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Ms Harman: I shall not allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene. He is clearly going to ask about our manifesto, which I shall tell him about in two and a half years' time. I shall instead read what the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth)--
Mr. Sykes rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady has made it clear that she is not giving way.
Ms Harman: The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon said:
"If we are to reduce dependence, what really matters is the availability and accessibility of adequately paid jobs."
The hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) tried to intervene earlier and I shall now accept his intervention if he will indicate to me in advance that he intends to apologise to his constituents for the fact that in the past five years unemployment in his constituency has risen by 137 per cent. If he does not intend to take the opportunity to apologise afforded by my allowing him to intervene, I shall not give way. Will he apologise to his constituents for his broken manifesto promises?
Mr. Duncan Smith: I have no intention of apologising. The hon. Lady attacked the Government because she believes that they are cutting benefits, but at the same time she says that there is a 50:50 chance that a Labour Government would accept that. I am not asking her to explain, but will she say whether she believes that social security spending is too high or too low?
Ms Harman: That is a very easy question to answer: social security spending on unemployment is far too high. The Government have pushed it up, not by making benefits more generous but by making more people unemployed. The Government's failure to understand that the difficulties with public finances have been created by their economic failure means that they cannot hope to solve the problem.
Mr. Sykes: Will the hon. Lady give way?
Far from helping people back to work, the jobseeker's allowance, by increasing means testing, will force people out of work and on to benefits. It will exacerbate the deep poverty traps in the benefit system, especially for the wives of men who become unemployed. Unemployed people cannot claim income support if their partners are working more than the hours threshold. That means that many families will be better off if, when the husband loses his job, the wife gives up hers and the whole family go on to benefits.
At one level, the Government have recognised the problem by increasing the hours threshold from 16 to 24, which is welcome, and by introducing the back-to-work bonus, which is unobjectionable. However, while taking that action, which is designed to get some people out of the poverty trap, they are at the same time putting more
Column 60people into the poverty trap. Under the current system, those who work part time or for low pay and whose husbands become unemployed are able to work for 12 months without any fear that their continuing to work will make their families worse off. When that period is reduced to six months, many people will find that they, too, have to give up their job because, if they carrying on working, the whole family will be worse off.
Many families who might have escaped the poverty trap over a 12-month period because the unemployed husband was able to find work in that time will now hit the poverty trap at six months. Simply by reducing the length of time during which one can claim
non-means-tested benefit, the Government are ensuring that the number of people forced to give up employment and go on to benefit will increase. Therefore, instead of helping the unemployed to move from welfare to work, the jobseeker's allowance will shift people from work to welfare. In defence of his proposal, the Employment Secretary does not argue that that is not the case but simply mutters, "Will you reverse it?" Our answer is my explanation why we shall vote against the Bill tonight.
The second justification is that the measure will supposedly target benefit on those who most need help. Although it is clear to everyone--the Government have admitted it--that 250,000 unemployed people will lose out under the Bill, it is not clear to anyone who precisely will be the beneficiaries of the supposed targeting. Where are they?
The third justification is that benefits need to be cut because too much is spent on the welfare state. Perhaps I could explain to the former Chief Secretary that the reason why public spending has increased, and indeed why it increased while he was Chief Secretary, and that taxes have gone up, also while he was at the Treasury, is not that the lives of the unemployed are being made more comfortable but that there are so many more of them. Two and a half million people have been forced into dependency on benefits. It is the Government's failure on unemployment and on law and order which has driven up public spending. Instead of dealing with such problems, they are, as usual, making the unemployed pay for their--the Government's-- failures.
The jobseeker's allowance is another example of broken Tory promises. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) said, during the election the Tories promised not to increase national insurance contributions, but within a year they had done exactly that. They are now cutting the amount of money that people get in return for their national insurance contributions. No one voted for this cut-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) has not read or not understood the Bill if he believes that it is not about cuts. The Employment Secretary himself justifies the Bill on the basis that it will cut public spending.
