HC Deb 11 July 1995 vol 263 cc732-3
4. Mr. MacShane

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what assessment she has made of European works councils. [31785]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Firms, Industry and Energy (Mr. Richard Page)

It is too early to assess works councils and other arrangements being established in response to the European directive.

Mr. MacShane

I thank the Minister for his reply. I do not know whether he represents the Department just abolished but a range of Front-Bench jobs have been created—perhaps those holding those jobs could form a works council to negotiate with their new boss. Now that Britain's main companies are forming a European works council at the rate of almost one a week and in defiance of the Government's opt-out from the social charter, will the Minister join me in welcoming that trend and urge all the other multinationals in Britain to form European works councils as soon as possible?

Mr. Page

I am from the DTI and proud of it. May I correct a misapprehension under which the hon. Gentleman seems to be labouring? The Government are not against the creation of works councils and voluntary arrangements, but we are against compulsory bureaucratic legislation.

Mr. Brazier

Does my hon. Friend agree that, while there is a range of different ways in which employers may choose to organise their bargaining rights with their employees, what is completely wrong and anathema to Conservatives is the idea that bureaucrats in Brussels should lay down in detail what sort of relationship employers and employees should have with each other? Is that not one of the reasons why the Japanese and Americans seeking to invest money in Europe have chosen to invest pre-eminently in this country? Is it not a fact that we have attracted almost half the total inward investment in the European Union precisely because investors do not want to be dictated to about how to organise their working arrangements?

Mr. Page

My hon. Friend introduces the real world into this question—the real world of jobs, growth and development. It might be useful to remind the House that unemployment stands at almost 18.5 million in the European Union, whereas the figure is down to 8.3 per cent. in the United Kingdom, which is much lower than the European average, and still dropping. Some of our competitors in the European Union, such as France, have an unemployment rate of 12.4 per cent. That is the real world: creating jobs—jobs for British people.