Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way and I am sorry to delay noble Lords further. The Minister speaks so persuasively, but he still has not grasped the point. The capitalist system is evolving. We now have a brand new system of capitalism globally. This country has been through a revolution and will go through further revolutions. These things take time. During the time in question there had to be a rise in unemployment, with great regret, before the level could come down and settle in the new job pattern. It was not a question of accepting high unemployment as a permanent feature and later welcoming some new and different model: we had to go through that period to get where we are now. It was inevitable; as other countries are now finding out, it cannot be done any other way.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I hoped that I had chosen not to go backwards and I trust that the noble Lord will listen to the rest of the argument, because it is about an evolving economy. As reflected in the instructions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Bank of England in setting interest rates, what is important is a high and stable level of employment--indeed, to be quite precise, high and stable levels of growth and employment. This means employment opportunities for all, and that is the definition of "full employment" for which we should be looking; in other words, work for those who can work.

There has been a change in emphasis from previous definitions of full employment from levels or rates of unemployment, which is the way that the previous government always chose to look at the figures, towards rates of employment, supplemented by a fair and inclusive distribution of employment. We have done that quite deliberately to enable us not only to help the unemployed but also those who are currently economically inactive, including some of the most disadvantaged people in society, so that they can reap the benefits of work.

If we look at the figures of the breakdown of the labour market, we can see that of the working age population of 36 million something like 27 million people are in work; something like 1.7 million are unemployed (under the ILO definition which is what we use in this Government); and something like 21 per cent are economically inactive, of whom 30 per cent say they do not want a job but very many would want a job if it were possible for them to do it. The whole thrust of government policy on employment has been to make it possible, desirable and attractive for those who are not economically active to get back to work and make that work pay. That moves me from my macro-economic objectives to the social objectives.

9 Feb 2000 : Column 747

However, before I continue on that track, I should like to say a few words about the knowledge economy, which has been a theme of so many well-informed and fascinating speeches this evening. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was right in much of his analysis of the knowledge economy. I believe he described a pattern where many rotten jobs--boring and unskilled jobs--have disappeared, will disappear and will not come back. But the question is: how can we ensure that they are replaced by interesting, worthwhile and well-paid jobs, which will contribute to the quality of life of everyone? Before I finish agreeing with the noble Lord, I have to say how much I disagree with his "Homo Hierarchicus" model. It sounds very much to me like the rich man in his castle with the poor man at his gate. I do not think that the noble Lord would like to think of himself in that way.

I am not in any way trying to go back--certainly not 9,000 years. Indeed, I am not even going back to what my noble friend described as "John Mortimer's village" of 70 years ago, with the lonely barrister plodding homeward on his weary way. I hope that we are looking forward and that we are taking seriously the technological changes that are taking place.

My noble friend Lord Puttnam made a very good analogy with railways. The point about railways is not that the employment there in the last century was enormous but the fact that it made possible the movement of goods to and from markets; it expanded markets; and made possible the movement of people to and from work by train. The analogy ought also to be thought of as being valid for e-commerce. It is not that e-commerce itself will be a huge employer, nor should we be misled by the stock market valuations of high-tech companies. Surely the effect of e-commerce will be as a tool for all other businesses. Unless those other businesses make use of the technologies available, they will go to the wall. There will not be such a dramatic change in the pattern of employment, but simply--we hope--in the quality of the jobs that will be made available.

I found my noble friend's analogy of Vodafone to be less valid. If we take stock market valuations as a significant factor, we could be misled. But he got back on track, as always--

Lord Puttnam: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. The point I want to make--I think that it is a terribly important point--is that I am no fan of the ups and downs of the stock market. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, pointed out, we live in a capitalist economy whereby the value on paper allows a company of no intrinsic value, but with a lot of future, to purchase assets on the open market. I believe that we have not fully come to terms with the fact that the new economy is able to purchase the assets of the old economy and move forward. That is not fully appreciated in this country.

