The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Portillo): Government policies have produced economic growth and falling unemployment. The proportion of the unemployed out of work for more than a year is markedly below the European Community average.
Sir Michael Neubert: Is my right hon. Friend aware that when the Social Affairs Commissioner came to the House two or three years ago, Mrs. Papandreou said that of the many millions out of work in Europe at that time 35 per cent. had not had a job at all? Is it not clear from my right hon. Friend's answer that the prospects for the long-term unemployed are far better in Britain than in countries that have adopted the inflexibility and business burdens of the social chapter, and how is it possible for the Labour party not to have noticed that?
Mr. Portillo: My hon. Friend is too generous. The Labour party has noticed it. It is not in favour of the social chapter out of ignorance of its consequences. It knows perfectly well that the social chapter would destroy jobs in Britain. It is in favour of the social chapter because it has done a cynical deal with the trade unions: that is the basis of the social chapter. What would my hon. Friend expect from a party that receives most of its money from the trade unions? All the members of the shadow Cabinet are sponsored by trade unions. Votes at Labour's conference are dominated by trade unions. That is why the Labour party is in favour of the social chapter--it is not out of ignorance of the fact that the social chapter would destroy British jobs. I am against the social chapter because I am determined to defend British interests and jobs.
Mr. Portillo: There are 886,000 people who have been without a job for more than a year. The proportion is 37 per cent., but during the last recession it reached 44 per cent. The proportion in this country is lower than in other European Union countries. That is the point that the hon.
Column 580Gentleman must face. We are pursuing policies that enable people to get back to work. We are pursuing policies that have produced an unemployment rate of 8.5 per cent., compared with the European Community average of 10.8 per cent. The interesting thing for the hon. Gentleman is that the countries with the higher rates of unemployment are the countries that are pursuing the policies advocated by his party.
Mr. Rathbone: Would my right hon. Friend care to tell the House how much of that welcome reduction in unemployment is due to our active membership of the European Union and how much of it would be put at risk if we withdrew?
Mr. Portillo: I believe that we benefit very much indeed from being part of a single European market. The Government have fought hard to create that single European market, but it is well recognised that other features that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been wise enough to remain outside, such as the social chapter, are job-destroying measures. My hon. Friend is right to put his finger on the fact that there are advantages to us from membership of the single European market. I know that he in no way dissents from the position of the Government and the Conservative party that we will never be part of the social chapter.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Phillip Oppenheim): Employment matters feature regularly in discussions with ministerial counterparts. I am pleased to say that the rate of unemployment in the UK is well below the Community average, and particularly below the rates in countries with a minimum wage.
Mr. Evans: In view of that interesting answer, will the Minister acknowledge that no other EU country measures its unemployment in the same way as Great Britain? Does he agree that until such time as we have statistical uniformity throughout the EU, anyone who seeks to compare Britain's unemployment with that of any other EU country is either ill- informed or deceitful?
Mr. Oppenheim: As I know that the hon. Gentleman is not a suspicious man by nature, I shall help him out on this one. All major industrial countries, including Britain, publish two sets of unemployment figures: one based on the benefit system, which, in Britain, is the claimant count; and one using an international standard, which in Britain is called the labour force survey--which the TUC has called fully reliable, and which even Labour supports. This latter international standard figure is used in international comparisons of unemployment rates.
The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong to claim that we are not comparing like with like, and I hope that he will withdraw that allegation.
Mrs. Angela Knight: Will my hon. Friend confirm, whatever method is used to calculate unemployment statistics, that it is overwhelmingly obvious that Britain has more people in work than almost any other European country--and, what is more, has lower youth
Column 581unemployment as well? Does he therefore find it surprising, as I do, that the Labour party has voted against the policies that have reduced unemployment while adopting proposals that have been manifestly shown to increase it?
Mr. Oppenheim: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Britain has one of the highest proportions in Europe of the working age population in work. But Labour's policies, so far as it has any on this issue, are totally contradictory. The hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) said this morning that she wants both full employment and a minimum wage, yet the Labour leader and deputy leader both admit that a minimum wage would cost jobs. No wonder the Opposition are not telling us at what level they would set the minimum wage. They are hoping that the low paid will not find out the true cost in terms of lost jobs until after the election.
