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House of Commons

Tuesday 13 February 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


British Railways Bill

Read the Third time, and passed.

Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill



That the Committee on the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill [Lords] have power to adjourn from place to place.-- [The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Oral Answers to Questions


Women Workers

1. Mrs. Maureen Hicks : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what assessment he has made of the need to attract more women into the work force.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Howard) : It is estimated that women will take up 90 per cent. of the additional jobs that will be created between now and the year 2000. Employers will need increasingly to ensure that their work arrangements meet the needs of women.

Mrs. Hicks : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Government's dramatic attitude in recognising that women should go to sea and should become Royal Air Force pilots must act as a great inspiration to employers who have been rather reluctant to consider taking on ladies and rewarding them? With a tremendous labour shortage in prospect in the next five years, should not we now advise those employers to wake up to that great source of untapped talent, and to do all that they can to recruit and retain women workers? Finally, I ask my right hon. and learned Friend--

Mr. Speaker : Order. One question is fairer to the hon. Lady's colleagues.

Mrs. Hicks : Will my right hon. and learned Friend have a word in the ear of our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to encourage in these pre-Budget days any tax reforms that may assist women to return to work

Mr. Speaker : Order. That is too much.

Mr. Howard : I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her tireless and, indeed, ceaseless campaigning on behalf of women in work. There are more women in work in this

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country than in any other member country of the European Community. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not expect me to deal with any representations that I may or may not be making to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Ms. Abbott : Does the Secretary of State agree that although there are more women in work in Britain, for the most part they are in poor conditions and are crowded into low-paid jobs? Does he care to enlighten the House on what the Government as an employer are doing for women and, specifically, what the Civil Service is doing in the provision of workplace nurseries and arrangements for women's careers so that they can come back to work after maternity?

Mr. Howard : I do not accept for one moment the premise behind the hon. Lady's question. I shall give her one example of what the Civil Service is doing. If she examines the most recent report of the Select Committee on Employment, she will find that particular tribute is paid to the attitude of my Department to the provision of part-time work. That provision is, perhaps, the most important factor in enabling women to combine work and responsibilities to their families.

Mr. Marlow : Can my right hon. and learned Friend work out the value to the national economy, in terms of gross national product, of those married women who stay behind, look after their children and ensure that they have a decent social background and upbringing? When he has done that, will he junk all ideas of providing tax incentives for workplace nurseries and, I presume, nannies? If he is to provide tax incentives, will he provide them for the mothers who stay at home and do a decent job looking after their children?

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of the role that women who stay at home to look after their children fulfil. It must be a matter of choice for women whether they stay at home to fulfil that valuable role, combine it with work or go out to work. In response to his question about tax changes, I repeat to my hon. Friend what I said earlier.

Mr. Blair : Is not one of the major obstacles faced by women at work the absence of workplace nurseries in many parts of the country? Would not it be best to remove the tax on workplace nurseries and, therefore, the tax on women at work?

Mr. Howard : The hon. Gentleman asks me for the third time a question which, as I have already said, it would not be appropriate for me to deal with today. It is important to consider the whole range of facilities available to women who wish to go out to work or return to work, rather than concentrate unduly on a particular aspect, as the hon. Gentleman did in his question.

Mrs. Currie : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the bulk of women who stay at home to look after children are single parents, many of whom would dearly like to return to work if issues such as child care were settled? Is he aware that if we encouraged the quarter of a million single parents who are currently on benefit to return to work, the saving to the Exchequer would be over £1 billion?

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Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend will be aware of the exceptionally generous arrangements available to single parents who wish to take part in our employment training programmes. That is the key to their return to work. I hope--I am sure that she will--that my hon. Friend will give full recognition to the Government for that initiative.

Employment Training

2. Mr. John Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the take-up and retention rates on employment training schemes.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Tim Eggar) : Over 580,000 people have started employment training in little over a year. That is the biggest take-up of any adult training programme ever. People are currently spending an average of just over six months on the programme.

Mr. Evans : Will the Minister confirm that a substantial number of people who are offered employment training places drop out, frequently because the schemes are poor, under-resourced, and badly managed? In view of Britain's increasing and serious skills shortage, does he agree that a new approach is required that includes the trade unions? What is he prepared to do to persuade the trade unions to participate with him in his determination to improve skills in Great Britain?

