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House of Commons

Tuesday 28 June 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]


University of London Bill

Considered ; to be read the Third time.

Oral Answers to Questions


Training --

1. Mr. Illsley : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the current percentage of people who undertake training for work who subsequently find employment.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. David Hunt) : Thirty- seven per cent.

Mr. Illsley : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his reply. From my inquiries locally with the Barnsley and Doncaster training and enterprise council, it appears that the figure for young people in my constituency is higher--but it is the percentage of people who actually complete training courses. Is it not time that the Government did more to ensure that young people and those in training for work schemes complete their courses ? They would then have a far better chance of obtaining employment.

Mr. Hunt : I agree. I share the hon. Gentleman's pleasure at the fact that in the Barnsley and Doncaster TEC area the rate is higher for those who have completed training for work--it has risen from 40 to 44 per cent.--and I congratulate all those involved in the TEC on having done such a good job. Like the hon. Gentleman, I welcome the fact that unemployment in his constituency has fallen by more than 10 per cent. since December 1992.

Dr. Spink : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the 70,000 youngsters who take part in the modern apprenticeship scheme each year get the best and most relevant training for work and stand a high chance of securing good employment thereafter ?

Mr. Hunt : I agree with my hon. Friend. The target of increasing from about 12,000 to more than 70,000 the number of youngsters each year who achieve national vocational qualification level 3 will provide a substantial number of youngsters to fill the skills gap at craft, technician and supervisory level. That is important for our economy as we continue to try to be as competitive as possible.

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Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : Are not a number of training providers highlighting a growing trend, in that the proportion of the budget allocated to direct training by each TEC during recent years has been declining because the TECs have to fund a number of other schemes and, unfortunately, a number of them are spending money on administration ? Will the right hon. Gentleman look at their budgets and ensure that a higher proportion of money goes to direct training rather than to other areas ?

Mr. Hunt : I constantly seek to encourage a dialogue between the local Member of Parliament and the local TEC on what should be the local priorities. I do not want to prescribe, in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests, more and more of the budgets. I want to find a way to remove some of the existing restrictions to give more flexibility locally. Although the hon. Gentleman did not say so, I know that he will be pleased that unemployment in his constituency has fallen by 16 per cent. since December 1992.

Sex Equality Branch --

2. Mr. Bayley : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement about the priorities for the sex equality branch of his Department.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Miss Ann Widdecombe) : The branch works to further the Department's key objective--to promote equality of opportunity for women in the workplace and beyond.

Mr. Bayley : What help can the Minister offer my constituent, Mrs. Susan Craven, who was sacked by her employer Securicor after working as a cleaner at Queen Anne's school in York for eight years ? She was sacked in the 34th week of her pregnancy because she was admitted to hospital with complications arising from the pregnancy. She has been offered a new job on lower pay and with no holiday or sickness entitlement. When will the Government's sex equality branch take real action to provide equal employment rights for women ?

Miss Widdecombe : My first advice to Mrs. Craven would be to see what representations her Member of Parliament could make. I have received no representations from the hon. Gentleman that would enable me properly to investigate the case. Instead of raising the matter in the most public and superficial way, perhaps he will write to me making a proper representation so that I can then make a proper investigation.

Mr. Marlow : If the Equal Opportunities Commission did not exist, no Conservative Government would conceivably set it up, so will my hon. Friend get rid of it ? There is enough feminist claptrap around without the taxpayer having to pay for this nauseating, sexist institution.

Miss Widdecombe : I must disappoint my hon. Friend. We have no plans whatever to abolish the EOC ; rather, we welcome a closer working relationship with it, as evidenced by the recent fair play initiative.

Ms Eagle : Does the Minister agree that one of the best things that the sex equality sector of her Department could

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do is to consider the provision of universal child care so as to allow women with responsibilities for looking after children to go out and work if they chose ?

