HC Deb 18 March 1986 vol 94 cc149-50
5. Mr. Foulkes

asked the Paymaster General what steps he will take to co-ordinate growth and employment generating measures with other members of the European Economic Community.

Mr. Clarke

Within the European Council of Ministers, I have been pressing for a change in the agenda of the Social Affairs Council so as to give much higher priority to measures that will promote economic and employment growth within the member states. I am glad to say that there is now widespread agreement among our partners that we should discuss such measures based on sound economic policies which provide for the competitiveness of industry and commerce, the control of inflation and the adaptability of the labour market. I hope we shall be able to make further progress with discussions during the United Kingdom presidency in the second half of the year.

Mr. Foulkes

Does the Paymaster General agree with the Commission, which in its annual economic report said that safeguarding adequate demand is the task of Governments. It also stated that unemployment could be reduced by up to 40 per cent. in the next few years by a co-operative growth strategy. Will the Minister say exactly what he will propose in the Council of Employment Ministers to achieve that sort of growth strategy?

Mr. Clarke

There is a wide range of agreement within the European Council amongst Ministers from all countries and political persuasions that the economic policy based on the principles that I set out was the one to be followed. At the moment the OECD forecast for next year is that the level of unemployment in Europe will remain about stable. That is because it is expecting a fall in unemployment in the United Kingdom and in Germany, which will be offset by a rise in Socialist France and Italy.

Mr. Thurnham

As employment is growing much faster in this country than in the EEC as a whole, will my right hon. and learned Friend make sure that any co-ordination is in an upward direction?

Mr. Clarke

As the number of new jobs created in Britain appears to exceed the number of new jobs created in the rest of the Community, I believe that the Community would be well advised to pay heed to our experience.

Mr. Wigley

Is there not evidence that the imbalance between the "Golden Triangle" and the peripheral regions is still worsening? The principles that the Minister has enunciated this afternoon tend to exacerbate that trend. In view of that, will there not be some development of a strong regional policy within the EEC to get jobs into the regions around the periphery as well as in the centre?

Mr. Clarke

The Council of Ministers that I attend deals mainly with the social fund, but that proves of considerable benefit to Britain, particularly for those parts that are designated as priority areas. It is important that we continue to receive benefit from the social fund for the benefit of the less advantaged parts of the country.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

I welcome the fact that the European countries are at last pulling together in employment policies, but will my right hon. and learned Friend congratulate British industry, as he frequently does, on the fact that it has created more new jobs in the past seven years and that Britain has a higher proportion of people working than any other European country?

Mr. Clarke

I think that Denmark is slightly ahead of us. But, with that slight proviso, my hon. Friend is right to say that a higher proportion of people of working age in the United Kingdom are in employment than in any other EC country, with the possible exception of Denmark, and I hope that we can overtake it.