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House of Commons

Tuesday 7 July 1992

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) (No.

4 ) Bill-- [Lords]

As amended, considered ; to be read the Third time.

Price's Patent Candle Company Limited Bill

[Lords] As amended, considered ; to be read the Third time.

Greater Nottingham Light Rapid Transit Bill


That the Committee on the Greater Nottingham Light Rapid Transit Bill have leave to visit and inspect the site of the proposed works, and any sites which have been proposed as alternatives, provided that no evidence shall be taken in the course of such visit and that any party who has made an appearance before the Committee be permitted to attend by his Counsel, Agent or other representative.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

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Oral Answers to Questions


Industrial Action

1. Mr. Day : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what measures the Government are considering to enable action to be taken against unlawful industrial action.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : We intend to give people who are denied goods or servicesbecause of unlawful industrial action a new right to go to court to have it stopped.

Mr. Day : Does my hon. Friend agree that the measure to which he referred will greatly improve industrial relations in this country? Does he also agree that it will help us to attract even more inward investment into this country?

Mr. Forsyth : I agree with my hon. Friend. The effect of our step-by -step approach to the reform of industrial relations has seen this year the lowest number of days lost through strike action ever recorded. My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of that in respect of inward investment. We in this country enjoy 62 per cent. of United States investment into the European Community and more than 40 per cent. of Japanese investment. That is a testimony to the success of the Government's policies in that area.

Mr. Ashton : Is the Minister aware that if the French Government had taken the lorry drivers to court, they would be out on strike for another week? Is he aware that unofficial action is best settled by negotiations and not by the kind of violence that we saw during the miners' strike, the poll tax riots in Trafalgar square and the incidents that we saw at Wapping? Negotiation is the best way to settle any industrial dispute.

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the law in France is, in many respects, far tougher than the law in this country. He must not tempt me down that path. I agree with him that negotiation is always the best way to resolve disputes. They should not result in industrial action. The success of the Government's policy has been to avoid industrial action by creating a climate in which the unions have been given back to their members and are no longer subject to the whims of the trade union barons from whom the Labour party seems keen to distance itself.

Skillcheck Scheme

2. Mr. Hawkins : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what progress has been made with the skillcheck scheme.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin) : The consultative document, which the White Paper "People, Jobs and Opportunity" promised, has been issued and will be discussed with representatives of training and enterprise councils and other interested parties in the next month.

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Mr. Hawkins : Does my hon. Friend agree that in addition to the progress of the skillcheck scheme, it is right to welcome the development of the national training targets as an example of the combination of thinking from training and education leaders and business leaders in the community? The achievements of those targets is well worth while and will be helped by the development of training agencies such as Beneast in my constituency.

Mr. McLoughlin : We are doing a considerable amount to encourage the attainment of those targets. My hon. Friend rightly identified the importance that the Government attach to them. They are not Government targets, but they are targets to which we subscribe.

Training Expenditure

3. Mr. Alan W. Williams : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the Government's expenditure on training for 1992-93.

Mr. McLoughlin : The Government expect to spend £2.7 billion on training, enterprise and vocational education in 1992-93.

Mr. Williams : Will the Minister comment on the report in The Sunday Times that the Government, because of their problems with public expenditure, are considering scrapping payments of up to £35 a week to young people on the youth training scheme?

Mr. McLoughlin : The hon. Gentleman should not believe everything that he reads in The Sunday Times.

Sir Dudley Smith : Is it not a fact that, irrespective of expenditure, the quality of training has improved immeasurably in the past five years?

Mr. McLoughlin : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is quite right. We attach great importance to training and to the results that people who take training courses achieve at the end of them. Obviously, we must ask a number of questions. I am satisfied that youth training fulfils an important role for young people.

Mr. Steinberg : Is the Minister aware that, this year, Durham training and enterprise council has invested about £1 million and at the same time has drastically cut training for special needs? Does he agree that that is absolutely disgraceful, and will he make representations to Durham TEC to put that right?

Mr. McLoughlin : I know that Durham TEC will meet its youth training guarantee, and the Government are determined that that should be done. It is for a local TEC to decide its operation. If the hon. Gentleman has a specific complaint, obviously I will look at it and take it up with the relevant TEC.

