HC Deb 09 June 1992 vol 209 cc133-5
6. Mr. Worthington

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans the Government have to reduce the level of unemployment; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

The Government's role is to ensure a sound and stable economic framework within which enterprise can flourish and the battle against inflation can be won. We also wish to ensure that the Department's programmes give the highest priority to getting unemployed people back to work as quickly as possible.

Mr. Worthington

Is the Secretary of State aware that today the voluntary organisation, the Strathclyde poverty alliance, has found that one in 10 of 16 and 17-year-olds in Strathclyde—5,500 young people—are not receiving the Government's youth guarantee? When will the Secretary of State open the books and let us have a full investigation of what is going on in the training and enterprise councils and local enterprise companies throughout the country? Does she agree that the Government have broken their promise?

Mrs. Shephard

As I have already said, there is a guarantee of a place for young people. If machinery is failing young people, we need to know about it. I shall certainly look into the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Butterfill

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the important contribution to the British economy made by part-time workers, particularly in the leisure and tourism industries in constituencies such as mine? Does she accept that it would be uniquely damaging to that industry were we to accept the part-time working directive supported by the Labour party, as it would cause untold damage to industries such as leisure and tourism?

Mrs. Shephard

Yes, I agree. A number of the policies supported by the Labour party would increase unemployment. In this country we need a flexible labour market, and opportunities for part-time work and women returners. We shall continue to fight for a flexible labour market.

Ms. Estelle Morris

Is the Minister aware that my constituency of Birmingham, Yardley recently suffered the highest increase in unemployment of any of the 12 Birmingham constituencies—a most unfortunate first for my constituency, which is not a region of traditionally high unemployment? Does she agree that that statistic shows the depth of the Tory recession and the extent of the Government's attack on manufacturing jobs in the west midlands and Birmingham?

Mrs. Shephard

Unemployment is certainly difficult for the individuals and families involved. Tackling unemployment and improving the skills and confidence of the work force are major elements in the Government's inner-city policy. I feel certain that the programmes provided by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Employment will help the hon. Lady's constituents to return to work as quickly as possible.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the great enemies of employment is over-regulation of the labour market? Will she therefore not only reiterate her opposition to the idea of a 48-hour maximum week and all the other rubbish from Brussels, but recommit herself to deregulation here in the United Kingdom?

Mrs. Shephard

My hon. Friend well knows that the Government are committed to a deregulated labour market. We have made it clear from the outset that the damaging working time directive is unnecessary and has been produced on totally unjustifiable grounds as a health and safety measure.

Mr. Blair

I wish the right hon. Lady every strength in her new position, especially in her relations with the Treasury, where I suspect she will need it most. Does she agree that the most pressing problem that she faces is rising unemployment? If urgent action is not taken, hundreds of thousands more people will face the dole this summer. I urge her to show that the change in her Department is one of substance as well of image. She should abandon the dismal failure of employment action, reverse the policy of running down training for the unemployed, and provide the job and training opportunities that the country would support and that the unemployed desperately need.

Mrs. Shephard

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes. I wonder whether this is his last but one Question Time in his present position and whether before long he, too, will take advantage of retraining opportunities. I remind him that the Department offers almost 1 million places on employment and training programmes this year, an increase of 100,000 on last year. We are increasing spending on youth training; but, above all, it is the economic framework, to which we are committed and the hon. Gentleman's party is not, which will increase employment opportunities fast.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her appointment. I am sure that she will agree that women Members are doing pretty well. Will she bear it in mind that women and men with disabilities are more punctual and have fewer days off than men? Could that fact be drawn to the attention of those who seek to engage personnel?

Mrs. Shephard

I thank my hon. Friend for her good wishes. She is right to draw the attention of employers and others to people with disabilities. That is a particular responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, who will be taking forward policies in that area.