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Mr. Fowler : Over the past two years the rate of unemployment has fallen faster in the United Kingdom than in any other major industrialised country. The rate of unemployment in the United Kingdom is now 2
Column 140percentage points below the European Community average and below that of France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Ireland and Greece.
Mr. Hayward : I welcome the figures that my right hon. Friend has given, which clearly demonstrate that future prospects for the unemployed in Britain are better than in most of the rest of Europe. Will my right hon. Friend welcome the enormous order that has been announced today by Rolls-Royce from TWA? It shows that British companies can compete successfully on the world market and guarantee long-term prospects for jobs in high-technology industries.
Mr. Fowler : I have just seen the news of that order. I am sure that the whole House will want to congratulate Rolls-Royce. It is yet further evidence of the success and capability of the British aerospace industry, and is extremely good news for jobs.
Mr. Fowler : Tourism is one of the major employment growth sectors in the economy. About 1 million people are employed in the tourist and leisure industry, which is clearly one of the most important industries in Britain.
Mr. Roger King : Is my right hon. Friend aware that every week unemployment levels continue to drop at an ever-increasing rate in the west midlands? We noticed that during the European elections unemployment was not mentioned once by the opposition parties. They can no longer capitalise on it because of our success with it.
Mr. Fowler : My hon. Friend is entirely right. The rate of unemployment has fallen faster in the west midlands than in any other part of the country. There are more people now in work in Britain than ever before in our history. [Interruption.]
Mr. Strang : After the rout of the Conservative party in the Euro- elections, is it not clear that the TUC and the vast majority of British people want the Government to abandon their opposition to the European social charter? Will the Prime Minister be the only one of the 12 in Madrid to stand out against a measure aimed at improving standards for employees and pensioners throughout the Community?
Mr. Nicholls : My right hon. Friend will continue to do what she has always done on behalf of Britain--to fight our corner within the European Community. If the hon. Gentleman takes comfort from the result of the European elections, we look forward to seeing whether the smile is on the other side of his face after the next general election.
13. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received about the future of scheme ports once the dock labour scheme is abolished ; and if he will make a statement.
The Confederation of British Industries, chambers of commerce, and associations representing warehousing and freight transport have all welcomed the ending of the scheme's restrictions and believe that this will result not only in a more competitive ports industry but in more business investment and jobs in scheme port areas.
Mrs. Gorman : My right hon. Friend will be aware that despite the £770 million subsidy, the scheme ports already charge 40 per cent. more than the non-scheme ports-- [Hon. Members :-- "Reading."]--and that in order to become competitive with the non-scheme ports and with Rotterdam there has to be agreement between the local employers and the dockers on the way forward-- [Hon. Members :-- "Reading."] People in my constituency who work at the Tilbury docks will be very glad when the Government's new measures are in force.
Mr. Fowler : My hon. Friend is right. The business and trade of non- scheme ports has continued to increase over the past 10 or 20 years, and so has employment. I believe that the end of the dock labour scheme will mean that the scheme ports will be able to share in the benefits of the industry.
Mr. Fowler : From the ending of the dock labour scheme, we expect a contribution to scheme port areas, which will mean more jobs, and that will mean better prospects for all in those areas and all ports around the country.
Mr. Cope : Over 440,000 unemployed people have been helped to start their own businesses under the enterprise allowance scheme since it began in 1982. We have provided for 90,000 places this year and about 85,000 people are currently in receipt of the allowance.
Mr. Burns : Does my right hon. Friend accept that those figures are extremely welcome, particularly as 9,000 people in Chelmsford have joined the scheme? As 57 per cent. of the businesses involved have lasted for more than three years, does he agree that it is an excellent method of job creation? Will he calculate how much it costs the taxpayer to provide that number of new jobs?
Column 142the people whom they employ. For every 100 people who complete the enterprise allowance scheme there are 139 people working two years later.
The Prime Minister : (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Mr. Mans : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only way of improving the environment is through increased prosperity? Will she therefore press on with her highly successful policies of the past decade to ensure that this prosperity allows us to continue to meet the aspirations of all our people?
The Prime Minister : It is because the Government have created the conditions for a record standard of living that we have been able to spend so much on improving the environment, so much on improving the quality of water--about £1.2 billion this year--and a great deal on improving river cleanliness so that we have the first-equal record of anyone in Europe, far better than any previous Government. Of course, we are spending nearly £2 billion to ensure compliance with the acid rain directive. Altogether, by ensuring prosperity, we have been able to contribute the maximum amount to the environment.
Mr. Hattersley rose--[Interruption.]
Mr. Hattersley : Last week--last Monday to be exact--the Secretary of State for Social Security explicity rejected the idea that the state pension should provide a "comfortable standard of living". Is that Government policy?
The Prime Minister : The basic state pension has always been a basic state pension--never anticipated to create for all the needs of life. That is why we have-- [Interruption.] --at the level at which we would and do provide. That is why, even when I was Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Pensions, we started a second pension, the basic pension followed by a second compulsory pension, either a graduated pension financed by the state or an occupational pension scheme. That is why we also have housing benefit. That is why we also have income support and family credit to make up the pension and to make up incomes to a reasonable standard of living beyond that which the basic pension could possibly reach.
Mr. Hattersley : Will the Prime Minister make it absolutely explicit --I use the words again--that when the Secretary of State for Social Security says that pensioners living on the basic pension should not expect a "comfortable standard of living", that is Government policy? Yes or no?
Column 143support for older pensioners will go up this October-November. That, too, was the policy accepted by the Labour Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member, if he only knew it.
