HC Deb 19 June 1991 vol 193 cc293-307 3.33 pm
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Howard)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about a further substantial increase in the measures the Government are taking to help unemployed people back to work.

The majority of those who lose their jobs are back in employment after a relatively short time. About 50 per cent. of those who become unemployed leave unemployment within three months. Nearly two thirds do so within six months, and 275,000 unemployed people leave unemployment every month. I am determined to help unemployed people get back to work as quickly as possible.

The Government are already providing a wide range of employment and training programmes helping 650,000 unemployed people this year—much of that focused on those with particular difficulties in finding a job. The measures that I am announcing today will substantially increase that help. In the rest of this year we shall be helping a further 190,000 people; next year an extra quarter of a million. This means that next year we shall be providing help for 900,000 unemployed people.

As unemployment has increased, it has become apparent that for some unemployed people the most effective help that we can give is work experience to keep their skills up to date. The main element of my proposals today, therefore, is a new programme, employment action. This will provide work experience on local projects for 60,000 unemployed people in a full year. It will be targeted on those who have been unemployed for six months or more, including particularly those living in our inner cities. My right hon. Friends and I will be inviting the training and enterprise councils in England and Wales and the local enterprise companies in Scotland to take the lead in setting up this new programme.

We are also increasing the number of places available on employment training so that an extra 15,000 people this year can learn new skills which will help them find a job. In allocating the additional resources we shall be asking the training and enterprise councils and the local enterprise companies to give priority to people with special training needs, particularly those with literacy and numeracy problems.

I shall also be increasing the help available to long-term unemployed people through measures operated by the Employment Service. This is in addition to the extra 100,000 opportunities that I announced earlier in the year. These new measures will include help for a further 40,000 people in job clubs this year and 60,000 next. We shall ensure that in every part of the country where it is needed this help is designed to meet the needs of specific groups, including white-collar workers and executives. Despite the current downturn, about 50 per cent. of those leaving the job clubs do so to go into jobs.

Finally, I propose to provide an additional 80,000 newly unemployed people this year and 110,000 next with extra help in finding a job so that they get back to work as quickly as possible. This will be aimed particularly at those experiencing unemployment for the first time, who may need help in assessing the opportunities available to them. All newly unemployed people are already guaranteed an advisory interview shortly after becoming unemployed, during which they draw up a back-to-work plan.

From next month, those who reach 13 weeks of unemployment will also have the opportunity for a further interview to review progress and, if necessary, to revise their plan. In addition, I am today asking the Employment Service to provide new courses for recently unemployed people to have their career options assessed and to be given expert help and support in looking for work. The Government will make available substantial extra resources for these measures which will cost an extra ³110 million in 1991–92 and an extra ³230 million in 1992–93.

We are already providing the widest range of measures ever made available to help unemployed people back to work. The package that I am announcing today will increase the numbers helped by a quarter of a million next year at an extra cost of ³230 million. It is designed to meet the widely differing needs of individual unemployed people. It includes more training for those who can benefit from training; more expert advice and help in looking for a job for those who can benefit from such help and advice; and an entirely new programme for those who can benefit from work experience.

I said in Swansea on Saturday that I am determined to provide as much help as possible to help every unemployed person back to work as quickly as possible. This package is a measure of that determination and of the seriousness with which the Government undertake their responsibilities to treat unemployed people as individuals with different needs and different expectations. It offers a far better deal for unemployed people than has ever been on offer before. It will be widely and rightly welcomed.

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

At a time of deep recession and rising unemployment, we welcome any measures that assist the unemployed. The Secretary of State is right to draw attention to the problems of those with special training needs. We also welcome the recognition that we need more training places for the unemployed.

However, some of us remember that last June—only a year ago—we told the Secretary of State of the impact of Government training cuts on the unemployed. Last October, the voluntary organisations and the training and enterprise councils began warning of the catastrophic effects of those cuts. In January, February, March, April and May, at Question Time and during debates in the House, we constantly told the Government that training programmes were closing, training places were being lost, trainers were being made redundant and the Secretary of State's guarantees on youth training and employment training were at risk. Throughout that time, the Secretary of State denied that any such problem existed.

Having at last admitted the problem, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, through his delay, we have already lost many valuable training providers for the unemployed? Will he confirm that, in the past few days, information technology centres have closed, training programmes for the unemployed and disabled have been shut and schemes for women returners have been abandoned? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that his 15,000 places do not come anywhere near the 80,000 places already cut from employment training? Will he confirm that, even after today, he is at best merely preventing further damage, not remedying the damage that he has already done?

