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Mr. Fowler : In June 1989 the work force in employment in the United Kingdom was 26,343,000. This is the highest level ever in the history of this country. The figure for June 1979 was 25,365,000 so there has been an increase of nearly 1 million over the 10-year period.
Mr. Pawsey : As unemployment in Rugby is now less than 3 per cent., I cannot say that the figures that my right hon. Friend cited are particularly surprising. But does he agree that those figures vindicate the policies of his Department and of the present Government? Does he further agree that our country's economic situation is reflected in growing prosperity and an increasing number of jobs?
Mr. Fowler : I think that that is unquestioned. My hon. Friend is exactly right. He could have added that our rate of unemployment is now below that of virtually every other country in the European Community.
Mr. James Lamond : Before the Minister gets carried away with his own boasting, should he not remember that the 26 million people in employment include many hundreds of thousands--perhaps millions--who have been forced into part-time employment? They also include many hundreds of thousands who have lost good jobs--for example in the hospital cleaning services--and who have been forced by privatisation to accept longer hours, shorter holidays and much worse conditions just to get back to work.
Mr. Fowler : It would be a great pity if the hon. Gentleman sought to give the impression that part-time work somehow does not count. It may not count for him, but every survey conducted by the labour force survey has shown that nine out of 10 people in part-time employment want part-time jobs. That fact should be recognised by the Opposition. [Interruption.]
Mr. Barry Field : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the whole of the EEC means that we should proceed with the utmost caution in the adoption of the social charter, which is likely to destroy jobs rather than create them?
Mr. Fowler : The acid test of the social charter must be whether it creates jobs. We must be concerned that a number of provisions set out in the charter and the action plan add to labour costs and will therefore destroy jobs rather than create them.
Mr. McLeish : Does the Secretary of State accept that between 1979 and 1989, the employment gap between north and south has widened dramatically? Is he aware that while 1,156,000 jobs in civilian employment were created in the south, the north lost 358,000 jobs? Would he describe that as a regional policy or a regional sell-out?
Mr. Fowler : The hon. Gentleman ignores the reduction in unemployment. The position has improved steadily throughout the country and it has improved in the north and also in every region. It is a great pity that the Opposition do not acknowledge the real improvement in employment in this country.
Mr. Fowler : There has been a substantial increase of about 1.2 million since June 1979 to 3.1 million today. In other words, self- employment has undoubtedly expanded very quickly to the benefit of the public in this country.
Mr. Wardell : While thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask him to have urgent talks with the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State for Wales to ensure that there is a reduction in public expenditure in the London docklands to bail out speculative development in transport which is leading to overheating of the economy and the generation of inflationary pressures? In Wales we continue to suffer because we are the only country in the United Kingdom with an incomplete motorway in the form of the M4. That motorway has still not been completed after 10 years of this Government. Higher tolls on the Severn bridge have been proposed and funding for the road programme in Wales is to be cut as a consequence of EC funding reductions. Will the Minister stop overheating the economy in that way?
Mr. Eggar : I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman. Why did he not use the opportunity in his question to point out that unemployment in Wales has fallen by over 40 per cent. in the past two years? Why does he not talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales about the vast amount of public money that is going into the valleys initiative and the redevelopment of Cardiff?
Mr. Rowe : Does my hon. Friend accept that in Kent we are perfectly willing to share our jobs with the rest of the United Kingdom? However, one of the greatest single obstacles to achieving that will be if British Rail builds a railway line that cannot carry freight wagons of the European gauge. If that happens many firms will choose to set up in Kent because it will be too difficult to get their freight through the Channel tunnel.
Mr. Eggar : I have nothing but admiration for my hon. Friend's ability to get in questions about the rail link through his constituency and mine under almost any excuse whatsoever. I congratulate him on that.
Mr. Ron Brown : Is the Minister aware that many jobs in Scotland and the north of England will go down the shute--namely the Channel tunnel-- because the Government have put forward no guarantees on jobs?
Column 151Bearing in mind all the wheeling and dealing backed by Government, is it not an absolute disgrace that they have not come forward with any guarantees for the future of the people who matter? What is the Government's philosophy for the future? Will they say that the EC is all right or do the British people not matter?
Mr. Eggar : On 12 July this year my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that development funding had been approved for the East Lancashire TEC. The group is now working on its corporate and business plans with a view to becoming operational in April next year.
Mr. Lee : My hon. Friend will know of my support for the TEC programme in general and for the East Lancashire TEC in particular. I thank him for his answer. Given the excellent range of training facilities in north-east Lancashire, particularly at the Nelson and Colne college and the Pendle training group, where will the vital pump-priming resources come from to provide lifetime training for those in work?
