Home Page

Column 1509

House of Commons

Tuesday 4 April 1995

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation Bill

Lords amendments agreed to.

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Jacques Arnold: To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest figures for manufacturing employment.     [16003]

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Portillo): Manufacturing employment in Great Britain rose by 8,000 in the latest month, to stand at4.3 million in January 1995.

Mr. Arnold: Does my right hon. Friend agree that those figures are extremely encouraging? What would be the impact on that increase in manufacturing employment if the social chapter and other measures beloved of the Labour party were imposed on this country? How relevant does my right hon. Friend consider the recent statement of the president of Daimler -Benz in Germany that if the imposition of the social chapter were continued and extended, there would be no manufacturing employment left?

Mr. Portillo: I consider it a substantial advantage to manufacturing employment in the United Kingdom that we do not subscribe to the social chapter. It is clear that inward investors value our membership of the European Union, but consider it very important that the costs of the social chapter are not imposed on us. Our duty as politicians and legislators should be to make it easy for one person to give another a job, rather than to impose burdens that prevent employers from creating jobs.

Mr. Chidgey: Does the Secretary of State agree that a key factor in sustaining and, indeed, increasing employment in our manufacturing industries is the development of a highly trained and highly skilled work force, and that the modern apprenticeship schemes could well play an important role in that? Does the right hon. Gentleman also agree that engineering apprenticeships should take priority over training and enterprise council funding plans relating to other, more easily achievable apprenticeships, so that we can achieve an increased and sustainable work force in manufacturing industry in the long term?

Column 1510

Mr. Portillo: I am pleased to hear a tribute to the Government's modern apprenticeship initiative from an Opposition Member. It is indeed an important initiative, raising skills to a level that is vital in industry.

I think that all the apprenticeships should be rigorous. People should be expected to achieve standards of excellence in the modern apprenticeship programme, and in national vocational qualifications. I do not believe that I myself should choose between one sector and another, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that engineering is an extremely important sector of British industry.

Ms Harman: Does the Secretary of State admit that the reason why people are so concerned about the loss of manufacturing jobs--40 per cent. have been lost since 1979--is not just unemployment, but the low pay that goes with it? Does he not recognise that when manufacturing jobs are lost, the new jobs that replace them are often low paid? One million people in this country earn less than £2.50 an hour. Is that not a disgrace, and does it not mean that the Tory party is the party of low pay?

Mr. Portillo: I know that the hon. Lady does her research very carefully. She will know that, between 1974 and 1979, 609,000 manufacturing jobs were lost. If she has some magic solution, why were manufacturing jobs lost when her party was last in power? Why is it that it is only under this Government that the number of manufacturing jobs is rising?

If the hon. Lady is worried about low pay--despite the fact that real living standards have risen dramatically under this Government--will she commit herself to the minimum wage level that the Labour party would propose? The trade unions are pushing her on that, and we are pushing her on that. The Labour party must now come clean and tell us. It wants to promise a minimum wage but it does not want to put a figure to it. That is a dishonest posture. She should be ashamed of it.

Mr. Streeter: Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the 1,000 jobs announced yesterday in south Devon by the Canadian company Nortel? They were won in the face of strong opposition from the United States of America and Mexico. Is that not just a massive vote of confidence in the far south-west economy, but a reminder that the United Kingdom remains a paradise for inward investment?

Mr. Portillo: We remain a paradise for inward investment. The long- term nature of that company's commitment in Devon shows that a strong belief exists that the country will sustain a Conservative Government who will keep us out of the social chapter in the long term.

Young People

2. Mr. Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what new proposals he has to increase the percentage of young people in full-time work.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. James Paice): We will continue with the policies that have reduced unemployment among young people under 25 by 200,000 in the past two years, and that give the United Kingdom an unemployment rate for that age group that is among the lowest in Europe.