Will the Secretary of State also confirm—this point may have been missed—that £230 million is the money for all the packages that he has mentioned, including the job experience programme and training? If that is right, will he confirm that the cash for training today is barely one third of the money cut last year from the employment training budget when unemployment was 600,000 lower than it is today?

The Secretary of State will know that we have been advocating a temporary work programme. He is right to say that not all unemployed people simply require intensive training. Let us look at what he is proposing. Let us look at his response.

Unemployment is 650,000 higher today than a year ago and is rising by 70,000 a month, with 20,000 more unemployed every week. We know from a leak from the Department of Employment that it is estimating another 500,000 unemployed in addition to the 650,000. Does the Secretary of State really believe that an extra 60,000 places—less than one month's rise in unemployment and less than 100 places for the unemployed in each of the constituencies—is a serious response to the unemployment crisis that we face today?

Is the new programme to be on a benefit-plus basis? Will the Secretary of State expect people to work for £50 a week or sometimes less? If so, such a programme has no hope of gaining the consent that it needs to succeed. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that, contrary to the advice of his training directorate, there will be no training element in the new job experience programme? Does he believe that that is right? Under the previous Prime Minister, who did not boast of creating a classless society or tell us about opportunity for all, and when unemployment was last at 2 million and falling, the old community programme had a budget of £1.5 billion. Is it not a bitter irony that, under the present Prime Minister, the budget for helping the unemployed, even after today's announcement, is £500 million less than it was then and unemployment is now rising from 2 million?

We know that we have the fastest rising unemployment in the western world and, according to the most recent independent forecasts, by the end of this year Britain will have the highest unemployment rate of any country in Europe except Greece, Ireland and what was East Germany. This package does not even take us back to last year's budget. Is it not a derisory response to unemployment? Is it not indeed, as we predicted in the House a few weeks ago, a Government response that is like so much else—too little, too half-hearted and, of course, too long delayed?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) constantly criticises the level of resources that we devote to these matters, but the House will have noticed that he was totally silent on the subject of how much money his party would spend. He was totally silent because he knew that these matters were not included in those subjects that the shadow Chief Secretary identified as immediate spending priorities if the Labour party were ever to gain office. The hon. Gentleman's protestations therefore lack all conviction and meaning.

The hon. Gentleman asked specific questions about employment action. I can confirm that the remuneration for those on employment action will be on exactly the same basis as for those on employment training, and I think that will be understood and accepted by those who volunteer to take part in the scheme.

The hon. Gentleman alleged that employment action would not contain any training element. He was wrong. Where it is necessary to have an element of training to keep skills up to date, that training will be provided.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Labour party's proposals, but he knows that, even if he got the money for them, they would never get off the ground. His proposals depend—as was explicitly expressed in the Labour party's policy statement—on negotiation area by area, project by project, with the trade unions. In Liverpool, the city with the highest unemployment in this country, the hon. Gentleman's proposals would depend on the consent of the trade union that this very day is threatening the people of that city, telling them that they will not be able to bury their dead. The only promise that the hon. Gentleman makes to the unemployed is that he will bring them reinforcements.

In 1983, when the Government introduced ballots for trade union members, the hon. Gentleman described our proposals as "shabby, scandalous and a disgrace". The Government, in partnership with trade union members and the electorate, have made him eat every word that he uttered then. The Government, in partnership with the unemployed and the electorate, will make him eat every word that he has uttered today.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. It may help hon. Members if I say that, because there are 32 groups of amendments to the Planning and Compensation Bill to be discussed, as well as the Third Reading and the 10-minute Bill, I shall allow questions on the statement to continue until 4.20 pm, when we shall move on to the 10-minute Bill. If hon. Members ask single questions, perhaps all hon. Members who wish to ask a question can be called.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

What about jobs for ex-Prime Ministers?

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

As unemployment has exploded for 14 consecutive months, is the Secretary of State aware that we have waited a long time for his statement? Has he not laboured long to produce a very small amount? Is not employment action the new feature of his statement? He said that 60,000 people would be involved, but as it is likely to be a six-month programme, will there not be about 30,000 people on it at any given time? Is not that equivalent to one twentieth of the extra unemployment inflicted on this country since the new Prime Minister took office? Is that really the new programme, or is it perhaps a small pilot project?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Briefly, please.