Mr. Barron: The Minister cannot deny that most of the 30 changes in the monthly claimant count over the past 10 years have been designed to reduce that count--clearly, too, the jobseeker's allowance is designed to do the same again in due course. When he discusses employment policies with other European Ministers, will the hon. Gentleman explain to them why the Government, by driving wages down in this country, are creating poverty pay? Millions of people are still unemployed here as a result. While Britain becomes increasingly a low-wage, low-skill, low-tech economy, other countries have invested in training and infrastructure, as well as putting a floor under wages. Is not that why they will be far better off than us?
Mr. Oppenheim: There are so many fallacies in that statement that it is difficult to know where to begin. Let me, first, gently remind the hon. Gentleman that changes to the unemployment count did not begin in 1979. One of the largest ever changes was made in 1976, when the Labour Government took 100,000 people off at a stroke. If the hon. Gentleman does not like the claimant count, let him stick with the labour force survey, which shows unemployment totals almost exactly the same as the claimant count. His claim that we believe in poverty pay is belied by the facts. We all want people to be better paid--
Mr. Oppenheim: If the hon. Gentleman will let me finish--we all want people to be better paid, especially the low paid, but it is fundamentally dishonest of Labour to pretend that there is some magic wand: a no-cost way of raising people's pay without costing jobs. In Britain, pay stagnated in the late 1970s. Because our economy is so much more successful now, pay at all levels has increased, especially for the low paid. The hon. Gentleman is wrong on all counts.
Column 582Mr. Thurnham: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the vast majority of the British public increasingly recognise the value of the opt-outs that we successfully negotiated at Maastricht? Should we not seek to repatriate powers to this country and this House, where they belong, instead of giving more and more powers to the Brussels bureaucrats, as Opposition spokesmen would like us to?
Mr. Portillo: President Chirac has commented that there is disquiet throughout Europe about the way in which the European Union appears not to have dealt with unemployment. People look to Europe to help them to create jobs. As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), the single European market has helped the creation of employment; but putting burdens on employers which make them reluctant to employ people, or which raise wages so that fewer people are employed, does not help to deal with unemployment in Europe.
There are 20 million people in the EU without work.I shall continue to emphasise to my colleagues in Europe that we need to tackle unemployment-- we are not there simply to pander to trade union interests.
Ms Harman: How can the Secretary of State boast to the House and to other European countries about Britain's unemployment record when, over the past five years,11 million people have been unemployed at one time or another? Is not the Tory party the party of high unemployment? Why does he continue to oppose a national minimum wage when he has now taken to saying that he cares about the low paid? Is he prepared to justify the fact that one third of a million people in this country are on £1.50 an hour or less? How can he justify the fact that more than 1 million people are on less than £2.50 an hour? Does not his opposition to the social chapter have nothing to do with the interests or concerns about British people at work but everything to do with the splits in his party?
Mr. Portillo: None of us in Europe can boast, because none of us is doing well enough, but countries that have adopted the policies advocated by the hon. Lady have done terrible things to their populations. In Spain, which has a minimum wage, youth unemployment is three times higher than in the United Kingdom. In France, which has a minimum wage, youth unemployment is twice as high as in the United Kingdom. Jobs are being destroyed by minimum wages across Europe. The Labour party knows that. It knows, too, that the unions are demanding that differentials are fully maintained, so that most of the money that is spent on a minimum wage will not be spent on helping people at the bottom but on remunerating people at every wage level. We know that, according to the sums that have been advocated by the unions, 800,000 jobs would be lost, even if only half the differentials were restored. The hon. Lady is not straightforward or honest with the House. [Interruption.] She knows that a minimum wage--
Column 583that level. She knows that the minimum wage would destroy jobs, which is why she is not prepared to tell us at what level it would be set.
Mr. Yeo: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the acid test of whether any socialist party can call itself modern lies in its attitude towards whether individuals are free to offer their labour to an employer who wishes to employ them? Does he further agree that there is no hope of the Opposition modernising their attitude while so many of their members remain in the pay of the trade unions?
