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Mrs. Peacock : Is my hon. Friend aware of the investment in jobs in Batley and Spen by Thomas' of Europe, which was again recruiting for its work force, and the £1.5 million investment by Thomas Carr in new spinning machinery for carpet yarn, which will safeguard jobs and, we hope, produce more in the near future ?
Mr. Forsyth : I am aware of that good news. I am not surprised that Batley and Spen has benefited from inward investment and growth in employment, and especially from having such an able Member of Parliament who never ceases to take the opportunity to bang the drum for their benefit and to support jobs in her constituency.
Mr. Barron : Between 1981 and 1991, Yorkshire and Humberside lost more than 110,000 full-time jobs. They have been replaced by 123,000 part- time jobs--a full-time job loss equivalent of somewhere in the region of 62,000 jobs. Are the Government proud of that record ?
Mr. Forsyth : I am extremely proud of the Government's record in encouraging the creation of part-time jobs. If the hon. Gentleman is not careful, he will find himself in trouble with the feminist wing in his party because two thirds of part-time jobs are held by people who want part -time jobs, not people who cannot find full-time jobs. Many of them are women who are able to get back into work while maintaining their family responsibilities. That is the result of the Government taking on the vested interests for which the hon. Gentleman speaks.
Miss Widdecombe : A new framework for providing careers services is now in place which should see a more flexible, effective and higher quality careers service, giving greater value for money for clients and the taxpayer alike.
Mr. Arnold : My hon. Friend will know that the range of careers available to young people nowadays is much wider than ever before. In what ways is the careers service ensuring that our young people have a full grasp of that wide range of opportunities ?
Miss Widdecombe : My hon. Friend is right : there are more opportunities for young people than ever before. They will be enhanced yet again in September when modern apprenticeship prototypes become available in a whole range of new opportunities. Government investment in the careers service has resulted in more impartial, more frequent and better quality advice. As the second round of the pathfinders exercise is completed, those good effects will spread. Not even Labour Members can resist congratulating the Government on modern apprenticeships, accelerated apprenticeships, the new careers guidance announced in the White Paper
Mr. Hardy : While one has great sympathy with, and appreciates the work of, the careers service, can the Minister tell the House whether the advice of the careers service is to ensure that young people seeking assistance are warned that many of the jobs that they will be persuaded to take will provide salaries or wages of £2.20 an hour, as offered to some of my adult constituents, and would therefore allow the Minister to describe them as economically active ? Would the Minister also describe them as economically and socially deprived ?
Mr. Trend : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the volume and variety of training experience for our young people has increased through training credits, and that modern apprenticeships should further increase the scope of training opportunities for our young people ?
Mr. Hunt : Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Not only do we have one of the lowest rates of youth unemployment in the European Union--or well below the European Union average. In the new modern apprenticeship scheme, we now have some exciting new opportunities for all 16, 17 and, subsequently, 18 and 19-year-olds to start work-based training in an apprenticeship mode which I believe will be an example to the rest of Europe.
Mr. Booth : Does the job seeker's allowance encourage imaginative use of long-term unemployment ? Does it also remotivate people who have lost their motivation through consistent rejection ? Is it one more imaginative and exciting scheme from a party which is imaginative and exciting ?
Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend is right. The introduction of the job seeker's allowance will mean that those people who have been unemployed for a long time will be given the help and support that they are entitled to expect to get them back into work and that those people who are resting on unemployment benefit will find themselves being asked to take more active steps to find work. That will be good for them and good for the economy as a whole.
Mrs. Gillan : Will my right hon. Friend forgive me for injecting a little ray of sunshine so early in today's proceedings by drawing his attention to the economic forecast published this morning by the Treasury, which shows prospects of steady growth coupled with low inflation ? Does he agree that that highlights the success of our economic policies and further shows that the policies of the Labour party, with their limitless public spending, would damage the economy, damage jobs and damage our businesses ?