Mr. Leighton

As employment action will primarily be a work programme, what wages will be paid? Was the right hon. and learned Gentleman so ashamed of the amount that he did not include wages in his statement?

Mr. Howard

I answered that question when it was put to me by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). This is very far from a pilot project. It is a considerable response to rising unemployment. It will offer practical constructive help to the unemployed and, as a result of the package, we will be helping an additional 250,000 unemployed people next year. If the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) believes that that is not enough, he should have a word with the shadow Chief Secretary.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

Entirely contrary to what the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) has just said, I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his statement, which will do a great deal to combat the effects of unemployment. Will he give an assurance that, wherever possible and wherever appropriate, training should be part of the schemes that are introduced? If unemployment continues to rise, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the finance for those provisions will be kept under review by him and by the Government?

Mr. Howard

I am very grateful for my right hon. Friend's support for the package, and I am happy to give him the assurances for which he asks. Where training is necessary to help people on employment action to keep their skills up to date, it will be possible for the training and enterprise councils to make provision for that training. Of course we shall continue to keep those matters under review as my right hon. Friend suggested.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Did my right hon. and learned Friend share my distaste at the manifest glee of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) when he tried to predict that the unemployed would not welcome the scheme? Does not the scheme bear out quite clearly our experience, that most people who are unemployed would rather have an opportunity to do something worthwhile, to keep their skills in practice and enhance their opportunities to gain a job? They will welcome the scheme even if the Labour party does not.

Mr. Howard

Of course my hon. Friend is entirely correct. We could have had no more signal example of the antediluvian attitudes of the Labour party than the response of the hon. Member for Sedgefield to the announcement of the package.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

With unemployment at 2.25 million and rising, any package, however minimal, is better than nothing. Will the Secretary of State confirm a simple point? With unemployment today at 2.25 million and rising, even after the package is taken into account, will not less be spent on training than was spent two years ago when unemployment was 2 million and falling? In other words, the Treasury has won.

Mr. Howard

As we have now heard, even from the hon. Member for Sedgefield, it is undoubtedly the case—as I have been saying for many months—that we need a range of measures to help the unemployed. Training is not the only way to help them, and it is not always the best way to help them. That is why we have sought to provide a range of measures so that different unemployed people with different needs can be helped in different ways.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) referred to the 2.25 million people who are unemployed at the moment. He will recall that more than 50 per cent. of those who become unemployed leave unemployment within three months. He will also recall, I hope, that in a full year we will now be able to help 900,000 unemployed people. That represents a considerable response to the needs of unemployed people.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

The Secretary of State's answers are too long.

Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that his commitment to the particular difficulties of those with literacy and numeracy problems will be much appreciated? When he talks to the training and enterprise councils, will he draw into his discussions the particular and difficult needs of those afflicted with blindness, and ensure that the TECs can purchase the proper training for the blind people in their areas in colleges and institutions that may not necessarily be in the particular TEC's area? I refer in particular to the centre of excellence in Hereford, which has a great deal to offer in that respect.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend has made an important point. It is important that the range of help that we are making available which the training and enterprise councils are delivering should be available for blind people as for others. I shall ensure that my hon. Friend's remarks are drawn to the attention of the TECs. It is possible through the range of our measures to provide help of that kind. Indeed, I met the 500,000th entrant to a job club in Barnsley just a few months ago. He was visually impaired and he obtained a job through the job club. He is a good example of the way in which we can help all unemployed people.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

Is it not pitiful to see a lame duck Secretary of State twisting and turning to try to avoid the consequences of his own Government's policies? It is only a matter of days since we were told, "If it isn't hurting, it isn't working" and that "unemployment is a price worth paying." Has the Secretary of State lost all confidence in the market economy? Does he not believe the Prime Minister when he says that the recession will end in a few weeks? Will not the market absorb all those unemployed people? What does the right hon. and learned Gentleman see ahead that the Prime Minister does not that makes it necessary for him to introduce such measures?

Mr. Howard

As usual, the hon. Gentleman has got it completely wrong. Employment action and the other measures that I have announced today will help unemployed people to respond to the opportunities that the market will make available. There are 350,000 vacancies in our economy today. I want to see them filled as quickly as possible—and the vacancies that will arise next week, the week after and the week after that. We will help to achieve that through these measures, not through the hon. Gentleman's cheap, snide remarks.

