HC Deb 27 April 1993 vol 223 cc838-40
8. Mr. Thomason

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what measures she is introducing to encourage voluntary work among the long-term unemployed in the west midlands.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

We announced at the Budget the introduction of 60,000 voluntary work opportunities through community action.

Mr. Thomason

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the Budget announcement of an additional 60,000 places for the long-term unemployed? Does she agree that that welcome new intitiative should be supported on both sides of the House and not grumbled about by Opposition Members, who are in the rut of opposing everything and who fail to put forward any constructive proposals?

Mrs. Shephard

I hope that everyone will welcome the new programme. It will give unemployed people the opportunity to participate in a part-time work programme which will be supplemented each week by structured help with job search. That is a productive and useful way in which to help unemployed people and it deserves a welcome from the Opposition parties, although I doubt whether they will give it one.

Ms Short

The Secretary of State will know that many unemployed people want to do voluntary work because there are not other opportunities for them. It is an outrage, however, that there is a mass of work that needs doing in our country when we have 4 million people unemployed. When the Conservative party came to power, there were 1.2 million unemployed people. I do not know how the right hon. Lady has the cheek to stand here today and constantly insult the Labour party as though the Conservatives' record on unemployment was good. The high levels of unemployment are causing poverty and high bills for benefits and mean that production rates are too low. The Conservative Government have failed dramatically on this issue and the right hon. Lady should not boast.

Mrs. Shephard

I did say that the Opposition would not welcome this scheme and that turns out to be right. If the hon. Lady encouraged the Labour Front Bench to undertake credible economic policies, her remarks would carry much more credibility. I hope that she will at least accept that the Conservative party has introduced a vastly increased number of measures to help unemployed people and that those, combined with the vastly improved economic situation, mean that a great deal of help is available for unemployed people.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Although I welcome the Government's further measures for the long-term unemployed, does my right hon. Friend agree that the best scope for long-term jobs for unemployed people is provided by increased competitiveness in British industry? Will she pay tribute to the enormous efforts that have been made by British industry in the past 10 years, particularly in the past two years, to improve competitiveness? It has improved to such an extent that unit labour costs in this country have not gone up; that compares with the increase of 9 per cent. in Japan and 6 per cent. in Germany. Does my right hon. Friend agrees that that improvement in competitiveness will create jobs and that it is endangered by the social chapter of which the Opposition are so fond?

Mrs. Shephard

My hon. Friend is right when he speaks of the need to keep Britain competitive and to oppose the provisions of the social chapter, which would heap ever more burdens on the heads of employers. It is important for Opposition and Conservative Members to congratulate British business on its performance—exports are up; car production is up; manufacturing productivity is up. Everything is up except the spirits of Opposition Members.

Mr. Alex Carlile

However welcome the increase in voluntary placements, does the Secretary of State agree that we should be aiming at satisfactory paid employment for as many people as possible? Will she comment on a young couple—he has a first class honours degree in history—who have escaped long-term unemployment by obtaining menial jobs in a burger bar? When will the Government ensure that young graduates in this country are able to find the jobs for which they were trained and stop committing them to the burger economy?

Mrs. Shephard

That was clearly a much rehearsed question. However. I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that, despite his exhortations, the Government will not espouse the cause of a national minimum wage.

9. Mr. Spring

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what measures she is introducing to encourage voluntary work among the long-term unemployed in East Anglia.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

In addition to the community action opportunities, I am making available further places on voluntary work projects in north Norfolk.

Mr. Spring

Does my right hon. Friend agree on the importance of upgrading the quality of management in the voluntary services? Will she join me in congratulating the Suffolk training and enterprise council on undertaking a number of initiatives to promote good management in the voluntary sector? It sponsored 13 managers from the voluntary services to enrol on a course to gain a certificate in business administration. Does she agree that by raising the standards of management in the voluntary sector we can help improve services, both for the long-term unemployed and for our communities at large?

Mrs. Shephard

I am very pleased to hear what my hon. Friend says about the work of the Suffolk TEC. No doubt both unemployed people and voluntary organisations stand to benefit from the new community action programme.

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