No one voted for this cut in benefits, just as no one voted for the increase in national insurance contributions. This cut was not in the Tory manifesto, nor were the other tax increases and cuts in provision. It is no wonder that John Maples found that people no longer placed any trust in the Government. People pay more, but they get less. The central elements of the jobseeker's allowance are the hallmark of the Conservative approach to unemployment over the past 15 years--socially unjust, economically flawed and politically duplicitous.
Column 61Although the major portion of the Bill reflects the same old dogma of the past 15 years, other measures in it mark a belated admission by the Government that their employment policy has not worked. It was when dealing with those aspects of the Bill that the Secretary of State for Employment sounded most uncomfortable. In particular, the Government have at last recognised that long-term unemployment is not a problem that will be solved by the market; it needs particular action by, and particular attention from, Government. The Government have at last responded to Labour's suggestion that they should offer special incentives for employers to take on the long-term unemployed.
The problem is that, although the Government have accepted the principle, their measures are wholly inadequate. The national insurance holiday for employers who take on those who have been unemployed for two years or more will offer employers just £6 a week. Employers have already made it clear that that is simply not enough and that it does not offer an incentive.
What is more, the national insurance holiday will not be introduced until April 1996. Why should the two-year unemployed have to wait to become unemployed for three and a half years before they get this measly incentive? The message is clear. People will have to wait until April 1996 for the meagre and inadequate incentives to employers to take on the long- term unemployed. When it comes to helping the long-term unemployed, the Secretary of State does so with reluctance and delay. Cuts can be brought in straight away, but incentives, even small ones, take that much longer. The truth is that, whatever the window dressing in the Bill, it is about cutting benefits and making people more insecure about the prospect of unemployment.
Although the Tories think that grinding people down with fear and poverty makes them work harder, we take a different view. We believe that Britain can succeed only with an employment policy that attacks unemployment rather than the unemployed, and that aims to make our work force, on whom our economic prosperity relies, confident and secure, and not fearful and insecure.
There are immediate measures that the Government could and should have included in the Bill to ensure that people get back to work immediately and to modernise our infrastructure. Why do the Government still refuse to begin the phased release of the £5 billion of capital receipts? Why do they not take action to ensure that public-private projects are turned from announcements into action? There is also a package of measures that the Government could and should have put into the Bill to deal with the particular problem of long-term unemployment. The long-term unemployed are, of course, not a single homogeneous group. There are young people, for example, who have never worked and who need the opportunity to get further qualifications. There are people who have worked all their lives, but have been made redundant in declining industries and need retraining. We propose a £75 a week tax rebate for employers who take on the two-year unemployed. That proposal, backed up by the minimum wage, would ensure that everyone who reached two years of unemployment was given the chance of work.
I now come to the minimum wage. It is intriguing that the Secretary of State for Employment has remained curiously silent about the minimum wage, although he is,
Column 62supposedly, the cutting-edge, leading ideologue of the Tory party against the minimum wage. He did not say anything about it in employment questions and he did not even mention it in his speech. Could it be that he dare not mention the minimum wage because of his embarrassment at the fact that the Government, having carried out consultation about minimum wages in farming, decided to keep the agricultural wages board because there was general agreement, which the Cabinet was forced to accept, that it was fair, that it did not cost jobs and that employers and employees wanted it?
Mr. Portillo rose --
Ms Harman: Perhaps the Secretary of State will answer the question when he intervenes. Does he agree with keeping the minimum wage for agriculture? Let us hear the answer to that question.
Mr. Portillo: I am part of the Government decision to maintain the agricultural wages board. I have, however, a question for the hon. Lady. At what level will Labour set the minimum wage?
Ms Harman: We are not-- [Hon. Members:-- "Answer."] I am about to answer the question, despite the fact that the answer given by the Secretary of State clearly shows all of us that he does not support the decision to keep the agricultural wages board. Despite the fact that he is Secretary of State for Employment, the Government have overruled him. They have been forced to accept our arguments on the minimum wage. I am confident that we shall now hear a great deal less about the minimum wage from the Secretary of State.