The Prime Minister : It is the policy which Labour Governments have had to follow as well, in spite of all their rhetoric. I can remember, as the right hon. Gentleman was Minister of State for Prices and Consumer Protection,-- [Interruption] --for five years, that in his time-- [Interruption.] --inflation averaged 12 per cent. a year over five years. I can also remember of that Government, in which he was a Minister-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : I can also remember, when the right hon. Gentleman was the Minister for High Prices-- [Hon. Members :-- "Oh."]--that inflation in 1976 was 21 per cent., and the then Labour Government could not even make up the pension to that.
Sir John Hunt : Will my right hon. Friend give thought today to the Underground strike, which is set to paralyse London tomorrow? In the interests of the long-suffering travelling public in London, is it not time that irresponsible wildcat action of this kind was outlawed by legislation, and when will that be done?
The Prime Minister : I wholly and utterly condemn this strike. It is contrary to the public--is against fellow members of the public who rely, and who are entitled to rely, on transport to get to work. It is a typically selfish policy to put themselves first, before those who have to use-- [Interruption.] --to put themselves first, deliberately causing massive inconvenience to those who have to work. Of course, we do not expect Labour Members ever to think of public service.
Mr. Bennett : Will the Prime Minister agree that, while the question last Tuesday was when the Chancellor of the Exchequer would need the removal men, the question now is when the right hon. Lady will need the removal men? Does she have the same unequivocal support from the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary that she gave them last week?
The Prime Minister : We are very much together as a Government-- [Interruption.] --as the hon. Gentleman knows, in spite of tremendous efforts to say to the contrary, and we are very happy with our houses at Nos. 10 and 11 Downing street and in Carlton gardens.
Sir Richard Body : When my right hon. Friend is considering whether, at the next meeting of the European Council, the subject of the European social charter is to be raised, will she bear in mind that long ago, the European social charter was established by the Council of Europe,
Column 144that this country was one of the first to sign and ratify it and that there are members of the European Community, not least Spain, that have yet to sign and ratify it?
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes the point very effectively indeed, and I shall raise it at Madrid. I agree that we signed the charter of the Council of Europe, which is a declaration and is not legally binding. In regard to the proposed social charter for Europe, it is quite absurd to try to impose on very different countries with different social services the same level of social services. It would either mean enormous burdens of extra costs on employers, and therefore more unemployment, or it would mean colossal extra subsidies from this country and Germany to those poorer countries in Europe which could not afford it without our aid. With £2 billion net paid to the European Community, we are paying enough.
Mr. McFall : Now that in European terms both Scotland and Wales are Tory-free zones, and mindful of the voters' verdict in the Vale of Glamorgan, Vauxhall, and Glasgow, Central, does the Prime Minister accept that her nostrums for the country are now as potent and as palatable as a tub of hazelnut yoghurt?
The Prime Minister : I am naturally concerned that we have no representation in Scotland, but had Scotland had a Labour Government in the United Kingdom, it would not enjoy a fraction of the prosperity that it now enjoys.
Mr. Yeo : Knowing my right hon. Friend's great concern with environmental issues, does she share my sense of shock that every single member of the European Community has been successfully prosecuted for failing to comply with European Commission directives--that is, every single member with one exception, and will she confirm that the one country with an unblemished record of commitment to both the European ideal and the green ideal is the United Kingdom?
The Prime Minister : Yes, the United Kingdom is indeed the only one of the main EC countries not to be so prosecuted, because our record on the environment is so good. That is one reason. The second reason is that, as is well known, this Government always play by the rules.
Mr. Ashdown : When, on Friday, the Prime Minister meets Dame Lydia Dunn, the most respected and most senior of Hong Kong's politicians, will she pay special attention to the comments that Dame Lydia made yesterday when she said that failure to face up to the nationality problem in Hong Kong could undermine the administration of the colony in the years up to 1997? If the Prime Minister will not herself-- [Interruption.] If the Prime Minister believes that Britain cannot meet that responsibility itself, will she at least take the lead in ensuring an international solution to these issues?
The Prime Minister : The last time that the right hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members asked that, I pointed out that we are endeavouring to find increased flexibility, first in the sections of the British Nationality Act 1981 and, secondly, under the broader immigration rules. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has also pointed out that the British overseas passport does not confer right of abode on people and that right of abode would not enable them to move freely and easily around Europe. That requires citizenship. However, those people can come here for a very brief period with the other passport. If it came to a vital refugee problem, of course, we would wish to garner the help of the whole world to deal with it.
Mr. Stanbrook : While reflecting on the good as well as the bad things arising out of the Euro-elections, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend agrees that the outgoing President of the European Parliament, Lord Plumb, did a very good job indeed and deserves all our thanks, regardless of party, for the competence, dignity and integrity which he demonstrated over two and a half years as the first British holder of that post?
The Prime Minister : Yes, Mr. Speaker. I gladly join my hon. Friend. The noble Lord has been an excellent President of the European Parliament and has given valiant service to it, on which I most earnestly congratulate him. I wish him good luck in the future in his seat in the European Parliament.
Mr. Sedgemore : Has the Prime Minister read the unanimous report of the Select Committee on the Treasury and the Civil Service on Delors? If she has read it, has she understood it? If perchance she understood it, does she agree with it?
The Prime Minister : The whole report I have not read. I have read the Chancellor's evidence. It is absolutely first-class and points out that he would not think of joining the exchange rate mechanism at present ; he believes that the first priority is to get inflation down. I understand that some of the Labour members of the Committee went flatly against the Labour manifesto and voted in favour of joining the exchange rate mechanism.
The following Members took and subscribed the Oath or made the affirmation required by law :
Catharine Letitia Hoey, for Vauxhall.
Michael Goodall Watson Esq., for Glasgow, Central.
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