Employment Action

4. Mr. Clifton-Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what support the trade unions are offering in the employment action programme.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : I regret to say that the Trades Union Congress voted last September to oppose employment action. [Interruption.] That is a programme

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which helps the unemployed to maintain their skills while undertaking temporary work which is of benefit to the whole community.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : Is my hon. Friend aware that progress by the National Association of Local Government Officers and other unions is destroying employment action projects in Cirencester and Tewkesbury? Does he agree that the Opposition's criticisms would be better directed at their trade union friends and not at the Government, who are fully committed to doing everything that they possibly can to create as many jobs as possible?

Mr. Forsyth : I was aware of the difficulties that have been created with Gloucestershire county council in respect of programmes under employment action. I hope that the whole country will have heard Opposition Members' cheers at the decision by the TUC to boycott a programme which is geared to helping people who are unemployed and helping communities by providing projects of that kind. I hope also that Opposition Members will recognise that the Transport and General Workers Union, which sponsors the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), also voted at its previous conference to boycott youth training and employment training. So let us have no more humbug from Opposition Members that they are concerned about those programmes.

Mr. Flynn : Does the Minister agree that we had community programmes which provided jobs that were worth while to the community at reasonable wages, then we had employment training, which provided work with no wages but some training, but that employment action is a combination of the worst features of both, combining no training with no wages? Employment action is not a new idea : it is a very old idea--called slavery.

Mr. Forsyth : That is one of the silliest questions that I have heard in the House. The hon. Gentleman should know that people on employment action are paid benefit plus £10. Exactly the same applies to those on employment training. The hon. Gentleman does a great disservice to the many thousands of people who are engaged in running those programmes to help the unemployed with considerable success and distinction.

EC Working Time Directive

5. Sir Fergus Montgomery : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what further discussions she has had with her EC counterparts on the proposed 48-hour-week directive.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mrs. Gillian Shephard) : I last met my European Community counterparts to discuss the 48-hour working week and other matters on 24 June at the Social Affairs Council.

Sir Fergus Montgomery : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the working time proposals challenge the concept of subsidiarity? Does she intend to challenge that directive in the European Court?

Mrs. Shephard : The Government have always made it absolutely clear that they see no need for that directive. We do not want that directive. I remind my hon. Friend that

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there is no directive, but if there should be a directive we would certainly reserve the right to challenge its legal base in the European Court.

Mr. Stevenson : Is the Secretary of State prepared to tell the House whether she discussed with her counterparts in the European Community the fact that workers in this country who are involved in perfectly legitimate industrial action can be sacked arbitrarily and that this is the only European Community country in which that disgraceful situation pertains? What action is she prepared to take about the situation?

Mrs. Shephard : It is absolutely clear that such directives, which impose unnecessary burdens on the labour market, are the worst possible solution for employers and employees.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : My right hon. Friend is aware that an exellent firm called Celtech in my constituency works four 12-hour day shifts, followed by four days off, followed by four 12-hour night shifts. If the directive came into operation the workers could voluntarily opt out of the 48-hour provision, but could they opt out of the provisions which forbid such long night shifts? That is extremely important. I have spoken to the staff and they like working those hours. They like the system, the industry likes it, and it does a good job.

Mrs. Shephard : My hon. Friend is right to stress that workers in Britain like the flexibility that our labour market affords them, and that they appreciate the opportunity to work more than 48 hours a week if they so choose. Rest periods and shifts would be controlled by reference periods and there is considerable flexibility therein.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : After the recent Council of Ministers meeting, the Secretary of State told the world that she had made no concessions, but will she confirm that when the directive comes through it will establish the principle of a 48-hour maximum working week, of minimum rest breaks and of minimum holiday entitlement? In those circum-stances, will she respond to the question put by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) as to whether she intended to take legal action against the directive? Or is it simply huff and puff?

Mrs. Shephard : Perhaps I can repeat to the hon. Gentleman what I said as he does not appear to have heard me. There is no directive. I have made it clear, and I make it clear again this afternoon, that we do not see a need for a directive. We do not want a directive. That is still the case. We reserve the right to challenge it, if and when a directive is adopted. Faced with proposals subject to qualified majority voting, which the United Kingdom could not block on its own, we had to do what we could to improve the proposed directive and to prevent its most damaging effects on employers and employees. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) and his hon. Friends would welcome those effects. We were successful in improving the directive.

Mr. Nicholls : Did my right hon. Friend note that it was urged on her a moment ago that it should be impossible to dismiss strikers for being on strike? Will she confirm that that position is so extreme that it was not adopted even by previous Labour Administrations?

