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House of Commons

Tuesday 29 January 1991

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

PRAYERS

[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

PRIVATE BUSINESS

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I give you notice that I shall be objecting to all eight private Bills in order to encourage the Government to come forward with proposals to reform private business.

Mr. Speaker : In that case, it might be for the convenience of the House if I put all eight Bills together. [ Hon. Members :-- "Object."] In that case, I shall put them singly.

Aire and Calder Navigation Bill

Cattewater Reclamation Bill

Heathrow Express Railway

(No. 2) Bill--

Hook Island (Poole Bay) Bill

London Docklands Railway (Lewisham, etc.) Bill

London Underground

(No. 2) Bill--

Vale of Glamorgan (Barry Harbour) Bill

Killingholme Generating Stations (Ancillary Powers) Bill

[Lords]

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 31 January.


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Oral Answers to Questions

EMPLOYMENT

Training

1. Mr. Holt : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when he last discussed training with his opposite numbers in (a) Germany, (b) France and (c) Italy.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Howard) : I have met my opposite numbers in Germany, France and Italy on a number of occasions and have discussed a wide range of employment and training issues with them.

Mr. Holt : That is a marvellously bland answer. Has my right hon. and learned Friend specifically discussed with his opposite numbers on the continent why they do not have the same shortage of skilled people as we have? They have better education and training involvement, they do not have the rigid school leaving age that we have and they have a wider diversity of opportunity in education and training for their young people. Why is it, therefore, that we stick slavishly to a school leaving age of 16 and a single type of comprehensive school, resulting in a lack of opportunity for our young people?

Mr. Howard : I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was emphasising the marvellous or the bland in his original comment. The school leaving age is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. My hon. Friend will be interested to know that taxpayers--the Government--spend more on training young people in Britain than is spent in Germany, France or Japan and we are increasingly seeing the results of those efforts.

Mr. Michael J. Martin : The Secretary of State must know that every employer, particularly in engineering, is short of skilled labour because major redundancies in engineering in the past 10 years have meant that there has been no training of apprentices. Should not we take a leaf out of the Germans' book and train more apprentices, particularly adult apprentices?

Mr. Howard : We are addressing those problems and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the great effort that is being made through, in particular, the training and enterprise councils to improve the level of skills throughout our economy. Those efforts are achieving considerable success.

Mr. Anthony Coombs : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the latest European statistics show that, as a proportion of labour costs, British firms spend as much on training as do their German counterparts? We are spending in the region of £20 billion a year now on training--a dramatic increase during the past few years which shows the new emphasis being given to training in British industry.

Mr. Howard : I agree with my hon. Friend. It is noteworthy that, even in today's CBI quarterly survey, which is not in every respect a cheerful document, there is


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a healthy positive balance in the number of employers who intend to continue to increase their investment in training compared with those who do not.

Mr. McLeish : Why is there such overwhelming complacency, indifference and ambivalence in the Government's attitude to training? Why is it that, after 11 years discussing training with his European colleagues, we still do not have a coherent system of training for 16 to 19 -year-olds, the unemployed are abandoned as cash cuts hit and unemployment rises and more than 50 per cent. of employees in British industry receive no training? When will the cuts stop? When will the Government abandon voluntarism and give some leadership in the skills crisis?

Mr. Howard : The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. We have a clear and coherent training strategy and it is working well. The people who need to get their act together are the members of the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) goes round the country saying how splendid training and enterprise councils are, whereas the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) goes round saying that they are a terrible mistake.

Social Charter

2. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when he last met Commissioner Papandreou to discuss the social charter.

Mr. Howard : I met Mrs. Papandreou on 14 January to discuss the Commission's social action programme and priorities for social affairs in the Community in 1991.

Mr. Marshall : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the social charter, by imposing similar obligations across the Community, guarantees greater unemployment among poorer member states? Is he aware that the Trojan horse that is the social charter will force nearly 2 million low-paid people in the United Kingdom to pay national insurance contributions for the first time?

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to those aspects of the social action programme that would damage employment prospects and impose heavy and unacceptable burdens on employers in this country and elsewhere. That is why we are continuing to resist the proposals and our opposition is attracting increasing support from other member states.

Mr. Paice : Next time my right hon. and learned Friend meets Commissioner Papandreou, will he express the fact that, although many of us support strongly the Community's action in moving towards a single market, we greatly object to the way in which it is using that development to interfere in sectors of life that are far removed from anything to do with training matters and are properly the responsibility of the House?

Mr. Howard : There is a good deal of force in my hon. Friend's remarks--particularly his observation about the extent to which the Commission is attempting to use the treaty's single market provisions to promote proposals relating to other areas that should not be based on qualified majority voting. I have consistently made that point in the Social Affairs Council and that argument is gaining the increasing support of other member states.


