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Column 706sober soundbites and cheesy grins, there still lurks a union boss behind every Labour leader-- the string of the Labour party puppet. Try as he might to get his so-called new-look team to be taken seriously, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield cannot teach his old dogs new tricks, especially when they are kept on a tight Transport and General Workers Union lead, housed in a Trades Union Congress kennel and allowed to eat from a GMB bowl.
The Conservative party is the party of the people. The British people vote Conservative because their vote is returned with a guarantee. We shall deliver.
In the second quarter of 1994, gross domestic product grew by 3.7 per cent. when compared with the same period last year. According to the European Commission-- not a source I tend to quote too often-- in 1994-95, GDP in the United Kingdom is set to grow faster than in any other EC country.
Politics is about delivering the goods; we have done that. Consumer goods are the layman's thermometer for assessing wealth. Since 1979, the number of households with a washing machine has risen by 14 per cent; with a car, by 16 per cent; with central heating, by 48 per cent. We have injected initiative. enterprise and opportunity into the economy. That has resulted in growth, success and jobs. How dare that lot over there challenge our record in the labour market when they are financially bound to the unions, chained to clause IV and committed to the suicidal social chapter? Even when taken together, they have less employment and economic experience than a bingo caller.
A Labour Government would allow every man, woman and child in Great Britain to participate in the biggest lottery ever seen. The lottery would be based on which policy they implemented first. Would it be higher inflation, higher taxation, crippling national debt or trade union terrorism-- in other words, a lottery from hell? It is a lottery ticket that the people of Great Britain must not be allowed to buy. 10.49 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. James Paice) rose --
Mr. Paice: Madam Deputy Speaker, if only I could answer in a way adequate to deal with the inimitable style of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans)--a style of which we in the House are proud, and of which we know that Janice is also proud. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend on achieving the debate. He is right to recall the situation in the 1970s, against which the electorate rebelled so decisively in 1979. When we examine the labour market, we must start with one fundamental belief: Governments do not create jobs. Jobs come from businesses producing goods and services at a price and of a quality that people want. My hon. Friend knows that from his own successful business career. Government's role is to provide the right framework for enterprise to flourish, and that is what we are doing.
As my hon. Friend has said, inflation is low, well below the average of our European competitors. We are now in a third year of economic growth, with GDP at its highest level ever. Manufacturing output is 4 per cent. higher than
Column 707a year ago, and we have the fastest industrial production of any major industrial country. Export volumes are up 12 per cent. on a year ago, and the Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development and the International Monetary Fund predict that the United Kingdom will have the fastest growing major European Community economy this year. The policies are working.
As my hon. Friend also said, United Kingdom unemployment has fallen again, and is now below 9 per cent., down by 450,000 since the recovery in the labour market began. That fall began much earlier in the recovery than in any pervious economic cycle. It did so because we have a flexible labour market. Flexibility delivers jobs. The least regulated countries are also those with the best record on job creation.
The United States and Japan not only have fewer people out of work than most European countries; they also have more people in work. Only a handful of European countries can match their record, and those countries, such as the United Kingdom, are also among the least regulated. We have a higher proportion of our work force in employment than any other major EC country. Unemployment is falling faster here than in any other member state. Youth unemployment stands at 13.1 per cent, compared with an EC average of 19.4 per cent. Perhaps most important are the findings of a survey by the EC Commission--not the one to which my hon. Friend referred--showing that 27 per cent. of employers in Europe regard inflexibility as a very important deterrent to recruitment. The figure for the United Kingdom was 10 per cent., the lowest in any member state.
Our aim is to minimise the burdens on business, while at the same time safeguarding employees and the public. We have transformed industrial relations and labour market flexibility since those days that my hon. Friend recalled. Strikes are now at the lowest levels since Queen Victoria was on the throne, and our strike rates are among the lowest in all industrialised countries--lower than those in Germany, France and the United States. We ended the closed shop; we got rid of the dock work labour scheme; we have created trade union democracy, and given power back to union members.
The Government are not interested in a low-wage economy. Nobody seriously believes that we can compete on wage rates with the Pacific rim. We want a high-skill, high-tech, high-productivity economy, because that will lead to high wages but to low unit wage costs. In the past 20 years, unit labour costs in manufacturing have risen by almost 200 per cent. in Europe. In Japan, they have risen by about 30 per cent.
The Government's policies are reversing that trend, and keeping non-wage costs down. Unit wage costs in manufacturing are now down by 1.4 per cent. on last year. Productivity in manufacturing is up by 6 per cent. on last year, and labour costs as a percentage of total hourly costs are lower than all of our major competitors. But there are threats to those great achievements. There is not just the vague and remote possibility of a Labour Government, to which my hon. Friend referred and properly put into context, but the threat of new regulations and burdens at European level. That is why the Government chose, rightly, to keep out of the social chapter. Let me make it clear that we do not really mind if businesses want to set up works councils, or if businesses want to give workers three months' or three years'
Column 708parental leave, but we do mind if they are forced to do so. It is for businesses to decide, not Europe, or, in most cases, Westminster.
We have in this country a solid framework of protection for workers in health and safety, sex and race discrimination, trade union membership or non-membership and rights against unfair dismissal. But beyond that framework, we believe that employers and employees should be left to decide which arrangements suit their individual needs. I referred to a high-skill economy. The main responsibility for training still rests with employers. It is estimated that UK employers spend more than £20 billion a year on training. A CBI survey only last month showed a substantial increase in the percentage of manufacturing firms expecting to increase training, compared with last year.
The centrepiece of our strategy is the "investors for people" initiative, to encourage employers to invest effectively in the skills needed for business success. It aims to improve business performance by linking training and the development of employees to business objectives.
Britain used to lag behind the rest of Europe in education and skill levels. We have done much to change that. More than 70 per cent. of 16-year -olds, and more than 55 per cent. of 17-year-olds are now in full-time education, compared with just 42 per cent. and 29 per cent. respectively in 1979. Training people in work has increased sharply during the past decade. In spring of this year, 79 per cent. more people received job-related training than in spring 1984. We have not forgotten the unemployed. Listening to the Opposition, one could believe that "the unemployed" were one large homogenous mass. They are not--they are 2.5 million individual people, each with his own needs and expectations. Some need skills, some need motivation, some need literacy and numeracy, and some need to learn how to apply for a job. That is why my Department has a large menu of options for the unemployed, and it is why around half of those who become unemployed leave the count within three months, and two thirds leave within six months.
We have developed national vocational qualifications and modern apprenticeships to drive forward the skills needs of our country. Together with the changes in the labour market brought about by the experiences which my hon. Friend recalled, we are equipping Britain with a work force for the future.
I read today that the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) said that the Labour party plans to make the Department of Employment a "driving force" for a more competitive and dynamic economy. I have news for her--she is years behind the times, as my hon. Friend described. This Government and this Department, of which I am proud to be Minister, is already there. We are pushing forward the skills frontiers of Britain and pursuing flexible labour market policies to get unemployment down.
My hon. Friend has done the House a major service in allowing us to recall and recount just how far we have come during the past 15 years, and just how much we have achieved in that time. The House should be grateful for his contribution.
Column 710Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Eleven o'clock.
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