Mr. Flynn: In the paradise of Britain in 1979, 66 per cent. of young people were in employment; the figure is

Column 1511

now less than 50 per cent., and three quarters of those people are in part-time, low-paid work. Is not the Minister ashamed that the deserted generation of young people suffer the daily rejection of unemployment or under-employment when they should be enjoying the best years of their lives? Is not the cruel choice for young people in Tory Britain to be fully educated and unemployed, to be fully qualified and partly employed, or, as is the case for 1 million people, to be in full-time work but earning part-time wages?

Mr. Paice: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is casting doubt on the International Labour Organisation unemployment figures, which show that the unemployment rate for under 25s is 16 per cent., or whether he is somehow trying to use the percentage of young people in education. Of course, fewer people in that age group are in work than in 1979 because far more are staying on in education and going on to gain further qualifications. At present, 73 per cent. of 16-year-olds are staying in full-time education, compared with just 42 per cent. in 1979.

Sir Michael Neubert: Is not it the case that, were the UK to have the misfortune of a minimum wage, young people would be the first and the worst to suffer? Cannot that be seen by comparing our country, where we do not have a statutory minimum wage, with France and Spain, which do?

Mr. Paice: My hon. Friend is right. If one considers the youth unemployment statistics across Europe, a clear similarity exists between countries with high levels of youth unemployment and those with a statutory minimum wage. Compared with the youth unemployment level in the rest of the Europe, our level is exceptionally low. It stands at 16.5 per cent., whereas in Spain it is 38 per cent., in Italy 30 per cent., in Ireland 26 per cent., in France 23 per cent. and in Belgium 9.2 per cent. I could go on. The European average is 19.6 per cent.

Mr. McCartney: Perhaps the Minister would like to comment on the independent report that will be highlighted in tomorrow's press and that will show that, in the past four years, youth unemployment has risen by 24 per cent. Nearly 1.3 million young people are economically inactive and looking for work, and the Government will not provide them with work because of their economic policies. Will he also comment on the fact that eight out of 10 young people in work are earning less than £2 an hour? Is not that proof that the Government are prepared to let young people in Britain work eight weeks full time to earn what Sir Iain Vallance, the British Telecom chief, earns in one hour of one day, and that the Conservative party is the party of low pay, privilege and exploitation?

Mr. Paice: The alleged research to which the hon. Gentleman refers does not bear very much examination. The reality is that the unemployment level for the under-25s has fallen over the past two years, both as a number and as a proportion of the age group. The number of 16 to 17-year- olds defined as unemployed by the ILO has also gone down in the past two years.

As for wages, the important thing for young people is that they are developing, learning and training. What matters are the jobs for which they will be suited as adults, which is why to consider their wage levels at a very young age is to take account of only half the problem. If we had a minimum wage, there would be no jobs at all for them.

Column 1512

Housebuilding Industry

3. Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many people are currently employed in the housebuilding industry.     [16005]

Mr. Paice: Latest estimates show that there were 1.8 million people employed in the construction industry as a whole.

Mr. Winterton: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply, but is he aware from a response that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made to me last Thursday that the housebuilding and construction sectors of our economy are in a very depressed state? Does my hon. Friend accept that there could be a dramatic multiplier effect if we could regenerate our construction and housebuilding sectors and that, if we did, we might get the feel-good factor sooner rather than later?

Mr. Paice: My hon. Friend is entirely right. There is, of course, a multiplier effect involving jobs in the construction industry but what would do the country immense damage would be any artificially inspired rise in house prices, which would lead us back into a cycle of inflation. We have seen an improvement in the housing market. Housing output last year was up by 6 per cent. on the previous year, a steady, albeit slow, improvement. That is the best way forward for the economy.

Mr. Barry Jones: Why do not the Government release council house sales receipts and employ more building workers?

Mr. Paice: For the very simple reason that it would go straight on the bottom line of public borrowing.


4. Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what comparisons he has made between the United Kingdom's record on reducing unemployment and that of other major EU countries.     [16006]

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Miss Ann Widdecombe): Since December 1992, unemployment on the InternationalLabour Organisation definition has fallen by nearly two percentage points in the United Kingdom while in France, Germany and Italy it has risen by one percentage point or more. It has also risen in most other European Union countries as, for example, in Spain where it has risen by 2.7 per cent.

