1. Mr. Kilfoyle : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what assessment he has made of the effect of the proposed reduction in grant aid to the Health and Safety Executive on charges to industry.
The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : Next year, the grant in aid to the Health and Safety Commission will be increased in cash terms. It is for the HSC to decide how to plan its work within the available resources.
Mr. Kilfoyle : Is not the reality that there will be further charges? I refer specifically to the letter from the director to the staff of December 1993, which said that there would be an increase in charges to industry. Will not that add to the burdens that are placed on business generally? Will not there be cuts in the number of Health and Safety Executive staff, which will mean fewer on-site inspections and less access to the professional support and guidance that is required, leading to a further lowering of standards of health and safety?
Mr. Forsyth : The position is not as the hon. Gentleman suggests. The Health and Safety Commission has decided for the time being not to increase the range of charges that it levies. The hon. Gentleman is right-- there may be a reduction in the overall staffing of about 120 posts, but that will be done by natural wastage. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will know, staffing levels reached a record total in September last year and they are something approaching 50 per cent. higher than they were when the Health and Safety Commission was established by the last Labour Government.
Mr. Mudie : Does the Minister accept that his first answer, in which he said that the grant was being increased in cash terms, is incorrect and that in real terms a cut of many millions of pounds is being made? Does he agree with the director-general of the HSE that proposals are coming through that will increase the charges on
Column 692businesses? How can he defend the cuts in services and staffing which could have horrifying consequences? Or does he care?
Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman heard the answer that I gave about charging, which is that this is a matter for the Health and Safety Commission. At present, it is not minded to increase the scope for charging. That is what it has decided. As for the points about safety and the concerns in the workplace, the hon. Gentleman must know that we have had the lowest ever figures for fatal accidents in the workplace. That trend has been sustained through some three years. If the hon. Gentleman is arguing that the Health and Safety Commission has additional duties as a result of the Government's actions, I would accept that that is so. Even compared with the duties of the Health and Safety Commission under Labour when it was established, there has been a substantial increase in staffing. Any reductions in posts will maintain those front-line functions.
Mr. Waterson : Does my hon. Friend agree that once the Government's deregulation Bill has become law, bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive will be able to concentrate on those regulations dealing with health and safety rather than on the unnecessary and pettifogging regulations that are the true causes of unnecessary charges to industry and business?
Mr. Forsyth : I absolutely agree with the sentiments that my hon. Friend expresses about the importance of reducing the burden of unnecessary regulation and bureaucracy. One of the ironies of this debate is that the Labour party, which established the Health and Safety Commission and wrote into the legislation that it was under a duty to review and modernise the health and safety regulations, now distances itself from that very proposition to make cheap political points against the Government.
Mr. John Greenway : Although I appreciate that he may not have personal knowledge of it, will my hon. Friend reassure my constituents in the vicinity of the proposed Kelt UK Ltd. gas-fired electricity generating plant in the vale of Pickering that the changes within the commission will not in any way undermine its ability to regulate that proposed plant, that it will be safe to the public and that there will be no damage to the environment?
Mr. Forsyth : I can give my hon. Friend that assurance as part of a general assurance that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have repeatedly given. That is, nothing that the Government do, or that the Health and Safety Commission proposes, will in any way undermine standards of health and safety. On the contrary, by making regulations more understandable and by removing duplication and red tape we shall ensure higher standards of health and safety in the workplace.
Mr. Barron : If the Health and Safety Commission is not going to increase charges, can the Minister assure the House and businesses that no charges will be levied on businesses to pay for the statutory duties of the commission?
Mr. Forsyth : I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that that is a matter for the Health and Safety Commission. It is for the commission to make proposals and Ministers have made it clear that we shall be guided by its advice. The hon. Gentleman cannot argue that the
Column 693taxpayer should put in more money while at the same time arguing that a large proportion of the Health and Safety Commission's income, which comes from charging, should not be reviewed from time to time. The trouble with Opposition Members is that they are not prepared to embrace change or to take account of changing circumstances.