9 Feb 2000 : Column 748

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not deny the facts. I am not at all certain what the political and economic implications are. Perhaps I am just confessing a failure of analysis. I do not think that the Government take a view on these matters. As I said, I think that my noble friend was back on track when he talked about education and our educational policy. That is what we debated this week when we discussed the Learning and Skills Bill.

I ought to say a few words about the employment policies of the Government. I shall do so briefly as there was not much comment on it except from the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, who described a young man with a wife and baby who was offered work in a supermarket that turned out not to be permanent. The point which ought to reassure the noble Baroness is that, according to the statistics, those who find such work--even if their first job does not work out--often eventually obtain full-time jobs. The difficulty is to get the first job. Often people who are successful in obtaining their first job find that their subsequent work prospects improve.

As regards the comments of my noble friend Lady Turner, I point out that we have set out a legal framework of decent minimum standards through the Employment Relations Act, the national minimum wage, the Working Time Directive, the social chapter measures and provisions to protect part-time workers through giving them comparable rights to those of full-time workers. Those provisions appear to be working. People are more confident about seeking work. Those whom I have described as being inactive but who want to work are being encouraged to seek it.

That leads me to the other labour market measures that have been almost an obsession with this Government during the past three years. We have heard about the New Deal for the young unemployed. That has been extended to those aged 25 and over and, from April this year, will be extended nationally to those aged 50 and over.

My noble friend Lady Turner mentioned lone mothers. I shall not mention any further statistics but take up that point. The programme for lone mothers is voluntary. Some 90,000 people, nearly all of whom are women, have taken up the offer of an interview. Some 23,000 have found jobs and an additional 5,000 have entered education and training. If one extends those statistics to the other parts of the New Deal, one can see that the increase in employment in this country of over 700,000 in the past three years is not a matter of chance but has occurred because deliberate and effective government policies have been introduced to make that possible.

Before I leave the issue of older people, my noble friend will know that following consultation we issued a code of practice in July of last year on ageism in employment policies. We shall see how that works before we take any decisions as to whether anything further needs to be done. These considerations apply to all aspects of the labour market, particularly as regards women, which I do not have time to refer to, even in the 40 minutes that remain in which I may speak!

9 Feb 2000 : Column 749

All of these measures are not job creation measures or measures to provide an alternative to work. They help people to help themselves to get a job and avoid the problem of being stuck out of work. The measures ensure that when people go back into work that is beneficial to them in social and economic terms and is beneficial also to society. I do not have time to discuss working families' tax credits, the national minimum wage or all the other aspects of government policy which are relevant to the subject matter of this debate. I conclude by saying that it is our objective to achieve full employment in this country, not only for moral and social reasons but because that is the way for this country to thrive. We believe that we have made a good start.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I am glad that noble Lords have found this a rewarding debate. I understand that one does not respond at this stage to points that have been made in the debate. However, I wish to make a couple of points.

I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that forecasting the future is rather difficult. Some of us have heard a good number of forecasts. I refer to the forecast of my noble friend Lord Eatwell. He said that he envisaged a scenario whereby the whole of manufacturing industry was run by one man. I add that the man has a dog. I know about this as I went on a VIP visit to the place where the man is employed. At the end of the visit we were asked whether we had any questions. We asked what the man did. We were told that the man was present to feed the dog. That was fair enough. We then asked what the dog did. We were told that the dog made sure that the man did not touch any of the equipment.

This debate has not been political. I was particularly glad to hear the range of contributions. I was interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I point out that membership of the trades unions increased by 100,000 last year. Therefore I believe that the trades unions will be around for a long while yet. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that a request from him for information on how social partners arrange negotiations in Brussels arising from the Maastricht Treaty would be well received. They have involved the TUC and the CBI in those matters. That is an important development which few people seem to appreciate.

Finally, I echo the comments of everyone who has said that the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, made a notable maiden speech. I thank the noble Baroness for choosing this debate in which to make her maiden speech and for mentioning her personal experience and her reflections on some aspects of her work in Northern Ireland. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

9 Feb 2000 : Column 750

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page