Mr. Waterson: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does she agree that those excellent comparative results are due to the much more flexible labour market that the Government have created in this country without the harmful influence of a national minimum wage or the social chapter?

Miss Widdecombe: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a very clear correlation between countries with heavily regulated labour markets and countries with high unemployment. In Britain, flexible labour market policies have meant that we have attracted inward investment, that employers have been able to make the most of the recovery and that people are able to choose and agree with their employers working patterns that suit them. It is a

Column 1513

very good country in which to be working, and I hope that the Opposition never get the opportunity to destroy that very sound base.

Ms Short: Will the Minister please explain how it benefits the British people or the British economy to encourage competition with Europe by promoting low pay in Britain? Does she agree that there is no future for Britain as the sweat shop of Europe?

Miss Widdecombe: Indeed. I agree that there is no future for us as the sweatshop of Europe because we are not. The Opposition will not like to hear these facts but the take-home pay of a single man in the bottom 10 per cent. of earnings has risen 23 per cent. above inflation since 1979. What did the Opposition do for such people? Their pay fell under the previous Labour Government. Since 1979, real pay at all levels has risen for male full-timers and women, in comparison with the late 1970s when productivity and pay stagnated. Real take-home pay for a couple with an average earner has risen by 46 per cent.-- [Interruption.] The Opposition do not want to hear the facts. They want to make statements that they cannot substantiate. When they hear the facts, they do not like it. One can tell how well the country is doing by the length of the Opposition's faces.

Mr. Heald: Can my hon. Friend confirm that Britain has the fastest- falling rate of unemployment in Europe and that that is because we have a vibrant economy with fast-rising exports and flexible labour markets, and we are the best place in Europe to do business, which is why we are getting so much inward investment at the moment?

Miss Widdecombe: My hon. Friend is right. It is significant that the rest of Europe is beginning to realise that fact, with an increased concentration on competitiveness and flexibility and a rather embarrassed retreat from over-regulation. That is a tribute to the example that we have set. It is a great pity, indeed, that the Opposition cannot revel in Britain doing well.

Social Affairs Council

5. Mr. Frank Cook: To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when the next Social Affairs Council meeting is to be held; and what items are to be discussed.     [16007]

Mr. Portillo: The next Social Affairs Council will be held on 29 June. No agenda has yet been published.

Mr. Cook: The House will have read in the past fortnight of the expressed determination of the German Government to stop the Gastarbeiter from being engaged in conditions or at rates of pay which would undermine the conditions of the indigenous worker. The Secretary of State may be pleased to know that that is indeed welcome news to those constituents of mine who undertake the "Auf Wiedersehen Pet" route and go to work in Germany. Will the Secretary of State tell the House why my constituents may expect the German Minister to defend their standards when he will not?

Mr. Portillo: If the German Minister's policy of the posted workers directive were carried through, it would prevent the hon. Gentleman's constituents from going anywhere in Europe to find work at the rates of pay that employers would like to offer. I believe in a single European market. I believe in people being able to offer

Column 1514

their labour freely in any place in that European market. I think that perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not believe that. If he does not, it would be to the disadvantage of his constituents who at present have the freedom to go to Germany and also of his constituents who will be employed when Samsung brings 3,000 jobs to his constituency.

Mr. John Marshall: Would my right hon. Friend like to suggest to the German presidency that the subject of job creation should be on the agenda, so that he may point out that many more jobs are being created in this country than in other European countries?

Mr. Portillo: My hon. Friend is extremely well experienced in these matters and he will not be surprised to hear that when European Employment Ministers meet, although supposedly unemployment is meant to be top of their agenda, they spend much of their time discussing directives which would make it more difficult for people to get jobs in Europe and more difficult to move from country to country. The question of unemployment is usually relegated to a brief discussion towards the end of the agenda.