Mr. Eggar : The key point is that 58 per cent. of people on employment training were shown in a recent survey to find jobs, to go into self-employment or further training or to go on to education when they had completed their training. Those who do not complete employment training do not have such a good record for entering jobs. The message is absolutely clear. Employment training is good quality training and if it is followed through, individuals are more likely to obtain jobs.

Mr. Butler : Does my hon. Friend agree that if Opposition Members believe in the scheme, they should have a word with Left-wing councils that refuse to co-operate on employment training?

Mr. Eggar : It is extremely regrettable that a small minority of councils, including St. Helens district council, refuse to associate themselves with employment training. That is against the interests of unemployed people in those council areas.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : Is the Minister aware that the Greater Manchester archaeological unit is about to put its ET scheme into effective liquidation? That will mean that in that city the first and second largest ET schemes will have gone out of business. Is he further aware that the reason why the scheme has failed is not poor quality management, but that the scheme is so underfunded that it is impossible to keep it financially viable? Is he aware that because take-up and retention are falling, many schemes throughout the country will go exactly the same way as that one in Manchester?

Mr. Eggar : Employment training is the best adult training programme that we have ever had in Britain. It will be taken over progressively by training and enterprise councils, which will have added flexibility to respond to local labour market conditions. That must be good for people who want good quality training when they have

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been unemployed for a time. I should be happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman in some detail about the training management to which he referred, if he so wishes.

Labour Statistics

3. Mr. Amess : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest figure for unemployment in the Basildon constituency.

Mr. Eggar : In December 1989 there were 2,509 unemployed claimants. That represents a fall of just over 15 per cent. in 12 months.

Mr. Amess : Will my hon. Friend kindly undertake to send a set of screws to the Socialist-controlled Basildon district council, so that it might restore to a prominent place the board that used to display the number of people who are out of work in Basildon, which supposedly fell down because the screws were rusty? Does my hon. Friend agree that the board could now display the excellent message that unemployment in Basildon has reduced steadily over recent years as a result of the skill and enterprise of local businesses and of the success of this Government's policies?

Mr. Eggar : I am not quite sure what the Public Accounts Committee would say about my using the departmental budget to buy screws to send to Basildon council, because my budget is devoted to training purposes. However, I certainly agree with my hon. Friend and have no doubt at all that the council should be urged to display prominently the fact that there has been a fall in unemployment of over 50 per cent. in the Basildon area since June 1987.

Mr. Speaker : I call the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, but the question is about Basildon.

Mr. Ashton : Is it not a fact that in Basildon there has been massive unemployment among estate agents in the past few years? Does the Minister agree that that is due to the collapse of the Government's housing and mortgage policies and that it will result in the unemployment of Basildon's Tory Member of Parliament at the next election?

Mr. Eggar : I bow to the hon. Gentleman's experience of estate agents.

Part-time Work

5. Mr. Michael : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment whether he will propose new measures to encourage people who are unemployed or, through a change of circumstances, become able to seek employment to take up part-time work if full-time work is not available.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls) : The Select Committee on Employment published itsreport into part-time working on 31 January. Ministers have read it with interest, and welcome the Committee's support for the concept of part-time work and its recognition of its value.

Mr. Michael : Does not that sound rather odd when the Minister reflects on the punishment experienced by people such as one of my constituents, because if somebody works for two days a week and gets paid £43 for that, he or she then loses all rights to benefits, and the rate of £43 is £13

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less than the married man's allowance and, as a weekly rate, is less than average daily pay in this country? In the light of those facts, does the Minister agree that something positive needs to be done by the Government to encourage those who want to work part time if full-time work is not available which, sadly, is still often the case for many people?

Mr. Nicholls : I accept that a number of people have seen the new £43-plus per week rule as a disincentive for part-time workers. However, the position cannot be simplified in that way. Indeed, the Select Committee's report made the point, often denied by Opposition Members, that part-time work is a valuable part of the working life of this country and that a great many people find that it fits exactly into the pattern of their lives.

Mr. Robert B. Jones : Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the opportunities for such people is self-employment? Will he therefore have discussions with his opposite number at the Treasury to find out why obstructions are so often put in the way of people becoming self-employed, including, for example, the Inland Revenue constantly reclassifying them as employed?