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Mr. Tony Lloyd : The Secretary of State cannot have it both ways. Obviously, he vehemently opposed the social charter in every jot. We now learn that he accepts half of it--and in particular that he is prepared to support the action programme for women. Survey after survey shows that the biggest handicap confronting women in the workplace is meeting their child care obligations and matching them to their work. Given that child care facilities in this country are as bad as anywhere in Europe, what will the Government do to promote adequate child care and flexible working hours so that the nation can benefit from the resource of women back at work?

Mr. Howard : We have always made it clear that we would examine all the proposals in the social action programme on their merits, and we have done so from the start. I am astonished to hear the hon. Gentleman ask for flexible working hours to help women who want to work, when Labour has adopted an entirely uncritical attitude to the programme, which includes proposals that would impose the most stringent limits on part-time working. That would prove much more burdensome for employers and sharply reduce the opportunities to work available to women. The hon. Gentleman should adopt a more consistent approach.

Tourism

3. Mr. Speller : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he will take to encourage the growth of employment in the tourism industry.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Robert Jackson) : In 1990, the tourism industry employed 1.4 millionpeople--25 per cent. more than in 1981. The numbers of self-employed people in the industry grew by 17 per cent. between 1981 and 1989. The Government will continue their substantial financial support for tourism and the industry must also play its part by negotiating realistic pay settlements.

Mr. Speller : Given curent international events, does my hon. Friend agree that this will probably be the last year ever for the British tourist, hotel and catering industries to promote an increase in the number of holidays taken in this country and to seek to attract back to Britain the many holidaymakers who, for many reasons, good or bad, have chosen in the past to holiday overseas? Does my hon. Friend further agree that there must be more investment if Britain is to offer holidaymakers the best value for money anywhere in Europe?

Mr. Jackson : I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important to take advantage of the situation, even though it is rather grave on the tourism front because of the impact of the Gulf war. The promotional efforts to which he referred are important and there is a real challenge to encourage home tourists to make more use of facilities here. The timing of the promotion is of the essence, but it is for the industry, in conjunction with the British tourist authorities, to decide how to do it.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Is the Minister aware that many small independent travel agents are expressing deep concern about employment prospects for their employees as a result of the crisis to which he referred? Will the Government be taking any steps to reassure them that


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their jobs will not be lost as a result of the problem, perhaps through increased advertising to encourage people to visit this country in the coming year?

Mr. Jackson : The position is serious, but it affects us all. The Government are well aware of the terrorist threat to this country. Excellent security arrangements are in place and we are intensifying them. I pay tribute to the people involved in enforcing those arrangements. However, we must try to sustain a spirit of business as usual and it is for the industry to look after itself.

Mr. Simon Coombs : Will my hon. Friend examine ways in which the Government can help to spread tourism so as to increase the possibility of employment in the industry in parts of the country other than those currently benefiting from it? Does he recognise that there is some concern in towns such as Bath, Cambridge and Oxford, which already attract a substantial number of tourists? Does he recognise the case for trying to promote tourism in other parts of the country which do not have as many tourists?

Mr. Jackson : I agree with my hon. Friend, but, as he knows, recently there was a review of such matters and various institutional changes were made. It is Government policy to encourage diversification and the spread of the opportunities represented by tourism.

Labour Statistics

4. Mr. Campbell-Savours : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many people are employed in the north-west region.

Mr. Jackson : In September 1990 the civilian work force in employment in the north-west stood at 2,890,000, which was an increase since 1983 of 14 per cent. or about 366,000 new jobs.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Can I have a straight answer to a simple question, with no waffling and no misrepresentation of statistics? Have high interest rates and the high rate of sterling at entry into the European exchange rate mechanism damaged employment prospects in the north- west of England and the county of Cumbria? Are those two factors contributing to escalating unemployment? If the Minister is willing to concede that they are, what special measures can he now introduce to deal with the problems in the north-west of England? What is he going to do?

Mr. Jackson : I understood that entry into the ERM was Opposition policy. It is common ground among the parties in the House that inflation has to be brought down. Although there is some argument about how one achieves that, I think that everyone accepts that a consequence of any policy to reduce inflation is that the economy will slow down. We have to live with that, but we must try to ensure that the rise in unemployment is minimised. We must also look carefully at wage settlements to ensure that unions and employees do not demand too much and that employers do not award wages that are unsustainable by the business.