Mr. Barron: The Ministers at the Social Affairs Council agree with a national minimum wage. Does the Secretary of State accept that 1 million people who are being paid under £2.50 an hour in the British economy may think that it is a good idea to have a national minimum wage in this country? Why do the Government take every opportunity, including abolishing wages councils, to drive down the hourly rate to level people down? Surely British workers deserve better than this Government who believe in low pay?

Mr. Portillo: The hon. Gentleman and his party do not believe in anything, or if they do, they are not prepared to tell the public what it is. If the hon. Gentleman is so keen on having a minimum wage, I offer him the opportunity to stand up again and tell us what that minimum wage should be. Why will he not do that? I believe in a high-wage economy based on high levels of education and high levels of skill. The hon. Gentleman believes in promising people something which he is not prepared to deliver. He believes in trying to mislead people. I believe in trying to raise people's standards by education and skills. The people of this country, when it comes to the election, will not put up with the deception which is being attempted by the hon. Gentlemen.

Trade Unions

6. Mr. Fabricant: To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what assessment his Department has made regarding the operation of democracy in (a) the British trade unions and (b) those of other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries; and if he will make a statement.     [16008]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Phillip Oppenheim): Our reforms have ensured that trade unions in this country are now more accountable to their members than ever before. The strike rate in the United Kingdom has fallen twice as fast as that in the OECD generally. The last time that there were as few strikes was so long ago that the Liberals were in power.

Mr. Fabricant: Is it not true that when, in the 1980s, the Government introduced legislation to democratise the

Column 1515

trade unions, with secret ballots for electing their leaders and before strike action, the Labour party bitterly opposed it all? Does my hon. Friend agree that under the tranquil waters of trade union democracy there lurks a kraken waiting to be awoken by the Labour party and its trade union paymasters?

Mr. Oppenheim: Characteristically, my hon. Friend is right. Our trade union reforms have given trade unionists the right to secret ballots before strikes, the right to refuse to strike and the freedom to leave a trade union without losing their jobs. Every one of those policies was opposed by the Labour party. On the basis of that record, the kraken should be put out of its misery by being put permanently to sleep.

Mr. MacShane: The question referred to trade unions in other countries, and the Minister will be aware that one of the most distinguished European trade unionists is the Secretary of State's opposite number in Germany, the Minister of Labour, Norbert Blu m, who has been in post for about 10 years--unlike the Secretary of State, who is here today, gone Portillo in a few months. Will the Minister reply to the question and assure me that, if we want a high-wage, low-unemployment economy such as that of Germany, which the Secretary of State praised yesterday, the best thing that he could do is to arrange a job swap with the Minister of Labour in Germany so that we could all say auf Wiedersehen, Portillo?

Mr. Oppenheim: I am not sure which monster sounds worse, the kraken or the Blu m, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Strikes in this country are now running at exactly 1 per cent. of the level that we inherited from Labour in 1979.

Jobseeker's Allowance

7. Mr. Nigel Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how the jobseeker's allowance will help people to get back to work.     [16009]

Miss Widdecombe: The back-to-work bonus, national insurance contributions holiday, revision to partners working hours and other jobseeker's allowance measures, combined with the initiatives announced in the Budget, will provide substantial help and incentives for unemployed people.

Mr. Evans: I am extremely grateful for that reply. I welcome the splendid news about the falls in the rate of unemployment over the past 14 to 15 months. However, does my hon. Friend agree that for each person who finds himself or herself long-term unemployed, that is a personal tragedy, and that the new package of measures associated with the jobseeker's allowance, such as the back-to-work bonus and the extension of employment on trial are welcome news? Does she agree that they are constructive measures that will increase employment opportunities, as opposed to the job destruction measures advocated by the Opposition, such as the national minimum wage, at whatever rate, and the social chapter?

Miss Widdecombe: My hon. Friend is right, and I have hopes, although I suspect that they are not destined to be fulfilled, that the whole House may welcome the substantial fall in long-term unemployment now occurring. That is due to our labour market policies, and I am glad to say that work start and work trial, the national

Column 1516

insurance contributions holiday and the other measures that I have outlined will substantially benefit the long- term unemployed. Again, I am rather sorry to see that there is no joy among the Opposition at the fall in long-term unemployment, but only rather sad looks. They do not want people to feel good, because that means that they feel bad.

