HC Deb 13 June 1995 vol 261 cc579-80
1. Sir Michael Neubert

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what assessment he has made of the benefits to the long-term unemployed of current Government policies. [26468]

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Portillo)

Government policies have produced economic growth and falling unemployment. The proportion of the unemployed out of work for more than a year is markedly below the European Community average.

Sir Michael Neubert

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when the Social Affairs Commissioner came to the House two or three years ago, Mrs. Papandreou said that of the many millions out of work in Europe at that time 35 per cent. had not had a job at all? Is it not clear from my right hon. Friend's answer that the prospects for the long-term unemployed are far better in Britain than in countries that have adopted the inflexibility and business burdens of the social chapter, and how is it possible for the Labour party not to have noticed that?

Mr. Portillo

My hon. Friend is too generous. The Labour party has noticed it. It is not in favour of the social chapter out of ignorance of its consequences. It knows perfectly well that the social chapter would destroy jobs in Britain. It is in favour of the social chapter because it has done a cynical deal with the trade unions: that is the basis of the social chapter. What would my hon. Friend expect from a party that receives most of its money from the trade unions? All the members of the shadow Cabinet are sponsored by trade unions. Votes at Labour's conference are dominated by trade unions. That is why the Labour party is in favour of the social chapter—it is not out of ignorance of the fact that the social chapter would destroy British jobs. I am against the social chapter because I am determined to defend British interests and jobs.

Mr. Barry Jones

Can the right hon. Gentleman say, after 16 years of Conservative government, how many long-term unemployed people there are in our nation?

Mr. Portillo

There are 886,000 people who have been without a job for more than a year. The proportion is 37 per cent., but during the last recession it reached 44 per cent. The proportion in this country is lower than in other European Union countries. That is the point that the hon. Gentleman must face. We are pursuing policies that enable people to get back to work. We are pursuing policies that have produced an unemployment rate of 8.5 per cent., compared with the European Community average of 10.8 per cent. The interesting thing for the hon. Gentleman is that the countries with the higher rates of unemployment are the countries that are pursuing the policies advocated by his party.

Mr. Rathbone

Would my right hon. Friend care to tell the House how much of that welcome reduction in unemployment is due to our active membership of the European Union and how much of it would be put at risk if we withdrew?

Mr. Portillo

I believe that we benefit very much indeed from being part of a single European market. The Government have fought hard to create that single European market, but it is well recognised that other features that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been wise enough to remain outside, such as the social chapter, are job-destroying measures. My hon. Friend is right to put his finger on the fact that there are advantages to us from membership of the single European market. I know that he in no way dissents from the position of the Government and the Conservative party that we will never be part of the social chapter.