We will not set the level of the minimum wage two and a half years before the next election. What we will do is to make it clear that we will introduce a minimum wage, as the rest of Europe and America have, because it is fair, because it protects good employers and because, of course, it does not cost jobs.
Savings in benefits from our programme of a £75 incentive to employers would mean that, although in the first year it would cost £100 million, it would actually save money in the second year. Given that the Government have accepted the principle of tax rebates to get the long-term unemployed back to work, it seems that the most plausible reason for their failure to do anything worth while for the long-term unemployed is the opposition of the Secretary of State for Employment, whose support for the national insurance contributions holiday is lukewarm, to put it mildly.
Unemployment is not only a terrible experience for those who are out of work; it hangs like a cloud over those who are in work, creating a sense of insecurity among people at work. Increasingly, that is recognised by everyone except the Government. Insecurity is not just bad for those who experience it; it is bad for our economy. Is the Secretary of State shaking his head? We know that he is concerned to see the issue raised in opinion poll after opinion poll. We know that he is concerned that everyone, from the Trades Union Congress to the Confederation of British Industry, mentions that insecurity at work is a real problem. Of course, he does not want to do anything about it because he does not believe that the Government have any role in the labour market. All the evidence shows that an insecure work force are not as productive as a confident, secure and well-motivated work force. Our
Column 63more successful companies know that and our international competitors, whose economies are doing better than ours, know that, too.
Security is also about people having the skills required in today's world of work. That means that people in work and people out of work need proper training. The Secretary of State talked in employment questions about training in work. British businesses do not invest as much in training as our international competitors. In France, three quarters of all employers invest more than 2 per cent. of their payroll costs in training. In the United Kingdom, only one third of employers do so. That is why other countries have a more competitive work force and a more productive economy. That is why we believe that, as part of tackling unemployment, the Government must take action to ensure that all businesses make a fair contribution towards training all the people in their work force.
It is scandalous that, when skill shortages are increasing and unskilled unemployment is rising, the Government are cutting the training budget. The Secretary of State claims to believe in high skills, yet he is cutting the training budget by 12 per cent. over the next three years. Indeed, according to the Government's own figures, they are now spending barely half as much on training for each unemployed person as Labour was in 1979. Contrary to Tory philosophy, we believe that the Government have an important role to play in helping the unemployed back to work, and the Bill does not do that; in ensuring that people have the skills they need, and the Government are not doing that; and in promoting the security and confidence of people at work. That is certainly not happening. Last Friday, from the pulpit of Liverpool cathedral, the Secretary of State for Employment--
Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South): Oh, God.
Ms Harman: I shall not comment on that. Last Friday, from the pulpit of Liverpool cathedral, the Secretary of State gave the nation a sermon and, with messianic fervour, he made some promises. He promised fairness, he promised tolerance, he promised liberty and he promised to restore the British people's dignity and self-respect. He promised not only economic prosperity but spiritual prosperity. He talked of his vision of a sense of national well-being in a contented nation. Then, he stepped out of the pulpit, into the Department of Employment, and he has brought to the House a Bill that will make the unemployed worse off. No wonder the British people feel that they cannot trust this Government and that they cannot believe anything that the Government say. The gap between the rhetoric and the reality is nowhere more stark than in the Bill and we will vote against it. 6.9 pm
Sir Ralph Howell (Norfolk, North): I welcome those parts of the Jobseekers Bill which will help to simplify the benefits system. That desperately needs doing and I am sure that the Bill will be successful in that direction. I hope very much that the Bill will make it easier for people to move from unemployment into work. That is also a very worthy part of the Bill. While most people recognise that most of the unemployed desperately want to work, a large section of people are claiming benefit and
Column 64working in the black economy. The Bill will be successful, to a limited degree, in helping to solve that problem.
However, I am very disappointed that a great opportunity totally to reform the welfare state has been wasted. We have made a thorough mess of the welfare state-- [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."]--all of us, including the Opposition. The Opposition are more responsible for that than anybody else. We have failed to put the Beveridge report into operation. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) was wrong when he said in his intervention that Beveridge said that benefits should go on indefinitely. He did not. Beveridge said that after three months or six months unemployment benefit would cease and work would be offered. That is exactly what should happen.
