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House of Commons

Tuesday 16 March 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


TEC Courses (Sheffield)

1. Mrs. Helen Jackson : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what percentage of students entering TEC courses in the Sheffield area (a) complete their course and (b) obtain employment when they finish.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin) : In Sheffield in 1991-92, 34 per cent. of peoplleaving youth training and 61 per cent. of those leaving employment training had completed their agreed training. 51 per cent. and 32 per cent. respectively of all those leaving courses were in employment six months after leaving.

Mrs. Jackson : In view of those appalling figures, showing that, at the end of youth training, two out of every three people on the scheme have no job to go to, and that two out of every three students on employment training are still out of work six months later, does the Minister accept that it is now time to put resources and money into real education and training for manufacturing jobs, and to make resources available so that local authorities can finance students properly through discretionary grants?

Mr. McLoughlin : I am sure that the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that, since 1986, unemployment in her constituency has fallen by about 24 per cent., and in the constituency of Sheffield, Central by 21 per cent. In Sheffield, Brightside, unemployment has fallen by 21 per cent. since 1986, and in Sheffield, Hallam by about 36 per cent. I should have thought that even the hon. Lady would have welcomed that.

Mr. Sykes : Is my hon. Friend aware that, some time ago, when Hamleys, the famous toy shop in Regent street, wanted to resettle in Sheffield, it was said that its rates in Sheffield would be higher than the rates in Regent street? Does my hon. Friend not agree that that is an example of the kind of ridiculous practices that Sheffield city council has pursued over the past 25 years?

Mr. McLoughlin : My hon. Friend's point about recruitment is true. That is why I am pleased that the Meadow Hall development has opened and made Sheffield council think carefully about how to attract business to its area.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : Is it not astonishing that the Minister should answer the supplementary question asked by my

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hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) by citing unemployment figures, of all things? For how many months now have the Government increased unemployment? Yet the Minister cites unemployment figures in their favour. Is not the reality that the training, whether on ET or YT, and whether in Sheffield or nationwide, is pathetic, and that fewer than a quarter of the people on ET and fewer than one third of those on YT obtain a qualification? The last thing we need today is more promises of cheap low-quality training. What does the Minister intend to do to give decent-quality training to people out of work?

Mr. McLoughlin : What is pathetic is the way in which the Opposition continually carp and talk about training, yet have opposed every training scheme that the Government have introduced.

Mr. Evennett : Will my hon. Friend confirm that Britain is the only country in Europe that offers training places to 16 and 17-year-olds without a job? Should we not therefore be grateful, and encourage young people to take up the training places, with a view to getting jobs at the end of the placement?

Mr. McLoughlin : Indeed, my hon. Friend is right. Most young people who go on courses appreciate that youth training has been a substantial help in finding employment. The Opposition have said many times that we are failing to meet the youth training guarantee, but they have gone off talking about that subject because of the successful manner in which the TECs have managed to fulfil the guarantee overall.

Labour Statistics

2. Dr. Wright : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if she will give figures on employment levels in manufacturing industry in each year since 1979.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mrs. Gillian Shephard) : Employment in manufacturing in Britain was 4,593,000 in September 1992 compared with 7,253,000 in June 1979. Information for the intervening years can be obtained from the NOMIS database in the House Library.

Dr. Wright : Does not the Secretary of State understand that those figures tell the whole story about what has been happening to this economy since 1979? Three million jobs have been lost in manufacturing industry and half a million jobs have been lost in manufacturing in the west midlands alone. Does she not understand that it is an economic disaster because, when we get a competitive devaluation, we do not have a competitive base to take advantage of it? It is a social disaster because it destroys lives, families and communities--[ Hon. Members :-- "Question."] Finally, the question to the Secretary of State is this : when she spoke to the Chancellor of the Exchequer this morning, did she say, "Come on : the Prime Minister has told us we made a mistake. The time now is for jobs, jobs and more jobs"? Or did she say, "Let's have"--

Madam Speaker : Order. I call the Secretary of State.

Mrs. Shephard : As for what transpired this morning, the hon. Gentleman will have to possess his soul in patience--if he is capable of doing that. Instead of doing what the Labour party usually does and talk down British

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achievements, the hon. Gentleman should be congratulating British manufacturers on their highest ever export levels and on their outstanding improvements in productivity and profitability over the past decade. Or perhaps the hon. Gentleman advocates a return to Labour's manufacturing policy : overmanning, millions of working days lost through strikes and Red Robbo.

