first formal applications for development funding by the end of April. I expect the first TECs to be in operation by early next year.
Mr. Moss : I congratulate the Minister on this imaginative initiative, which has been warmly welcomed in my constituency and the country as a whole. Does he agree that unfilled job vacancies are more likely to be filled in the future if local industrialists have a direct input into the training of local people for local jobs?
Mr. Fowler : What my hon. Friend says is absolutely right. The training and enterprise councils will be locally based and led by employers who have a knowledge of their local area. That will be good for jobs in all the areas in which they are set up.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I presided over a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
The Prime Minister : As the hon. Lady is aware, those who fall into the definition of severe mental handicap are exempt. It has not been possible to have a particular definition at the time at which that occurs for Alzheimer's disease to bring everyone automatically into that definition.
Mr. Patnick : My right hon. Friend drew attention during a recent visit to the north-east to the region's confidence. Does she agree that that confidence has shown an upswing in the whole of the area, and does it not demonstrate the hollowness of the so-called north-south divide?
The Prime Minister : I totally agree with my hon. Friend. In a visit to both the north-east and north-west last week one found that business is flourishing, business men are optimistic, unemployment is falling and the amount of reconstruction under the urban development corporation, particularly on the river front, is going excellently. I agree that the north-south divide has gone.
Mr. Kinnock : Following the comments by the Secretary of State for Health at the weekend, will the Prime Minister now assure the House that when she next needs the services of a doctor she will not follow her usual practice of reaching for her wallet?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman is referring to the average receipts for the general practitioner in the Health Service. My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely correct in giving the figure for the average receipts.
Mr. Waller : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the very considerable concern which exists, for instance, in the Yorkshire area about river pollution and about the fact that the water authorities, which are themselves sometimes the guilty parties, have responsibility for the enforcement of pollution control? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when ecological issues rightly have priority, it is important that we get rid of these anomalies as soon as we can?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. When water is privatised, the duty of regulation and policing the standards of water and of rivers will come either under the National Rivers Authority or under the Director General of Water Services who will also be able to control the prices. That will be a great advance in addition to the extra efficiency that we will get from privatisation. It will be a good deal for the consumer.
Mr. Heffer : Following the right hon. Lady's visit to Liverpool last Friday when she attacked the workers at Birds Eye--1,000 of whom have now been put out of work--and the city council which is collaborating with all the interests in the area, will she now apologise to the people of Liverpool and Merseyside and understand that the people in my area put compassion before profit, which is something which the right hon. Lady does not understand?
consumers--companies must stay competitive and efficient. If workers in his area refuse to be competitive, efficient, or to accept high productivity, the investment will go to those many workers who are prepared to be just that.
Column 284my right hon. Friend reflect on the growing strength of the British economy? Will she confirm that in the past two years the growth in jobs has been greater than at any time since the end of the second world war? Does she agree that it is very gratifying to note that, to the end of last September, 60,000 of those jobs were created in manufacturing industry? Is it not, therefore, clear that those are the outward and visible signs of an industry which has now regained its competitiveness and the outlook for the economy is excellent?
The Prime Minister : The standard of living is higher than it has ever been. The number of people in work is higher than ever before and there are 1 million more people in work than in 1979. The number of people at work in manufacturing industry is growing. That is a very good record and the prospects for the future are good.
Mr. McGrady : Is the Prime Minister aware of the distress, hardship and injustice which is often caused in Northern Ireland when the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland issues an order under section 42 in the national interest whereby companies are deprived of their contracts and employees of their jobs? Does she agree that natural justice demands that the accused know the accusation and have the chance to defend themselves? Will she make arrangements for an appeal procedure to enable those injustices to be eradicated?
Mr. Rathbone : With the Government's commitment to fundamental change in South Africa, will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister endorse the recommendations of the judicial commission set up by the South African Government for the banning of apartheid, the abolition of all apartheid legislation, the adoption of a Bill of Rights and a national franchise to re-establish human rights in that country?
The Prime Minister : As I understand it, that particular commission- -which we would agree with--insisted that apartheid must end by a process of negotiation and we fully support that. Some encouraging changes are taking place, not least with the independence of Namibia which is a great step forward. We are also doing our level best to help the further education of black South Africans and we are now spending some £10 million on assisting them to get a better education. There is a great deal of room for hope for South Africa.
Mr. Foulkes : Would the Prime Minister, for once, like the unusual opportunity of uniting the House behind her and join me in sending good wishes to the only football team left in Europe, Heart of Midlothian, in the fourth round tie against Bayern Munich this evening?
Mr. King : Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only is British business creating more jobs than ever before within the United Kingdom economy but it is investing in and taking over four times as many overseas companies as any other western country? Does she agree with me that this indicates that our economy is very strong indeed?
The Prime Minister : Yes. As far as this country is concerned, business investment as a proportion of GDP is at an all-time high, in addition to which, being a very internationally minded country, we are investing heavily overseas--more than any other European country. We are in the lead by a long way ; we are way ahead of the second country, which is France.
Mr. Martin : Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the reports that I have seen in the newspapers about delays that may take place in the reform of the legal profession are not right and that we shall get on as soon as possible in the next Session with the excellent reforms proposed by the Lord Chancellor and put them into practice as soon as possible?
The Prime Minister : The measures have been proposed in Green Papers which will be thoroughly debated. Then I hope that we shall be able to bring forward legislation as soon as possible, most likely next year.
Mr. James Lamond : Is the Prime Minister's interest in human rights deep enough for her to place on the agenda of the conference on human rights in Paris under the Vienna talks the question of the treatment of political prisoners in Turkey, our NATO ally?