I am also very disappointed to hear the Secretary of State say that he is opposed to the state being an employer of last resort. The state is the provider of last resort. As the provider of last resort, we are spending well over £20 billion, perhaps as much as £30 billion, on supporting the unemployed on the condition that they do nothing whatever to help society generally. It is time that we thought this thing through. We should go back hundreds of years to 1601, when it was the duty of the local authorities to find work for everyone in their locality. In 1911, Keir Hardie introduced a Bill--the last sensible Bill to have been introduced by the Labour party--to offer and establish the right to work. Heaven help those who did not take the opportunity to work given in Keir Hardie's Bill.
What sense can there be in spending £20 billion or £30 billion while getting nothing whatever in return, while seeing the country become scruffier and scruffier because we cannot afford to paint schools and so on and while being less and less able to afford carers when their services could be used to keep elderly people in their own homes much longer than is otherwise possible? We should re-think the whole matter. The Bill damns itself in as much as we will save only £200 or £300 million here or there, which is negligible and within the margin of error. That means that we will do very little, even in solving the problem of fraud. All in all, we should raise our sights considerably.
I shall refer to the workstart programmes and the North Norfolk action pilot scheme, which the Department of Employment has declared to be highly successful. We have been piloting workstart for--I believe--18 months. Why on earth do not we make it universal? Every person who took part in workstart saved the taxpayer £30 a week. I simply cannot understand what is causing the blockage. The North Norfolk action pilot scheme was expected to cost the taxpayer another £750,000 to put 100 people to work for 18 months--costing the Government £5,000 a year more for each participant. But, in fact, the scheme proved to be successful because of the number of people who were called in for interview and who then disappeared from the unemployment register because it became a little too hot for them when they were offered work.
We will never solve the problem of fraudulent claims until we have a proper work test and we shall have a proper work test only when work is offered. Then, we could save millions of pounds and have a much tidier and better country than we have at the present time.
Column 65Part of our problem is that we have such a weak Opposition. Why are the Opposition so silent on subjects such as how much we spend on unemployment? When he was Chief Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told me that the cost of unemployment was £13.2 billion. That was in 1992-93. For the year 1993-94, according to the Department, that figure has risen to £14.3 billion--an increase of 8 per cent.--while unemployment was either falling or static and while inflation was just over 2 per cent. So, we have an ever-rising bill. However, that is not the true cost of unemployment. The predecessor of the former Secretary of State declared that the cost of each unemployed person in the country was £9,000 a year, which, taken altogether, is somewhere in the region of £25 billion to £30 billion. The time has come for an independent inquiry to find out exactly how much unemployment costs and whether we could do something better than spend all that money, which is a total waste and gets us nowhere. I have no time for those people who are claiming unemployment benefit who should not be claiming it; those people who work in the black economy. The black economy, as we all know, is huge. But, there is something off about insisting that people go on writing letters and re-writing their curriculum vitae month after month and so on when we all know that we are providing no work for them and that there will be no further work as a result of insisting on those practices. That seems like forcing people to play bagatelle on a board which does not have any holes and it is rather a cruel exercise. I urge the Secretary of State to do what he can to adjust the Bill as soon as possible and to bring in measures which will offer work. The time has come when we should seriously consider introducing a Bill on the right to work.
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West): It is always a privilege to participate in a debate with the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Sir R. Howell). He can be relied upon to produce a pungent, independent and articulate approach. What astonishes me so often, knowing his approach, his background and his party, is how often I agree with what he says and how often his colleagues disagree with him. I want to begin with the right to work. I have always believed that people are entitled to work. In a decent country, a person is entitled to a home, a good place to live, food, clothing, education and health.
Mr. Janner: By a decent, civilised society and that is why I am in politics. We should try to provide in society the right for people to work. The hon. Member for Norfolk, North is correct. He was also correct to use the word "cruelty" in respect of the effect of unemployment on people's lives.