Mr. David Gilroy Bevan (Birmingham, Yardley)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with the words of Mr. Eric Hammond this weekend, that Labour does not deserve to win if it sticks to its minimum wage policy?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is entirely correct to remind the House about the damaging consequences for unemployment of the Labour party's minimum wage policy. That policy is now receiving widespread attention and there is almost universal agreement that its consequences for jobs, prices and skills would be disastrous. Only the hon. Member for Sedgefield remains a prisoner of dogma and unable to see the devastating consequences of that policy.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Can the Secretary of State give the House some information about the numbers that are likely to be involved in Scotland? Will he give me the assurance that, when we meet Scottish Enterprise on Friday, it will have detailed figures about the sums that it will be able to deploy? Turning specifically to training, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman really expect that training will be afforded in industry against the opposition of the trade unions and without any clear understanding of what people will be paid during the process? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman come clean on those aspects?

Mr. Howard

I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the first assurance he seeks, which is that the full figures will be available for the debate to which he has referred. Of course I welcome the co-operation of the trade unions in these matters but, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, that is an entirely different matter from saying that, before any scheme can be introduced, it must be negotiated with the trade unions area by area and project by project. The hon. Gentleman is not saying that, but the Labour party is.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

My right hon. and learned Friend will understand that his statement this afternoon will be of particular interest to the many members of Thanet job club whom he is likely to meet when he visits my constituency this weekend. Is it not a fact that one of the most debilitating effects of long-term unemployment is loss of confidence? Will he confirm that employment action will help to restore that confidence? Does he understand that my constituents do not want half-baked measures that are negotiated by grace and favour with the trade unions? They want work, and this package will help them.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I am greatly looking forward to my visit to his constituency on Friday, when I shall see in action the kind of practical help that we can give unemployed people to get them back to work, delivering the constructive assistance that Conservative Members are so keen to see in action. I very much welcome my hon. Friend's support.

Ms. Short

Having studied the long succession of different and ever cheaper schemes that have been introduced by the Government, I do not accept that what the unemployed need is work experience. Is the Secretary of State aware that I thought that the payment of £10 on top of benefit when peopole were on employment training was miserable, and that forcing people to work for £10 on top of benefit is to use the unemployed to pull down wages even further? The Government's great success is the massive growth of low pay in our economy. A national minimum wage is the answer—[Interruption.] It is better in terms of justice for people and it leads to greater economic efficiency than constant wage cutting, which goes with high labour turnover, poor investment and poor training, which is what this scheme will lead to.

Mr. Howard

I had hoped that, during her encomium to the minimum wage, the hon. Lady would give us her estimate of the number of jobs that it would destroy. It is agreed on all sides that a minimum wage would destroy jobs on a massive scale. The only disagreement between the commentators is about how many jobs it would destroy.

Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North)

This package will be welcomed in the north-west. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that unemployment in the north-west fell substantially in the 1980s due to a combination of national economic conditions, diversification of local industry and an attractive atmosphere for investment in all but Labour-run Liverpool, where the city council cast a blight on Merseyside and its people for too long? Does he see anything in these measures that will help the north-west, especially Merseyside, to escape from under this cloud?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is entirely right. When I was in Liverpool on Friday, I was able to see yet again the price that its people are paying for so many years of socialism and Labour government in action in that city. Of course the measures will help the north-west; they will also help Liverpool. The package proposed by the hon. Member for Sedgefield would not. It would be entirely dependent on the consent of the General, Municipal and Boilermakers Union in Liverpool.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)

Is the Secretary of State aware that, in parts of my coal-mining constituency, unemployment is double the national average? It is not retraining but jobs that people need. When the Common Market offers funds to restore the productivity of coal-mining areas, why do the Government refuse to accept the principle of additionality? Why do they say that, for every pound that the Common Market puts into areas such as mine, the Government will take a pound out, making the area no better off at all?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that what is needed is jobs. Jobs are what we have provided over the past 12 years. There are 3 million more jobs now than there were in 1983. Almost 1.5 million more people are in work than in 1979. As inflation comes down and interest rates fall, the hon. Gentleman will see a resumption of job creation on the scale that we brought about in the 1980s.

Mr. Ashton

Answer the question about additionality.

Mr. Howard

As for additionally—I am coming to the hon. Gentleman's question—if the hon. Gentleman looks even more closely into the matter he will find that the practice that the Government are pursuing is exactly the same as that pursued by their predecessors.

Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the package. Does he agree that the most significant policy change that he has announced today is that help is now available to people who have been unemployed for three months and not only to those who have been unemployed for six months? Will he monitor the effect of that new initiative? If it works in the way that my right hon. and learned Friend suggested and most people hopefully find work within six months, will he consider extending that short-term action?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that feature of the proposals which is new and will be of particular help to the newly unemployed. They will be provided with help by an assessment of their skills and potential. Advice and guidance will be given to them about how they can best get back to work. That is an important part of the measures, and I shall certainly monitor the way in which it works and bear in mind my hon. Friend's point in the course of that exercise.

Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)

Bearing in mind the Secretary of State's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) about additionality and RECHAR, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not realise that the statement that he has made today will be treated with great displeasure in mining areas, because he has told the House that he will not disregard the money that the EEC wants to put into the mining areas to create more jobs?

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, in my 26 years in Parliament, I have never heard of a Minister coming to the Dispatch Box to introduce measures for the approval of the House and seeking to argue in defence of them that the Government are spending more money than ever in history on unemployment, when unemployment is running at record levels in the history of any Government? Does he not realise that the news that he has given us today is very bad indeed, and nothing more than a public relations exercise?

Mr. Howard

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman speaks for his constituents. They, together with unemployed people throughout the country, will welcome the help that will be available to them. They will see that it is designed to be constructive assistance from which they can benefit; and they will want to benefit from it.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that sufficient flexibility will be left with the training and enterprise councils to allow them to support vital skill courses, such as those for the construction industry which is facing a downturn, that will help such industries over their current problems?

Mr. Howard

I know that my hon. Friend has taken a close and keen interest in that matter, and that he is actively pursuing it with the Isle of Wight TEC. TECs have greater flexibility than has ever been made available to similar bodies before. I know that the TECs are keen to use that flexibility, where circumstances permit, in the way that my hon. Friend has suggested.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

The Secretary of State has come to the House to convince us that these measures will help the unemployed. Not one Labour Member, not many in the country and certainly none of the unemployed will believe a word that he has said. If I can borrow a phrase from a former Prime Minister, the Secretary of State's contribution for the unemployed is very minute. How much per week will the people who participate in the scheme be paid? Will they be paid benefit-plus or a decent wage?

Mr. Howard

I take some comfort from the fact that most of the measures announced by the Government over the past 12 years have failed to persuade Labour Members. Happily, they have met with much greater success in persuading the people of this country. We regard the reaction of the people as the final arbiter, and I am sure that their reaction to the package will be very different from that of the Labour party.

Sir Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

Although I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's reference to white-collar and executive unemployment—something to which comparatively little attention has been given—and although I welcome the benefits of the measures for people in those categories, may I urge upon him a further initiative that will cost him nothing? Many unemployed executives are what we still refer to as middle-aged. As there seems to be a continuing bias by many employers against the re-employment of middle-aged people, will my right hon. and learned Friend put his weight behind an approach to the CBI to suggest that, if a vacancy exists, just because one is over 45 or 50 is no reason why one should not be considered?

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support, but I hope he will not take it amiss if I point out that he is not entirely right to say that we have hitherto ignored the problems of unemployment among white-collar workers and executives. There are already a number of executive job clubs, which have been remarkably successful in helping people in that category back to work.

I note my hon. Friend's point about the importance of not discriminating against older workers. We do whatever we can to encourage employers to adopt good practice in that respect. My hon. Friend will doubtless know that the jobcentres are in the forefront of good practice and take their responsibilities on this matter very seriously.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the policies he has put forward for the unemployed are useless, like him? What am I going to tell the unemployed back in my constituency, bearing in mind that the Government keep coming up with a new scheme every other week? The unemployed in my constituency do not believe the Secretary of State because of what is happening; unemployment is climbing and climbing and climbing. They will not believe the Secretary of State, so what am I going to tell them?

Mr. Howard

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell his unemployed constituents to go along to their local jobcentre to find out what practical help is available to them. Then they will not have to take it from me or take it from him; they will be able to take it from the people who have the help available.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

The extra help and resources that my right hon. and learned Friend has announced today will be widely welcomed by unemployed people in my constituency and in west Yorkshire. Will he assure me that he will take no lessons from the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), whose policy of introducing a minimum wage and unquestionably accepting the socialist charter from the European Community would massively increase unemployment in Britain?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is entirely right: there can be no doubt that, as increasing numbers of independent estimates confirm, the Opposition's job destruction package would spell doom for many hundreds of thousands of people in Britain. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to it, and we will not allow the British people to forget it.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Why could not the Minister have found even 30 seconds in the last 40 minutes to express regret to the unemployed? Why could he not have had the strength of character to say, "I am sorry that we have created the conditions which have rendered you unemployed, I am sorry that we cut the schemes last year and I am sorry that we did not listen to those who have been saying for 12 months that there should be more money for retraining and job opportunities for the unemployed"? Does he find that impossible?