Miss Widdecombe : Child care provision is already increasing in just about every category. There is increasing day nursery provision, and increasing provision by registered child minders ; there is also the Government's initiative to provide £45 million, through the training and enterprise councils, for after-school child care. The Government are addressing child care issues. Why do we never hear Opposition Members welcome those increases ?

Training --

3. Mr. Brandreth : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he has to extend the training for work programme ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Hunt : Training for work helped 294,000 people in England last year, which is over 20,000 more than originally planned.

Mr. Brandreth : Is my right hon. Friend aware that unemployment has fallen yet again in the city of Chester ? It is 6 per cent. lower than it was a year ago, and 35 per cent. lower than it was seven years ago. Does my right hon. Friend agree with the view on the ground, and particularly that of CEWTEC--the Chester, Ellesmere Port and Wirral training and enterprise council--that the training for work programme has had an important effect on employment, especially in regard to those with disabilities and learning difficulties ?

Mr. Hunt : I agree. The most important feature of training for work is that more than 85 per cent. of the client group are long-term unemployed. It is a very important programme, and has had a remarkable impact.

Like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to the work done locally. We share the same training and enterprise council, which is coming up with imaginative and exciting new ideas. I also pay tribute to the Employment Service, which places a substantial number of unemployed people in work. I believe that in Chester nearly 7,000 unemployed people have been placed in work over the past 12 months. I commend all who work in the local jobcentres for that remarkably good result.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Has the Secretary of State read a very interesting letter written by Mr. J. H. Pitman and published in the heavy dailies a few weeks ago concerning deficiencies in Britain's training programmes ? Has the right hon. Gentleman asked to meet Mr. Pitman to discuss his concerns ?

Mr. Hunt : No, I have not. Inquiries are taking place, and the hon. Gentleman knows that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has asked on several occasions for anyone with evidence to come forward. As for the letter, I shall study it again and come back to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Heald : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Hertfordshire not only has unemployment fallen by 12.5 per cent. in the past year, but we have seen a tremendous result from the youth training guarantee ? Delays have been reduced from 108 to just six in the past year. Does that not show that young people in Hertfordshire are being given a far better chance than ever before ?

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Mr. Hunt : I agree. We must continue to present young people in Hertfordshire and elsewhere with an increasing range of opportunities. The new modern apprenticeship scheme will be at the heart of the Government's strategy, and our recent announcement that the opportunity to take part in the scheme is to be extended beyond 16 and 17-year-olds to 18 and 19-year- olds is an important step forward.

Trade Unions --

4. Mr. Barnes : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received concerning this year's

re-registration of trade union membership ; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : If the hon. Gentleman's question is about check-off, various representations have been received.

Mr. Barnes : My question is about registration and re-registration by trade unions and trade union members. Is it not time that some deregulation was introduced for our trade unions ? Why do they have to jump through so many hoops in terms of their existence and organisation and in terms of being recognised and negotiating ? And why is the Minister so vindictive towards railway signalmen, who all do a far more responsible job than he does ?

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman is out of sorts with the times and his potential party leadership. Gone are the days when the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) used to describe ballots as "a scandalous and undemocratic measure against the trade union movement".--[ Official Report , 8 November 1983 ; Vol.48, c.210.] It appears that the hon. Gentleman has not caught up with the movement in his own party. The Government spoke for the British people and the vast majority of trade unionists when we reformed the trade union movement and gave it back to its members.

Mr. Jenkin : Although unemployment has been falling in the North Colchester constituency, the registration of trade unionists has not been one of the factors which may have assisted that. However, employers are worried about the succession of European Court cases that have been lost by the Government. Does my hon. Friend agree with the Prime Minister that we need to look at the way in which the treaty of Rome is operating in this area with a view to reform in 1996 ?

Mr. Forsyth : As my hon. Friend knows, I always agree with the Prime Minister, particularly on that point. On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, there is a link between falling unemployment in his constituency, as in every other, and our trade union reforms. It is because of our trade union reforms that we have been able to create a climate which has attracted 40 per cent. of all inward investment into the European Community into Britain, thus creating jobs.