Mr. Portillo: The extraordinary feature of Labour's employment policies is that new Labour has dreamt up ways of destroying jobs that even old Labour had not discovered. The minimum wage was not introduced by old Labour; the social chapter was not advocated by old Labour. They are inventions of new Labour, presumably as a result of the domination of the Labour party by the trade unions and its willingness to bow the knee and to grovel to them.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. James Paice): There are a large number of training places for thoseseeking them, and for whom training is the best course of action, but training is not necessarily the priority need of all
unemployedpeople. That is why the Employment Service provides arange of help, including jobmatch, 1-2-1, workwise, the travel-to-interview scheme, job search seminars and many others.
With your permission, Madam Speaker, I shall remain standing.
Mr. Williams: Because of changes that the Minister's Department has introduced in the training for work programme in the past year, requiring training providers to choose people who are most likely to have a successful outcome, my local authority, Dyfed county council, has had to cut its programme of 260 places by more than 100 places this year. Are not young people who are being rejected now being doubly disadvantaged? They are out of work yet are also being rejected even from lowly places on training schemes.
Under the training for work scheme, in both England and Wales we have adopted special measures to ensure that those with special training needs, and those at a particular disadvantage, are protected. The output payments are considerably higher for those people than for others, and in England, at any rate, we have ring-fenced the numbers involved so that there can be a diminution in the number of people with special needs who undertake training in training for work programmes. We have addressed, quite properly, the very issue that concerns the hon. Gentleman.
Column 584Does my hon. Friend agree that what most people want are jobs? They want to be trained to get a job; they do not just want training for its own sake. My hon. Friend's policies, therefore, are designed to provide jobs for people, not just training for its own sake.
Mr. Paice: My hon. Friend is entirely right. The 2.3 million unemployed people in this country are not a homogeneous mass; they are a vast range of different people with different skills, different personal requirements and different needs in the jobs market. That is why it is right for us to provide a range of opportunities. There is exactly the same number of opportunities this year as last year: 1.5 million different opportunities involving training, help with interview skills, help with travelling to interviews and help with searching for jobs, through jobclubs. We provide that range because it is what people need.
Mr. Barnes: I am glad that the Minister recognises that training does not always constitute adequate provision. In fact, in many cases it is not all that hot. Research suggests that more general educational provision is useful to adults, providing them with inroads into educational opportunities. According to a research document on miners who have been made unemployed in south Yorkshire and north-east Derbyshire, produced by the adult education department of Sheffield university, adult education makes an important contribution to solving the problems of unemployment, and the provision of training skills is inadequate.
Mr. Paice: The report to which the hon. Gentleman draws my attention will not be launched until tomorrow, and I have therefore had no chance to study it. He is, however, right in saying that training is not the only requirement; some people need an enhancement of their educational base, and that too is possible through some of our programmes.
The hon. Gentleman is rightly concerned about former miners who lost their jobs through the restructuring of the mining industry. The good news is that unemployment is falling in all mining areas, as it is in the rest of the country.
Mr. Portillo: At meetings of the Social Affairs Council, I have urged my fellow Employment Ministers to make job creation the first priority, and not to pursue new labour market restrictions and regulations, which can only destroy jobs.
Mr. Thompson: On that positive note, was my right hon. Friend able to discuss with his European colleagues the reasons why the United Kingdom is leading the way to lower unemployment in Europe? Was he also able to discuss the benefits flowing from our membership of the European Union, not least the right of our work force to work in Community countries? Can he confirm, for example, that in 1989 some 5,100 English people were working in Belgium, and that in 1991 some 42, 600 were working in Germany? Are those not benefits?
Column 585unemployment in a document. We published ours last week, and it shows a range of measures that have helped to bring down unemployment in Britain. I also think it absolutely right for us to share our experiences.
I agree with my hon. Friend that labour mobility benefits everyone in the European Community, but at the last meeting we spent nearly all our time discussing the posted workers directive, which would restrict the mobility of labour in Europe. That was one of my reasons for opposing it.