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right to be cheerful about the forecast this morning. Growth is higher and inflation is lower. We now have a clear chance of sustainable growth with low inflation for the period ahead.
Column 678That is extremely good news for the British economy. It is a chance that lies ahead of us and we have no intention of letting it slip.
Mrs. Beckett : Does the Prime Minister agree with what the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said in Barcelona yesterday--that in Spain family ties are stronger and there is a greater spirit of local community than in Britain ?
The Prime Minister : I do not have the same knowledge of Spain as my right hon. Friend has, but I can say that my right hon. Friend made an excellent speech in Spain yesterday--an excellent and serious speech and one of a series that have been made by my right hon. Friends, addressing problems of concern to everyone in this country.
Mrs. Beckett : As the Prime Minister has in effect endorsed the Chief Secretary's speech, I must presume that he agrees. After 15 years of Conservative Government, if family life in Britain is undermined, why does the Prime Minister think that that is the case ?
The Prime Minister : All my right hon. Friends are concerned about the role of the family and how to maintain it. For us, family values and family life are central not only to our national life but to the existence of each and every person in this country. What my right hon. Friend has made clear and is self-evidently the case-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : What my right hon. Friend has made clear--I think that this is the kind of matter that we ought to be able to discuss without the sort of interpretation that the right hon. Lady puts on it--is that there are many areas of family life which are not the concern of Government and in which the Government are not the best arbiter. We have a responsibility for providing some vital services such as education, health and others, but the reality is that the essence of family life lies within the family itself. My right hon. Friend was right to draw attention to that.
Mrs. Beckett : It seems to me that the Prime Minister has yet again endorsed what the Chief Secretary said. I shall put to him for the second time what I put to him a moment ago. Why does he feel that family life and the spirit of community in Britain have been undermined in the 15 years his Government have been in power ? I remind him of what he said in Los Angeles last year. He said : "We have been here for 14 years. There is no one else to blame for anything else that has gone wrong."
Is not that the most truthful thing that he has said in years ?
The Prime Minister : Well, I would be surprised if she had read it, but, if she says she has, she clearly did not understand it. If she had read it, she would no doubt have seen the rest of my right hon. Friend's speech. He made an excellent case for free trade, deregulation and economic policies which encourage innovation and self-respect. He made the
Column 679point clearly that only if we do that can we sustain the genuine services necessary to sustain the family and those in genuine need. I note the right hon. Lady's strong support for the welfare state. Perhaps she will set out the areas that she would seek to improve, and how she would propose to finance that improvement.
Mr. Gill : My right hon. Friend will appreciate the difficulty that there will be in justifying an increase in Britain's contribution to the European Community budget at a time when our defence budget is being drastically pruned. Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the existing difficulties in explaining why soldiers, sailors and airmen are being made redundant at the same time as people working in the black economy continue to live at the expense of the taxpayers, drawing benefits to which they are neither entitled nor have earned ?
The Prime Minister : I share my hon. Friend's concern to stamp out social security fraud, and that is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has stepped up the fight against it. We are looking, for example, at the possibility of introducing personalised cards as one of the methods of ensuring that we minimise and, I hope, eradicate social security fraud against the taxpayer.
As far as the first half of my hon. Friend's question is concerned, he will no doubt be aware of the agreement that I reached in Edinburgh on the future financing of the Community, which set clear and rigorous limits, not for the traditional five years of an agreement but for seven years of an agreement, and at a lower rate of increase than in the past. It also safeguarded the British rebate which was at some risk from our European partners. That was money which we had to fight hard to keep. I might add that, had we not had a veto, we might not have been able to keep that money.
Sir Cranley Onslow : If the signalmen's strike is not settled soon, will my right hon. Friend consider making a ministerial broadcast on the subject--however much it might embarrass the Opposition to find someone willing to accept the right of reply ?