Mr. Battle: Is not the jobseeker's allowance an attempt to drive people back to work by taking their income away if an officer of the employment agency feels that they do not look properly dressed for work or have not made sufficient telephone calls? Where is the justice in that? Are not the Government simply penalising people for being unemployed through no fault of their own?

Miss Widdecombe: No, the Government are not penalising people for being unemployed, and we are extremely keen that the unemployed should have every possible assistance to get back to work. Benefit cannot be withdrawn on the whim of an employment officer, as there is a process of independent adjudication. The hon. Gentleman should perhaps study the Bill so that he can understand it a bit better.

Mr. Sykes: Is it not ridiculous that some Opposition Members do not accept that there are some people who will not work, and that the Jobseekers Bill will make such people do a job of work in return for benefit? My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) forgot to mention the national insurance holiday in his list. As an employer, can I assure my hon. Friend the Minister that the national insurance holiday will be extremely beneficial in helping the long-term unemployed get off the unemployment list?

Miss Widdecombe: One of the problems faced by the long-term unemployed is that of employer perception. There is a general, if misguided, view among employers that if a person has been out of work for a substantial time, it is somehow his fault. One of the welcome outcomes of work start, work trial and the national insurance contributions holiday is that they provide an incentive to employers to take on the long-term unemployed. As a result, not only does the long-term unemployed person benefit immediately, but the employer's attitudes towards the long-term unemployed change. I must register once again that I have not heard the Opposition welcome that.

Minimum Wage

8. Mr. Foulkes: To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he has to conduct research into the effects of a national minimum wage.     [16010]

Mr. Oppenheim: I have looked at unemployment among young people in Spain at 38 per cent.--a country which has a national minimum wage--and concluded that no further research is necessary.

Mr. Gapes: Smart arse.

Mr. Foulkes: My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) refers to the Minister as a "smart arse", but I will say nothing on that subject as I know that you would stop me, Madam Speaker.

Would the Minister care to contrast a constituent who telephoned me at the weekend to say that he had been offered a job at £1.70 an hour as a security guard--with all the danger that that involves--with the chief executive

Column 1517

of PowerGen, who gets £34,000 for three "little jobs" which he does in his spare time, and a further £350,000 in salary? Does not that illustrate that we need legislation not only for a national minimum wage but for a national maximum wage?

Mr. Oppenheim: I do not know whether that was a Labour policy announcement. We all want the less well-off to be better paid, but the Opposition's policy is doubly deceitful and dishonest. The Opposition pretend to the less well-off that there is a simple and cost-free way to raise wages, but they will not even say until after the election at what level the minimum wage will be set. In effect, they are giving the less well-off a menu without prices in the hope that the less well-off will not find out the true cost--which will be their jobs--until after the election.

Mr. Thurnham: Did not Barbara Castle carry out research into a minimum wage 20 years ago and reject it because it would cause unemployment? Does not that prove that Labour never learns?

Mr. Oppenheim: Barbara Castle, when she was Secretary of State for Employment, and John Grant, when he was the low pay Minister in the last Labour Government, had the honesty and integrity to admit that no minimum wage policy could be implemented because of the problem of pushing up differentials. It is extraordinary that new Labour--as it calls itself--is, far from progressing on the issue, regressing.

Ms Eagle: Is the Minister happy that 1 million people currently earn less than £2.50 an hour and that 300,000 earn less than £1.50 an hour after nearly 17 years of this appalling Government?

Mr. Oppenheim: The hon. Lady is quoting from a recent press release from the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman), which criticised several national supermarket chains for paying less than £4 an hour. The hon. Lady might like to know that her hon. Friend the Member for Peckham missed one important retailer off her list. The Co-op pays many workers about £3.50 an hour, which is well below the TUC's recommended minimum wage.


9. Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what comparisons he has made of the change in the rate of unemployment between the United Kingdom and other EU countries; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Portillo: In the past two years, unemployment in the United Kingdom fell by 600,000, while unemployment registers rose in the rest of Europe by 1.9 million.

Mrs. Gillan: Is it not a fact that the United Kingdom is the only country in the European Union in which unemployment not only has fallen consistently in the past year but is below average? Does my right hon. Friend agree that our opt-out from the social chapter preserves not only investment but jobs? Perhaps he would care to comment on the fact that a shop floor superviser for Black and Decker, which recently moved its production from Germany to the United Kingdom, said:

"Industry is flexible--it has to be--the social chapter isn't."

Mr. Portillo: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The United Kingdom has had the record that she described.

Column 1518

Unemployment has fallen faster than in any other country and we now have higher employment levels for men and women than most countries in Europe. The general range of flexible labour market policies that the Government have pursued has been responsible for that rapid turnaround in our employment and unemployment prospects, as is recognised throughout Europe. Other countries are studying what we have done. Typically, only the dinosaurs in the Labour party refuse to recognise what has been achieved and how it has been achieved.

Mr. Grocott: Is it too much to expect a little consistency from the Secretary of State in the lectures that he is fond of giving on our economy? Given that he and the Prime Minister repeatedly lectured us during the worst part of the recession that unemployment was nothing whatsoever to do with the Government, will he take the opportunity of telling the House and the country that, if there is some small upturn in the level of employment, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Government?

Mr. Portillo: I think that the hon. Gentleman finds it difficult to grasp fairly simple concepts. What the Government say is that they cannot create jobs. The Government are responsible for creating conditions such as low inflation, in which jobs can be created, but it is for businesses to create jobs. If we did not have low inflation, they would not be created. If we had a Labour Government, it is perfectly clear that we would have no strategy for low inflation and jobs would be destroyed for that reason, too.

Mr. Anthony Coombs: Does my right hon. Friend agree that clear evidence of the fact that the pernicious and employment-deterring effects of the social chapter are gradually dawning on European industrialists, rather than on the Labour party, is that Edward Reuter, the chairman of Mercedes-Benz, has said that, unless it does something about the costs that it is incurring but British companies are not, it will gradually move car production out of Germany to, one hopes, the United Kingdom?

Mr. Portillo: Yes, it is evident that European industrial leaders are giving thought to moving their operations to places where they do not face the burdens of the social chapter. They realise that those burdens prevent them from creating jobs. The great irony of all this is that many of the inward investment decisions have been made in north-east England and have benefited Labour consistencies, but Labour Members are so obdurate and blind that they will not even wake up to the benefits for their constituents. That is how well those people are served by Labour Members of Parliament.

Ms Harman: Will the Secretary of State admit that, since 1979, the United Kingdom has been the only G7 country that has seen no rise in the number of people employed? Does he not recognise the plain fact that, when it comes to unemployment, the British people simply do not trust this Government? They know that the Government have never been concerned about unemployment; all they have been concerned about is massaging the figures. When will the right hon. Gentleman stop fiddling the figures on unemployment? When will he stop making excuses about unemployment, and when will he produce some action to tackle unemployment?

Column 1519

Mr. Portillo: During the 1970s, unemployment was worse than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average. Now, it is at the OECD average, which is an improvement. What the hon. Lady will not do--possibly because she is not so good with figures--is compare a like period with a like period. Over the course of the cycle, the number of jobs in this country has increased by 1.5 million. She needs to compare like with like and not just to pick her dates at random.

10. Mr. Congdon: To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the current figure for unemployment (a) in the United Kingdom and (b) in other European Union countries; and if he will make a statement.     [16012]

Miss Widdecombe: The International Labour Organisation unemployment rate in the United Kingdom was 8.9 per cent. in January 1995--lower than the EU average of 10.8 per cent. and lower than in every other EU country except Portugal, Luxembourg and Sweden. I shall, with permission, Madam Speaker, arrange for a full statistical table to be printed in the Official Report .

