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House of Commons

Tuesday 27 April 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


London Local Authorities Bill


Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 29 April.

Oral Answers to Questions


Labour Statistics

1. Mr. Peter Atkinson : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what measures she is introducing to assist the long-term unemployed in the north of England.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin) : New measures announced in the Budget will provide an extra 100,000 opportunities nationally for the long-term unemployed. Learning for work, community action and an expanded business start-up scheme will be available for long-term unemployed people.

Mr. Atkinson : Is my hon. Friend aware that Tyneside training and enterprise council, which I understand has been chosen for a pilot scheme for one of four workstart programmes, yesterday launched its own workstart programme, Tyneskill support, aimed at people who have been out of work for more than two years? Does my hon. Friend agree that the advantage of workstart is that it confers a double benefit--first, for the people who are helped and, secondly, in that it helps to convince employers that people who have been out of work for more than two years still retain their skills and an enthusiasm for work and should not be written off as unemployable?

Mr. McLoughlin : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who points out the amount of help that we give to people who are unemployed long term. Indeed, the United Kingdom has a good record compared with our European counterparts. The proportion of long-term unemployed people in the United Kingdom, at 28 per cent., is lower than in Italy, where it is 67 per cent., in Belgium, where it is 61 per cent., in Ireland, where it is 60 per cent., in Germany, where it is 45 per cent., and in the Netherlands, where it is 43 per cent. That shows that we dedicate help to the long-term unemployed.

Mr. Lewis : Does the Minister's litany of assistance include encouraging people to go on the sick register instead of the unemployment register? Will he ask his right

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hon. Friend the Secretary of State to order the investigation that I have requested into the scandal going on in the Employment Service in my constituency?

Mr. McLoughlin : It is rather sad that when we have seen unemployment falling for two months, the only people who complain about it, and continue to do so, are Labour Members. That is not surprising, in view of the way that they have relished it when unemployment has continued to rise.

Mr. Trotter : May I say how much Tyneside will appreciate being chosen for one of the new schemes and how appropriate it is that an area of high unemployment, with an excellent basic record of industrial relations and skills, should have the opportunity to make itself available for inward and home-based investment as the recession ends? The news will be much welcomed in the community on Tyneside.

Mr. McLoughlin : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to say that the scheme will have an important impact. We shall watch it closely to see what lessons we can learn from it.

Ms Quin : Will the Minister confirm that there is a massive problem of long-term unemployment on Tyneside and that the scheme to which the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) referred aims to create 400 jobs for the long-term unemployed by July, whereas there are 32,000 long-term unemployed people on Tyneside? Will the Minister agree to support some of the ideas advanced by the Labour party to bring Government Departments together in an office in the north to identify and promote employment opportunities in the region?

Mr. McLoughlin : It would make a great difference if we started to receive some support from the Labour party for the many schemes that we try to offer long-term unemployed people. The Labour party is always lacking in enthusiasm. The hon. Lady rightly mentions the high unemployment in the northern region, but in July 1986 unemployment in that region stood at 220,000, whereas according to the latest figures it is now 166,000--25 per cent. lower. I should have thought that even the Opposition would welcome that.

Total Quality Management

2. Mr. Stephen : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment whether she will use the techniques of total quality management to measure the extent to which her Department is efficiently delivering the service which industry and commerce need.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : Total quality management has a part to play in the Department's drive to improve services and to ensure value for money.

Mr. Stephen : Will my hon. Friend ask a senior official in his Department to liaise closely with the European Foundation for Quality Management and to explore whether the excellent self-assessment model it has developed would benefit the public service?

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Mr. Forsyth : Anything that improves quality management at a European level is to be welcomed. I will pass on my hon. Friend's helpful suggestion to officials in the Department.