The Prime Minister : The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has finally broken cover on the subject of the strike, even though the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) has been notably silent. The hon. Gentleman has said that he supports the strike, and so do 40 of his Back-Bench colleagues. It will be interesting to see whether any of the leadership contenders do the same. After all, 40 votes are 40 votes.
Mr. Hoon : Is the Prime Minister reminded of the career of Frederick Augustus of York, who lost his job as commander in chief following a disastrous European campaign ? Is not the Prime Minister's problem that he is neither up with those who make and shape European policy, and is too often down with those who would have Britain leave the European Union ? Is not it the case that the Government's policy, like the grand old Duke of York, staggers from one crisis to the next and fails to protect Britain's longer-term interests ?
The Prime Minister : I think that, from a party that would abandon the veto, talk of protecting Britain's long-term interests will sound pretty hollow to most people in this country. The Opposition's European policy is to find out what the others want and then agree with it so that they can claim not to be in a minority. I have been able to discover not one area of originality in their European policy. We have set out and will continue to set out our own vision of how Europe should develop. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) will be surprised at the echo, right across Europe, of the nature of the European Community which we wish to develop.
Mr. Duncan : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming yesterday's announcement that parental choice will be extended by allowing the expansion of popular schools and grammar schools ? Is he further aware that, despite their blurred rhetoric, the Opposition are still committed to the abolition of grant-maintained schools, hate grammar schools, and would deny parents the choice to which they are entitled ?
The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, the Opposition dislike choice of almost any sort--they have a difficult choice to make in the next few weeks. Yesterday's announcement is excellent news for parents, giving them more choice and letting good schools grow. I regret the fact that the Opposition have such a negative education policy--the abolition of grant- maintained schools ; the abolition of training and enterprise councils ; the abolition of the assisted places scheme ; the abolition of teacher training reform ; and the abolition of performance tables. They would abolish everything that would provide more information for parents and a better education for children. However much they may dislike it, they should remember how they cut education budgets when they were in Government. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) came into Government because her predecessor declined to make cuts. She came into Government to cut.
Dr. Godman : The Prime Minister knows of the derailment of a train in Greenock on Saturday night. The driver--a young man from Glasgow--and a young lad from Greenock were killed instantly. They were murdered by murderous individuals who placed concrete slabs on the line. Since then, two copycat incidents have taken place in Cumbernauld and Duddingston, fortunately with no loss of
Column 681life. Will the Prime Minister and his Transport Ministers assure the House today that Railtrack will do everything in its power to eliminate such murderous behaviour ? Will they assure us that the safety and school liaison units will not be reduced, as some people fear, but given an enhanced educational role to reduce, if not eliminate, such terrible acts against train crews and passengers ?
The Prime Minister : I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing my condolences to the family of the driver, Mr. McKee, and to Mr. Nicol, the passenger, who were so tragically killed. As the hon. Gentleman said, it appears to be an act of mindless vandalism that has resulted in the death of two entirely innocent people. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the Strathclyde police are conducting an inquiry into the incident and treating it as murder. In addition, Railtrack and British Rail are conducting a joint investigation. The Health and Safety Executive inspector has already visited the site and the railway inspectorate is working alongside in the investigation. We will do all that we can to eliminate the possibility of such incidents in future and bring to book those responsible for this one.
Column 682to talk up the possibility of a future Labour Government, trade union militants start to rear their ugly heads ? Does not the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers strike provide a timely reminder of what has always happened under Labour Governments and what would happen under a future Labour Government ? Does my right hon. Friend agree that what the House really wants to know is where Bambi stands on the rail strike ?
The Prime Minister : I am prepared to take responsibility for the opinion of many people, but not for that of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). He must answer for himself, when and if he returns to the House. [Interruption.] I think that most people will have noticed that the contenders for the leadership of the Labour party, although addressing every conference that presents itself up and down the country, will not be addressing the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers conference. One of them is sponsored by it. They seem happy to take its money, but unwilling to address it.
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