Unemployment --

5. Mr. John Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the latest unemployment figures in the United Kingdom.

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Mr. David Hunt : Seasonally adjusted claimant unemployment fell by 20,100 last month to 2.661 million.

Mr. Greenway : My right hon. Friend has already acknowledged the success of training and enterprise councils, based as they are on local initiatives supported largely by local businesses. Is he aware that the North Yorkshire TEC, which was four years old last Friday, has already helped more than 12,000 individuals and firms, helping many of them to get back into work ? Does not the success of that initiative give the lie to the Labour party's claim that the Government are doing nothing about training ?

Mr. Hunt : I join my hon. Friend in commending his local training and enterprise council. I know of North Yorkshire TEC because my hon. Friend has just sent me a copy of its annual report which highlights a range of exciting and imaginative initiatives. Also, it is well known for its high-powered marketing approach and the way in which it extends the hand of help to so many in my hon. Friend's area. I commend the way in which he is working so closely with his local TEC.

Mr. Winnick : Does the Minister accept that there is not the slightest reason for complacency on the part of the Government as regards unemployment ? Far too many people, certainly in the west midlands but also elsewhere, suffer the appalling indignity of not being able to find work, with a substantial number having been unemployed for longer than 12 months. When will the Government recognise the injustice, indignity and humiliation suffered by people without employment and try to get the figure down to at least the level that existed when the Tories took office in 1979 ?

Mr. Hunt : Why does the hon. Gentleman not take pride in the fact that since December 1992 unemployment in his constituency has fallen by 12 per cent ? I, too, take pride in the fact that over the past 18 months unemployment in the United Kingdom has fallen by more than 300,000 while in the rest of Europe it has risen by more than 1.5 million. Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that our policies are working and that we have 70 per cent. of our working age population in work, which is one of the highest percentages anywhere in Europe ?

Mr. Alan Howarth : Given my right hon. Friend's personal commitment to ensuring improved employment opportunities for disabled people, will he examine the difficulties that training for work procedures entail for small specialist providers of training for disabled people ? In particular, will he consider the possibility of providing regional budgets for disability training with a view to reducing the time, effort and cost involved for trainers and for training and enterprise councils in the present fragmented system ?

Mr. Hunt : I will continue to look at that problem as I want to ensure that all training and enterprise councils put equal opportunities and opportunities for disabled people at the top of their agenda. The Employment Service leads by good example : it sets a target on the number of disabled people to be placed in work, which is then divided among all the areas. In the next 12 months, the service aims to meet its national target of placing 55,000 disabled people in work and it is confident of achieving that.

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Mr. Malcolm Bruce : Will the Secretary of State explain why the Treasury's summary economic forecast, published today, states that while

"unemployment has fallen . . . employment . . . has yet to show strong recovery ?"

In view of what he has been telling the House about the fall in unemployment, will he explain why not enough jobs are being created and whether the fall in unemployment does not have far more to do with disillusioned people dropping out of the market than with the creation of new jobs to take people back into work ?

Mr. Hunt : The Opposition have argued that we should accept Labour Force Survey and International Labour Organisation measure of unemployment and employment. In the 12-month period between winter 1992 and winter 1993- -the latest period for which statistics are available--unemployment fell by 180,000 and claimant unemployment figures fell by 187,000. In the same period, the number of jobs increased by 147,000. Those figures show that there has been a substantial increase in employment.

Mr. Congdon : Given the determined efforts of the European Commission to impose social costs on British industry, will my right hon. Friend continue to do everything that he can to resist any measures from Brussels that would increase unemployment in this country ?