Mr. McAllion : Does the Minister accept that his Department's ability to deliver services efficiently depends at least in part on its reputation for honesty? That being so, can he explain to the House why he allowed Sir Robin Butler, the head of the civil service, to write to civil service unions on 16 March saying that the imposition of no-strike clauses on public sector workers was not even under consideration when, 18 days earlier on 26 February, the Secretary of State for Employment had written to the Secretary of State for Education saying that she intended to amend the Employment Bill to make industrial action by public sector workers unlawful? That letter was copied and sent to Sir Robin Butler.

Either Sir Robin Butler is so inefficient that he does not even read letters from the Secretary of State for Employment which are copied and sent to him or he is deliberately covering up for the Government by misleading civil service unions. Which is it? Did the Department know about that? If so, did it consent to it?

Mr. Forsyth : The trouble with the hon. Gentleman is that when he scrabbles around in dustbins reading bits of paper, he ends up misinformed. The position that the Cabinet Secretary set out--which is that the Government have not considered introducing, nor do they have any plans to introduce, legislation to prevent industrial action in the public sector-- remains the case. The hon. Gentleman is at a disadvantage in that he has relied for his information on scraps of paper that were based on leaked information.

Mr. Evennett : Does my hon. Friend agree that the training and enterprise council network is improving the quality and effectiveness of his Department's training programme? Does he agree that the job seekers charter is improving the service throughout the Employment Service? Both schemes are to be welcomed and encouraged, and show that his Department is doing a good job for people seeking jobs.

Mr. Forsyth : I agree with my hon. Friend. Since my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took charge of the Department, the number of opportunities for the unemployed to obtain help in getting back to work or to obtain help with training has increased from around 1 million to 1,600,000. That dramatic record of achievement has been thanks to the efforts of the Employment Service, the training and enterprise councils and Ministers across the Government. I should have thought that that would be welcomed by everyone in the House.

Disabled People

3. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what progress is being made to reduce discrimination against disabled people in the context of employment ; and if she will make a statement.

7. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what measures she is taking to promote employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

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Mr. Michael Forsyth : We aim to raise employers' awareness of the abilities of disabled people and to provide practical employment help and advice where necessary.

Mr. Wigley : Does the Minister accept that, either deliberately or inadvertently, a significant number of employers discriminate against disabled people in terms of employment? Does he accept that the overwhelming majority of organisations working with and on behalf of disabled people want anti-discrimination legislation? What is the Department's latest thinking on how to make that a reality?

Mr. Forsyth : I know how much time the hon. Gentleman spends on this subject, especially in his role as vice-chairman of the all-party disablement group. I accept his point that we need to do even more to encourage employers to take on disabled people and to make use of their skills. Disabled people certainly find it harder to obtain work when unemployed, especially during a recession. I am sure that we must look at ways to reduce discrimination and to encourage opportunities for disabled people. Although it is easy to look to legislation as the answer, the hon. Gentleman needs to address some of the difficulties that arise because of the legal complexities and the costs it would impose, which may not be to the advantage of disabled people. I am happy to continue the helpful discussion going on with the hon. Gentleman and others in the House on how some of the problems may be addressed.

Mr. Thurnham : Does my hon. Friend agree that the private sector has a much better record than the public sector in employing people with disabilities? Will he recruit more disabled people in the civil service? Will he expand the successful sheltered placements scheme? Is not privatisation in the best interests of everyone, not least the disabled?

Mr. Forsyth : The answers to my hon. Friend's questions are : I am not sure, yes, yes and yes.

Mr. Galbraith : Can the Minister say why, despite the fact that only 23 per cent. of employers adhere to the quota, there have been no prosecutions whatever under the Government? Is it not time that the Government reviewed the quota system with a view to enforcing it properly?

Mr. Forsyth : We are certainly examining the quota system. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the 3 per cent. figure relates to registered disabled. The number of people who are registered as disabled is less than 3 per cent. of the work force and, therefore, it would be mathematically impossible for all employers to meet the quota. We take seriously employers who are not meeting their obligations. We try to ensure that they do so by persuasion. The policy of not having had prosecutions reflects the conduct of every Government in the past 40 years.