My hon. Friend will recognise that there is now only one market--the global market. We shall work hard to ensure that the European Union acts as a stepping stone to that global market, rather than a stumbling block.
Mr. Jenkin: Has my right hon. Friend read a speech delivered by Jack Dromey in May, which cited a number of legal actions where Government policy has been defeated by the action of European law? He uses those examples to describe the Government's attempt to opt out of the social chapter as futile. Are we not in danger of losing the opt-out because of the creeping competence of the European Union and must we not get those competences back by repatriating powers from the European Union to the House to protect Government policy?
Mr. Portillo: I think Britain has had a tremendous influence on the development of the social chapter, which has not advanced at anything above a snail's pace because we have not been part of it. Jacques Delors said that this country would become a paradise for investment, so other countries do not want to burden themselves when Britain is outside the social chapter. We have demonstrated that we can have real influence in Europe by taking a strong position, but Mr. Dromey's speech showed how the unions are determined to use the European Union's social chapter to re- establish their power at European level. That speech illustrated the connection in the Labour party's mind between the social chapter and union power more clearly than I have ever seen it demonstrated before and I commend it to every Conservative Member.
Ms Harman: Why does not the Secretary of State repatriate his concern about unemployment? Why is he always talking about unemployment in Spain? Why does he never talk about the unemployment that his Government is causing in this country? Is he more worried about unemployment in Madrid than unemployment in Manchester? Does not he recognise that working people work best, and businesses are therefore more successful, if they feel secure, part of a team and confident that they have the protection of minimum standards? Will he therefore reaffirm his commitment to Britain's membership of the International Labour Organisation?
Column 586for her to lay into me in that way. I am concerned that some people in this country cannot remember a Labour Government in Britain, so we must illustrate what the impact of Labour policies would be. Such policies are today being followed in Spain and they have produced youth unemployment three times as high as in Britain and a position whereby one third of the entire work force is on temporary contracts.
I am reviewing the value for money that our membership of the ILO gives us, but I deplore the political posturing that the TUC has undertaken in trying to manipulate that international body into taking political postures borne out of prejudices of its own invention. The Government do not allow people at GCHQ to be represented by national trade unions because national security is at stake. That is an important position and one that the Government will maintain.
6. Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many long-term unemployed people he expects to be helped back into employment by the recent extension of the jobfinder's grant. 
The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Miss Ann Widdecombe): We have made 25,000 jobfinder's grants available to help long-term unemployed people into work. But that is just one of a wide range of measures, and altogether the Department of Employment offers unemployed people 1.5 million opportunities for help every year.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my hon. Friend agree that the jobfinder's grant is merely part of a comprehensive package, which has enabled our country to create more than 600,000 jobs--more than any other country in the European Union--since December 1992? Is not that in total contrast to the Labour party's policies of a minimum wage and adoption of the social chapter, which would destroy jobs?
Miss Widdecombe: Indeed, and it is due to the Government's policies that we also have lower long-term unemployment than the average for the European Union. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The jobfinder's grant is just one of a wide range of measures that include jobstart, work trials and national insurance contributions holidays for employers, which are all designed to assist long-term unemployed people into work. The Opposition's policies would, on the contrary, prolong and create unemployment. Their deputy leader refers to it as a "shake-out" and their leader refers to it as the result of an "econometric model". Whatever it amounts to and however they describe it, it means increasing misery for British workers. That is what the Opposition are promising.
Mr. Clapham: The Minister will be aware that a large proportion of the unemployment in Barnsley is of a long-term nature. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) referred to the document published by Sheffield university. One of its proposals is that accredited education courses should be included in the training for jobs scheme, effectively making it education and training for jobs. Is the Minister prepared to give serious consideration to that proposal?
Column 587examine any possibilities that give a greater link between education, vocational training and employment. But I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that long-term unemployment is falling, that it is falling in his region as much as elsewhere and that what he should be giving his constituents is a message of hope. He should be welcoming the tried and tested policies that we have implemented. Instead of which, the message that he gives his constituents is, "Labour Government--loss of jobs."
