HC Deb 26 November 1991 vol 199 cc765-6
5. Mr. Flannery

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the total increase in uneployment throughout the countries of' the Common Market during the past year; and what was the percentage of that increase in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Howard

No comparable estimates are available on the numbers unemployed in European Community countries or on the proportion of the increase in European Community unemployment resulting from rises in unemployment in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Flannery

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that he is avoiding the reality because it is so embarrassing. We had a slump in 1981—long before anyone else—which was when our unemployment problem began. We are now in a second slump, which will continue for a long time yet, and unemployment is rising. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman admit that more than 80 per cent. of unemployment in the whole of Europe during the past year was in this country?

Mr. Howard

That is a misleading statistic. Far from avoiding reality, I was merely seeking to answer the hon. Gentleman's question. If he is interested in what is happening in the European Community, he could do no better than cast his eyes across to France where a socialist Government have just announced that country's highest-ever unemployment level.

Mr. Watts

Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House of any European Community country with a higher proportion of its adult population in work than the United Kingdom? Will he tell us which European country enjoyed the greatest growth in the number of jobs during the 1980s?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right. Between 1983 and 1989, the latest period for which comparable figures are available, more than twice as many jobs were created in Britain compared with the rest of the EC.

Mr. McLeish

Why is it that in the 12 months to September this year unemployment in Europe rose by 7 per cent., but in the United Kingdom it rose by 40 per cent? Why is it that among men in the 11 other EC countries unemployment rose by 86,000, but in the United Kingdom it rose by 609,000? Why is it that among women in the 11 other EC countries unemployment fell by 32 per cent., but in Britain it rose by 172,000? Is not that the result of the Government's characteristic incompetence? Does not that show that on the European front we are moving towards not convergence, but divergence? We have supplied the answers that the Minister refused to give to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) this afternoon.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. If he wants to make European comparisons, I refer him, as I referred the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), to what is happening in France. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that the increase in unemployment last month was the lowest for almost a year, that it was the third successive fall in the rate of increase and that it shows that the rate of increase in unemployment in Britain is now coming down fast. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that development.

Mr. Marlow

Would it not be reasonable to be a little more objective? I think that it is an open secret that if the misfortune of a Labour Government being returned at the next election were to befall Britain there would be the mother and father of financial crises, which would lead to an increase in interest rates of at least 2 per cent. What effect would that have on employment in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right, but he is characteristically modest in his assessment. He referred to only one of the Opposition's policies that would wreak havoc on the British economy. In addition, there are the policies that they have been advocating from the Front Bench this afternoon on the European social action programme, a national statutory minimum wage and trade union law reform, which would make it easier to strike and to have more frequent and more damaging strikes. All that would reinforce the particular policy to which my hon. Friend referred and would damage tremendously the prospects of the British people and destroy countless jobs.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does the Secretary of State agree that the recent announcement of 300 pay-offs in Harland and Wolff, which has just had an increase in its order book does not augur well for the economy? Do not the Government need to give more attention to devising a regional strategy within Europe?

Mr. Howard

I especially regret those redundancies, as I regret all redundancies. However, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have gone to great lengths to help the Northern Ireland economy and I am sure that the measures that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is taking will continue to alleviate the situation in the Province.