HC Deb 29 January 1991 vol 184 cc783-4
10. Mr. Pawsey

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the level of unemployment in the United Kingdom; and what are the comparable figures for all the other European Community states.

Mr. Howard

The United Kingdom has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the European Community and the United Kingdom rate is well below the European average. Unemployment is higher in Spain, Ireland, Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Greece. With permission, I shall publish the detailed figures in the Official Report.

Mr. Pawsey

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that typically helpful and detailed reply. Does he agree that it enables us to put the United Kingdom's unemployment figures into the European perspective? Does he further agree that it strikes a favourable comparison with Europe?

Mr. Howard

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We can put the figures in perspective by remembering that there are now 2 million more people at work than there were when the Government took office in 1979.

Mr. Leighton

Does the Secretary of State recall the letter that he sent me dated 15 January, in which he said that between 1979 and 1988 employment in the United Kingdom increased by 1.9 per cent., whereas in the European Community it increased by 3.5 per cent.—virtually double the increase in this country? He should not be complacent about unemployment as in the three months to September it rose on average by 17,000. In the three months to January it rose by 57,000—an increase of 300 per cent.—and more than 200,000 male workers have lost their jobs since March. The CBI now tells us that we are on the verge of an unemployment disaster because of the recession. Should not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think of reducing interest rates to get us out of the recession before there is a huge increase in unemployment?

Mr. Howard

We should never be complacent about unemployment, but the European figures to which the hon. Gentleman referred show that between 1983 and 1988 almost twice as many jobs were created in this country as in the rest of the Community put together. We regret that unemployment is increasing, but more than half those who enter unemployment leave it within three months.

Mr. Favell

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the reasons why our unemployment levels are so favourable, compared with other EEC countries, is that our labour relations are much more flexible than most of theirs, including Germany? Is not the quickest way of achieving that awful word "convergence" to adopt the social charter?

Mr. Howard

I agree with my hon. Friend. The number of disputes in this country is the lowest for 60 years, which is a tribute to the Government's employment legislation. The surest way of worsening our employment record would be to introduce legislation increasing the number of strikes, as proposed by the Labour party.

Mr. Blair

With unemployment rising in every region of the country, every sector of industry and every occupation, what pride does the Secretary of State take in presiding over this unique combination—the fastest rising unemployment of any major industrial country, acute skill shortages and proposed cuts in the Department's budget for training the unemployed?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that we are providing the widest ever range of help to the unemployed to help them get back to work as quickly as possible. We are providing up to 100,000 extra places in job clubs, and the job interview guarantee scheme and employment training will continue to play an important part in helping the unemployed get back to work quickly.

Following is the information:

Comparisons of unemployment between EC countries
Standardised unemployment rates2 seasonally adjusted
Per cent. rate Latest month
Spain 15.8 August
Ireland 14.8 November
Italy 9.9 July
France 8.9 October
Belgium 8.2 November
Denmark (8.2)2 November
Greece (7.4)1 April 1987
Netherlands 7.4 September
United Kingdom 6.7 November
Portugal 4.7 August
Luxembourg (1.7)2 November
EC Average (8.3)2 November
Note: For those EC countries for which no OECD standardised rates are available, similar harmonised rates compiled by the Statistical Office of European Communities (EUROSTAT) are shown in brackets. These showed the United Kingdom rate at 6.7 per cent. in November compared with the EC average of 8.3 per cent.
1 Recent comparable figures are currently not available in Greece, the latest relating to April 1987.
2 There are no reliable figures available as yet for a unified Germany.

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