Mr. Garnier : Has my hon. Friend had a chance to study the reports of the Lloyds bank business survey, which deals with both the national position and that in the east midlands and which predicts larger job increases, more profits and wider overseas markets for east midlands businesses? Is she aware that the employment picture in Harborough is better than it was 10 years ago, last year or even last month? Indeed, our unemployment figures are under 2,000.
Miss Widdecombe : I can confirm to my hon. Friend that, quite fortuitously, I have here the survey that he mentioned. It shows, among other things, that about a quarter of the firms in his constituency have taken on more staff. It also confirms that 16 per cent. expect to take on more staff during the next six months. It ends with a sentiment which I think would be generally echoed from the Government Benches :
"This survey clears up any doubts that the UK economic recovery is finally established and under way."
Mr. Jim Marshall : That reply displays an unwarranted sense of complacency. The Minister may not have to hand the figures for my constituency, which is adjacent to that of the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), but may I remind her that it still has an unemployment rate of more than 13 per cent? Until the Government take a more proactive role, unemployment will remain unacceptably high.
Miss Widdecombe : It is abundantly clear that the new year's resolutions taken by Opposition Members did not include one to put cheer, heart and encouragement into their constituents. Perhaps I could carry out that role for the hon. Gentleman and give his constituents some heart and encouragement by saying that in his area there has also been a rise in civilian employment of 78,000 during the period in question. Will he please welcome that?
Mrs. Angela Knight : Is my hon. Friend aware of the recent publication of a pamphlet entitled "Unemployment in Derbyshire", which shows that unemployment was falling fast in the county and that vacancies were rising? Does she agree that that underlines the fact that Britain is moving out of recession? Does it also mean that the prospects are better, not just for those without a job in the county and in my constituency of Erewash, but for school leavers this summer?
Miss Widdecombe : I can confirm what my hon. Friend says. With the exception of the Opposition, there is now no one in the country who does not welcome the fall in unemployment in every region, the increase in vacancies and in civilian employment and the flexibility which means that we can take advantage of inward investment. When the Opposition start cheering those facts, I will believe that they care about British workers.
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. David Hunt) : Up-to-date information is not available, but unemployment in the hon. Gentleman's constituency has decreased by 9 per cent. in the past year and by 21 per cent. since 1986.
Mr. Battle : Is the Minister aware that many of my constituents are being offered permanent temporary work, but on a "term-time only" basis? That applies to people who are offered work at the Leeds metropolitan university, in the hospitals, and increasingly in business. It means that people have to sign on and off the dole and be in and out of the benefit office three, four and five times a year to make up their incomes from social security. Is not that employment practice reducing people to casual hired hands reminiscent of the last century, and costing the economy dearly?
First, I greatly regret that the hon. Gentleman did not see fit to welcome the decrease in unemployment in his constituency. Secondly, I ask him to examine the statistics, which show that the percentage of those employed in temporary and casual work has remained between 5 and 6 per cent. in the past 10 years. I agree that it has increased sharply in the rest of Europe. It has trebled in France. In Spain, mainly as a result of the statutory minimum wage and other restrictions, the share of temporary and casual work has increased in the past 10 years from 15.6 per cent.--bearing in mind that it is between 5 and 6 per cent. in this country--to 32 per cent. Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on that?
Mr. Parry : The Government's recent crowing about the drop in unemployment will raise no joy in Liverpool, Riverside. Is the Minister aware that there is 24.3 per cent. unemployment in Riverside, and 306,000 are unemployed in the north-west region? Can he say when he expects the figures to drop below 10 per cent. in Liverpool, especially in Riverside?
Column 695national average, below 10 per cent., nor that unemployment in the nation is 226,000 less than it was in January last year.