Mr. John Marshall: Does my hon. Friend agree that long-term unemployed people want an availability of jobs? At a time when the European Community share of world trade is declining, does he agree that the European Union should reduce burdens on industry, as recommended by the Government, rather than increase them, as recommended by the Labour party?
Miss Widdecombe: Indeed. The European Union increasingly recognises that, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recognises that, the International Monetary Fund recognises that and we recognised it long before anyone else, but the Opposition cannot catch up. All they have to offer is old policies; they cannot dress them up as anything new. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) may well put his hands up in surrender--that is what British workers can do if they get a Labour Government.
Mr. McCartney: The hon. Lady wants to stop manufacturing soundbites for Brussels and manufacture some jobs for Britain. Have not the Government introduced a jobfinder's grant because, since their friends in the privatised utilities have taken control, they have lost 250,000 jobs, at a cost of £1 billion to the taxpayer? When will the Minister of State have discussions with her friends at the top of the privatised utilities to persuade them to stop putting their snouts in the trough while sacking their workers? When are the Government going to do something about the massive job losses in the utilities, while those at the top take pay rises and share options for themselves?
Miss Widdecombe: Why does the hon. Gentleman not consult that document that is so beloved of himself and the trade unions--the labour force survey? If he does so, he will see that employment is rising. Will he welcome that? No. Bad news is the only thing that he ever welcomes, but there is now consistent good news: falling unemployment, falling long-term unemployment, rising employment, the highest participation rates in Europe, long-term unemployment below the European average higher than average youth employment. All those are the results of our flexible labour market policies. When will the hon. Gentleman welcome those? I look forward to the day when the Opposition stand up for British workers, instead of standing up for their own interests.
Mr. Harry Greenway: Does my hon. Friend agree that jobfinder's grant is designed to stimulate people to go on looking for work even when the going may be hard? That contrasts with the absurd view of the Labour party, which seeks to put it about that getting a job is easy and that, if jobs cannot be come by, the state would be ready to give other people's money to anyone who asks for it without anybody suffering. It is not like that.
Column 588vulnerable by making them believe that there is some simple solution. There is no simple solution. The wide range of measures that we have put in place, however, keeps our youth and long-term unemployment below the European average and our participation rate higher. Those policies result in a better life for British workers, and they are our policies.
7. Mr. Campbell-Savours: To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when he next intends to visit west Cumbria to discuss matters relating to employment with representatives of the local community. 
Mr. Campbell-Savours: Why keep 8,108 unemployed people in west Cumbria languishing on the dole when there is a vast amount of local work that could be done, such as environmental improvement, crime prevention, home insulation, security work, looking after the elderly, and community and general support services work? I have a list of projects that could be undertaken in west Cumbria if the Government would only see sense. Why keep people languishing on the dole?
Mr. Paice: Nobody wants to keep people languishing on the dole, as the hon. Gentleman puts it. Through the Employment Service and the training and enterprise councils, the Government are providing 1.5 million opportunities for people to get back to work. In addition, we are providing £65 million a year for economic development in Cumbria, which is way ahead of the amount spent in many other counties. I understand that unemployment is higher in the hon. Gentleman's constituency than in other parts of the country; of course that is sad. Why does he not recognise, however, that unemployment has fallen in the past year and in the past two years and that it has fallen since the equivalent peak in the economic cycle in 1986? It is going in the right direction. Why does the hon. Gentleman espouse policies that would not deal with those 8,000 people? His policies would add another 8,000 or 10,000 or 20,000 to the number of unemployed people in west Cumbria.
Miss Widdecombe: The campaign for older workers aims to counter age discrimination in the workplace. It is targeted at employers, recruitment agencies and older workers. The advice, guidance and support provided through publications, promotional events and media coverage seek to increase the number and range of job opportunities available to older workers.
Mr. Spring: Does my hon. Friend agree that unwarranted age restrictions on jobs can deprive employers of valuable and experienced potential employees? Will my hon. Friend therefore join me in applauding the increase in the upper age limit for the training for work programme from 59 to 63 so as to reduce any possibility of age discrimination?