Mr. Alan Howarth : Does my hon. Friend agree that the end of the recession and the extremely welcome recovery in the labour market make it an especially appropriate moment to introduce legislation to prevent discrimination in employment against disabled people? Will he reflect that the fears that have been expressed about the cost implications of such legislation are invalidated by the immense contribution that disabled people could make to

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the economy and that experience shows that nothing less than anti-discrimination legislation would enable that contribution to be released?

Mr. Forsyth : I agree with my hon. Friend that enlisting the talents of disabled people is a key element in ensuring that we maximise the performance of our economy as well as meet the needs of individuals. I would want to discuss my hon. Friend's specific ideas for legislation and its form before jumping to the conclusion that he reached. I would point to some of the difficulties that have arisen in other countries as a result of perhaps not thinking the matter through as carefully as it should have been. I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss his ideas in detail.

Labour Statistics

4. Mr. Winnick : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many people were unemployed for 12 months and longer in May 1979 and at the latest available date.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mrs. Gillian Shephard) : The figures for January 1993 show a reduction of almost 10 per cent. in the number of people who have been unemployed for 12 months or more, compared with January 1983--the earliest date for which equivalent figures are available.

Mr. Winnick : Is the Secretary of State aware that it is perfectly understandable that she has not given the figure for 1979, which is 366,700? I have just obtained that information from the Library. Is it not a fact that three times as many people have been unemployed for longer than one year than when the Labour Government left office? Is not the Secretary of State ashamed of the misery and heartbreak of so many of our fellow citizens who are long-term unemployed, many of whom work on the assumption that, even with the slow recovery which is taking place, they will never be able to work again? They are the victims of the Government's economic policies.

Mrs. Shephard : I would not want in any way to minimise the difficulty for people who suffer long-term unemployment. The simple fact is that the number of long-term unemployed people is almost a quarter--24 per cent.--lower than at its peak in 1986. It is obvious from the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question that, like so many of his colleagues, he would have liked, and perhaps he was expecting, a more gloomy reply. I shall add to his all-too-obvious discomfiture by inviting him to welcome the fact that in his constituency the reduction was 21 per cent.

Mr. Bill Walker : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only jobs provided by the Government are the jobs of those who are directly employed by the public service or the quangos and other organisations set up in the public service area and that the jobs that are provided in the economy come as a result of the Government creating low inflation, low interest rates and competitive prices, thanks to white Wednesday? Consequently, we can look forward to improvements in the United Kingdom because we are more competitive than any other country in Europe.

Mrs. Shephard : I would not want to build too much on the improvement in unemployment that we have seen for the past two months. Of course, my hon. Friend is

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absolutely right. It is not the Government who create jobs ; it is business, industry and commerce. It ill behoves Opposition Members to pour scorn on the good economic news, which is good news for unemployed people.

Mr. Grocott : Does the Secretary of State recall that throughout the past 14 years we have had repeated assurances from the Secretary of State for Employment, two Prime Ministers and others that all the dreadful unemployment statistics were nothing whatever to do with the Government? Now that Ministers claim that there is some marginal improvement in the unemployment statistics, will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to reaffirm to the House the Government philosophy that if there is any improvement it is nothing whatever to do with the Government?

Mrs. Shephard : What is absolutely certain is that only when Opposition Members express a commitment to keep Britain competitive, reject support for the national minimum wage and, in the case of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), support employers can their much vaunted and so-called support for unemployed people be taken seriously.

Mr. David Evans : Does my right hon. Friend agree that of the 1 million long-term unemployed, probably half have no intention of working again and, therefore, can be termed layabouts? Do the long-term unemployment figures include the lot opposite? They have been unemployed for 14 years.

Mrs. Shephard : My hon. Friend's strictures on fraud among people who call themselves unemployed are well known. I understand his anxiety because any fraud within the unemployment or benefits system can only serve to make things worse for people who are genuinely unemployed. As for the present or prospective employment of Opposition Members, my hon. Friend has made his point.


