HC Deb 25 May 1993 vol 225 cc743-4
9. Mr. Kynoch

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what percentage of people in Britain is currently in work, measured as a percentage of the population of working age; and what are the figures for other EC countries.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

The British percentage in 1992 was 71 per cent. The figures for the other EC countries are in the form of a statistical table. With permission, I shall arrange for it to be printed in the Official Report.

Mr. Kynoch

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are probably No. 2 in the EC in that table and that that is positive news which should be welcomed—something which the Labour party is incapable of doing? Does she further agree that if the Labour party national policy on a minimum wage were implemented, it would be likely to cost up to 2 million jobs in Britain?

Mrs. Shephard

Britain has the second-highest participation rate in the EC, second only to Denmark. The rate in France, for example, is about 60 per cent. That is directly attributable to the national minimum wage. In Italy, the rate is about 52 per cent.

Mr. Skinner

Is it any wonder that other Common Market countries have marginally better figures of employment than Britain—[HON. MEMBERS: "They have not."]—when one takes into account the fact that the Government import German coal at £110 a tonne and shut British pits which could produce it at £40 a tonne? Is it any wonder that the people out there do not believe a word that the Government say? The only growth industry in Britain is fiddling dole figures and the cost of living figures. It is time that we got rid of them.

Mrs. Shephard

Given that the hon. Gentleman's premise was incorrect, he stands the risk of not being believed. But I am amazed that he has transparently sought yet again, by raising spurious points about the figures, like the rest of his party, to obscure the good news about unemployment coming down for the third month running. Not one Opposition Member has drawn attention to the fact that, for the third month running, we have seen unemployment come down.

Dame Jill Knight

I appreciate that it will be off the cuff, but can my right hon. Friend tell the House how much money the Government are spending in the current year on youth training and youth credits?

Mrs. Shephard

I think that I can manage that off the cuff—about £850 million.

Ms Quin

Will the Secretary of State deal with the fact that No. 1 in the table to which she referred was Denmark and, therefore, the figure cannot possibly have anything to do with levels of employment protection because Denmark has much better employment protection than Britain? Will she also reflect that at a time when the British Government are advertising in Swiss newspapers the low level of British employment protection, unemployment in Switzerland is only 4 per cent?

Mrs. Shephard

I can say to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I apologise for confusing the hon. Lady with the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), which is clearly a terrible insult. It is not normally the hon. Lady's practice to talk Britain down, but I am afraid that even she has now fallen prey to this disease which attacks the Labour party. Employers do not need to come here, and they certainly would not if she and her hon. Friends were in power. They come here because we have the lowest business taxation in the industrialised world, sensible labour laws, a flexible job market and a well-trained work force. Regulation does not create jobs.

Sir Donald Thompson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that to keep a high percentage of people in work we need the most flexible possible job market—part time, full time, self-employed, shift workers and the lot? We should not be taking lessons from people who are not as adept at finding work for their citizens as we are.

Mrs. Shephard

We must maintain the upmost flexibility in our labour market. Indeed, the example that we are setting is being looked at with great interest by employers in both France and Germany.

Following is the information:

The latest comparable figures across all EC countries are for spring 1991 and are shown in the following table.

EC country Persons in employment (of working age1) 1000s Population of working age1 1000s Percentage
Denmark 2,601 3,382 76.9
United Kingdom 25,431 36,206 70.2
Germany 28,951 42,205 68.6
Portugal 4,542 6,672 68.1
Netherlands 6,363 10,070 63.2
Luxembourg 161 258 62.4
France 21,593 35,473 60.9
Belgium 3,703 6,455 57.4
Greece 3,471 6,444 53.9
Italy 20,044 38,205 52.5
Ireland 1,102 2,151 51.2
Spain 12,483 24,872 50.2

Source: Eurostat Labour Force Survey Results 1991.

1Working Age is taken to mean up to state pension age which varies between countries.

Forward to