HC Deb 03 November 1992 vol 213 cc133-5
6. Mr. Riddick

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what are the main issues which she is currently discussing with the European Commission and Britain's EC partners.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

As president of the Social Affairs Council, I have taken a wide range of initiatives. These include discussions on unemployment in the Community, on improving the implementation and enforcement in member states of existing EC legislation, and on subsidiarity in the field of employment and social affairs.

Mr. Riddick

Is my right hon. Friend aware that British industry and the textile industry in particular, are strongly opposed to the working time directive? Is that directive not a prime example of where subsidiarity should apply? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that she will do everything in her power to resist this damaging and job-destroying directive which, with the social chapter, Opposition Members are only too happy to support?

Mrs. Shephard

I share my hon. Friend's concern. I am pleased that our express concerns were met at last June's Council. The problems now with the working time directive are with two other member states. We are considering the findings of a technical working group to see whether we can make progress, but the principle of the directive remains unacceptable to the United Kingdom in that it breaches the principle of subsidiarity and it should not have been introduced as a health and safety proposal. We intend to challenge its legal base in the European Court, should it finally be agreed to. I remind my hon. Friend that there is at present no directive.

Mr. Janner

Does the Secretary of State accept that to combat unemployment a first-class training programme is essential, that our programme is grossly underfunded, and that the Department's budget for training is already woefully inadequate? If she recognises that, will she undertake to do everything in her power to get money from the EC for training, and will she assure us that in the meanwhile she is fighting hard to retain the budget that she has? Can she assure the House that she will keep that budget in the face of a vastly growing tide of unemployment?

Mrs. Shephard

We are devoting £2.6 billion to training in the current year. That is supplemented by £20 billion from industry. Part of our training budget does, indeed, come from European structural funds and we shall continue to press for our fair share of those funds.

As for the hon. and learned Gentleman's last question, negotiations with the Treasury continue.

Mr. Butler

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Milton Keynes we have more than 80 European and foreign-based companies, largely as a result of the Government's policies? Will she join me in congratulating the employers and work force of Milton Keynes on the unique fact that year on year statistics show that there has been no loss of jobs in Milton Keynes between 1991 and 1992—a well-deserved achievement?

Mrs. Shephard

I do indeed congratulate the employers and work force of Milton Keynes—and also my hon. Friend. He will recall that I paid an interesting and pleasant visit to the Milton Keynes training and enterprise council recently.

It is clear that completion of the Maastricht treaty is necessary if we are to continue to attract inward investment to Britain, with a stable place in the heart of Europe.

Ms. Quin

If the Secretary of State and her colleagues are right, which they are not, to say that measures of employment protection destroy jobs, how is it that Britain has the fastest rising unemployment in the European Community?

Mrs. Shephard

The hon. Lady will know that we started from a lower base. She will also know, since she studies these matters, that more people are in work here; we have a higher participation rate than any other EC country apart from Denmark. That is something to be proud of. Unemployment in France, Spain and Ireland is higher than in this country. The main point is that we have more people in work, and that includes women as well.