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Mrs. Shephard : I agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, the assertions made by Opposition Members in respect of the directive, other labour market matters and industrial action defy description.

Wages Councils

6. Mrs. Fyfe : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what are her plans concerning the future of wages councils.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : The Government have made it clear on many occasions that the wages councils have no permanent place in the labour market.

Mrs. Fyfe : Are not the Government in fact planning to rid themselves entirely of wages councils? How does the Minister reconcile the withdrawal of such little protection as is afforded by wages councils with the fantastic salaries that the heads of the formerly nationalised industries award themselves? How do those two things combine to achieve a country at ease with itself?

Mr. Forsyth : The Government's position is clear. Wages should be negotiated between employers and employees, based on productivity, profitability and the firm's ability to provide the wages which are the subject of the negotiation. They should not be set centrally by the Government or Government bodies. The hon. Lady will recall that in the recent general election the Opposition proposed a national wage. They were soundly defeated because most people recognised that it would cost between 1 million and 2 million jobs.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : Will my hon. Friend confirm that we have not had a national wage? Will he say how many wages councils there are? Has employment increased or fallen in those industries that have given up wages councils? Has he done a survey of small employers, who often find that it is of some help to have wages set by wages councils because it provides a way of finding a just level of pay for their employees?

Mr. Forsyth : I shall try to deal with all five questions. There are 26 wages councils. My hon. Friend is right to point to the falling numbers of people employed in many of the wages council industries. Some of them have names which reflect the turn of the century, such as the ostrich, fancy feather and artificial flower wages council. The flax and hemp wages council and others have disappeared. My hon. Friend is right to stress that, for the rest of this century and for the 21st century, the way forward is for wages to be negotiated according to employers' ability to pay, and reflecting local circumstances.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce : Does the Minister accept that in such areas employers frequently ask that wages councils should be maintained, to protect them from unfair competition as well as to protect their work forces? Would not the Government's determination to retain the right for Britain to have its own labour market conditions ring a little more true to the unemployed and those with poor conditions if there were any evidence that the Government were prepared to do anything to guarantee the rights of the low paid?

Mr. Forsyth : The Government's record on the low paid is second to none-- [Interruption.] We have taken measures through the social security system to maintain

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the income coming into the family home. If the hon. Gentleman cares to study the facts on wages councils, he will find that many people covered by them are second wage earners. Unemployment is the greatest cause of poverty, and statutory minimum wages destroy jobs and put people on the dole.

Mr. Patrick Thompson : Is my hon. Friend aware that increasing numbers of employers are becoming more concerned about the operations of the wages councils? Will he also confirm that, in so far as the councils set minimum wage levels, their operations often lead to the destruction of jobs--a fact which seems to have escaped Opposition Members before and since the election?

Mr. Forsyth : I agree with my hon. Friend. He will recall that when we removed young people from the scope of the wages councils. Opposition Members predicted that it would result in falling wage levels. On the contrary, it has not and there is no evidence to sustain such a view. I repeat the point that I have tried to get across to Opposition Members-- there is no point in giving people a minimum wage if the consequence is that they have no jobs.

Mr. Blair : Will the Minister answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe)? How does he justify abandoning all forms of protection against poverty pay for the 2.5 million people who work in pubs, hotels and shops throughout the country--there are thousands in every constituency--who will lose hundreds of pounds a year and more if wages councils go? How does he justify that, when the chairmen of the utilities that the Government privatised are paying themselves telephone-figure salaries out of monopoly profits while he and his hon. Friends do nothing?

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman is talking poppycock. He knows perfectly well that about two thirds of the people covered by wages councils are paid more than the minimum wage set by those councils. That is an expensive, bureaucratic anachronism, which the Government have made clear has no permanent place in the labour market.

Employment, Greater London

7. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many new jobs she estimates have been created in the Greater London area since 1979 ; and if she will make a statement.

Mr. McLoughlin : I am afraid that the information that my hon. Friend requests is not available.

Mr. Greenway : Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the 1,000 jobs which will shortly come on stream at the Tesco development on the former Hoover site in Perivale in my constituency? Will he ensure that the employment services are geared to help people to get jobs on that site, which we have worked so hard for so long to obtain, and elsewhere in my constituency in Ealing and in greater London?

Mr. McLoughlin : I am pleased to hear of the jobs being created in my hon. Friend's constituency. I assure him that the employment service will do all that it can to help to recruit for that company if the company asks it to do so.