Sir Michael Neubert : Is not employment in manufacturing declining in most major industrialised countries, even in Germany, whose workers are now the most expensive in the world? Is it not extraordinary that, with its commitment to the statutory minimum wage and support for the social chapter, the Labour party wants to take us down that uncompetitive path?

Mrs. Shephard : Yes, that is indeed extraordinary. As my hon. Friend has said, manufacturing employment peaked in this country in the mid-1960s, and there has been a steady decline under all Governments since, as there has been in all other major industrialised countries. However, if we followed the policies of the Labour party, we would quickly cease to be competitive.

Mr. Barry Jones : Does the right hon. Lady know that, in my constituency, 500 of the best kind of manufacturing jobs have been lost at British Aerospace, Broughton, on the airbus project? Is she aware that it is feared that very soon more jobs will be lost in the same factory on the production line of the world-beating executive jet, the 125 series? May I have her assurance that she will tell the Cabinet that development area status should not be taken from my constituency? Does she understand that manufacturing jobs and regional policy go together? We want a national strategy for manufacturing.

Mrs. Shephard : I am reminded of the hon. Gentleman's passionate advocacy of free trade in our employment debate last week. I note what he says about the status of his constituency. As he will know, that is not a matter for me : the potiential job losses that he mentions are a matter of commercial decisions for the company concerned. However, whatever, happens, my Department in the form of TECs and the Employment Service, stand ready to help wherever people face unemployment.

Labour Statistics

3. Mr. Robathan : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what measures she intends to bring foward to assist the unemployed in the east midlands.

Mr. McLoughlin : New arrangements, announced at the time of the autumn statement, will offer almost half a million more opportunities on our programmes in 1993-94 than we are providing this year.

Mr. Robathan : I thank my hon. Friend for that response. He will know that my constituency of Blaby is not one of those badly affected by the current high rates of unemployment. While recognising the awful and tragic consequences of unemployment, will my hon. Friend add his not inconsiderable weight in support of the excellent work of the Leicestershire TEC in my area and, in particular, the imaginative approach of the career choice scheme which is encouraging disaffected youngsters to go back into employment training, the child care voucher scheme--

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Madam Speaker : Order. May we have a question?

Mr. Robathan : Will my hon. Friend particularly add his support to the close involvement of the TEC with the Leicestershire city challenge scheme and initiative fostering a partnership between the private and public sectors?

Mr. McLoughlin : My hon. Friend's point is correct. I shall be in Leicester tomorrow to sign the city challenge agreement between the Government and the city challenge organisation.

Mr. Janner : Does the Minister agree that the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) is as wrong as his noble predecessor in his approach to the handling of unemployment, and that what matters in Leicester and the rest of the east midlands, where the traditional manufacturing industries of hosiery, knitwear and footwear are collapsing, is not to train unemployed people for jobs that will not exist but to help existing industries to stay alive and employ people?

Mr. McLoughlin : I am surprised that the Chairman of the Employment Select Committee downgrades and denigrates the training opportunities that are provided throughout Britain. That is an appalling indictment of him. The important factor is the amount of inward investment which has been attracted. The east midlands has benefited greatly from that inward investment. I should have thought that even the hon. and learned Gentleman might have welcomed that.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton : Does my hon. Friend consider that those who wish to undertake training should be encouraged? Therefore, does he believe that a good idea for helping the unemployed in the east midlands might be to make expenses incurred in whatever way in undertaking training allowable against tax?

Mr. McLoughlin : My hon. Friend asks a junior Minister to comment on tax matters. Today in particular, I do not wish to embark on that.

Mr. Barnes : If the initial pit closure programme is implemented in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, some 30,000 jobs in coal mining and associated industries will be lost. What will that do to help unemployed people's prospects of getting work in the east midlands? Will he have a word with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to tell him that it is time to call the dogs off?

Mr. McLoughlin : My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will make a statement on the White Paper in due course. I should have thought that even the hon. Gentleman might welcome the Toyota investment in Derbyshire. That £700 million investment is the largest single investment in any country for some considerable time.