The 3,500 steel workers in my constituency who have been made redundant in the last four months will not be interested in him or anyone else scoring points here on a minimum wage. They want a wage—any wage at present. They will be convinced that, after 12 months of refusing to bring forward employment and training schemes, the reason why the Minister has suddenly done so has nothing at all to do with the protection of their jobs, but everything to do with the protection of his job and those of his cronies in the Cabinet.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong on almost every count. I have expressed my real sympathy with the unemployed on numerous occasions. Nor is this the first measure that we have brought forward. I recently announced £120 million additional money for employment training and £55 million additional money for the Employment Service. We have responded to rising unemployment at every stage and in an appropriate way. The hon. Gentleman should reflect upon the fact that it is clearly on the record that the policies advocated by the Labour party, if put into effect, would have made unemployment worse today, and the policies which his party is putting forward now would make unemployment worse in the future.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)

My right hon. and learned Friend has announced welcome help for the shorter-term unemployed, who are often people from the construction industry, and I assume from that that the training and enterprise councils may have to take on more people to help. Will he also have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to see whether, in the public expenditure round now approaching, we can have an accelerated programme of modernisation of council houses and greater improvement grants, so that the work that the training and enterprise councils do will bear fruit in more jobs in the construction industry?

Mr. Howard

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is already well aware of the point that my hon. Friend makes, and that he will bear it fully in mind.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

It would be churlish not to welcome the Secretary of State's statement, particularly at a time when the nation is suffering from a rapid increase in unemployment, but does he agree that the opportunities for the unemployed would be better enhanced if the Government created an economic and industrial policy which encouraged industrialists and business men to create new jobs? As the Secretary of State has announced that the programme will be implemented by the training and enterprise councils in England and Wales and the local enterprise companies in Scotland, has he been in contact with the Northern Ireland Office? Does he accept that the highest level of unemployment in the United Kingdom is in Northern Ireland, and will Northern Ireland benefit from some similar scheme to help the unemployed there?

Mr. Howard

This Government have in place the policies designed to lead to job creation, and they will succeed in the future as they have in the past. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the key necessity if we are to create more jobs is to bring inflation under control. That is what is happening, and it is precisely what the policies pursued by the Government are achieving.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that I do not have responsibility for these matters in Northern Ireland. He will also know—and give credit for the fact, I am sure—that my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office take their responsibilities for unemployment and training in the Province very seriously.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on introducing a package of proposals which acknowledges that training is not the only answer when it comes to helping the unemployed? What does he make of the call heard today from the Labour Front Bench spokesman for increased funds for employment training, given that, in 1988, the Labour party conference called on all Labour authorities and councils to oppose the provision of employment training in every way? What will be the verdict of the unemployed on this brazen disregard of the Labour party's recent past?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right. Not only was employment training opposed by the Labour party; it has opposed tooth and nail every training initiative that the Government have come up with—even the technical and vocational education initiative, which was described by the Leader of the Opposition as fit only for hewers of wood and drawers of water. The Labour party's record on training, in government and in opposition, has been negative from beginning to end.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Does not the Secretary of State recognise that the Government have been in power for almost 12 years and have created the climate in which unemployment has again risen to record heights? Will he take into account the fact that the unemployed themselves view with great cynicism the schemes introduced by the Government over the years, which have done nothing to contribute to a permanent decline in unemployment? When will he begin to think about getting Britain back to work?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in almost every respect. Unemployment is not at record heights. Millions of people have benefited from the programmes that the Government have introduced, which have helped many of them back to work. If the hon. Gentleman wants to learn the lessons of the past, I suggest that he examine the long period when he and his friends have been in office in the city of Liverpool. He will see surrounding him in his own city the results of socialism.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that older workers in their 60s, 50s and even 40s can find it particularly difficult to regain employment? Does he agree that the measures announced today for further appraisal and training will be especially helpful to this group, who have much to offer in terms of discipline and loyalty?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The help in some of the measures that I have announced today will be of particular value to people in the age groups that he identified, and I am delighted that we shall be able to help them in this way.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)

Can the Secretary of State explain how my constituents can go along to their job club when recently his Department closed the only jobcentre in my constituency, in Bramley? His colleague told them to go to Horsforth in the constituency next door after promising the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) that that jobcentre would be kept open. It has also now closed, so how will the unemployed even gain access to these fringe initiatives when the Department has in the past year closed 1,000 jobcentres—their numbers have fallen from 2,000 to 1,000? Would it not be better to deal with that problem first?

