HC Deb 15 March 1994 vol 239 cc737-9
12. Mr. Mackinlay

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is his policy as regards the attainment of full employment.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

The Government have a wide range of policies to promote employment growth and reduce unemployment.

Mr. Mackinlay

Does not the Minister understand that the Government's employment figures disguise the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people in part-time work who seek and need full-time work, but are at present denied it? Does he not realise that many flagship employers, including Marks and Spencer, now employ part-timers in preference to full-timers as a matter of policy, and that many young men and women who have left school are denied the opportunity of job satisfaction and a career, despite their zeal and their skills?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. The labour force survey shows that 75 per cent. of those in part-time work are in such work because they want part-time jobs. It is disgraceful for Opposition Members, who seek to present themselves as the champions of women, to denigrate part-time work, which has enabled many women to take a place in the work force while continuing to fulfil their responsibilities for child care and so forth.

The survey shows that only 13 per cent. of those in part-time work would prefer to be in full-time work. A part-time job is better than no job at all, but if Opposition Members had their way they would regulate part-time jobs out of existence.

Mr. Oppenheim

Why do Opposition Members continually miss the point about unemployment? Do they not understand that labour market regulations and directives add to industry's costs, and cost employees their jobs? Why do they not consider the experience of Spain, where—with all the benefits of a socialist Government and the tightest labour market laws in Europe—nearly a quarter of its work force are out of jobs?

Mr. Forsyth

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. At the time of the Chancellor's Budget in March 1993, the Leader of the Opposition said that the test for the Government would be the test of whether unemployment fell. Unemployment has fallen month after month; it has fallen by 200,000 since January 1993. Opposition Members should recognise why that is happening: it is happening because of the success of our labour market policies.

Mr. Cryer

If the Government's policies are so successful, can the Minister tell us when they will achieve the unemployment level attained in April 1979, under the last Labour Government? The figure then was 4.1 per cent.

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman should know that more people want to take their place in the labour force; that we have the highest proportion of women in work in the European Community, apart from Denmark; that we have a higher proportion of our people in work; and that we are creating more jobs. If we embraced the policies of Opposition Members—the minimum wage, the social chapter and other measures that would destroy jobs—we would never reach the goal that the hon. Gentleman has set himself. This Government have been more successful than any other Government in Europe in tackling unemployment; that is why unemployment is falling in Britain and rising everywhere else.

Mr. Dickens

Does my hon. Friend agree that the change in the benefit system and the introduction of incapacity benefit represent a great drive by this Conservative Government to tide people over until they are fit enough to return to work? We do not intend people to be invalids for life.

Mr. Forsyth

The vast majority of unemployed people want to return to work and the Employment Service is doing better than ever in helping them to do so. That is a tribute to its innovative approach. I believe that unemployment will continue to fall, because of the success of the supply-side reforms that we have introduced into the economy. If Opposition Members had their way, we would be condemning millions of our people to the dole with their minimum wage proposals and other social chapter measures.