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Mr. Gapes : Does the Minister agree that unemployment in London continues to rise week by week and day by day? Does he accept that the Government are responsible for that? Is it not time that they stopped saying that they can do nothing about it and started to take action to put people back to work?

Mr. McLoughlin : The Government believe that one way of ensuring that employment rises is to conquer inflation, which we have taken action to do. That follows the point made by the noble Lord Callaghan that high inflation leads to high unemployment.

Mr. Wilkinson : Does my hon. Friend agree that even more important than curbing inflation--important though that undoubtedly is--is the necessity to get real interest rates down substantially and fast? Will that not be the best help for small businesses, and the construction industry in particular, to offer the people of London real hope of increased employment, which is so urgently needed in the capital?

Mr. McLoughlin : My hon. Friend will realise that that is a matter not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I shall ensure that my hon. Friend's comments are drawn to his attention.

Mr. McLeish : When will the Government come clean on their employment record? Why, in December 1991, were there 191,000 fewer people in work in Britain than in 1979? More importantly, in the 18 months to December 1991, why did Germany, France, Portugal, Spain and Italy have an employment growth--

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman should restrict his question to the Greater London area since 1979.

Mr. McLeish : Why, relative to the employment growth in Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy and France of 912,000 in 18 months to December 1991, was there a drop in the number of people in employment in London between December 1981 and December 1991? After 13 years, cannot the House and the country expect the Government to be taking employment seriously?

Mr. McLoughlin : What the Government are not prepared to do is to take lectures or sermons from the Opposition. We put our record to the test not so long ago. The Opposition put their proposals to the test ; they were rejected by the electorate and ours were endorsed.


8. Mr. Amess : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if she will set out her Department's latest training initiative in Essex and Basildon.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The Essex training and enterprise council, with the Government, is playing a major role in helping people in Essex to get and keep their jobs.

Mr. Amess : Is my right hon. Friend aware that last month I had the honour to open the Basildon job club, which has already been successful in securing jobs for a number of my constituents? Does my right hon. Friend agree that such job clubs have a vital role to play in

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enabling my constituents who have been long- term unemployed to gain the confidence to return to the job market?

Mrs. Shephard : I congratulate my hon. Friend on his continuing concern for his now famous constituency, and I am delighted that he had the pleasure and honour of opening the Basildon job club. Job clubs do a very good job in getting people back to work as fast and effectively as possible. Nearly half the people who attend job clubs go from them into employment, and I am glad to say that this year we have 220,000 places in job clubs.

Mr. Mackinlay : Will the Secretary of State reflect on the fact that the training initiative for Essex will be irrelevant unless she stops the haemorrhaging of jobs throughout Essex? In particular, will she consider the need for training initiatives to meet the redundancies of Marconi workers in Chelmsford and the hundreds of workers facing redundancy at Ford's in Aveley and Dunton? What does she intend to do to stop the unemployment, particularly in Basildon where it has exceeded 160 per cent. in two years?

Mrs. Shephard : I think that it has escaped the hon. Gentleman's notice, and that of many of his hon. Friends, that the Opposition's economic policies would do nothing but increase unemployment. The only way to create lasting employment is to pursue a policy of low inflation, as this Government are doing.

The hon. Gentleman asked a specific question about what the Government were doing to help people back into jobs. Obviously, he was not listening to my previous answer, but I shall tell him what we are doing. There are increased targets for the employment service and there are 100,000 more places on employment and training programmes this year than last year, making almost 1 million in all. The effectiveness of the measures described by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) should also appeal to the hon. Gentleman if he is actually thinking of getting his constituents back to work as quickly and as effectively as possible.

Dr. Spink : Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people from Castle Point, including many from Canvey island, have to travel to beautiful Basildon to get training and further education? While Basildone does an excellent job for my people, should not provision for those services be made on Canvey island for its people? My right hon. Friend may be aware that there is not a single further education place available on Canvey island.

Mrs. Shephard : I am delighted to hear my hon. Friend's plea for his beautiful constituency. Until such places are provided, I feel sure that his constituents will benefit from the excellent service described by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon.

Mr. Blair : On a point of information, will the right hon. Lady tell us--I believe that her Department now has this information--how many young people in Essex and in Britain are waiting for a training place?

Mrs. Shephard : I do not have that information, but I shall remind the hon. Gentleman of the answer that I gave when we last had employment questions. I said that there were sufficient resources to provide youth training places for all young people and that resources need not be a

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problem to training and enterprise councils. I also said that the machinery for providing those places and for cutting down queues should not fail young people.