It is cruel to say to people, "We will give you training for work" when there is no work for them to do when that training is finished. It is cruel to say, "You have paid your taxes and national insurance; you have contributed so that
Column 66you may get unemployment benefit" when the length of time when people will receive that benefit is to be cut in half.
Mr. Sykes: The hon. and learned Gentleman obviously feels very passionately about his subject. I appreciate and applaud that. However, if he believes that all those things are cruel, why does he want to vote for the social chapter which will destroy jobs throughout the country?
Mr. Janner: Because it will not destroy jobs; because it has not destroyed jobs in Europe; because disabled people have a right to decent treatment; because people have a right to minimum holidays and because this is the only uncivilised part of the European Community which refuses to recognise those basic decent rights for which we stand in this place. That is why.
I am looking forward to a Labour Government so that we may join Europe in the social chapter and ensure that the rights of our people--of the disabled, women and people who do not have a right to minimum holidays--
Mr. Janner: If I were to wake up and find that, I would do so with joy because we should be serving our people in this country. We do not have much time to do that.
The Secretary of State said that there is no God-given right to be idle and to live off others. Indeed. No Opposition Member would wish anyone to be voluntarily idle, to be lazy or scroungers and not to work and to live off others. However, from my very long experience, I know that the vast majority of unemployed people are desperate for work. The vast majority of the unemployed are anxious to work. They may have got themselves off the register because they are sick of looking. They may have left the register because of the way in which it is organised, but, in my view and in that of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North, they have a right to work.
Our job, whether it is on the Employment Select Committee where we work together, whether it is in this House or in our constituencies, should be to find more work for people. I examined the Bill to discover whether it would create jobs. If any part of it would create jobs, I would support it, but I discovered that it does not do that. The Bill will not produce more jobs. To have a Jobseekers Bill without producing more jobs is a contradiction in terms. It is like the old story of military intelligence. If one wants a jobseeker's allowance, one must provide jobs so that the people who are seeking jobs can find them.
When the Bill was published, I read its name because Governments of all parties organise names so that Bills and Acts will smell right to the public. Unemployment benefit is a benefit that people have earned through their work. A jobseeker's allowance is what the Government will allow people to have. There is a difference in terminology as there is in the smell of it.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, North was right. It is very expensive in terms of human cruelty and suffering to keep people out of work. It is also very expensive in terms of money. A person in work has the opportunity to serve and the chance to earn a living, to pay taxes and national insurance and to contribute towards others who cannot work, perhaps because they are disabled. Many people cannot work through no fault of their own.
Column 67As the hon. Member for Norfolk, North said, we must see how we can help find more jobs. We must make work available.
As a lawyer, I examined the Bill to see how the Government define job seeking. It is very interesting because the Government do not do that. The Bill states that
"For the purposes of this Act, `available for employment' and `actively seeking employment' have such meaning as may be prescribed";
not such meaning as the Government now give them, but as they may prescribe in regulations,just as people will get such money as the Government may allow. Regulations are not primary legislation. The Bill will become an enabling statute. This horrendous rubbish continues:
"Regulations may prescribe circumstances"--
they do not have to, they may--
"in which, for the purposes of this Act--".
Now, for your pre-dinner enjoyment Mr. Deputy Speaker, please listen and see whether you can understand this:
"(a) a person who is not available for employment is to be treated as available for employment;
(b) a person who is available for employment is to be treated as not available for employment;
(c) a person who is not actively seeking employment is to be treated as actively seeking employment; or
(d) a person who is actively seeking employment is to be treated as not actively seeking employment."
In other words, the Government can do whatever they like. They can make regulations as they see fit which will no doubt be passed at midnight and even the Government rebels will join them. The Government can prescribe.