Mr. Butler : Is my hon. Friend aware that 150 jobs at the nuclear construction facility at Daresbury are threatened because of the ever- escalating contributions to CERN--the centre for European nuclear research? Will he have a


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word with his colleagues at the Department of Education and Science to ensure that we do not continue to export jobs because of grandiose European ventures?

Mr. Jackson : This matter relates more to my previous responsibilities than to my present ones. I note what my hon. Friend says and I will draw the attention of my colleagues in the Department of Education and Science to his remarks. However, it is rather an over- simplification to say that it is a choice between CERN and Daresbury. There are important European facilities, which involved Daresbury, at the Institut Laue Langevin in Grenoble. My hon. Friend is using over-simplistic terms.

Mr. Alton : Has the Minister noted the complaint made to the Merseyside chamber of commerce that the uniform business rate has cost industry and enterprise in the north-west and the midlands an additional £520 million this year? Does he agree that that has placed a downward pressure on jobs in the region? What measures will he take to protect small businesses and industries during the recession?

Mr. Jackson : I am surprised by what the hon. Gentleman says about the impact of the uniform business rate in the north-west. Let me repeat that the key to the problem of unemployment is the attitude of employers and employees to wage settlements. We must all work together to ensure that unemployment is minimised through the achievement of reasonable settlements.

Mr. Dunn : Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Opposition and the truth have been strangers for years? Will he also confirm that there are more jobs in the north-west--as there are in Britain as a whole--than there have been for many years?

Mr. Jackson : My hon. Friend is absolutely right : the national figures show a substantial increase in the rate of employment in Britain. Workplace Accidents

5. Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment whether the Government propose to take any new initiatives to reduce the number of workplace accidents.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Eric Forth) : Primary responsibility for maintaining and improving healthand safety in the workplace rests with employers and others. The Health and Safety Commission's regulatory and the Executive's enforcement roles are complemented by their giving guidance and advice to stimulate employers and others to act to raise standards. Their current priorities for action are set out in their plan of work for 1990-91 and beyond, which the Secretary of State helped to launch in July last year.

Mr. Pike : Does the Minister accept that the Government are guilty of gross negligence in regard to safety at work? If he studies the article in The Guardian of 24 November which deals with the tragic death of George Kenyon at Holt Plastics in Haslingden, he will learn that, in 1988-89, there were 697 deaths at work and nearly 200,000 serious injuries. Since 1981, there has been a massive increase in the number of accidents and a


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reduction of over 900 in the number of inspectors. Is not it time that the Government did something to reduce that appalling figure?

Mr. Forth : Let me make it clear that I make a practice of never studying articles in The Guardian : I therefore cannot comment on the article to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong in every respect. First, the Health and Safety Commission has told us that it has the resources for which it asked, and is therefore well able to deal with workplace accidents--which it does very competently and professionally. Secondly, the House should not be misled by what the hon. Gentleman said about that tragic incident. As I am sure he knows, it resulted in charges of manslaughter and, indeed, a manslaughter conviction. The charges were brought jointly by the Health and Safety Executive and the Crown prosecution service.

The rate of fatal accidents at work has fallen consistently throughout the 1980s. That, surely, is cause for tribute to be paid to the work of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive rather than for the sort of ill- informed criticism that we heard from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Madel : In view of certain horrific accidents that took place last year, will the Health and Safety Commission introduce new regulations governing the transport of hazardous substances on the roads?

Mr. Forth : That is a matter for the commission and one of which it is well aware. It will be working constantly--as it already does--across the whole area of health and safety to ensure that the existing regulations are appropriate to current developments and that its resources and policies ensure the maximum safety of people in the workplace and between workplaces.

Mr. Beggs : Does the Minister accept that accidents are caused by either carelessness or negligence? Will he encourage the placing of more emphasis in schools on the need for improved care and safety practices among young people who are about to go into industry? Will he also encourage employers to allocate funds for training, so that more individuals with health and safety qualifications are employed in industry?

Mr. Forth : The hon. Gentleman makes an important point : that although carelessness and negligence are the main contributory factors, accidents are caused, at least in part, by lack of information and awareness among both employers and workers about the need for safety. The Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive have produced a number of excellent publications. They work with trade associations and industry to ensure that everyone is fully informed about the requirements of safety in the workplace and of the regulatory framework within which they must operate. That is something of which we are well aware and constant attention is devoted to it. I shall certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman's recommendations to my colleagues at the Department of Education and Science so that we may ensure that schools, too, are made aware of the need for safety.


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Gulf War

6. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what circulars he has issued to his local offices in relation to employment policy and recruitment for service in the Gulf.

Mr. Howard : Local offices of the employment service have been issued with guidance covering the employment rights of members of the reserve forces on discharge to civilian life. No other guidance has been issued in relation to service in the Gulf.

