HC Deb 13 November 1996 vol 285 cc338-40
3. Mr. Clapham

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what assessment she has made of the reliability of the unemployment statistics in informing her Department's policy decisions. [2072]

Mr. Forth

I have total confidence in the statistics produced here by the Office for National Statistics, in Luxembourg by the European Commission and in Paris by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, all of which show that our unemployment rate is among the lowest in Europe and falling.

Mr. Clapham

Is the Minister aware that the Government have changed the method of measuring unemployment 32 times since 1979 and that that has been done to fiddle the figures? If he has such confidence in the statistics, can he confirm that, since 1992, the utilities—gas, water, electricity and telecommunications—have lost 89,743 jobs and have made £33 billion? Does that not support the case for a windfall tax and should not the utilities be encouraged to create jobs rather than lose them?

Mr. Forth

I am in the fortunate position of not needing to fiddle the figures, because unemployment is in any case falling, by any measure. I regret to say that the hon. Gentleman was not listening to what I said: I said that not only our figures but those—no doubt beloved of Opposition Members—produced by the European Commission in Luxembourg, no less, show that unemployment is low and falling. The Eurostat figures released yesterday demonstrate that fact yet again. The International Labour Organisation—also much admired by Opposition Members—has verified the fact that our unemployment rate is now significantly lower than those of our major European competitors and that unemployment is falling here and rising in the other countries.

Sir Michael Neubert

Are not today's unemployment figures, the best for five and a half years, directly attributable to the policy of the Department for Education and Employment, and a credit to it? What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the effect on the unemployment statistics of a national minimum wage, compulsory paternity leave, compulsory consultation, a maximum working week and a minimum annual leave requirement? All those burdens on business are espoused and supported by the Labour party.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because he has gone to the heart of the argument about what creates jobs. I believe that we can clearly demonstrate that the creation of jobs by the private sector is due entirely to the provision of an environment in which business can succeed, inward investment can be attracted and employers and employees can work out the best arrangements for conducting their business. The mindless regulatory approach that is all too common among many of our competitors and partners in the European Union would threaten all that. That is why the Government will continue to resist any attempt to impose unnecessary restrictions and regulations on our business sector, which is demonstrating a unique capacity to create real jobs.

Mr. Don Foster

I welcome today's unemployment figures, but does the Minister agree that he should not make too large a claim for Government policies because, based on the statistics that he has said are so reliable, it is clear that the vast majority of new jobs being created are part time and temporary? Analysis of his figures shows that there has been a reduction of 400,000 full-time equivalent jobs over the past 12 months.

Mr. Forth

Try telling that to the people of France, Germany, Spain and Italy, who would be pathetically grateful for job creation such as we have had here and whose Governments are doing them a gross disservice by the policies that they are pursuing. The hon. Gentleman does not have to take my word for it: the OECD, the International Monetary Fund and all the respected international authorities will confirm that the United Kingdom has found the answer to the needs of a modern, competitive economy while other countries, regrettably, are going in completely the wrong direction.

Mr. Thomason

Has my hon. Friend formed any view on the reliability of the unemployment statistics for Germany, France, Italy and some other European countries to which he referred, which demonstrate that Britain has a far lower rate of unemployment? In addition, has my hon. Friend any views on why Britain might be producing such good results?

Mr. Forth

If one looks simply at the statistics produced by, for example, the ILO or Eurostat, which produced its latest figures just yesterday, quite apart from our internal figures, one can see that on a comparative basis even they demonstrate that unemployment in France, Germany and Italy is high and rising, whereas in Britain it is low and falling. Those are incontrovertible facts measured by the ILO and Eurostat. The reason for that can now be seen clearly in the difference in approach and policy between the British Government and other Governments on the continental mainland. That is the nub of the argument about, for example, the 48-hour directive. It is also the reason for the allegations of cover-ups in the Commission of information that would seem to justify the policies that we have been pursuing, which I guess is why they have not made the public domain.

Mr. Byers

Will the Minister confirm that, on his own figures, one in five households of working age have no one in a job and that 2,750,000 men of working age without a job simply do not appear in today's unemployment figures? How much of today's apparent cut in unemployment is due not to people going into work but simply to people moving from one benefit to another?

Mr. Forth

Probably about 15,000.

Mr. Marland

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, in the United Kingdom, more people are in work and fewer people are out of work than in any other European country, and that that is due in no small measure to the fact that we have no social chapter and no minimum wage?

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, because it gives the lie to the remarkable contortions that Opposition Members go through to produce something resembling bad news about what is happening on our labour and employment front. I am glad to say that Britain has produced the capacity to provide more work for people who want it than most of our European competitors and partners. That is something in which we can take satisfaction. We shall continue to provide the environment in which business can prosper, inward investment can take place and employers and employees can work out their own arrangements, to maximise employment in Britain.