We do not know what the Government are going to do, but we do know that what they do will not be fair. They will not make it fair for young people. Why should the Government always make life worse for young people who do not have jobs? Why should the unfairness be loaded on people who leave school or universities who cannot get jobs? Why should the burden of the jobseeker's allowance be placed on 18 to 24-year-olds? Why should it be placed on unemployed people whose partners do not work? Why should this Government of all Governments place the burden on people with £8,000 or more in savings, which they may have as redundancy pay, so that they will, at best, have their income halved? Why place burdens on those people? The Bill does not add jobs or give incentives to jobs. It does not create work. It does not even create incentives to work. It reduces the amount of money that the state will pay in benefits, but it does not reduce that amount in the one way acceptable to the hon. Member for Norfolk, North and myself which is reducing it by having people at work so that they do not have to receive the benefit and so they are paying taxes and national insurance. That is the way to reduce the burden. It should not be reduced by making life harder for the unemployed.
I listened to the enchanting and typical intervention earlier by that somewhat eccentric and delightful hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans). He was talking about scroungers. I have a feeling that that is the bedrock of Tory policy. They believe that everyone who does not have a job is a scrounger. They should go out and look at what is happening.
Column 68I want to cite a few examples from my constituency which I have served for so long. Male unemployment in my constituency today is 17.4 per cent. Yes, it has gone down and I am delighted about that, but still nearly one in five of males who want a job, even on the Government's method of assessing the figure, cannot get one. On the great estates in my constituency, unemployment is much higher. Names that mean much in Leicester--for example, Beaumont-Leys, Braunstone, New Parks, Mowmacre, Stocking Farm--have 30 per cent. or 35 per cent. unemployment, I am told, because unemployment is in patches; it does not stretch. Saying that unemployment is 17.4 per cent. is like the doctor hurrying into the ward and asking the sister, "What is the average temperature of all the patients?"
The average unemployment among men is 17.4 per cent. and of women it is only 6.1 per cent. I wonder why. The answer, of course, is that they work part-time. If they are not employed, they go off the register; they are not unemployed. Even then, the level is higher than the national average. The national average of male unemployment is 11.1 per cent. One in 10 men are looking for jobs. They are not paying taxes or national insurance, and they are entitled to benefits. Female unemployment in Leicester, West is 6.1 per cent. and the national average is 4.8 per cent. There are women on the register who want work but cannot get it.
It is a rotten system and it will not be made fairer by the Bill. The Bill will not do much to help. It does one thing, perhaps: it shows some co- operation between two Departments, and that I welcome. I have always believed that Departments should work closely together and that if a decision by any Department creates unemployment, that Department should consult the Employment Secretary of the day. I am in favour of one-stop benefits--I hope that the system works. Those who are in schemes believe that it will not work, but I hope that it does, because that would reduce the burden. Otherwise, what a mess. I conclude with a quotation from a book called "A Time To Serve" by Rev. Dr. John E. Brown who, happily, is the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown). That book, which has just been produced, and which I strongly recommend because the writer is a distinguished cleric who has no doubt made speeches and sermons from Liverpool cathedral--I suggest that the Minister reads it-- states:
"Lord you must have made a mistake in your calculations."-- I was wondering whether he had the Government in mind--
"There is a big mistake somewhere.
The hours are too short, The days are too short, Our lives are too short . . . we must not lose time, waste time, kill time, For time is a gift that you give us, But a perishable gift, A gift that does not keep."
Unemployed people find that time passes with immeasurable slowness. They have the same short time on this earth as we have. We should work to see that they have work. The Bill will not add to that possibility, and it should be rejected for that reason.
Column 696.32 pm
Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough): The year 1995 marks two special dates for me: one celebrates the founding of our family business 150 years ago and the other marks the 700th anniversary of Scarborough returning a Member of Parliament to Westminster, although not the same one. Of course, there has been a labour market in Scarborough and Whitby for much longer than that, and it has thrived without employment directives from Brussels. My experience of the labour market is limited to the practical day-to-day difficulties of running a company involved in manufacturing, retailing and agricultural property.
The Bill deals with the labour market. We in our business know the value of a flexible labour market, to which the Tory reforms of the past 15 years have made positive contributions--reforms that have benefited companies and employees alike. I talk with business colleagues who also value the Government's approach, some of whom have charge of their European subsidiaries in Europe. What began two years ago as a trickle of rumours across the English channel has now become a hard fact. Companies in Europe are now deliberately pursuing policies designed to minimise the employment of labour. All the passion exhibited by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) will not alter that single hard fact, for it is manufacturers and companies in Europe--not he or the Governments of Europe--who provide jobs.