Mr. Hunt : My right hon. and hon. Friends and I will continue our efforts to persuade our colleagues in the European Union that the only way to create jobs and to overcome the rising tide of unemployment elsewhere in Europe is to ensure that we have measures to remove burdens on employers, that we have a stable economic background--the strength of which in the United Kingdom is shown by figures released today--and that we have a much more flexible labour market. That is the only way to ensure that we create jobs.

Mr. Prescott : Can the Secretary of State explain why he refers to the level of unemployment while his Department refers to that of unemployed claimants ? Why is a reduction in the number of claimants not reflected in the level of employment ? Is it not just a fiddle by the Government ? If they spent half as much time getting people back to work as they spend fiddling the figures, a lot more people would be back at work.

Mr. Hunt : I am pleased to see the hon. Gentleman in his place and that he has made such a swift recovery from a rather unfortunate accident. I refer again to the statistics that I just gave, as I am not too sure whether he could have been listening. I referred to the ILO measure of unemployment, which shows that in the latest 12-month period for which figures are available unemployment fell by 180,000 while at the same time employment rose by 147,000. Instead of casting stones at the figures and insults at the statisticians, the hon. Gentleman might reflect for a moment on my answer, which disproves his allegation.

Labour Statistics --

7. Mr. Hain : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what has been the percentage change in economically inactive adult males of working age since 1981.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : There has been a 60 per cent. increase.

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Mr. Hain : Is that not significant and does it not give an indication of the hidden level of unemployment ? The economically inactive working age totals--the Department's own totals--show that more than 2.5 million adult men of working age, some of whom admittedly are disabled or sick or perhaps have taken early retirement, are being pushed off the official register by the Government's manipulation although they want to work. Why do the Government not have the investment policies to give them an opportunity to work ? In Wales, for example, one in every three men is unemployed, by any measure, if we take the official totals and the economically inactive totals. That represents a grotesque waste of talents and abilities.

Mr. Forsyth : I am grateful, as I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security will be, for the hon. Gentleman's support for the reform of invalidity benefit. The hon. Gentleman will know that of that 60 per cent. increase in those who are economically inactive, two thirds of the people involved are registered as sick or long-term disabled. The biggest increase in recent years has been among students, as a result of the Government's determination to encourage more people to go into further and higher education. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to those figures.

Mr. Devlin : In areas such as mine, and in Wales, where older traditional industries were restructured in the early 1980s, the Government have taken several significant initiatives to try to bring down the level of male unemployment. Despite the difficulty in training older men to learn computing and similar skills, have not many of those measures in the north of England been strikingly effective ?

Mr. Forsyth : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The great benefit of the job seeker's allowance, when it is introduced, is that it will ensure that every measure is used to encourage people to get back into the labour market, which will be good for them as individuals and for the economy as a whole.

Mr. MacShane : Will the Minister join me in congratulating the German Government, German employers and the German trade unions on ensuring that there are 600,000 young apprentices in their engineering and manufacturing industries ? What hope can he give the 16 to 18-year-olds in Rotherham, who have pitifully few apprenticeships and traineeships in industry--the lowest number in the European Community ?

Mr. Forsyth : I am astonished that Opposition Members should praise the German Government in the House, yet not praise my right hon. Friend for his initiative on modern apprenticeships in this country. I am also astonished that the hon. Gentleman did not find time in his question to praise the fall in unemployment in his own constituency.

Working Hours --

8. Dr. Goodson-Wickes : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what estimates he has made of the number of United Kingdom workers who would be affected by a statutory reduction in the working week to 35 hours.

Mr. David Hunt : The estimate is 14.75 million.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes : I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply, which could not demonstrate more clearly the

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wisdom of the Government's robust rejection of the social chapter. Will he give the House an assurance that he will continue to reject the current conditions of that chapter, knowing the catastrophic effect that they would have on the success of British companies ? That fact seems to have escaped the unreformed socialist party, in the shape of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott).

