HC Deb 07 March 1995 vol 256 cc125-7
Mr. Streeter

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what assessment he has made of how the long-term unemployed are affected by Government policies.

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

The Government have developed a range of measures to help the long-term unemployed back into work. The proportion of those who are long-term unemployed is markedly lower in Britain than the EC average.

Mr. Streeter

In view of the rapid fall in unemployment, is it not the case that the prospects of the long-term unemployed obtaining work are now better than they have been for many years? Does my right hon. Friend agree that to introduce now the job destruction programme of the social chapter and a national minimum wage would be for those who are genuinely seeking work nothing but a massive kick in the teeth?

Mr. Portillo

The aspiration of those who developed the social chapter was to create a social dimension to the European Community. It was a massive raft of legislation under qualified majority voting which would have loaded costs on employers and destroyed jobs. I make it clear to my hon. Friend that there will be no end to the opt-out negotiated by this Government. The Labour party would sell out anything at all in its craven attitude to Brussels.

Mr. Soley

Is it the intention of the Secretary of State to achieve full employment?

Mr. Portillo

It is my intention that the maximum number of people should be able to participate in work. That means developing a flexible labour market and it means helping people with practical measures from Government. It means establishing policies that enable the country and the economy to grow. It means establishing policies to encourage people to invest in this country and to create job opportunities. It means avoiding the Labour party's technique of trying to mislead the unemployed into believing that a Government can spend their way out of unemployment.

Mr. Merchant

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a minimum wage is one of the greatest threats to measures to curb and to overcome long-term unemployment? Does he agree that a minimum wage would not just get in the way of job creation, but would result in the loss of many valuable jobs that exist today?

Mr. Portillo

Yes, it is a complete fallacy to believe that a minimum wage has anything to do with the reduction of poverty. Many people who work on low wages are second or third earners in their households. Those are the sort of jobs that could easily be destroyed by the introduction of a minimum wage, with the result that families who enjoyed the benefit of extra incomes would be made poorer. As the trade unions insist on the maintenance of differentials, the bulk of the resources that would go into establishing a minimum wage would benefit people who were better off and not the people at the bottom.

Mr. Chidgey

Is the Secretary of State aware that outcomes show that training for work policies are failing the long-term unemployed, with only one in 10 gaining full-time employment after leaving such schemes? Does he accept that instead of slashing training budgets by more than £125 million, the money should be redirected and targeted at long-term unemployment which remains an unacceptably and disproportionately high part of the unemployment total?

Mr. Portillo

The training for work budget is targeted at the long-term unemployed, who are precisely the people who can qualify for training for work. The hon. Gentleman is on to quite a good point in saying that not enough people are getting jobs or other what we call positive outcomes at the end of their training—in other words, going into other opportunities that are valuable to them. I am determined that that proportion shall rise and I shall get the proportion of those who achieve a positive outcome from their training of one sort or another up to 50 per cent. I believe that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that development.

Mr. Couchman

How many of the long-term unemployed owe their predicament to employment consultancies that give advice on how to sack people, such as the JSB Group which is headed by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Employment?

Mr. Portillo

I am not able to give the figure. Every hon. Member is the guardian of his own conscience and, certainly, people should be in the business of removing any beams from their own eyes before they search for motes elsewhere.

Mr. Barron

If one half of the long-term unemployed on training for work courses are not getting any qualifications at all and more than half the men who come off those schemes go back on the dole, as do a third of women, how can the Government justify cutting the training budget by 20 per cent. and slashing 55,000 chances for the long-term unemployed to go on to a scheme?

Mr. Portillo

Although the hon. Gentleman asked the question in all innocence, he knows perfectly well that the objective of our training for work reforms is precisely to ensure that the training is not only for training's sake, but to get people into jobs and into other opportunities of value. I shall increase the proportion of people who get those positive outcomes. I shall increase the numbers of people who get those positive outcomes. If the hon. Gentleman is attacking that, let him stand up and say so.

Ms Short

By magic?

Mr. Portillo

The hon. Lady says that because she has no understanding of improving efficiency or value for money. That, if I may say so, is what distinguishes the Labour party from the Conservative party.