I believe that the prospects are good in Merseyside. I wish that Opposition Members would stop disparaging Liverpool and Merseyside. Merseyside has some of the best-known companies in the world, which are not only doing well but setting an example in Europe and in the rest of the world. I would simply refer the hon. Gentleman to the example of GPT, which I visited only a few weeks ago. It has revolutionised working practices and now has one of the most competitive work forces in the world. We are the centre, for instance, of the intelligent payphone industry, exporting from Chorley and Liverpool to 88 countries throughout the world. The hon. Gentleman should start singing the praises of the work force on Merseyside.
Sir Michael Neubert : For a proper perspective, is it not important to remember the present size of the work force? Does my right hon. Friend know the number of people in work, as opposed to out of work, and what proportion of the population of working age it represents?
Mr. Hunt : Those are two interesting statistics. First, the number of people employed now exceeds 25 million, which is 1.4 million more than were in the work force 10 years ago. That is a good figure. My hon. Friend also asked about the percentage of the working-age population in work. We have one of the highest rates in the whole of Europe ; close to 80 per cent. of the male population of working age, and 63 per cent. of women of working age are in work. Altogether, 69 per cent. of adults of working age are in work. It is about time that the Labour party started looking at the statistics and praising the performance of the British people.
Ms Eagle : Will the Secretary of State admit that in drawing attention to the plight of the long-term unemployed on Merseyside my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) was talking down not Merseyside but the Government policies that have led to a massive loss of manufacturing employment there, and have thrown on to the scrap heap large numbers of young men, who find that they have no role in life and so turn to other diversions? Will the right hon. Gentleman admit that substantial and persistent high unemployment, such as has been suffered on Merseyside during his Government's time in office, does serious damage to the social fabric of our society and to our local communities, and that we must return to full employment to create a society "at ease with itself"?
Mr. Hunt : Most of my political life has been spent fighting the Labour party in and around Merseyside. Socialism has done enormous damage to Liverpool and Merseyside, and I am not prepared to take lectures from the hon. Lady on that subject. She referred to criticisms of policies, but her party would introduce a statutory minimum wage that would cost up to 2 million jobs, compulsory working weeks and statutory works councils. The Labour party wants to move in that direction just at the moment when the rest of Europe is beginning to heed our language and to realise that flexible labour markets bring more job opportunities.
Column 696opportunities that that will create in the north-west? Does he agree that it is scandalous for the Labour leader of Lancashire county council to preach a policy of more jobs, while trying to prevent the plant from opening?
Mr. Hunt : I agree with my hon. Friend. The Labour party was split on that issue as on so many other key issues facing the nation today. The right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said one thing and the chairman of the county council said another. Fortunately, the overwhelming arguments in favour of that prestigious development prevailed, and it has now provided much-needed job opportunities in the area.
Mr. Prescott : Does the Secretary of State accept that, despite some of the improvements, unemployment today is at least 1.75 million more, using the fiddled figures--or 2.5 million more--than in 1979, when the Conservatives won the election on the slogan, "Labour isn't working"? Does he accept that, even with the present improvement in employment, it is likely to take until the next century for him and his Government to achieve the levels of employment and unemployment taken on by the Tory Government in 1979?
Mr. Hunt : I greatly regret that the hon. Gentleman has referred to the figures in a way that casts a great deal of suspicion on the independent statisticians in my Department. I make him the same offer as I made to his predecessor : I invite him to come to meet the independent statisticians whom he slanders, and to hear them tell him how much they, as well as I, regret that slander. I take great pride in the fact that productivity is at record levels. I recognise that that has led to a reduction in employment in manufacturing, but I take great heart from the fact that today 4 million people in the manufacturing industry are producing more than 7 million people produced in 1979. I believe that we have one of the best work forces in the world and that is why I believe that unemployment is on a firm downward trend. The hon. Gentleman disparages the country for being a service industry, yet he works in the service sector himself and it is about time that he exposed himself to a little market testing.