Mr. Hunt : I give my hon. Friend that categorical assurance, and add that when the 48-hour working time directive originally came from the Commission it was designed to compel people to work no more than 48 hours a week. Mr. Ford, a member of the European Parliament on the Opposition side

Mr. Prescott : We are not the Opposition there.

Mr. Hunt : Mr. Ford, who is from the Labour party, said that he would like to see-- [Interruption.] Will the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East calm down for a moment and recognise that Mr. Ford has argued that instead of a 48-hour week there should be a 35-hour week right across the European Union ? [Interruption.] I hear several voices approving that idea. That would mean telling 14.75 million people in the United Kingdom that they would no longer be allowed to work the hours that they chose. It would also impose costs of £20,000 million on industry, as well as a compulsory pay cut of £20,000 million.

Mrs. Clwyd : Will the Secretary of State, therefore, tell us why 68 per cent. of those at work in the United Kingdom are forced to work the longest working week in Europe to earn a decent living wage ? Those are not the hours that they want to work ; they can earn a decent wage only in that way. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that since 1979, British income per head has fallen from the European average to below the European average ? Will he remind us which party has been in government since 1979 ?

Mr. Hunt : I have two points in answer to that three-pronged question. First, in the United Kingdom, the average working week is just less than the average working week in the European Union. Secondly, let us look at take-home pay. I have here the latest table for European countries, which I am very willing to place in the Library, which shows annual take- home pay in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in 1991. For a single person, take-home pay in the United Kingdom was the second highest in the whole of the European Union.

Training and Enterprise Councils --

9. Mr. Mark Robinson : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when he last met representatives of the TEC movement ; and what matters were discussed.

Miss Widdecombe : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly meet TEC representatives to discuss a wide range of topics.

Mr. Robinson : My hon. Friend will be aware that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State paid a successful visit on 6 June to Somerset training and enterprise council. She may also be aware that Somerset TEC recently commissioned a survey which showed that 79 per cent. of all recently started-up businesses were still flourishing 18 months later. Will my hon. Friend consider the possibility

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of giving a high priority to bids under the single regeneration budget ? They are extremely important to those who seek start-up funding.

Miss Widdecombe : I congratulate my hon. Friend on the performance of Somerset TEC. I confirm that the survey showing that 79 per cent. of new businesses were still trading was extremely encouraging and correct. The business start-up scheme is now part of the single regeneration budget. All bids for the regeneration fund, which is now included in that budget, will be most seriously considered. It is worth recording that 650,000 business start-ups were successfully implemented in the past year.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : When the Secretary of State and the Minister met the TECs, did they discuss the London School of Economics report which showed that because of Government underfunding, the TECs were locked into delivering low-quality training simply for the unemployed ? Does the Minister agree that if we are to begin to harness the potential of the nation's labour force and to enhance skill levels, we shall need considerably more than a change of direction by the Government. We shall need a change of Government.

Miss Widdecombe : We discussed not merely the LSE report, but far more up-to-date findings which show that the quality of TEC training is steadily improving. It is worth recording that there have been 165,000 youth training or credit starts since August, 650,000 business start-ups and 272,000 training for work a year. When we measure outcomes in terms of national vocational qualification level 3, which I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can call a derisory qualification, we find that the TECs are delivering training in very much the way that we hoped and that they are getting better at it all the time. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to congratulate his local TEC on its performance.

Mr. Rowe : Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the standards that the Department uses to measure the effectiveness of the TECs are adequate ? Is she also satisfied that the performance of the best TECs is published regularly to enable TECs that are not so effective to catch up ?

Miss Widdecombe : The measurements that we use measure skills gained, qualifications gained, successful outcomes and those in employment at the end of training. We believe that those measures are the best as they successfully establish what the outcome of training has been. We are satisfied that they are correct and we are satisfied that there is increasing performance by the TECs. Having published the league tables of TECs, which give comparative performance, we believe that the best practices will now be disseminated and that TECs that have poorer performances will be encouraged to improve.

