HC Deb 30 November 1993 vol 233 cc902-4
3. Mr. Wigley

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proposals he has to ensure co-operation between regions of the European Union in the common effort to overcome unemployment; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Europe will overcome its structural unemployment problem only by becoming competitive and removing unnecessary regulation and bureaucracy.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Minister aware that some areas in eastern France have lower unemployment than difficult areas of Wales, Merseyside, north-east England and Scotland, yet have higher inducements for attracting employment despite having a better infrastructure and being nearer to the heart of the European Community? What mechanisms can his Department use to co-ordinate incentives to develop unemployment opportunities through the regions of Europe to ensure that there is not unfair competition against areas in Wales with higher unemployment, so that they get a fair crack of the whip?

Mr. Forsyth

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should cite France—a country which has a higher level of unemployment than Britain and where unemployment is rising—when Britain is leading the Community on unemployment and where unemployment is falling. It is falling in Britain because of the supply-side reforms introduced in the 1980s by the Government, which were opposed by all Opposition Members, including the hon. Gentleman. The way forward for Europe in terms of jobs is not through subsidy, but by becoming competitive and abandoning the kind of nonsense that is included in the social chapter.

Mr. Ian Taylor

Has my hon. Friend noted that it is important for all regions in this country and elsewhere in the Community to ensure that unit costs of production and labour do not outstrip those of our competitor countries? Since the beginning of the 1980s, unit costs of production in Europe have risen ahead of those in America and Japan, our big export markets. Can my hon. Friend ensure that the German Government continue to push in their presentation to the Commission their ideas, which are very similar to those advanced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment?

Mr. Forsyth

I agree that we need to make Europe competitive to tackle the problem of unemployment in Europe. My hon. Friend is right to emphasise Europe's poor record in creating jobs. The United Kingdom has been among the most successful countries in Europe in that regard. Over the past 20 years, 36 million new jobs have been created in the United States; only 8 million have been created in Europe, most of them in the public sector. The way to create extra jobs in Europe is to oppose the social chapter, and to make the European Commission understand that competitiveness depends on setting free enterprise free.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Bearing in mind that it is intended to cut the common agricultural policy by 50 per cent. over the next five years, can the Minister confirm that special attention will be given to rural areas such as Wales, where tens of thousands of jobs will be lost? Will he give an undertaking that schemes will be prepared to produce substitute employment where agricultural begins to show signs of collapse?

Mr. Forsyth

Is it not extraordinary that the hon. and learned Gentleman could not find time to say that unemployment had fallen by 17 per cent. in his constituency? Is it not extraordinary that he did not recognise that Wales benefits from considerable inward investment, as does the rest of the United Kingdom? It benefits from that investment because we have set aside the kind of policies that he would sign up to tomorrow, including the social chapter.

Mrs. Clwyd

Can the Minister explain why Britain, which contains one third of the European Community's working children, is the only member state once again to opt out of an EC directive to protect 13 to 15-year-olds from working for more than 12 hours per week? Is he not ashamed that the only victory that he has secured is for rotten employers who continue to exploit the hidden army of child workers as cheap labour? For that lot,"back to basics" means back to kids up the chimney.

Mr. Forsyth

The Government took the position that they took because we thought it right for youngsters to have the chance to do paper rounds and Saturday jobs. I am sorry that the hon. Lady does not accept that. While she is talking about unscrupulous employers, she might look into the case of the Transport and General Workers Union, which sponsors her. According to The Mail on Sunday, workers at the seaside hotel owned by the Transport and General Workers Union are complaining that the TGWU gives them a deliberate eight-week break to circumvent employment legislation. Because their employment is interrupted in that way, they cannot be classified as full-time workers. The hon. Lady should look in her own backyard.

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