Mr. Congdon: Does my hon. Friend agree that Governments cannot create jobs but can create the right economic conditions in which business can flourish? Does she agree that the figures that she has just given and the 1,000 a day drop in unemployment demonstrate the success of policies designed to reduce burdens on business and create a framework in which businesses can expand?

Miss Widdecombe: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Any comparative study with other European countries makes it clear that our policies are producing employment. At 68 per cent., we have the third highest percentage of the population in work in the European Union, and we have the second highest percentage of women in work in the European Union. We have a steadily increasing growth in jobs--260, 000 in the past year alone. That is a tribute to our policies, as I said before, and Europe is beginning to realise that. Eventually, I suppose, even the Labour party will start to realise it.

Rev. Martin Smyth: I welcome the decline in the unemployment numbers, but does the Minister agree that there is a tremendous shortage of skills? Will the Government keep a watch on our European competitors who have hidden Government subsidies that affect even our shipyards? Is there not something wrong when a nation like ours cannot tender for the Oriana and when the Belfast shipyard had to employ 600 labourers from England although there is so much unemployment in Northern Ireland?

Miss Widdecombe: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to skills. That is what lies behind the many Government initiatives, from the new modern apprenticeships to general national vocational qualifications and the Investors in People scheme. He is also right to say that we must all compete equally in Europe, which is why we are determined that no unfair burden of regulations puts us at a competitive disadvantage and that we will not have our workers stifled, as they would have been under the posted workers directive.

Mr. Eastham: May I remind the Minister when she is pluming herself about the unemployment figures in the

Column 1520

UK that, in 1979, 1.25 million people were unemployed and now 2.5 million are unemployed? May I also remind her of the important fact that 3 million male full-time jobs have been lost in the UK since 1979?

Miss Widdecombe: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is rather behind the times. We have a higher percentage of males in employment than France, Italy, Belgium, Greece, Ireland and Spain. Male unemployment has now been falling for some time. Male and female unemployment are falling and full-time and part-time jobs are rising. The Opposition simply cannot recognise facts even when they stare them in the face, but that is a fact. Another fact is that their policies cost jobs, the country will realise that their policies cost jobs, and they will never have an opportunity to tell us what their minimum wage will be because there will be no Labour Government to tell us.

Mr. Brazier: Although unemployment is desperately sad for the individuals concerned, would not it be astonishing if this country were to look for solutions to the problems in countries with much higher unemployment, when their policies have failed so conspicuously? That seems to be the policy advocated by the Opposition.

Miss Widdecombe: That is exactly the policy advocated by the Opposition. They are refreshingly honest sometimes. The deputy Leader of the Opposition tells us that a minimum wage will cause shake-out. Will he be explicit and tell us that what will be shaken is people, and what they will be out of is jobs?

Following is the table:

Seasonally Adjusted Unemployment Rates in 

EU Countries                              

                Latest Month              


Austria        |N/A                       

Belgium        |9.9     |December         

Denmark        |9.3     |December         

Germany<1>     |-                         

Greece<2>      |-                         

Finland<3>     |17.2    |December         

Spain          |22.6    |December         

France         |11.3    |December         

Ireland        |17.6    |December         

Italy          |12.2    |December         

Luxembourg     |3.5     |December         

Netherlands    |10.0    |November         

Portugal       |6.2     |December         

Sweden<3>      |8.2     |January          

United Kingdom |8.9     |January          


EU(12) Average |10.8    |December         

<1> No ILO rate available for unified     


<2> Only 1991 annual average figures      

available for Greece.                     

<3> Only OECD unemployment rates are      

available for Finland and Sweden.         

N/A Not available.                        


Statistical Office of the European        

Community Unemployment Bulletin, (except  

Finland and Sweden-OECD). Latest          

available data-subject to revision.       

Eurostat--the Statistical Office of the European Community, or SOEC--is currently negotiating with the OECD for both organisations to compile unemployment statistics on a common basis. Because of this, Eurostat has not issued any new figures this

Next Section

  Home Page