Column 589Miss Widdecombe: I heartily endorse everything that my hon. Friend says. Employers who arbitrarily impose age restrictions are missing out on a wealth of talent and on very important resources. The economy is missing out on not being able to use the talents of such people. It was in recognition of the fact that older workers should be invested in as far as possible up to the age of retirement that we raised the training for work age limit from 59 to 63 as well as introduced a number of other measures which have benefited older workers.
Mr. Winnick: Does the Minister agree that any form of discrimination, especially age, is unacceptable? However, is there not a danger that the slogan "Too Old, Who Says?" could be undermined by Lady Thatcher's latest efforts to undermine this discredited and dying Government?
Miss Widdecombe: If that is the best that the hon. Gentleman can manage, the Opposition clearly have no commitment to older workers. If all they can manage is crude political abuse when we are discussing a matter of major importance to thousands of workers, I ask again what I asked earlier: how can the Labour party even claim to represent British workers of any age when it does not treat such issues seriously?
Mr. Waterson: Has my hon. Friend seen last year's manpower survey, which showed that some three quarters of employers were seriously considering making greater use of older workers? Does that not show that British industry is well aware of the enormous resource represented by the ability and experience of older workers?
Miss Widdecombe: Indeed, and more crucially, it shows that the Government's campaign on behalf of older workers has been a tremendous success. It proves that industry is absorbing the message and is now preparing to act on that message. The findings of that survey were a tribute to our campaign. I hope that they will be welcomed by the Opposition.
Mr. Paice: People who visit Employment Service offices around the country already have access to information about a range of vacancies, which are openly displayed and clearly marked as full time or part time.
Mr. Mackinlay: Is that not a callous and indifferent reply, given that, in addition to the millions of people who are unemployed, millions of people who need full-time jobs are in part-time jobs that are stultifying and inappropriate to their needs and skills? Is it not the duty of Government to maximise the potential of our country and our people by ensuring that people have jobs that are appropriate to their family circumstances, skills and aptitudes, and maximise their potential as human beings? The Government fail in that regard by maintaining a work force in part-time jobs that they do not want.
Column 590that some 86 per cent. of people in part- time jobs are in them because they want to be. A small proportion have part -time jobs in the hope that they will lead to full-time jobs. The Government have extended the jobmatch pilot so that people who get a part- time job can get an extra bonus through the benefit system to take on more than one part-time job and build up a portfolio to enhance their chances of that job leading to full-time employment.
Mr. Colvin: Why was the Government's job-sharing scheme, which ran in the late 1980s, wound up? In view of what my hon. Friend has just said, have the Government any plans to reintroduce work-sharing or job-splitting schemes? A good example of those is the House of Commons Library, where we have managed to retain high-quality staff through splitting jobs. That has enabled us to continue to benefit from the extremely high quality of research and advice which we get from our Library.
Mr. Paice: The short answer is that we have no plans to reintroduce those schemes. They were successful because they changed many people's cultural attitude to part-time working and the idea of job sharing. They are now engrained in the psyche and practice of many employers and employees who want to set about sharing their work because it fits with their family and domestic commitments. That is also why we introduced the jobmatch scheme this year for people who can genuinely get only part-time work and want to build up to full-time work.
Ms Short: I suggest to the Minister and his colleagues, particularly the Secretary of State, that it is because their party is funded in secret by shady business interests that they do not understand, in the way that the Labour party and the British trade union movement do, why people in Britain are so worried about what is happening in the job market and about our continuing economic decline. The Government are deeply unpopular because we have high unemployment, dreadfully low wages and lots of families who are trapped on benefit. That is what the Government are doing to the people of Britain. Is that not why the Government are so deeply loathed?
Mr. Paice: Nobody pretends that we are satisfied or happy with the present level of unemployment, but it has come down for 20 consecutive months as a result of the Government's policies. One hundred years ago, this country led the world in trade and exports. At last we are clawing our way back, as productivity is rising and we are regaining the markets of the world that we have lost. All the Labour party can do is bleat, whinge and put forward policies that would destroy our economic recovery.