5. Mr. Beith : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what progress has been made in setting up the workstart pilot projects.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard : I have asked the Employment Service and the two training and enterprise councils in the pilot areas to submit plans by 7 May. I hope that the first employees to be taken on under the scheme will start work by June.

Mr. Beith : Does the Secretary of State realise how dissatisfied I am, as someone who advocated a workstart scheme and supports its principles, that long-term unemployed people in Northumberland--where there are many long-term unemployed--are excluded from the scheme both in my constituency and in the constituency of Hexham, which was mentioned earlier? At what stage will she decide whether to continue the scheme and whether to extend it?

Mrs. Shephard : I hope that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes the 2 per cent. fall in unemployment in his constituency last month. I also hope that he will welcome the fact that long-term unemployed people in his

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constituency and elsewhere will greatly benefit from the 1.6 million opportunities for long-term unemployed people that we now have on stream.

As for the pilots, the right hon. Gentleman will realise that a pilot is a pilot. If the pilot projects succeed, we shall certainly consider extending them.

Dr. Spink : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the return in confidence, the recovery and the workstart pilot scheme will give new opportunity, new hope and great help to the long-term unemployed in Britain?

Mrs. Shephard : I agree with my hon. Friend that the workstart pilots should be extremely useful. We will monitor them carefully to see what lessons can be learnt and, in particular, what special help, confidence and encouragement they can give to people who have been unemployed for a long time.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : Does the Secretary of State nevertheless recognise that even though workstart is only a pilot scheme, people are worried that employers are being asked simply to give an undertaking that they will not make other people unemployed in order to take on people on workstart and, I assume, an undertaking that they will not simply dismiss people at the end of the scheme? In the same vein as the Secretary of State waxed eloquent about fraud among those who claim benefit, will she wax eloquent about fraud among employers who seek to abuse the system?

Mrs. Shephard : The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The contracts with the participating firms will naturally stipulate that existing employees must not be displaced and that the workstart participants will be considered additional to normal recruitment. As he would expect, the scheme will be subject to close and careful monitoring.

Labour Statistics

6. Mr. Michael Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many new jobs have been created in the Brigg and Cleethorpes constituency since January 1992.

Mr. McLoughlin : The information is not available in the form my hon. Friend requested. However, I am sure he will welcome the news that two American firms, notably Kimberly-Clark and Paramount Packaging, have chosen to invest in his constituency, bringing 800 new jobs to the area.

Mr. Brown : Does my hon. Friend agree that the information he has just revealed suggests that the recovery in the United Kingdom is centred on my constituency? Is he aware that it is hoped that the Kimberly-Clark project will eventually employ more than 2,500 people once it is fully operational and that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade performed the topping-out ceremony at that factory just a few weeks ago? Is he further aware that a new power station was opened last week, which will employ 35 people, and that, in Cleethorpes, Allied Colloids announced that it will employ 90 people? Those jobs are in addition to those that my hon. Friend has just announced. Does he agree that the industrial recovery in the United Kingdom has begun in Brigg and Cleethorpes?

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Mr. McLoughlin : My hon. Friend tempts me, but if I agreed with him wholeheartedly about Brigg and Cleethorpes I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) would have something to say about that. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) has revealed that the changes we have made since 1979 to reform industrial relations have meant that a number of companies now find the United Kingdom the most attractive country in which to invest. Those changes have, of course, been opposed by the Labour party.

Voluntary Work

8. Mr. Thomason : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what measures she is introducing to encourage voluntary work among the long-term unemployed in the west midlands.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard : We announced at the Budget the introduction of 60,000 voluntary work opportunities through community action.

Mr. Thomason : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the Budget announcement of an additional 60,000 places for the long-term unemployed? Does she agree that that welcome new intitiative should be supported on both sides of the House and not grumbled about by Opposition Members, who are in the rut of opposing everything and who fail to put forward any constructive proposals?