Mr. Luff : If I were to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's excellent record of attracting inward investment into Wales, would he join me in paying tribute to the inward investment by American, Japanese and European companies in my constituency of Worcester, creating and safeguarding many hundreds of jobs? What estimates does he have of the total number of jobs safeguarded and created in England by inward investment which was largely opposed by the Labour party?
Mr. Hunt : I agree with my hon. Friend. The record on inward investment has been quite spectacular. Since 1979, in the United Kingdom there have been 3,800 projects, involving more than 500,000 jobs--many of them new and safeguarded jobs. They are good jobs and have provided a
Column 697real local base. As we look forward to the future, let us stop talking down the United Kingdom and England and start talking up the fact that that investment is coming because we have the best work force in the world.
Mr. Cryer : When does the Minister expect the inward investment to allow us to get back to the basic figure of 4.1 per cent. unemployment-- around 1.8 million people--of April 1979 under the last Labour Government?
Mr. Hunt : As I pointed out earlier, that was when we had 7 million people producing as much as 4 million people produce today. It is about time the hon. Gentleman reflected on the fact that British industry was so uncompetitive when we took over in 1979 and we have seen some of the best productivity increases seen anywhere in the world.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton : I warmly welcome the most encouraging statistics that my right hon. Friend has given to the House in answer not only to this question but to others today. Will he accept that my constituency has one of the lowest levels of unemployment in the country, but that the north-west has in recent times encountered one or two serious and unfortunate blows, not least the receivership of Ferranti International --the sonar division of which is based in my constituency--and, more recently, the redundancies at Avro International Aerospace at Woodford on the periphery of my constituency? Will my right hon. Friend explain to the House what assistance he is giving to those two companies and to those being made redundant so as to minimise the adverse effects of those redundancies on them and their families?
Mr. Hunt : I greatly regret the redundancies that have occurred and the incidents to which my hon. Friend referred. Those jobs, certainly the ones recently announced by British Aerospace at Woodford and Chadderton, are part of British Aerospace's overall drive to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Of course there are concerns about the joint venture with Taiwan, but talks with Taiwan are continuing and British Aerospace has made it clear that Avro will continue in business whatever the outcome of those talks. Of course, local training and enterprise councils and the employment service will give the maximum possible assistance to all those who are affected by the closures.
9. Mr. Leighton : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what Acts and regulations relating to health and safety in force before December 1992 have been affected by the six EC directives which came into force on 31 December 1992 ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Michael Forsyth : Implementation of the directives has resulted in changes to 70 Acts, regulations and orders. I will arrange for a full list to be placed in the Library. However, of particular interest to Opposition Members might be the repeal of the Gut Scraping etc. Preparation of Tripe, Welfare of Workers Order 1920 and the Spinning by Self-Acting Mules Regulations 1905.
Mr. Leighton : Does the Minister recall the press release issued by the Secretary of State on 20 July, which referred to the Government's scrutiny report into the implementation of Community law? In it, he said that
Column 698health and safety legislation had been implemented in the United Kingdom without what he called the addition of unnecessary extra requirements, and that the scrutiny demonstrated that the charges that the Health and Safety Executive had been gold plating EC directives was completely unfounded. Does not what he said prove that it is entirely possible for the Health and Safety Executive to remove redundant legislation without a special Bill?
Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that the DTI scrutiny absolved the Health and Safety Executive and the Government of any blame that we were gilding the lily in implementing EC directives. However, the hon. Gentleman is perhaps not aware that the Health and Safety Executive asked the Government to look at section 1(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, which it believes prevents it from repealing redundant legislation without replacement.
Mr. David Atkinson : Can my hon. Friend confirm that only two member states of the European Community--Denmark and the United Kingdom--have implemented in full into their national legislation all nine of the EC directives on health and safety at work? Are they not to be congratulated, rather than criticised, for that fine record?
