HC Deb 24 April 1996 vol 276 cc423-5
6. Mr. Fabricant

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if she will make a statement on employment creation over the last 24 months (a) in the United Kingdom and (b) in other EU countries. [25084]

Mr. Forth

Over the past two years, the United Kingdom has created more jobs than any other major European Union country.

Mr. Fabricant

I thank my hon. Friend for that surprising answer. Might it have anything to do with the fact that the cost of employing someone in France is apparently an extra 32 per cent. and that in Germany it costs an employer an extra 41 per cent? Is it true that in Britain the figure is only 18 per cent? Could it have anything to do with the social chapter? Could it mean that, if we signed the social chapter, we would have as many unemployed in this country as the rest of Europe has?

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the House's attention to a very important difference between us and many of our partners on the continental mainland, which is that the Government have made a determined effort over a period to reduce the burdens on business and to reduce the cost of employment in order that businesses can expand and take people on. Our falling unemployment figure demonstrates the success of that policy.

We must not allow other countries to seek to impose their failed policies on us. We must all, as member states of the European Union, be free to pursue those policies which most suit us and allow us to maximise our competitiveness. That will continue to be our intention.

Mr. O'Hara

Could not it be the case that the suggested increase in the number of jobs created and the suggested fall in unemployment have more to do with changes in the number of the population who are economically active? What evidence does the Minister have that we have created more jobs in this country? The Government commonly make comparisons with France, where unemployment is indeed now higher than in this country, but, whereas there has been a fall of more than 300,000 in those economically active in this country, there has been an increase of more than 500,000 in the number of those economically active in France. The one is the mirror image of the other—is it not about time that the Minister came clean instead of doing it with mirrors?

Mr. Forth

Talking about mirrors, we are hearing a series of convoluted and clever, but utterly irrelevant, manipulations of figures from Opposition Members. [Interruption.] The truth is much more simple, as always. By any comparison, the record of this country compared to that of our major partners and competitors in the European Union is much superior. I could cite a whole range of factors in evidence.

For example, our female participation rate, something of which we can be proud and in which we can take pleasure, is infinitely higher than in France—especially—and many other mainland continental countries. In almost every respect, we are demonstrating that the policies that we are pursuing are much more favourable and beneficial to employment and competitiveness than those of our partners. All the figures suggest that, and no amount of mirrors or manipulation by Opposition Members will conceal it.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Has my hon. Friend noted that one in three young people in Spain are unemployed? Could the Spanish Government's adherence to the social chapter and their adoption of socialist policies such as a national minimum wage have more than a little to do with the defeat of that socialist Government at the hands of the Spanish electorate?

Mr. Forth

Yes, indeed. It gives me no pleasure, as I know it gives my hon. Friend no pleasure, to record that, in Spain, there is extraordinarily high unemployment, an extraordinary percentage of the working population are on temporary contracts, and youth unemployment, for example, is unacceptably high. There must surely be a direct link between the policies of the failed socialist Government—recently rejected by the Spanish electorate—and the alarmingly high unemployment figures that have been inflicted on the people of Spain. I hope that that penny will drop here and that that message, which I am sure my hon. Friend will help to disseminate, will draw people's attention to the failure of socialist policies.

Mr. Meacher

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, in the past two and a half years, the Government's deeply flawed unemployment figures have shown a fall of 750,000 but their much more reliable employment figures have shown a rise of only 300,000? Far from getting a job, 400,000 people have given up even trying, because there are no jobs. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his own Department's figures also show that more than half those who got a job a year ago are back on benefit?

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, since 1979, which is what matters, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's figures, Britain has the worst job creation record of any of the 15 EU states, with the exception only of Sweden and Finland? There are now fewer jobs in Britain than there were in 1979. Does that not show that, contrary to what the Secretary of State says, other European Governments at the Lille jobs summit were absolutely right to reject her deregulated labour market policies out of hand and with the contempt that they deserve?

Mr. Forth

It used to be thought that most of the Labour party's resources were going on spin doctors. I am beginning to get the impression that even more resources are going on numerical manipulation in support of Labour Members. So desperate are they about our record of success in bringing unemployment down—this is a sad comment on them—that they are having to dig up the most obscure and irrelevant figures they can find to create an atmosphere of gloom and pessimism, when in fact it is one of increasing confidence.

It is a sad comment on Opposition Members that they should feel the need to do that. They must understand that the electorate will not be impressed by such a message.

Mr. Michael Brown

I am sorry to take my hon. Friend to task. However, when the most recent unemployment figures were announced and a reduction occurred, I did not see my hon. Friend on the electronic news media. Can he confirm that it was only because the figures were falling that the media were not interested in interviewing him? Do they interview him only if the figures go up? Did he seek to go on the media to explain the excellent figures?

Mr. Forth

I can confirm that my humble services were indeed offered to the electronic media the day before we were due to announce the unemployment figures. It was indicated to us by at least one television channel that it would be interested in interviewing me only if the unemployment figure went up and that if, tragically, the figure went down, that fact would not be considered newsworthy. My hon. Friend, therefore, sitting, as ever, eager for my appearance, failed to see me on that occasion. He has put his finger on one of the great sadnesses of the media's attitude today, which is that bad news is news and good news is ignored.