HC Deb 24 April 1996 vol 276 cc418-9
2. Mr. Waterson

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what assessment she has made of the prospects for youth unemployment in (a) the United Kingdom and (b) other EU countries. [25079]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Mr. Eric Forth)

Unemployment among young people in the United Kingdom is well below the European Union average. The prospects for our young people are good, so long as we do not destroy jobs by a national minimum wage or other unnecessary and damaging regulations.

Mr. Waterson

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, in this country, unemployment among the under-25s is some 5 per cent. below the European average and roughly half that in France? Is he aware of the Employment Policy Institute's view that a national minimum wage would destroy job prospects, especially among small firms? Would a minimum wage not be a gross betrayal of our young people?

Mr. Forth

It must now be the case that the Labour party is the last organisation in this country not to recognise the folly of a statutory national minimum wage. Everyone else has—the expert institute that my hon. Friend has mentioned, and, more significantly, the electorate and especially young people. All of them realise that countries that have statutory national minimum wages have extraordinarily high youth unemployment and, generally, higher unemployment. I expect that, eventually, the Labour party will notice that connection, but not, I hope, before the general election.

Mr. Byers

Will the Minister confirm that, as a percentage of total unemployment, in 1995 youth unemployment in the United Kingdom stood at 28.8 per cent., twice that in Germany and lower than that in only three other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in the European Union? In the light of that, will he concede that this is an issue not of the minimum wage but of the opportunities that we give to our young people? When will the Government invest in young people's future by providing a high-quality training programme to give them the skills that they need, or are the Government prepared simply to stand to one side and see a whole generation be the innocent victims of their failed economic and social policies?

Mr. Forth

I readily pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's ever more ingenious use of statistics and figures. He has excelled himself today by digging up a convoluted and obscure figure which means nothing to anyone. Let me give him a straightforward fact that will demonstrate that he is on the wrong track. The latest figures available show that, six months after leaving training, 71 per cent. of young people completing youth training in England and Wales were in a job. That demonstrates the effectiveness of what we are doing as well as anything else could.

Mr. Garnier

If my hon. Friend wants evidence to support the facts that he has announced, will he come to my constituency, where he will find that the unemployment level is 1,750, out of an electorate of more than 79,000, and that schools are actively engaged in making links with industry and industry is actively engaged in making links with schools to produce the courses, both at apprenticeship and in schools, that benefit the employment sector? Will he further invite the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers), who asked that fatuous question, to have a look for himself at what is going on in the real world?

Mr. Forth

I am delighted by my hon. and learned Friend's typically positive approach. It typifies the Conservative party's recognition of real success at local level, with different institutions working together to achieve positive results. I doubt very much whether Opposition Members are sufficiently interested or motivated to go to observe a success story for themselves, but I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will have more luck in persuading Opposition Front Benchers of the success to which he referred than I seem to be having.