Mr. Forsyth : Of course I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He is quite right. Only two member states--Britain and Denmark--had implemented the so-called six-pack by the January deadline. Indeed, only three EC countries have not been subject to criticism by the Commission in respect to their implementation of health and safety legislation. It is important not to regard the matter of health and safety as passing regulations and legislation. It is about influencing people's conduct in the workplace.
Mrs. Clwyd : Does the Minister recall bragging in November that Britain had opted out of European legislation to protect children from exploitation at work? The Social Affairs Commissioner said in Strasbourg this week that
"It is very regrettable that the UK cannot endorse a minimal threshold for the protection of children, considered acceptable by the other 11 Member States."
What would the Minister say to him? Is it not the case that, as the Commission and the International Labour Organisation have condemned the British Government, the whole rotten deal to exploit children will soon be thrown out?
Mr. Forsyth : If ever we needed evidence of the Labour party's federal view, we have just heard it in that question. Those in Europe who seek to prevent us from allowing paperboys and others to continue their jobs should mind their own business. We have a long tradition of youngsters taking those jobs, and only the Labour party would wish to frustrate that continuing tradition.
Mr. Ian Bruce : Is my hon. Friend being somewhat defensive about health and safety regulations in this country? Is it not a fact that we have probably the best health and safety record in the world? It is Opposition Members who want to run down the excellent work and the excellent partnership between the Health and Safety Executive and caring employers and employees.
Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) asks, "Why change it?" That is exactly why the Government have resisted the approach from Europe which, a few minutes ago, the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) criticised us for doing.
Mr. McFall : Will the Minister look at the figures again? In Scotland, the Labour party contacted both the careers service and local enterprise companies, and the figure of 8,000 young people without a guarantee was given. That figure has still to be refuted. Whatever the precise figures, does the Minister agree that many thousands of young people are going about the United Kingdom without a job, without benefit, without hope and without a future? If back to basics means anything, does it not mean going back to giving a commitment to young people about a job and their future?
Miss Widdecombe : The long faces among Labour Members are equalled only by the sheer inaccuracy of their figures. I have in front of me the figure for Scotland, which the hon. Gentleman quoted as "8,000". The exact figure is 1,535. Perhaps I could give the hon. Gentleman some good news from his constituency. In August, 688 young people were waiting more than eight weeks, but today there are only 141. That is progress. Let the hon. Gentleman loudly welcome it.
Mr. Paice : Can my hon. Friend confirm that CAMBSTEC--the Cambridgeshire training and enterprise council--which services my constituency, now has only 12 young people waiting over eight weeks for their guarantee? Does not that underline why CAMBSTEC regularly comes near the top of all the surveys of training and enterprise councils throughout the country? Does not it demonstrate that the guarantee can effectively be met if TECs get their act together?
Miss Widdecombe : Indeed, I congratulate CAMBSTEC on its performance on the youth training guarantee, as I do on its performance on other issues. I have pleasure in confirming the figure mentioned by my hon. Friend. I have even greater pleasure in confirming that there are TECs with even lower figures, and many now with nought.
Mr. Tony Lloyd : Those 16 and 17-year-olds who have been abandoned by the Government, often to a life of the sort of crime that people up and down this land resent, are the direct victims of the Government's policies. Can the Minister deny that this time last year, when the
Column 700Government were claiming that there were no 16 and 17-year-olds not on the guarantee, their labour force survey later revealed that 125, 000 young people were not in work? Let me make it clear that we do not accuse civil servants of fiddling the figures or lying. The answer as to who is lying is much higher up the chain.
Miss Widdecombe : The hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand the way in which the youth guarantee works, despite patient explanations from the Government. No young people are abandoned by the Government. They are in one of three places. They are either in education-- [Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentleman welcome the fact that 77 per cent. of 16 to 18-year-olds are now in full-time education, or will he take the line that education is second best and Labour Members want an untrained, lowly qualified work force, rather than a highly educated one? Will he welcome the number of young people in training and jobs? Will he welcome the decrease in the number waiting? When will Labour Members welcome that performance? Will the hon. Gentleman stand up now and welcome all that?
