HC Deb 13 June 1995 vol 261 cc584-6
5. Mr. Patrick Thompson

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions he has had with other EU Employment Ministers on measures to reduce unemployment. [26473]

Mr. Portillo

At meetings of the Social Affairs Council, I have urged my fellow Employment Ministers to make job creation the first priority, and not to pursue new labour market restrictions and regulations, which can only destroy jobs.

Mr. Thompson

On that positive note, was my right hon. Friend able to discuss with his European colleagues the reasons why the United Kingdom is leading the way to lower unemployment in Europe? Was he also able to discuss the benefits flowing from our membership of the European Union, not least the right of our work force to work in Community countries? Can he confirm, for example, that in 1989 some 5,100 English people were working in Belgium, and that in 1991 some 42,600 were working in Germany? Are those not benefits?

Mr. Portillo

The Essen European Council invited each country to describe the way in which it had been tackling unemployment in a document. We published ours last week, and it shows a range of measures that have helped to bring down unemployment in Britain. I also think it absolutely right for us to share our experiences.

I agree with my hon. Friend that labour mobility benefits everyone in the European Community, but at the last meeting we spent nearly all our time discussing the posted workers directive, which would restrict the mobility of labour in Europe. That was one of my reasons for opposing it.

My hon. Friend will recognise that there is now only one market—the global market. We shall work hard to ensure that the European Union acts as a stepping stone to that global market, rather than a stumbling block.

Mr. Janner

What minimum standards, if any, does the Secretary of State consider that European Governments, including our own, should propose to protect people at work?

Mr. Portillo

I think that the minimum standards should he decided by the Parliament of the country concerned and not by the European Union.

Mr. Jenkin

Has my right hon. Friend read a speech delivered by Jack Dromey in May, which cited a number of legal actions where Government policy has been defeated by the action of European law? He uses those examples to describe the Government's attempt to opt out of the social chapter as futile. Are we not in danger of losing the opt-out because of the creeping competence of the European Union and must we not get those competences back by repatriating powers from the European Union to the House to protect Government policy?

Mr. Portillo

I think Britain has had a tremendous influence on the development of the social chapter, which has not advanced at anything above a snail's pace because we have not been part of it. Jacques Delors said that this country would become a paradise for investment, so other countries do not want to burden themselves when Britain is outside the social chapter. We have demonstrated that we can have real influence in Europe by taking a strong position, but Mr. Dromey's speech showed how the unions are determined to use the European Union's social chapter to re-establish their power at European level. That speech illustrated the connection in the Labour party's mind between the social chapter and union power more clearly than I have ever seen it demonstrated before and I commend it to every Conservative Member.

Ms Harman

Why does not the Secretary of State repatriate his concern about unemployment? Why is he always talking about unemployment in Spain? Why does he never talk about the unemployment that his Government is causing in this country? Is he more worried about unemployment in Madrid than unemployment in Manchester? Does not he recognise that working people work best, and businesses are therefore more successful, if they feel secure, part of a team and confident that they have the protection of minimum standards? Will he therefore reaffirm his commitment to Britain's membership of the International Labour Organisation?

Mr. Portillo

I thought that the hon. Lady's comments bordered on the xenophobic. My being well known for having a trans-European and global interest is no reason for her to lay into me in that way. I am concerned that some people in this country cannot remember a Labour Government in Britain, so we must illustrate what the impact of Labour policies would be. Such policies are today being followed in Spain and they have produced youth unemployment three times as high as in Britain and a position whereby one third of the entire work force is on temporary contracts.

I am reviewing the value for money that our membership of the ILO gives us, but I deplore the political posturing that the TUC has undertaken in trying to manipulate that international body into taking political postures borne out of prejudices of its own invention. The Government do not allow people at GCHQ to be represented by national trade unions because national security is at stake. That is an important position and one that the Government will maintain.