HC Deb 17 May 1994 vol 243 cc665-6
9. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how the rate of unemployment has changed since January 1993.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Unemployment has fallen by 240,000 or 0.8 percentage points since January 1993.

Mr. Marshall

Can any other European country boast such a record? Is the rate of unemployment in Britain lower pr higher than the European average? Are not there more people at work in Britain than in Germany, France, Spain or Italy? Does not that record reflect on Government—

Madam Speaker

Order. I am empowered to ask the Minister to answer only one question. I hope that hon. Members will take that to heart. Perhaps the Secretary of State can have a stab at answering a couple of those questions—sorry, the Minister of State.

Mr. Forsyth

My hon. Friend will have to make do with me, but I can confirm that he has answered all his questions and has brought good news to the House. The record on jobs in Britain is very good indeed.

Mr. Skinner

Why on earth should anyone in Britain believe those figures when more than 500,000 young people on slave labour schemes are not counted, more than 500,000 women are not registered and more than 100,000 ex-miners are not registered for unemployment? In pit villages in Bolsover more than 50 per cent. are unemployed and that is true of every coalfield in the country. What a pack of lies.

Madam Speaker

Did I hear the hon. Gentleman correctly? Did he say it was "a pack of lies"?

Mr. Skinner

I was using the collective noun.

Mr. Forsyth

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was making an assessment of his own question. According to the internationally recognised definition by the International Labour Organisation—an organisation which I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would support —Britain is leading the way in Europe with falling unemployment and in creating new employment opportunities, which I accept are required in communities that have been affected by the consequences of closures in the coal industry.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Will my hon. Friend confirm that not only does Britain have a higher proportion of people in work than any other country in Europe, but last year saw unemployment in the west midlands fall by no fewer than 73,000 people? Does my hon. Friend also agree that inward investment has protected some 76,000 jobs in the west midlands and that that inward investment would undoubtedly be jeopardised if we adopted the social chapter of which the Labour party is so fond?

Mr. Forsyth

My hon. Friend is right to look to the future and to emphasise the importance of new jobs which come from inward investment. He also highlights the importance of having flexibility in the labour market which enables employers to respond to the needs of the marketplace in order to create future employment. That is why the Prime Minister's opt-out from the social chapter was so important in helping to create inward investment opportunities.

Mr. Prescott

Does the Minister accept that, according to his own labour force survey, another 2.2 million people are looking for work and available for work? If that information is true and he accepts it—giving a total of nearly 5 million unemployed—is that another example of, "If it's not hurting, it's not working"?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman seems to live by the code that one shoots the messenger when he brings good news, not bad news. The fact is that it is good news about employment. If the hon. Gentleman wants to claim that there are 5 million people unemployed, may we hear from the Opposition that they would accept that figure if they were in government? I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that, by any accepted criteria, the ILO figures are the figures which he should look to and which are consistent with those achieved by measuring the unemployment count.

Mr. David Nicholson

Does my hon. Friend agree that the fall in unemployment that he described is more than paralleled in the south-west region? Will he urge his right hon. Friends to continue to resist measures of regulation, taxation burdens and political correctness which, contrary to the advice of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), will damage job creation?

Mr. Forsyth

I agree with my hon. Friend—in fact, about 250,000 extra jobs have been created in the south-west in the past 10 years. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of the Prime Minister's deregulation initiative and the attempt to reduce the burden on businesses from red tape and regulations. It is undoubtedly true that the jobs of the future will come from small and medium-sized enterprises which must be encouraged to thrive and prosper.