Labour Statistics --

10. Mr. Flynn : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is his most recent estimate of the number of people who are counted twice or thrice in the employment totals.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : Three per cent. of the employed work force have two or more jobs.

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Mr. Flynn : Was not it unfair of Mr. Alan Clark in his diaries to say that the Department of Employment did nothing but concoct useless schemes to con the unemployed off the register, ignoring entirely the imaginative, creative energetic work that takes place in the Department every month to fiddle the employment and unemployment figures ? Should not the Department's headquarters be recognised for what it is ; the country's biggest, most shameless, most disreputable massage parlour ?

Mr. Forsyth : I am responsible for many difficult things, but, fortunately, I am not responsible for Mr. Alan Clark's diaries.

Sir Donald Thompson : Has my hon. Friend any idea of the number of people who are registered unemployed or are registered for benefit who are working ?

Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend will be aware that we are proposing to introduce the new job seeker's allowance, which will help to ensure that people are targeted and that we give them the help and support that they need to get back into employment. It is interesting that a number of those measures in the past have resulted in people leaving the register entirely. It is wholly proper that our resources should be concentrated on minimising the number of people who face unemployment and on helping those who face unemployment back into work.

Mr. Prescott : Can the Minister explain why the Department's own statisticians have agreed that the adjustment to the unemployment criteria figures have reduced the claimants by at least 500,000 and that the double counting for the employment figures has increased them ? Is that a pure coincidence or, by political design, just one, big, major fiddle ?

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman knows that he is talking nonsense. I cannot think why we have Question Time after Question Time when he makes the same points about the figures. Presumably, it is because he is not able to give the House any answers as to how he would deliver the full employment which he boasts he and his party can achieve.

Redundant Service Personnel --

11. Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he has to visit the Wiltshire training and enterprise council to discuss the re-employment of redundant service personnel.

Miss Widdecombe : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no immediate plans to visit Wiltshire training and enterprise council. However, my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State will meet TEC representatives when he visits the Royal British Legion training centre at Tidworth next month.

Mr. Coombs : I am sure that if my hon. Friend or, indeed, if my right hon. Friend were able to visit the Wiltshire training and enterprise council, they would be made well aware of the excellent job prospects which we now in have in northern Wiltshire. They would also be told of the concern over the future of the business start-up scheme. May I draw, again, to the attention of the House the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Robinson) ? There is considerable concern

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about future funding prospects under that scheme, especially for the ex-service men, who will be looking for work in the Wiltshire area in the near future. Is there anything more that my hon. Friend can say to give comfort to the TEC and to those potential beneficiaries of the start-up scheme ?

Miss Widdecombe : At the kind invitation of my hon. Friend, I shall be delighted to visit Wiltshire TEC as soon as it is possible to do so. Meanwhile, may I tell him that, within three months of being made redundant, 80 per cent of ex-service personnel are employed or otherwise settled according to their own requirements. Indeed, that is given a high priority. My hon. Friend will also be aware of the help given to redundant service personnel by my Department. I can assure him that that will continue. In response to the question about the business start-up scheme, I can only reassure my hon. Friend that funds have been made available in the single regeneration budget and that all bids will be considered on their merit.

Mr. Janner : When the Minister is considering the re-employment of service personnel, whether at the Wiltshire TEC or anywhere else, does she put that into the overall structure ? Has she or the Secretary of State discussed the sacking and redundancies among service personnel with the Secretary of State for Defence ? If so, how many service personnel has the Secretary of State for Defence said are likely to be made redundant in the next six months ?

Miss Widdecombe : There is constant contact between my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Employment and for Defence. These matters are regularly discussed.

Labour Statistics --

12. Mrs. Peacock : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many people in Yorkshire and Humberside have been placed in work by the Employment Service in the last 12 months.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : A total of 132,200 people have been placed in employment in Yorkshire and Humberside by the Employment Service. That is 16.7 per cent. more than in the previous year.

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