The Economist tells us that, despite a sharp increase in overall confidence in Europe, businesses throughout Europe expect to cut their work forces in the years that lie ahead, with one singular and significant exception. That significant exception is the first choice for Japanese and American firms when establishing a presence in Europe. That significant exception has one of the lowest unemployment figures in Europe and one of the best strike records since the 1890s. It is, of course, the significant country of Great Britain. What is the other significant difference between Great Britain and the others? It is the absence of the social chapter and the existence instead of a flexible labour market. The Jobseekers Bill will continue and amplify that difference. It is part of the process of reform that is enabling the country to compete.
The Bill also deals with the provision of welfare. Sadly, Britain's welfare state remains a gold-mine for those who wish to take unfair advantage of it. One of the most unpleasant manifestations of that is the emergence of so-called badly run Department of Social Security hostels in seaside resorts. Young unemployed people migrate from towns and cities and claim a variety of benefits in an altogether more congenial town. Some come in search of work; others have no intention of lifting a finger.
It has become clear from experience that the work-shy can easily meet current conditions for receiving benefit by adhering to the letter of the law while taking parallel action designed to ensure that they never get a job. The sight of such able-bodied youths lounging on street corners, always with sufficient money for booze and fags, and, in some cases, drugs, is a slap in the face for the decent, hard-working majority.
In my factory, where take-home pay is up to about £300 a week, we have no trouble finding good, well-motivated workers, but it is frustrating to find new recruits who are playing the present system for all it is worth. One
Column 7022-year-old lasted three days with us, and he left saying that benefits of £160 a week were worth more to him. Presumably, he preferred to stay home watching videos. [Interruption.] Two others arrived on a Monday. [Interruption.] I regret to tell Opposition Members that I can speak from my experience of employing people. I expect that Opposition Members' experience of employing people extends no further than the research assistants who dominate the Palace of Westminster. I am talking about practical experience. Two other people arrived on a Monday. [Interruption.] They took an hour off on Tuesday--we thought to sign off the dole. They did not come back until Wednesday, and then did so only to tell us that they found factory work tiring and to ask whether we would please sack them to make it easier for them to claim their dole. We refused to oblige, of course.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Sykes: I will give way in a moment, if the hon. Gentleman can bear to control himself.
We refused to oblige, of course, but the men left and, as far as we know, had no trouble slipping back on to the dole.
Mr. Campbell-Savours: The hon. Gentleman referred to his former employee aged 22, who left saying that he could gain more money if he was claiming benefit. What wage was the hon. Gentleman paying that young man?
Mr. Sykes: The hon. Member was not listening to what I was saying. It is always a pleasure to encounter the soft red underbelly of the socialist party from time to time. I was saying that the gentleman concerned received sufficient benefit to make it not worth his while to work. He preferred to stay at home watching videos.
[Interruption.] I am afraid that, with the best will in the world, the hon. Gentleman must accept that there are such people. I am relating my direct experience to the House.
The Bill will make such young men start from their armchairs, if they are tuned into the parliamentary channel this evening, because they will be required to be available for any work that they can reasonably be expected to do. Others will be required to improve their employability. That is another aspect to which the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell- Savours) must turn his mind if he has not already done so.
Those young men will have to take steps, if appropriate, to present themselves acceptably to employers. Perhaps that will herald, at last, the last of the Mohicans. If they cannot be persuaded voluntarily to remove the rings from their noses the Bill will lead them--by their noses, as it were- -into workfare projects, under which they will be obliged to put something back into the community.
The idea of workfare has widespread support in the country, and in many ways the Bill's mention of workfare is one of its most exciting aspects. I urge the Government to ensure that whatever scheme is chosen they make simplicity their byword, because an expensive and bureaucratic system will strangle workfare at birth.
For scroungers and for the feckless, the indolent and the work-shy-- [Interruption] --there is no good news in the Bill. They may even, rightly, face disqualification