Sir Thomas Arnold : Is it not the case that the improvement in the figures is largely due to the fact that the job market is responding more quickly to the upturn in the economy because of more flexible labour relations?
Mr. Hunt : I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. There has been a transformation in industrial relations in this country. In 1979, industry lost 1,270 working days per 1,000 employees through disputes and strikes. By 1992, thanks to Conservative legislation, that number had fallen to 24. That is a significant development, and my hon. Friend is quite right to pay tribute to it.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce : Welcome as the reduction in unemployment is, does the Secretary of State accept that unemployment has fluctuated between 2 million and 3 million during the past 10 years? Will he look to the future and state when he thinks the figure will go below 2 million or 1 million? In the post-general agreement on tariffs and trade era and with the recovery of Germany and Japan and the rising nations of the Pacific rim, does he believe that this country has the skill base to compete and to ensure low unemployment and competitive trading conditions?
The hon. Gentleman must recall that there has been an increase in jobs during the past 10 years, with an increase in the number of people in work of 1.4 million. Nevertheless, I accept that 2,766,200 is still an unacceptably high level of unemployment. I want to see that number brought down, and brought down permanently.
Column 701Therefore, I ask the hon. Gentleman and his party to oppose the Opposition policies of a minimum working wage, statutory works councils and compulsory working weeks which would only cost jobs. I urge him to join the Government in creating a new and modern apprenticeship scheme which will help to restore skills that are lacking at certain levels--particularly NVQ level 3.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the news that unemployment in Lancaster has fallen steeply compared with this time last year is welcome? The figure has fallen faster than either the national average or the regional average. Does my right hon. Friend also agree that if Commissioner Millan were to agree with the proposition made in the European Parliament by my noble Friend Lord Inglewood, that tourism should be declared an industry, we could do even better?
Mr. Hunt : I agree with my hon. Friend on the significance of tourism, not only as an employer but also as a contributor of substantial sums of money. I cannot give her what she is looking for in terms of categorisation, but I recognise the importance and the significance of tourism. I welcome with her the reduction in unemployment in the north- west.
Mr. Prescott : Does the Secretary of State accept that the reduction in the employment figures is due to the transformation of the labour market and that the loss of 3 million full-time jobs since 1979, and their replacement by 3 million part-time jobs has transformed the British labour force into a low-pay, low-skill skivvy labour force? Does the Secretary of State accept that that is no way for Britain to get economic prosperity?
It is quite absurd for the hon. Gentleman to categorise the great success of this country as if it were just an increase in fast food jobs. We heard earlier a question regarding the fast food industry, because some Opposition Members have said that the rise in employment has come in the fast food industry. I do not know what those Opposition Members want. Do they want slow food, as they are in the slow lane of British politics? McDonalds? They are in the era of Ramsay MacDonald. Pizza Hut? They are still in a stone age hut. It is about time that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues woke up to the modern world.
Column 702success and determination? Has my hon. Friend noted the silence on the Opposition Benches? Is not good news for Britain and Lancashire bad news for Labour?
Mr. Forsyth : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Opposition Members are the first people in history to shoot the messenger when he brings good news. The north-west is benefiting from the recovery more than any other part of the country. That was demonstrated by the Lloyd's bank review, which showed full order books there at a better level than in any other part of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Bryan Davies : Even before the collapse of Ferranti and the loss of jobs at British Aerospace, only one school leaver out of 12 in my constituency could get a job. What does the Minister say to the other 11?
Mr. Forsyth : I would tell those youngsters looking for jobs that they should not listen to the Jeremiahs on the Opposition Benches but should recognise that 250,000 people have been placed in work in the north- west in the past year, that the Lloyd's bank survey showed that more than a third of employers expect to take people on in the coming years, and that we shall get more jobs only by being more competitive and rejecting the Labour party's policies.