Mr. Howard

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not confusing jobcentres and job clubs.

Mr. Battle

I meant jobcentre.

Mr. Howard

The Employment Service always keeps under review the provision that it makes through jobcentres. When that provision needs to be modified, changed or adjusted, it acts accordingly. The hon. Gentleman will find that his constituents will have no difficulty in taking full advantage of the help that we provide through job clubs and other means. I hope that he will examine the extent to which they are benefiting from these measures and come back and tell the House how much help they are getting from them.

Mr. Tony Fayell (Stockport)

My right hon. and learned Friend's plans to help those who cannot read or write are most welcome. It has been estimated that 30 per cent. of the long-term unemployed are innumerate or illiterate or both. Would he like to come to Stockport to see the adult literacy and numeracy unit run by Mrs. Lois Haslam? The unit conducts one-to-one contact with those who cannot read or write, and is staffed largely by volunteers. A person who cannot read or answer a job advertisement is at an enormous disadvantage. Good work has been done at the unit, and I recommend that my right hon. and learned Friend has a look at it.

Mr. Howard

I was in Stockport only a couple of weeks ago, but I regret that I did not visit the centre to which my hon. Friend referred. I should like to do so the next time that I am in Stockport.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Surely the Secretary of State is weeping crocodile tears for the unemployed. In my constituency, a large fertiliser plant, SAI, is being deliberately closed down, although it is one of the most efficient plants in the United Kingdom, because the Government are opposed to its takeover by Kemira, a Finnish state-owned company. Is that not a disgrace and a kick in the teeth? It shows the Government's double standards.

Mr. Howard

If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Labour party should not adopt a proper competition policy that requires scrutiny of such matters, he should put his question to his Front-Bench colleagues.

The Labour party is expert at shedding crocodile tears. It declaims about the rise in unemployment while constantly pressing for measures that would be certain to increase unemployment substantially.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in my constituency —also a coal-mining area—employment has risen much faster than the national average in recent years? We do not moan about the problems; we talk about the strengths and invite private industry to come to our area.

There are excellent job clubs in Derby and in south Derbyshire. Will my right hon. and learned Friend build on the strengths of such job clubs, especially by making their services available to unemployed people on a much shorter time scale than the current six months that they have to be unemployed to qualify?

Mr. Howard

I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's suggestion. She will appreciate that the package that I announced today includes help for the newly unemployed, which will be useful to the people to whom she referred. I shall bear her suggestion in mind for the future.

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

Sadly, this will not be the last time that the Secretary of State will come to the House to complete a U-turn on training. It is a pity that there could not have been a more substantial return at least to the levels of payment of a few years ago. The sickest thing about today's announcement is that the 60,000 makework opportunities will be counted in the Government's figure for the jobs that they have created. They will be counted as employment when no one on the scheme will regard them as proper jobs. People will not get the rate for the job, and they will have no employment rights.

To put the matter in context, the proposal involves 6,000 places—that is the number by which the level of unemployment in Scotland increased in one month. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, if the community programme had been continued and had paid the rate for the job, people on the programme would have received over £90 a week, while people on this new scheme will receive £50 a week?

Mr. Howard

I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing the facts. I did not refer to 6,000 places. Next year, 60,000 people will be helped by employment action, and 250,000 people, in addition to the 650,000 we help now, will be helped by these measures.

The precise level at which people on the scheme will be paid will depend on the level of benefit to which they are entitled, as I made clear in my statement. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Sedgefield, as they mutter about this aspect, will reflect on how much help they would be able to give the unemployed if they introduced a scheme that insisted on payment of not only the rate for the job, but the rate of the minimum wage. The amount of help would be truly derisory, even if they were able to get any money from the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and they know it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am genuinely sorry not to have been able to call every hon. Member, but I shall bear in mind those whom I have been unable to call when we next deal with this matter.