Mrs. Shephard : I hope that everyone will welcome the new programme. It will give unemployed people the opportunity to participate in a part- time work programme which will be supplemented each week by structured help with job search. That is a productive and useful way in which to help unemployed people and it deserves a welcome from the Opposition parties, although I doubt whether they will give it one.

Ms Short : The Secretary of State will know that many unemployed people want to do voluntary work because there are not other opportunities for them. It is an outrage, however, that there is a mass of work that needs doing in our country when we have 4 million people unemployed. When the Conservative party came to power, there were 1.2 million unemployed people. I do not know how the right hon. Lady has the cheek to stand here today and constantly insult the Labour party as though the Conservatives' record on unemployment was good. The high levels of unemployment are causing poverty and high bills for benefits and mean that production rates are too low. The Conservative Government have failed dramatically on this issue and the right hon. Lady should not boast.

Mrs. Shephard : I did say that the Opposition would not welcome this scheme and that turns out to be right. If the hon. Lady encouraged the Labour Front Bench to undertake credible economic policies, her remarks would carry much more credibility. I hope that she will at least accept that the Conservative party has introduced a vastly increased number of measures to help unemployed people and that those, combined with the vastly improved economic situation, mean that a great deal of help is available for unemployed people.

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Mr. Anthony Coombs : Although I welcome the Government's further measures for the long-term unemployed, does my right hon. Friend agree that the best scope for long-term jobs for unemployed people is provided by increased competitiveness in British industry? Will she pay tribute to the enormous efforts that have been made by British industry in the past 10 years, particularly in the past two years, to improve competitiveness? It has improved to such an extent that unit labour costs in this country have not gone up ; that compares with the increase of 9 per cent. in Japan and 6 per cent. in Germany. Does my right hon. Friend agrees that that improvement in competitiveness will create jobs and that it is endangered by the social chapter of which the Opposition are so fond?

Mrs. Shephard : My hon. Friend is right when he speaks of the need to keep Britain competitive and to oppose the provisions of the social chapter, which would heap ever more burdens on the heads of employers. It is important for Opposition and Conservative Members to congratulate British business on its performance--exports are up ; car production is up ; manufacturing productivity is up. Everything is up except the spirits of Opposition Members.

Mr. Alex Carlile : However welcome the increase in voluntary placements, does the Secretary of State agree that we should be aiming at satisfactory paid employment for as many people as possible? Will she comment on a young couple--he has a first class honours degree in history-- who have escaped long-term unemployment by obtaining menial jobs in a burger bar? When will the Government ensure that young graduates in this country are able to find the jobs for which they were trained and stop committing them to the burger economy?

Mrs. Shephard : That was clearly a much rehearsed question. However, I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that, despite his exhortations, the Government will not espouse the cause of a national minimum wage.

9. Mr. Spring : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what measures she is introducing to encourage voluntary work among the long-term unemployed in East Anglia.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard : In addition to the community action opportunities, I am making available further places on voluntary work projects in north Norfolk.

Mr. Spring : Does my right hon. Friend agree on the importance of upgrading the quality of management in the voluntary services? Will she join me in congratulating the Suffolk training and enterprise council on undertaking a number of initiatives to promote good management in the voluntary sector? It sponsored 13 managers from the voluntary services to enrol on a course to gain a certificate in business administration. Does she agree that by raising the standards of management in the voluntary sector we can help improve services, both for the long-term unemployed and for our communities at large?

Mrs. Shephard : I am very pleased to hear what my hon. Friend says about the work of the Suffolk TEC. No doubt both unemployed people and voluntary organisations stand to benefit from the new community action programme.

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Pit Closures

10. Mr. Churchill : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is her estimate of job losses saved in consequence of the announcement of 25 March of the reprieve of 12 coal mines in respect of jobs (a) in the pits and (b) in related industry.

Mr. McLoughlin : The number of jobs saved in the pits and related industries will depend on how much coal British Coal can sell and how successful it is at reducing costs and improving productivity.