Mr. Dalyell : What role has the Minister's Department played in the devising of conscription forms? What is departmental thinking on the proposition, which is extremely unacceptable to many hon. Members, that 18 to 25-year-old unemployed males should be conscripted first?

Mr. Howard : There is no question whatever of introducing conscription, nor is there any need to do so. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that during the past few weeks recruitment offices have been inundated with volunteers.

Mr. Andrew MacKay : Will my right hon. and learned Friend allow me to take this opportunity to commend those British civilians who are serving in the Gulf and ensuring the success of the war effort? Their courage at this vital time should not be forgotten.

Mr. Howard : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to pay tribute to all our citizens in the Gulf--civilians as well as those in the armed forces.

Mr. Bill Walker : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is a matter of considerable pride in the United Kingdom that our forces are made up of professionals, backed by adequate numbers of volunteer reservists and auxiliaries, and that there is no shortage of people coming forward to serve our country and the United Nations in the Gulf?

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The performance of our forces in the Gulf, regulars and reservists, has won the admiration of the whole world.

Mr. Ron Brown : If conscription becomes necessary, do not the young people of this country have a democratic right to refuse to accept their draft papers? Even if the Government believe to the contrary, do not they have that democratic right?

Mr. Howard : As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), there is no question of introducing conscription. The hon. Gentleman's questions, therefore, simply do not arise.

Mr. Conway : Will my right hon. and learned Friend congratulate companies that have enabled reservists to respond to the call to serve in the Gulf, particularly the health authorities that have allowed medical reservists to go there? Will he assure the House that no stone will be left unturned to ensure that their job security is maintained after the war has ended?

Mr. Howard : I am happy to give that assurance to my hon. Friend and the House. The Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985 entitles reservists to return to their jobs after full-time service.


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Manufacturing Employment, Leeds

7. Mr. Battle : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what was the level of manufacturing employment in Leeds during 1990.

Mr. Jackson : I am afraid that the most recent census of employment that we have is for September 1987. It gives the estimates for local areas. In that month, 68,200 employees were employed in manufacturing industries in the Leeds travel-to-work area.

Mr. Battle : Is the Minister aware that those figures represent a real decline in the manufacturing base of the city of Leeds? Is he also aware that the recession is hitting hard the printing, engineering and textile industries--so much so that Leeds chamber of commerce predicts that a quarter of Leeds firms will make people redundant in the next three months? What action does his Department intend to take to reverse the elimination of the manufacturing base of Leeds? In particular, I ask the Minister to reopen the only jobcentre in west Leeds. That jobcentre is desperately needed, but it was closed last year by his Department.

Mr. Jackson : We have already had some discussion on the implications of the recession and I have given advice about how unemployment could be kept down, at a time when economic activity is inevitably falling back, by looking more carefully at wage settlements. The hon. Gentleman asked about jobcentres in his constituency. There is, of course, the proposed Horsforth jobcentre and I shall certainly have another look at the jobcentres in his constituency. I know that there has been extensive correspondence about the matter in the past.

Mr. Batiste : Is it not true that if the Government had heeded the Labour party's advice last year to slash the defence industry, not only would our troops in the Gulf be less well-equipped but many manufacturing jobs of the highest quality in Leeds would be lost, including many at the Challenger tank factory?

Mr. Jackson : My hon. Friend is right. We would have been further embarrassed in the military operations in the Gulf. The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) would do well to study the implications of what my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) said.

Health and Safety Executive

8. Mr. Eastham : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions he has had about resourcing difficulties with the Health and Safety Executive.

Mr. Forth : The Government have once again met in full the Health and Safety Commission's request for funds for 1991-92. The commission's chairman, Dr. Cullen, has recently written to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State indicating that the available resources will enable the commission to take forward its programme of work.

Mr. Eastham : Will the Minister consider the serious disasters taking place throughout the country, the extra responsibilities that the Health and Safety Executive is given for North sea oil rigs, rivers and railways and the fact that it reported to the Select Committee on Employment


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recently that the Treasury is providing inadequate funds with inadequate inflation factors to add to its budget? Will he also consider the important factor reported to the Committee that the Health and Safety Executive is unable to man the appropriate law facilities and is unable to cope with enforcing the law?

Mr. Forth : I must confess that my reading of the evidence given to the Select Committee on Employment does not coincide with that of the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps we should both re-study the record to see what was said. As I said in my original reply, the chairman of the commission has said that he believes that the resources are adequate for the great responsibilities of the commission and the executive. Our record on health and safety bears that out. It is a record of which we are proud and it is one of the best in the European Community. Of course, we always look at any case that is made for additional resources. We have said that the transfer of responsibilities after the Cullen report will not cause a lack of resources. I cannot square the record or Dr. Cullen's evidence with what the hon. Gentleman has suggested.