I am delighted to tell the hon. Gentleman that I am today putting into place new measures to establish a national system for monitoring the numbers of young people covered by the YT guarantee and seeking a place on YT. I shall shortly be discussing that matter with TEC representatives.


9. Mr. Denham : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what action she intends to take to reduce unemployment in the Southampton travel -to-work area.

Mr. McLoughlin : The employment service in Southampton and the Hampshire training and enterprise council deliver a wide range of employment, enterprise and training programmes to help unemployed people find the best and quickest route back to employment. The latest figures for the Southampton travel-to-work area show that there was a reduction of 298 in the number of people claiming benefit.

Mr. Denham : Does the Minister accept that during the past three years unemployment in Southampton has risen from 7,400 to almost 13, 000 and that there are now 42 unemployed claimants chasing every jobcentre vacancy? Is he aware that according to yesterday's Treasury model forecasts, my constituents can expect unemployment to rise even higher?

May I assume that the hon. Gentleman would not attempt to cure a migraine with a hammer, and that therefore there might to an outside chance that he will realise that Government policies are creating unemployment, not solving the problem?

Mr. McLoughlin : No, I do not accept that. My point was that there was a reduction in the number of people claiming benefit last month. The way to ensure that employment grows is to keep inflation low and not to create artificial barriers to employment--the policy on which the Labour party fought the last election.

Mr. Milligan : Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the most serious threats to jobs in the Southampton area is the delay in completing the M3 motorway at Twyford down, which has resulted in some of the worst traffic jams in southern England? Is he further aware that if the Labour party had won the election, it would have carried out its commitment to stop all work on that motorway, which would have seriously damaged employment in Southampton?

Will my hon. Friend convey his view, if it is his view, to our right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that that motorway should be completed as soon as possible? Jobs in Southampton are more important than butterflies on Twyford down.

Mr. McLoughlin : I acknowledge my hon. Friend's point about the importance of infrastructure in serving particular regions and areas. The former Member of Parliament for Southampton, Itchen, Mr. Christopher Chope, played a leading role in securing the completion of the M3, which is a great credit to him. I will convey the

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points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Milligan) to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

16-plus Policies

11. Mr. Luff : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans she has to better co-ordinate policies for 16-plus training and education.

Mr. McLoughlin : The jointly produced White Paper "Education and Training in the 21st Century" published in May 1991 was designed to encourage young people to develop to the best of their ability, remove barriers to opportunity, achieve higher standards and provide more choice. We are making good progress towards those aims.

Mr. Luff : Pausing only to apologise for the split infinitive in the question in my name on the Order Paper, which I assure my hon. Friend the Minister was not in the question that I submitted to the Table Office, I invite him to congratulate all those in my constituency who have worked so hard to deliver an important part of the Government's plans for the 16-plus age group. I refer in particular to the training and enterprise council, the chamber of commerce and the wider business community. Will my hon. Friend assure me that, in the unlikely event that allegations that the YT guarantee is not being delivered in a particular area are proved to be true, he will make every effort to ensure that the guarantee is forthcoming.

Mr. McLoughlin : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the praise that he rightly gives to his local training and enterprise council. I am glad that he has approached it to establish how the guarantee is operating-- rather than rely on the scare stories that we often hear from Opposition Members. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government take the YT guarantee very seriously. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has just made an announcement about the way in which we shall monitor the scheme to ensure that it is delivered throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. Leighton : Is the Minister aware that 500 young school leavers in the London borough of Newham have no jobs, no training place and no benefits? That is the situation this year, as it was last year--and the same is projected for the future. Will the Minister give that matter his personal attention? Is he aware that his Department has received a letter inviting a Minister to the borough to study the situation on the ground? Will he make a positive response?

Mr. McLoughlin : I am not aware of the letter to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I will check it out and I hope to respond positively to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Anthony Coombs : Will my hon. Friend confirm that 60 per cent. of young people are staying on at school--the highest ever figure? In my own constituency, the Kidderminster college of further education has seen the number of full-time students rise by 10 per cent. over the past year. Is that not evidence of what occurs when colleges of further education are given greater flexibility and independence from local authorities? Ought we not to pursue that theme, with the support of industry?

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Mr. McLoughlin : I agree. The staying-on level in Hereford and Worcester is 63 per cent., which is slightly above the national average. The increase in the numbers staying on for further education are surely welcomed in all parts of the House.

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