Mr. Nicholls : I am sure that my hon. Friend makes a valuable point in drawing to our attention yet again the role of self-employment in bringing people back into the working life of our country. I am sure that he would not expect me to say what representations I might have wanted to put to the Treasury on the matter. However, anybody who has ever been self- employed will have considerable sympathy with what prompted my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Wallace : Does the Minister agree that one of the blocks facing many women returning to either part-time or full-time work is the absence of proper nursery facilities? Will he take to heart the comments made at the weekend by his former boss, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who said that if industry should take a lead, the Government should at least give some help? What steps is the Minister taking to try to overcome that barrier facing women who are seeking to return to the labour market?

Mr. Nicholls : The hon. Gentleman speaks of one barrier--as it is seen to be by some people--to returning to work. The position is not as simple as it might seem, and there is no universal answer to the problem of the provision of proper child care facilities for those who want to return to work. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) can now enjoy being more forthcoming about his thoughts than I can.

Mr. Dickens : Does the Minister agree that during the war years, the women of this country returned to the workshop floors to produce our shells and munitions? Does he further agree that part-time work is valuable to women and that there are skill shortages? Should not we encourage more women to take those highly skilled jobs, not just medium and semi-skilled ones?

Mr. Nicholls : We must be careful that in trying to ensure that women are given a fair deal and are able to go out to work if they want, they are not made to feel second-rate citizens if they want to stay at home to look after their families in a more conventional way. I accept what my hon. Friend says, that when the demographic

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wheel goes full cycle, we must not say that our women have, once again, to leave their jobs to go back to the kitchen.

Employment Training

6. Mr. Campbell-Savours : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proposals he has for employment training in Cumbria.

Mr. Nicholls : Employment training continues to play its valuable role in helping unemployed people in Cumbria to obtain the skills and experience that they need to obtain jobs.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : There is a deep sense of concern in west Cumbria that the new training and enterprise council will be unable to provide employment training for the thousands of people who will be made redundant through the run-down of construction projects at Sellafield. We are talking about thousands of men and women. Will the Government give some assurance, because the former Secretary of State gave an undertaking at the Dispatch Box that he would look into the matter? Can something be done, because people are worried?

Mr. Nicholls : I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's concern about the redundancies that will take place in his constituency. I think that he will agree that those redundancies are due to take place over two to three years. Just before Christmas, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir. N. Fowler), the then Secretary of State, told the hon. Gentleman that he would certainly do everything that he could to ensure that a contribution was made. In any case of widespread redundancy, the full resources open to the Department of Employment can be brought to bear in particular circumstances. With employment training, although one normally has to be trained for six months, a number of flexibilities in the system can be brought to bear. The Cumbria TEC is due to be operational from April and if, by any chance, the hon. Gentleman has not yet had the opportunity to go along and make contact with it, I certainly hope that he will do so because the TEC will want to play its part.

Mr. Thurnham : Is my hon. Friend aware of the survey by Newcastle university, which showed that 15 times as many jobs were created by small firms, employing fewer than 20 people, as by large firms? Are not the Government right to focus their training schemes on the needs of small firms in Cumbria and elsewhere, rather than to attempt to boycott schemes?

Mr. Nicholls : Some truths are so universal that they apply as much to Cumbria as to other places. My hon. Friend is entirely right--self- employment can have a valuable role to play. There is a range of Government initiatives and forms of assistance to help people start up in small businesses if that is what they want to do.


7. Mr. Tom Clarke : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will estimate the number of employers providing training in Great Britain.

Mr. Howard : The latest survey carried out by my Department shows that more than 200,000 employers provided training for their employees in the year 1986-87.

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That was 80 per cent. of the total. The survey excluded firms with fewer than 10 employees, agriculture and the armed services.

Mr. Clarke : What exactly does the Minister intend to do about the one in five of Britain's employers who make no contribution to training needs and who are happy to poach on other people's efforts? Is there no strategy for training in Britain? Is that why we are doing so badly compared with our competitors?

Mr. Howard : All the signs are that the number and proportion of employers providing training has increased since that survey took place about three or four years ago. But by setting up the training and enterprise councils, which will be employer-led, to ensure that the training that is provided in their local areas is sensitive to the needs of those areas, we are setting in train an exciting initiative to secure the maximum involvement of employers in providing the training that we need.

