HC Deb 30 November 1993 vol 233 cc909-11
9. Mr. Willetts

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what recent discussion he has had with his EC counterparts about unemployment.

Mr Michael Forsyth

My right hon. Friend and I have regular meetings with our EC counterparts, at which we discuss unemployment.

Mr. Willetts

Can the Minister confirm that Britain's unemployment rate is lower than that in France, Italy, Spain and across the European Community as a whole? Does that not show that we have nothing to learn from Mr. Delors about curing unemployment? They need to learn from us that deregulating the labour market is the best way to create more jobs rather than by piling new restrictions on.

Mr. Forsyth

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is quite right to say that our unemployment rate is lower and also that our employment figures are higher than elsewhere in the Community. My hon. Friend is right to single out France and Spain, as they are the only two countries in the Community that have embraced the Labour party's minimum wage policy and they have paid the price in lost jobs.

Mr. Cryer

Does the Minister ever predict to his ministerial counterparts in the Common Market when he expects the Government's economic policies to bring the level of unemployment down to what it was in 1979 at just over 1 million people?

Mr. Forsyth

If we were to take the hon. Gentleman's advice and embrace a minimum wage we would put 2 million extra people on the dole. If we were to take the Opposition's advice and embrace the social chapter, with all its nonsenses, we would put many more hundreds of thousands of people on the dole. The hon. Gentleman is in no position to lecture the Conservative party on jobs for the unemployed.

Mr. Paice

Will my hon. Friend continue to discuss with our European counterparts the voting basis for many of the measures that come from Europe? Will he particularly continue to challenge hard the use of the health and safety provisions, under majority voting, to introduce what is no more and no less than socialist legislation, such as the working time directive?

Mr. Forsyth

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of ensuring that we do not add to non-wage labour costs in Europe, because the price will be paid in other people's jobs. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks about challenging the abuse of article 118A of the treaty of Rome. I should warn my hon. Friend, however, that if the Labour party were ever to get into power it would remove the necessity for unanimity on matters concerning the labour market and thereby expose many people in Britain to unemployment needlessly as we became less competitive.

10. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest figures for unemployment.

Mr. David Hunt

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question. Last month, seasonally adjusted unemployment fell by 49,000 and now stands at 2,855,100, which is a fall this year of 137,000.

Mr. Skinner

Now that the Government have admitted that they say one thing in private and another thing in public, is not it time that we had a little honesty about the unemployment figures? Why does not the Secretary of State admit that there are 500,000 women who do not register who should be added to the figures? There are another 500,000 young men and women who have been thrown on the scrapheap of slave labour schemes, and more than 100,000 miners and others on special schemes. In Bolsover, some of those people do not figure on the unemployment benefit records. Let us have some honesty all round. If the Secretary of State wants the money to get the unemployed back to work, why does not he tax the rich rather than adding VAT to fuel and power?

Mr. Hunt

I am sad that the hon. Gentleman did not welcome the fall in unemployment of 137,000 this year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I will answer the question by referring the hon. Gentleman to the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition at the CBI where, for the first time, the leader of the Labour party acknowledged that unemployment is now below 3 million.

Mr. Skinner

It is not.

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman may say that it is not, but the leader of his party says that it is. In this, I believe the hon. Gentleman's leader because he was expressing the truth. Our statistics show the truth and it is about time that the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that.

Mr. Tredinnick

Does my right hon. Friend recall visiting my constituency 10 days ago when he was made aware of the importance of the hosiery and knitwear industries? Does he believe that the competitive position of the industries with the far east will be enhanced if further working hour restrictions are imposed by Europe?

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no doubt that the imposition of a statutory working week of 35 hours would prevent 14 million people in this country from working the hours that they want to work. Compulsory legislation of that type would undermine the competitiveness of key industries. That message came across to me loud and clear when I visited my hon. Friend's constituency.