Jobcentres (Gloucestershire)

4. Mr. Clifton-Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how effective the jobcentres in Gloucestershire have been in placing people back into work.

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The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : Since 1 April 1992 jobcentres in Gloucestershire have placed 12,270 people in work--an increase of 18 per cent. on the same period last year.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : My hon. Friend will be aware that every person who is newly unemployed is entitled to go to a jobcentre and have an in- depth interview for up to 45 minutes-- [Interruption.] --to plan how to get back into work. Is not that, combined with the success of the jobcentres which my hon. Friend has just announced, a practical measure which shows that the Government are prepared to help the unemployed, unlike the Labour party, which merely utters platitudes?

Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend is right. I am sure that the House will have noticed the jeers from Opposition Members when he referred to the excellent work done by the Employment Service. Of those people who become unemployed, two thirds find work within six months as a result of the efforts of the Employment Service. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Employment Service. For the longer-term unemployed, a range of measures, including job clubs, have been successful in placing long-term unemployed people back into work.

Child Care (West Midlands)

5. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what steps the TECs have taken to encourage the provision of child care in the west midlands.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The work of TECs to set up child care provision in the west midlands will be boosted by the £45 million child care grant which I announced on 16 December last year, to be introduced this April.

Mr. Coombs : Given that Britain employs a higher proportion of the female population than any other country in Europe bar one, and that in the past three years the number of registered day nurses has doubled, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is enormous potential in the private sector to provide child care such as that provided by the excellent Hickory Dickory Dock nursery in my constituency? Will she do everything that she can to encourage that?

Mrs. Shephard : I am delighted to hear of my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for the Hickory Dickory Dock scheme. He is right : there has been a large growth in private child-minding and nursery provision. However, there is no doubt that my initiative, which has been keenly welcomed by playgroups the working mothers associations and others, will be a very useful supplement to the work that he describes, including that of the Hickory Dickory Dock scheme.

Job Clubs (Wales)

6. Mr. Sweeney : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what assessment she has made of the performance of job clubs in Wales.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : The job club programme is very effective in helping long-term unemployed people in Wales. In the last year, job clubs in Wales have helped nearly 12,000 people, the majority of whom have found work as a result, with others going on to training, further education or self-employment.

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Mr. Sweeney : Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating those who operate the job clubs on their success? Does he agree that the effectiveness of their work is vital in maintaining the morale of those who become unemployed?

Mr. Forsyth : I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating those who run the job clubs. Eighty per cent. of the clubs have been contracted out to private-sector organisations, and approximately 53 per cent. of the people participating in job clubs in Wales are going on to employment, with a further 14 per cent. going into further education, training or self-employment. That is one reason why we will be expanding the number of job club places by some 75,000 during the next year.

Mr. Wigley : Does not the Minister realise that what we need in Wales are not job clubs, but jobs themselves? Does he not recognise that, in the old coal-mining areas and the old slate quarrying areas, we have long-term unemployment among the under-25s? What is he going to do to provide jobs for those people, rather than the apology provided by his job club regime?

Mr. Forsyth : If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have heard that job clubs are singularly successful, in placing people in work, particularly in Wales. The hon. Gentleman should also know that more than 80 per cent. of people placed in jobs by job clubs are filling vacancies which have not been advertised through jobcentres.

The hon. Gentleman ought to be a little less gloomy. The facts are that, in the last year, manufacturing output is up, exports are up, investment is up and real incomes are up. The hon. Gentleman really ought to cheer up and give credit where credit is due.

Working Carers

7. Mr. Wicks : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what attention her Department is giving to the needs of those who work and also care for relatives.

Mr. McLoughlin : The Department's policy of encouraging flexible working arrangements is of particular benefit to those who combine work with family responsibilities.

Mr. Wicks : Given the significance of the worker/carer issue--one in eight full-time employees and one in five part-time employees have caring responsibilities--will the Government introduce firmer employment measures to complement the community care strategy?

Mr. McLoughlin : There are a number of areas in which the Government have helped. The Department is always willing and ready to advise employers on the best way to arrange flexibility for people with care responsibilities.

Mr. Rowe : Does my hon. Friend agree that the community care proposals have already brought into being an extraordinary range of varied provision for all kinds of people with such difficulties, which are very real? Will he give an assurance that his Department will join the Department of Health in encouraging the further expansion of these very desirable developments?