Mr. Paice : Will my right hon. and learned Friend have a look at the system of employee contracts? It is right that an employer should invest very large sums in the training of his work force, and we all agree that that should happen, but he should be able to require employees to serve a reasonable period in order that his investment might be recouped. That is happening in some parts of the world, and it has been tried in this country. There are problems with the legal framework, but I wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend will look into the matter.

Mr. Howard : It is my impression that the existing legal framework would make possible much of what my hon. Friend wants. However, I shall certainly look at the points that he has made to see whether any adjustments are necessary.

Mr. McLeish : Why is it that, after 10 years of this Government, the recently published report of a study that was commissioned by the Government shows that 52 per cent. of all employees receive no training, 20 per cent. of employers provide no training, and 42 per cent. of employees do not think that they should receive training? What has gone so wrong that we now face a skills crisis and that the Government seem intent on walking away from it?

Mr. Howard : The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the training problems that we face are a legacy of past generations. The fact is that we are spending six times as much on training as was spent by the previous Labour Government, and that that expenditure has resulted in tremendous advances and benefits.

Mr. McLeish : We have a mountain to climb.

Mr. Howard : The hon. Gentleman is right : we have a mountain to climb. And we are climbing it.


8. Mr. Hunter : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a further statement on his policy for retraining the long-term unemployed.

Mr. Eggar : There are 207,000 people currently on employment training. Fifty-eight per cent. of those completing ET have gone into jobs, self-employment or

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further full-time training or education. Training enterprise councils, or local enterprise companies in Scotland, will be taking responsibility for employment training.

Mr. Hunter : Will my hon. Friend remind the House of the fall that there has been in the number of long-term unemployed during the past two years or so? Is not that fall clear evidence that the ET programmes are not only the largest of their kind in Europe, but the most effective?

Mr. Eggar : Yes, there has been a significant fall in long-term unemployment in this country. Indeed, the number of long-term unemployed has fallen more sharply over the past year or so than has the number of unemployed people as a whole.

Mr. Leighton : Is the Minister of State aware that in December the Training Commission told the Select Committee on Employment that 45 per cent. dropped out before getting to the training agent ; that there was a further drop-out of up to 80 per cent. before getting to the training manager ; that, of the small minority who actually started training, 70 per cent. did not complete their original action plan ; and that, of those who completed their training, 42 per cent. did not get jobs? Does the Minister agree that that shambles is a result of the fact that the programme is underfunded? Does he realise that he will not be regarded as dealing seriously with the matter unless he puts more money into the system? Under the public expenditure plans that we shall be debating today, investment is being cut. Until he improves the programme, he is not likely to be taken seriously.

Mr. Eggar : As the whole House recognises, the hon. Gentleman knows a great deal about the matter. What he failed to point out is that all the statistics that he quoted are considerably better in respect of employment training than they were either in respect of the community programme or in respect of the job training scheme. Like him--and he took evidence from officials about drop-out--we are very much aware of the problem. We are considering ways of minimising that problem in a constructive way. An investigation is going on at the moment, and I am sure that, in due course, the hon. Gentleman and his Committee colleagues will be able to see the proposals that we shall bring forward to deal with the problem to which he alludes.

Training and Enterprise Councils

9. Dr. Goodson-Wickes : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is his latest estimate of the date for completion of the TEC network.

Mr. Howard : I expect the complete training and enterprise council network in England and Wales to be in place by the end of the year. That will be two years ahead of schedule.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the combination of the completion of the TEC network with the new youth training scheme by vouchers will provide exciting new opportunities to enable Britain's youth to meet today's needs?

Mr. Howard : The councils will provide an exciting framework and exciting initiatives with or without vouchers, at which, as my hon. Friend knows, we are still looking.

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Mrs. Mahon : Is the Minister aware that many of the employers he has put in charge of the TECs are the same employers who failed to provide training in the past? How does he expect anybody to have confidence in the scheme?

Mr. Howard : I am surprised that the hon. Lady should take that attitude to the TECs, which have received a widespread welcome and are setting about their tasks with tremendous enthusiasm. We should all welcome that. They represent one of the most exciting training initiatives ever in Britain.