Mr. Eggar : I readily acknowledge my hon. Friend's major role in the development of the policy on TECs and the way in which he has supported his own TEC. Of couse, he will want to talk to his TEC, which will want to consider how it can play a role in helping employers in his area in the development of lifetime training.
Mr. Eggar : In 1988, the latest year for which figures have been published, the net increase in the number of VAT-registered businesses was 64,000, an average of just over 1,200 per week. Since 1979, the net increase has been 285,000, an average of around 600 a week over the whole period.
Mr. Fearn : Does the Minister recognise that tourism plays an important part in those figures, which are extremely good, but that it needs help? Does he recognise that some small tourism businesses are in great difficulties because of the withdrawal of section 4 grants? Does he intend to give any more assistance to small tourist businesses?
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have my regular audience of Her Majesty the Queen.
Mr. Wood : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the reaffirmation of NATO at yesterday's meeting of Heads of Government in Brussels, and also the renewal of the United States commitment to keeping American troops and nuclear weapons in Europe?
The Prime Minister : Yes, Mr. Speaker. We had an excellent summit in Brussels yesterday, all of us reaffirming the importance of NATO for the stability and security it has brought and also welcoming the reassurance of the President of the United States that he will station significant armed forces and nuclear weapons in Europe as long as his allies wish it. We felt also that the negotiations on conventional weapons take place through the NATO pact and the Warsaw pact and that, therefore, both must continue. Altogether it was a very successful summit, and the President gave us an excellent account of his talks with Mr. Gorbachev. We welcome the changes that are taking place in eastern Europe.
Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister agree with President Bush's view that changes in eastern Europe absolutely mandate new thinking on East -West relations and on the European Community? What new changes is the right hon. Lady now making in her thinking?
The Prime Minister : At the summit yesterday, as I indicated, it was agreed that it is important to keep NATO going. Its security and the concept of NATO have been a winning combination and have been the reason for some of the changes that we are witnessing in eastern Europe. It has not been through our being weak with the Soviet Union, but through our being strong with them that we are now seeing some of the moves to freedom.
Mr. Kinnock : It will be apparent that there was neither newness nor much thinking in that answer. Is it not obvious that the Prime Minister has great difficulty in coping with the great changes that are taking place in eastern Europe? Is that not the reason, as many in her own party agree, that she is being increasingly pushed towards the margin in both the Alliance and the Community? What good does that do to our country?
The Prime Minister : Nonsense. The right hon. Gentleman was never very much in favour of NATO because he could not underwrite its nuclear deterrent, which is an essential force. Closer European integration causes us no problems. It was we who proposed the single market completion by 1992, and it was also we who implemented most of the directives. With regard to President Bush and his views on the European market, the right hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that he telephoned me shortly before I came into the House to say that his views on European integration had not changed in
Column 153any way and that there was no change in his position, which is one of full support for completion of the single market in 1992 and for an open and liberal Europe. That is what we stand for, but it is not what the right hon. Gentleman stands for.
Mr. Kinnock rose--[Interruption.]
Mr. Kinnock : Does that not provide us with an interesting insight into the Prime Minister's present thinking--if she has to receive a reassuring telephone call from the President before she can say anything?
The Prime Minister : That is absolute nonsense. If the right hon. Gentleman is reduced to making that accusation, I must remind him that he has been totally isolated on NATO for years and isolated in many ways on the European Economic Community. We are up to date. In fact, our actions have been responsible in many ways for the very good changes that we have seen.
Sir Bernard Braine : Will my right hon. Friend today give consideration to the fact that all the peoples of eastern Europe are now moving towards freedom, but the Poles are experiencing acute shortages of basic foodstuffs and medicines and people will die unnecessarily this winter unless urgent relief is sent? Since the Roman Catholic Church--thank God--in Poland has the necessary means of distribution, will my right hon. Friend order an airlift straight away?
The Prime Minister : As my right hon. Friend knows, this matter was raised both at the economic summit and at the recent Paris summit. During the last part of the current year, we have provided £60 million to purchase food and to send it to Poland. We are assured that the supplies are getting through, and more will be committed for next year. I have also been in touch with some of the voluntary organisations, and in particular with Lady Ryder of Warsaw, who has told me that the organisations are ready to let their lorries roll and to take more food into Poland. I shall be keeping in touch to see whether that is necessary. There is no shortage of money for providing the food.
Mr. Ashdown : What will the Prime Minister do to end that isolation in these last remaining days before Strasbourg, or is she determined to remain in the past and to condemn this country to a future without friends, without influence and without a role in Europe in the future?