Mr. McLoughlin : I give my hon. Friend that assurance.

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Work in the Community

8. Mr. Michael Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans she has to encourage work in the community.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard : Opportunities to undertake community work are currently available on employment action and other programmes run by my Department. My hon. Friend will be aware that training for work, which comes into force at the end of the month, will combine employment training and employment action.

Mr. Brown : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the employment action programme currently enables people to work in the community, cleaning up heritage sites and removing graffiti? Can she give some idea of how she might expand this programme? May I suggest that the railway stations between Newark and Cleethorpes, which suffer from graffiti, could come within the ambit of the scheme?

Mrs. Shephard : There is no doubt that the various tasks undertaken by people on the employment action scheme are not only useful but valuable. My hon. Friend clearly has his own enthusiasms--other tasks include helping elderly people, teaching literacy and numeracy skills and, in my constituency, running a museum.

Mr. McAllion : If the Secretary of State is serious about encouraging work in the community, why does she not intervene directly in the community of Dundee, where the management of Timex have sacked the entire work force for the crime of exercising their legal rights under the Government's trade union legislation? Is the Secretary of State content to add to the ranks of mass unemployed and so create the conditions in which those out of work envy those in work, those in work fear those out of work and bad employers such as Timex can drag down wages and conditions by exploiting the existing conditions?

Mrs. Shephard : The issues between Timex and its employees are a matter for the company ; I note that the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has not yet been called in.

Mrs. Peacock : Does my right hon. Friend agree that more people who are presently unemployed would be willing to become involved in voluntary work if they did not lose their entitlement to benefits when they undertook that work?

Mrs. Shephard : Unemployed people can engage in unpaid voluntary work and retain their benefits as long as they continue to look for work and are willing to give up that voluntary work at 24 hours' notice. My hon. Friend makes a valid point and, as she doubtless knows, we intend to build on the successes of employment action with other schemes.


9. Mr. Hardy : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many unfilled vacancies are currently recorded by her Department ; and what is the extent of duplication of these numbers where vacancies are listed at more than one office.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : Some 104,700 in January 1993. There is no duplication, as each vacancy is counted only once.

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Mr. Hardy : Will the Minister give the House a categorical assurance that no duplication has previously occurred and been counted? Does he accept that if duplication has occurred, it may provide an innocent explanation for ministerial claims to have observed the green shoots of economic recovery? In that case, the cause would have been duplication and error, not villainy, as some of us suspect.

Mr. Forsyth : I am astonished at what the hon. Gentleman has said. I should have thought that he would know that the Employment Service in South Yorkshire has placed about 50 per cent. more people in jobs than two years ago. The Employment Service advertises a minority of the vacancies, which is why it has been advertising for more employers to place vacancies with it. The hon. Gentleman is well aware--as is everyone in the House--that there is a recession. However, the Employment Service is doing an excellent job and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman seeks to denigrate its excellent activities.

Mr. Forman : I welcome my hon. Friend's clarification that there is no duplication, but is it not also true that the officially recorded statistics for vacancies understate the true number as they do not take account of those that are privately notified?

Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Vacancies may be advertised in several jobcentres so that people have an opportunity to apply for the jobs. We do not count the vacancies twice, but individually.

Mr. Dobson : Will the Minister confirm that, according to the Government's figures, there are 31 people chasing every job vacancy in the Chancellor's constituency, 181 people chasing every job vacancy in the Chief Secretary's constituency, and no fewer than 195 people chasing every job vacancy in the constituency where the Prime MInister grew up?

Mr. Forsyth : What I will confirm is that, if the hon. Gentleman had had his way and there was a minimum wage and a payroll tax, and we had embraced the social chapter, there would be 2 million more people out of work in this country.


10. Mr. Steen : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what research her Department is currently undertaking into workfare ; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard : We are considering a range of options to help unemployed people to use their time constructively.

Mr. Steen : Does the Secretary of State remember that in 1975 I, with Sir Leon Brittan, wrote to The Times advocating that the young unemployed, while waiting to join the work force, should be encouraged to become a force for good by being given opportunities to provide personal service in the community for the benefit of people less fortunate than themselves and should be paid a wage equivalent to their unemployment benefit? Eighteen years on, the situation has not changed. Young people should be given an opportunity to do something, rather than take taxpayers' money and do nothing in return.