Mr. Rowe : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the energy and enthusiasm with which his Department has pursued new initiatives over the years, which has been copied by local authorities, has ended up with a number of employers having no clear idea whether TECs are much more important than any other initiative? Will he ensure that they are made aware of the enormous importance of getting in early on the TEC act?

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is right. We have more to do to bring home the advantages of the TECs to all concerned and I welcome his co- operation in achieving that objective.

Mr. Fatchett : Now that it is acknowledged that YTS has been a failure for a generation of young people in Britain, will the Secretary of State confirm that his Department is considering training vouchers for the 16 to 19 age group? If so, will he also confirm that those training vouchers will be under the control of the TECs, and will he give us some guarantee that their value will be sufficient to ensure that all youngsters can go on a course of their choice at a place of their choice?

Mr. Howard : The hon. Gentleman's opening remarks were a pathetic misrepresentation of the youth training scheme. I have already confirmed to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) that we are looking at the CBI's proposals for vouchers. If we decide that they represent the way forward, we shall make an announcement at the appropriate time.


10. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of the United Kingdom's gross national product is represented by tourism income.

Mr. Nicholls : The total turnover of the British tourist industry was estimated to have been £19 billion in 1988. That represented 4 per cent. of the total United Kingdom gross national product.

Mr. Greenway : How do our earnings from tourism compare with those of other countries? Will the Minister confirm that the number of jobs in tourism has risen by 20 per cent. over the past 10 years? Will he try to divert tourists from watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham palace every day to enable some of us who have never seen it to do so?

Mr. Nicholls : I should like to think that I could solve my hon. Friend's problem, but I suspect that it may be beyond me. My hon. Friend is entirely right to refer to a 20 per cent. growth in jobs in the decade to September 1989. We rank after the United States, Spain, Italy and

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France in the world league which, given the size of the United States and the more beneficial climate of the other countries, is a remarkable achievement.

Mr. Wigley : Is the Minister aware that there is a feeling in Wales that we do not maximise our attractions to overseas visitors because, unlike the tourist boards for England and Scotland, the Wales tourist board has no authority to market Wales overseas? Instead that is undertaken by the British Tourist Authority. Will he have a word with the BTA to ensure that at least by 1992 Wales has direct access to the EEC?

Mr. Nicholls : I am sure that the BTA hopes that it properly represents the United Kingdom abroad in trying to attract visitors, but I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's anxieties are made clear to the BTA.

Mr. Bill Walker : Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why tourism is such a massive earner for the United Kingdom and employs so many people is the fact that it has a long and distinguished record of providing training for its employees? The service sector needs no lessons from the Opposition on how to provide training, and the example of the whisky industry is as good an example as I can give.

Mr. Nicholls : My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. It is also one of those industries where the diversity of jobs available to those who want to work within it is absolutely endless.

Economic League

11. Dr. Moonie : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will take steps to outlaw activities such as those of the Economic League ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Nicholls : No, Sir.

Dr. Moonie : That was a typically pathetic answer. Will the Minister join us in utterly condemning the activities of organisations that seek to blacklist people for no other reason than legitimate trade union activities?

Mr. Nicholls : The hon. Gentleman is behind the times. If he cares to have a look at the matter he will find in the Employment Bill, which is presently going through Committee, that it will not be lawful after the Bill is passed to discriminate against a potential employee merely because he is a trade union member. It causes his own Front-Bench spokesmen some embarrassment because it means that they would have to support the abolition of the closed shop. That is a matter that he will have to take up with them.

Mr. Speaker : I call Mr. Tredinnick.--[ Hon. Members :-- "Oh!"] Order. I am being urged to speed up Question Time.

Labour Statistics

12. Mr. Tredinnick : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment by what percentage the numbers of those unemployed for more than five years has fallen over the past year.

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Mr. Howard : In the year to October 1989, the latest available figure, the number of claimants in the United Kingdom who had been unemployed for more than five years fell by 27 per cent.

Mr. Tredinnick : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the expansion in training prospects has been crucial in reducing the number of long-term unemployed? How can the Opposition criticise us when for every £1 that they spent on training we are spending £6?

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The training initiatives that we have taken in the past 10 years, the youth training scheme and more recently employment training, have contributed a great deal to that remarkable drop in the figure for the long-term unemployed.

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