The Prime Minister : What nonsense. The right hon. Gentleman comes out with that question almost every time like a cracked gramophone record. He is isolated if he thinks that this House would accept stage 2 or 3 of the Delors report, because it has indicated clearly that it would not. I hope that he will support us on 1992 and on the measures necessary to complete the single market. I would also hope--although I do not have very much faith--that he will support us on a liberal open-market economy.
Column 154little nationalist"? Will she emphasise that she has always advocated a sharing of responsibility and of sovereignty where that is to the clear economic advantage of all members of the European Community?
The Prime Minister : I think that this country has probably done as much as any other country in the European Community over the years for the freedom of Europe, for staunchness as allies in NATO and to move forward the Common Market. Yes, we continue to act as a sovereign country in respect of everything coming before this House. We believe that the future of Europe is best achieved through sovereign countries co-operating together rather than by trying to force us into a mould which would not fit all the countries of Europe.
Mrs. Mahon : Since this might be the last time that the Prime Minister answers questions at the Dispatch Box-- [Interruption.] -- will she tell us her proudest achievement? Is it the number of homeless? Is it the deeply unpopular poll tax or is it the image of a Government who resort to seedy bribes to get their privatisation programme through?
The Prime Minister : I shall hope to see the hon. Lady in her place on Thursday as usual, she in her position and I in mine. My proudest achievements have been bringing Britain from the decline of Socialism to the prosperity of Conservatism, spending almost half as much again in real terms on all the social services, being a staunch ally, and known to be a staunch ally, the world over and restoring the respect for Britain overseas.
Mr. Bowden : In making an assessment of the most direct and cost- effective Channel tunnel rail link between the United Kingdom and continental Europe for passengers and freight will my right hon. Friend give full consideration to the advantages of Stratford over King's Cross as the London interchange?
The Prime Minister : That will be a matter for the Chairman of the Committee which will consider the petitions against the Bill. It will be for British Rail and its joint venture partner, Eurorail, to persuade the Committee that they have made the correct choice of route and terminal.
Mr. Bidwell : Will the right hon. Lady consider dismissing the Secretary of State for Health for his gross incompetence in failing to solve the ambulance workers' dispute and for his ill-treatment of decent people?
The Prime Minister : No. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, other workers in the Health Service accepted similar offers to those that had been turned down by the ambulance service way back in April or May. Since then the ambulance workers have been offered more on an 18-months basis. I very much regret that the ambulance service is out. I am afraid it is the sick and ill who suffer.
Column 155I am glad that the ambulance service is in and operating in a number of places where it is providing accident and emergency services, but where that service is unable to do so the police and army are fulfilling its duties.
Mr. Hague : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the main pressure for the European social charter comes from trade unions and their political backers in some member states mainly because they fear that the single market is a threat to their long-established restrictive practices and their cosy co-operatives?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I agree. There are some countries that have high costs in the Community that want to saddle the rest of the Community with high costs so that those who wish to invest in the Community do not go to the lower-cost countries. Those high-cost countries call it social dumping to go to the low-cost countries. That hardly seems very communautaire to me. My hon. Friend will have seen the report that quantifies the employment prospects in this country if we adopted the social charter as presently drafted. If the minimum wages were half male average earnings it could mean that we had some 500,000 extra unemployed within three years. If the minimum wage were two thirds of average male and female earnings it could mean that about 1 million extra people would be unemployed within three years.
Mr. Wigley : In view of the impending renewed tragedy in Ethiopia will the Prime Minister give an assurance that this Christmas rich Britain will not be impervious to the plight of those people and will give a full, generous and urgent response?
The Prime Minister : I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman heard the statement by the Minister for Overseas Development who announced a further £2 million of emergency aid on 27 November. That brings the total commitment of food and emergency aid to nearly £13 million so far this year. We are in regular touch with the British voluntary organisations. The hon. Gentleman will know that one of the problems is distributing that food so that it gets to those in need and, in addition to other things, he will know of the civil war in Eritrea and Tigre.
Mr. Knowles : Does my right hon. Friend--[ Hon. Members :-- "Reading."] It is no good the Opposition being envious of Tory intellectual ability. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the sale of Rover to British Aerospace not only ensured that the company remained British, but ensured its long-term viable future?
The Prime Minister : Yes. The British Leyland-Rover group was a constant drain on the British taxpayer to the tune of £3 billion. At one stage in late 1988 its overdraft, which the Government had to guarantee, was of the order of £1.6 billion and showed little sign of going down. It is good to have got both British Leyland and Rover into the private sector, removed the burden on the taxpayer, kept the confidence of Rover and its distributors, and given its employees good prospects for the future.
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