Mr. Burns : So that there is no misunderstanding on this important issue, will my hon. Friend confirm that his Department has met in full for the next financial year the Health and Safety Commission's request for funding?

Mr. Forth : Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend is correct and I am grateful to him for emphasising that point. I cannot stress enough the high regard that we have for the work of the commission and the executive and the great lengths to which we go to ensure that they have the resources that they require and for which they ask. I hope that that will continue.

Factory Inspections

9. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will list the number of factories and other places of work which have not been inspected by factory inspectors for three, five, seven, nine and 11 years ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Forth : As the reply contains detailed statistics I shall, with permission, arrange for it to be printed in the Official Report. The figures include many premises that have a low inspection rating based on inspectors' judgment of risks, site standards and management control. In addition, these premises also include those that have been visited for other purposes such as the investigation of an accident or complaint.

Mr. Bennett : Does the Minister accept that the level of fatalities and accidents in British industry is still far too high? He said in answer to an earlier question that it is important to make workers and employers conscious of the problems of safety at work and that one of the best ways of ensuring that is to have regular inspections.

Mr. Forth : Indeed, the hon. Gentleman is correct. We share the view that accident levels are always too high. The number of health and safety inspectors has increased in the past year or two and a carefully planned series of visits and inspections is carried out by the Health and Safety Executive. Work is continuing, and will always continue, to find more and better ways of ensuring that awareness of


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safety requirements in the workplace is improved and that our health and safety record, which is already very good by international camparison, continues to improve. That is our aim.

Following is the information :


There are 493,035 fixed premises registered with the Health    

and                                                            

Safety Executive's factory inspectorate (FI). The following    

table                                                          

shows the number of fixed premises registered with FI and      

recorded                                                       

as not having received a planned inspection within the last    

three, five,                                                   

seven, nine and eleven years:                                  

Number of years      |Number of premises                       

since last inspected |not inspected                            

---------------------------------------------------------------

3                    |247,713                                  

5                    |187,971                                  

7                    |158,980                                  

9                    |95,606                                   

11                   |69,564                                   

Labour Statistics

10. Mr. Pawsey : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the level of unemployment in the United Kingdom ; and what are the comparable figures for all the other European Community states.

Mr. Howard : The United Kingdom has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the European Community and the United Kingdom rate is well below the European average. Unemployment is higher in Spain, Ireland, Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Greece. With permission, I shall publish the detailed figures in the Official Report.

Mr. Pawsey : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that typically helpful and detailed reply. Does he agree that it enables us to put the United Kingdom's unemployment figures into the European perspective? Does he further agree that it strikes a favourable comparison with Europe?

Mr. Howard : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We can put the figures in perspective by remembering that there are now 2 million more people at work than there were when the Government took office in 1979.

Mr. Leighton : Does the Secretary of State recall the letter that he sent me dated 15 January, in which he said that between 1979 and 1988 employment in the United Kingdom increased by 1.9 per cent., whereas in the European Community it increased by 3.5 per cent.--virtually double the increase in this country? He should not be complacent about unemployment as in the three months to September it rose on average by 17,000. In the three months to January it rose by 57,000--an increase of 300 per cent.--and more than 200,000 male workers have lost their jobs since March. The CBI now tells us that we are on the verge of an unemployment disaster because of the recession. Should not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think of reducing interest rates to get us out of the recession before there is a huge increase in unemployment?

Mr. Howard : We should never be complacent about unemployment, but the European figures to which the hon. Gentleman referred show that between 1983 and 1988 almost twice as many jobs were created in this country as


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in the rest of the Community put together. We regret that unemployment is increasing, but more than half those who enter unemployment leave it within three months.

Mr. Favell : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the reasons why our unemployment levels are so favourable, compared with other EEC countries, is that our labour relations are much more flexible than most of theirs, including Germany? Is not the quickest way of achieving that awful word "convergence" to adopt the social charter?

Mr. Howard : I agree with my hon. Friend. The number of disputes in this country is the lowest for 60 years, which is a tribute to the Government's employment legislation. The surest way of worsening our employment record would be to introduce legislation increasing the number of strikes, as proposed by the Labour party.

Mr. Blair : With unemployment rising in every region of the country, every sector of industry and every occupation, what pride does the Secretary of State take in presiding over this unique combination--the fastest rising unemployment of any major industrial country, acute skill shortages and proposed cuts in the Department's budget for training the unemployed?


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