Mr. Churchill : While I welcome the reprieve of the 12 pits and the saving for the time being of 10,000 jobs, may I ask my hon. Friend to confirm that that will represent a saving of £400 million--one third of the £1.2 billion pledged in redundancy pay by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade in his statement on 13 October last year? Does my hon. Friend agree that that figure equates almost exactly to the figure of £300 million to £400 million in subsidy pledged by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade? Therefore, there will be no additional cost to the taxpayer.

Mr. McLoughlin : My hon. Friend adequately explains the equations that result from the White Paper recently published by the Government and endorsed by the House. There are a number of related issues ; we obviously need to discover the outcome, the growth in demand for coal and how that will help to protect jobs in British Coal.

hat British Coal Enterprise is doing, evaluate the information and see how many jobs are lost after six months and how many after one year? British Coal Enterprise creates false jobs and false hopes.

Mr. McLoughlin : I regret the false and negative way in which the hon. Gentleman approaches the issue. All our efforts to help specific areas fail to find favour with the Opposition, which is a great shame.

Mr. Dickens : Does my hon. Friend accept that despite the cuts in British Coal brought about by falling orders for British coal, the coal mining industry in this country remains one of the largest in the world, a fact which should not be forgotten?

Mr. McLoughlin : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. It is equally important to remember the great way in which British Coal has improved its productivity in the last few years, which will ensure that it sells more coal.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell : Is the Minister aware that it is a disgrace that miners' pension money should go towards policies that will result in the loss of jobs in the industry, not only in the north-east of England but throughout the country? When will he get off his backside and get something done to create work in those areas?

Mr. McLoughlin : When it comes to getting off one's backside, I wonder what the hon. Gentleman was doing between 1964 and 1970, when 277 coal mines closed in Britain.

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Mr. John Marshall : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to consider employment in all the energy-intensive industries and in the oil and gas industries? Does he further agree that all such employment would have been hit had we listened to the Labour party and done nothing about the coal industry?

Mr. McLoughlin : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making those points, which rightly sum up some of the questions that must be addressed by the President of the Board of Trade.

Labour Statistics

11. Mr. Raynsford : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what has been the change in the number of unemployed people in Greater London in the past three years.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : In the Greater London area, seasonally adjusted claimant unemployment rose by 274,800 between March 1990 and March 1993.

Mr. Raynsford : Does the Minister recognise that in the past three years, the number of unemployed people in the London borough of Greenwich has doubled? Does he further recognise that unemployment is a corrosive force, particularly among the young, and that the unemployment level today is destructive of the social fabric? When will action be taken to bring down the level of unemployment at least to that which applied three years ago, and when will it be reduced to the level that existed in 1979?

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman's constituency is famous for its observatory for looking into deep space. What an irony that the hon. Gentleman cannot see what is happening under his nose. Unemployment in London has fallen for the first time in three years, and he cannot even bring himself to recognise that fact.

Mr. Harry Greenway : Is the Minister aware that people in London welcome the fall in unemployment but remember in my constituency of Ealing the way in which we lost many jobs during the four years of the loony Labour left which had control there and which, at a stroke, increased local taxation by 65 to 100 per cent? That is how jobs are lost. Labour loses jobs. The Conservative party does not.

Mr. Forsyth : The way to create jobs in Britain is to ensure that we are competitive. That means controlling public expenditure and keeping taxation, including local taxation, down, and my hon. Friend is right to point out how Labour authorities have destroyed jobs the length and breadth of Britain.

Mr. Dobson : The census shows that in Greater London, 28 per cent. more people were out of work and looking for jobs than the figure produced by Department of Employment officials. Which figure was right?

Mr. Forsyth : When the figures were going up, the hon. Gentleman was happy to accept them. Only when they are going down does he cast doubt on them. [Hon. Members :-- "Answer."] I will answer. The census figure for people not working includes people who are ill and people who are not working perhaps because they are going on holiday

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