HC Deb 15 March 1994 vol 239 cc730-1
3. Mr. McFall

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on EC directives on employment-related issues which are being opposed by the United Kingdom.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

The Government will continue to resist any Commission proposals that reduce competitiveness and destroy jobs.

Mr. McFall

The British Government have opposed European directives on working time and the protection of young people at work. Britain is the only European country that has no legal pay protection. Is the Minister proud of an employment agenda consisting of long hours, low pay and inadequate protection for people as young as 14 or 15?

Mr. Forsyth

Is the hon. Gentleman proud to be a member of a party that would stop teenagers being able to—

Mr. McFall

Answer the question.

Mr. Forsyth

I am answering the hon. Gentleman's question. He asked me about the young workers directive. The hon. Gentleman supports his socialist friends in the European Parliament in their attempt to stop teenagers having jobs as paper boys and Saturday jobs. That is a disgrace.

Sir Teddy Taylor

As the Government have made it clear that they are opposed to the 48-hour week directive, will the Minister let us know when he expects to hear from the European Court about whether we have to apply it or not?

Mr. Forsyth

As my hon. Friend knows, we have made it clear that we are challenging the working time directive. It was introduced under article 118A, which is a health and safety measure. That is an abuse by the Commission of the powers under the treaty. We have made a vigorous case in defence of our right to set proper standards in Britain. We believe that standards for working time are best negotiated between employers and employees.

Mrs. Clwyd

The Minister boasts about creating jobs. Why is it that Italy can create six times as many jobs as the United Kingdom, Germany four times as many and France twice as many, yet those countries still give their workers proper employment and social protection rights? Why is the Government's definition of competitiveness screwing down wages, sacking workers and giving them a worse deal than workers in any other country in Europe?

Mr. Forsyth

In Britain, take-home pay is among the highest in the Community as a result of the policies that the Government have pursued. As for the point about other European countries, the hon. Lady must know that they have a smaller proportion of their working population in work than the United Kingdom. That is because of the success of our policies. While we are on that matter, will the hon. Lady tell the House at some stage how we are expected to pay the £20 billion bill that introducing a 35-hour working week would cost employers in Britain? That is what she and her party have signed up to in the manifesto for the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament.

Sir Michael Neubert

Is my hon. Friend aware that the announcement by the Social Affairs Commissioner, Mr. Padraig Flynn, that it is his intention that 10 million legal immigrants to countries in the European Union should have the right to work in the United Kingdom has caused alarm and anxiety to the British public, not least to the 2.75 million people who are out of work now? Will he make it his business to see off that provocative proposal?

Mr. Forsyth

I am aware of several initiatives that the Commission has proposed which have caused anxiety to those of us—particularly in the Conservative party—who wish to ensure that our country remains competitive and that we offer good job prospects for the future.