HC Deb 07 February 1995 vol 254 cc135-6
10. Mr. Garnier

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what assessment he has made of the link between falling unemployment and the structure of the United Kingdom labour market.

Mr. Paice

During the 1980s, the Government legislated to make it easier for businesses to give 'people jobs and to restrict trade union privileges. In the 1990s, unemployment is falling at an early stage of the recovery. I believe that those two facts are inextricably linked.

Mr. Garnier

Has my hon. Friend noticed that in Harborough, unemployment has fallen consistently over the past few years and is now between 25 and 30 per cent. lower than it was at the general election? Es that not a direct consequence of a deregulated and flexible labour market, the absence of the social chapter and national regulations on the minimum wage?

Mr. Paice

Unemployment in Harborough has fallen by 739 in the past year—a fall of 28 per cent. It has followed the trend that has occurred throughout the country. That is happening because the Government have deregulated the labour market. We have a higher proportion of the work force in work than any other major economy in the European Community. In the past 15 years, the Government have radically altered the face of the British industrial scene. We have restored the rights of trade union members, returned democracy to those members and ensured a much better environment for job creation.

Mr. Clelland

Is the Minister aware that the British people no longer have any faith in the Government's unemployment statistics or in statistics which compare unemployment in Britain with that in other European countries? Is it not time that we had a common standard across Europe for measuring unemployment so that statistics could be more reliable and the comparisons more valuable?

Mr. Paice

We have a standard OECD system and its standardised unemployment rates show that unemployment in the United Kingdom is lower than in Spain, Finland, Ireland, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia. Whatever statistics the hon. Gentleman wants to use, the Government's record on reducing unemployment is better than most in the rest of the world.

Mr. David Shaw

Is my hon. Friend aware that those countries that have been most successful in reducing unemployment are those which do not have a minimum wage? Is he further aware that in the United States of America, where the minimum wage has not been increased since 1990 but has been allowed to wither on the vine and is now below United Kingdom benefit levels, employment has increased by some 6 million?

Mr. Paice

I am well aware of that. I am also aware that President Clinton was elected on a platform of increasing the minimum wage, which he has clearly failed to do. Robert Reich, his finance minister, has admitted that to raise it would dampen the recovery and the fall in unemployment that America has seen.