HC Deb 09 July 1991 vol 194 cc768-9
7. Mr. Arbuthnot

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the average rate of unemployment in the EC; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Jackson

Using the latest available internationally comparable unemployment rates, the average rate of unemployment in the European Community was 8.7 per cent. in May 1991.

Mr. Arbuthnot

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the only large European Community countries that have a statutory national minimum wage, which the Labour party seems to want, are France and Spain, which both have higher unemployment than us?

Mr. Jackson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is part of the evidence of the job destruction effects of a minimum wage policy. The only people who doubt those effects are Opposition spokesmen, who display an attitude of blithe unconcern about the obvious consequence of the policy that they are following. Unemployment in Britain is below the EC average.

Mr. James Lamond

Is not it remarkable that after 12 years of Tory Administration the economy of this great prosperous industrial nation is so fragile that, on the Government's admission, it cannot sustain the basic human right of a minimum wage?

Mr. Jackson

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Perhaps he might like to reflect on the implications of a 15.4 per cent. unemployment rate in Spain.

Mr. Butterfill

As my hon. Friend is responsible for tourism, does he agree that a minimum wage, such as in Spain, would profoundly damage the tourism industry? Could not it lead to the unemployment and empty hotels that are evident throughout Benidorm?

Mr. Jackson

The connection between minimum wages and the loss of employment opportunities is palpable, obvious and has been demonstrated. Opposition Members should recognise that.

Mr. Beith

Is the Minister trying to contend that unemployment in Britain is not high and rising? As the recession is likely to last longer than the Government predicted, is he now prepared to put some weight behind measures designed to ensure that people get work by seeing that more effort is made to rebuild schools and hospitals and to insulate homes?

Mr. Jackson

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the employment action programme that was announced a couple of weeks ago by my right hon. and learned Friend and which will provide such opportunities. Unemployment in Britain is below the European Community average. It is rising higher because we are at a different stage in the economic cycle, but last month's unemployment increase was the lowest since January, which gives some reason for hope.