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Mrs. Shephard : Of course, I remember my hon. Friend's letter very well. I know that his interest in these matters goes back a considerable time. He has always argued that the principle of mutual responsibility should be applied in the designing of schemes for unemployed people-- particularly young unemployed people--and I agree.

Mr. Cryer : Is not it the job of the Government to avoid mucking about with marshmallow schemes like workfare to create fake jobs and instead to adopt an economic policy that will encourage manufacturing industry to provide proper jobs for all our people? While the right hon. Lady is about it, will she condemn those people who take taxpayers' money but do nothing in return, such as Tory Members of Parliament, who take their salaries and also line their pockets with the proceeds of outside job after outside job?

Mrs. Shephard : Some hon. Members take two lots of money from the taxpayer. I refer, for instance, to those who have a dual mandate in Europe. Conservative Members know that people want real jobs. That is why our policies have been aimed at producing the lowest inflation rate that we have had for 25 years, the lowest interest rates in the European Community, a competitive exchange rate, the lowest level of business taxation, and non -wage costs at 61 per cent. of the level of those in Germany. That is what we mean, but not what the hon. Gentleman means, by the right framework for real jobs.

Mr. Paice : When considering workfare, will my right hon. Friend look behind the hype of exploitation and all the other adjectives that are used to describe the scheme? Will she recognise that, for many people, doing something useful in return for the money that they receive as benefit is a means of retaining some pride in themselves and that there is a sound and valid argument for the introduction of the widest possible opportunity for this to happen?

Mrs. Shephard : It is certainly desirable that unemployed people be helped to keep in touch with the world of work while they are being assisted to seek and to train for work. My hon. Friend will be aware of employment action and of the range of opportunities that are thereby made available. As I said earlier, we intend to build on success of that kind.

Mr. Galbraith : May I congratulate the Minister of State for rebuking the Prime Minister's ideas on workfare? In the 5 February issue of Today, the hon. Gentleman said :

"I have seen workfare, and it does not work."

Can the Secretary of State confirm that her Minister of State and her Department will continue their opposition to workfare and not simply use it as a cheap form of labour or as another means of fiddling the unemployment statistics?

Mrs. Shephard : For the hon. Gentleman's information, I can say that the Prime Minister, in his Carlton club speech, did not suggest that all- embracing, large-scale schemes should be introduced to require people to work in return for benefit. Nor, indeed, did he use the word "workfare". Given the close attention that the hon. Gentleman pays to these matters, I am surprised that he did not notice that the Minister of State, my hon. Friend

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the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), condemned some of the schemes that he had seen in the United States as being costly and ineffective.


11. Mr. Rathbone : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what assessment she has made of the need for retraining of those in jobs to meet present and future job requirements.

Mr. McLoughlin : Our assessment is that more effective investment in the skills of people in work is needed. The Government's policies are operating to encourage such investment. In particular, training and enterprise councils are promoting the use of the new "Investors in People" standard.

Mr. Rathbone : Does my hon. Friend accept that, with

fast-developing technology, there is a continuing requirement for the retraining of people in jobs and the retraining of management and that TECs, such as Sussex TEC, have a special role to play?

Mr. McLoughlin : I agree with my hon. Friend. The TEC movement has an important role and it is interesting to note that each TEC develops policies most suited to its own area.

Mr. Enright : Since the Government have squandered substantial oil revenues and have frittered away immoral earnings from gas, electricity and water, what confidence can ordinary working people have in their investment in retraining?

Mr. McLoughlin : They can have the confidence that they have shown in the last four elections by re-electing us.

Mrs. Browning : Is my hon. Friend aware that one group of people who are particularly anxious to be retrained are those aged over 45? Will he guarantee that he will do all that he can to encourage the TECs and other training organisations not to discriminate against people on grounds of age? Over-45s have much to offer and they are as entitled to a restart as anyone else.

Mr. McLoughlin : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. If I hear of any TECs that are discriminating against older people, I will take up the matter with them.

Low Pay

12. Mr. Burden : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is her estimate of the numbers working in the public sector earning less than the Council of Europe's low pay threshold analysed between (a) full- time male employees, (b) full-time female employees, (c) part-time male employees and (d) part-time female employees.

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