HC Deb 15 January 1998 vol 304 cc474-5
6. Mr. Bayley

What his priorities are for job creation at the ECOFIN meeting in York during the UK presidency. [21056]

Mr. Gordon Brown

I look forward to holding the informal ECOFIN in my hon. Friend's constituency in two months' time. I shall use the UK's presidency of the European Union to advance policies that help the unemployed to find work, ensure that we have a skilled, adaptable labour force and increase flexibility and adaptability in the labour market, to which we are committed, thereby raising the sustainable level of employment in Britain and Europe. I expect to discuss those issues at several ECOFIN meetings during the course of the next few months.

Mr. Bayley

Just over a year ago, R. R. Donnelley, which has a large print works in my constituency employing several hundred people, was teetering on the brink of closure. It has now secured a contract to print all the telephone directories for the Netherlands for the next seven years and those jobs have been secured. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that experience shows that Britain benefits from involvement in the European Union? Will he be using our presidency further to ensure that we play a full part in Europe so that this country benefits from jobs from that source?

Mr. Brown

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Sixty per cent. of our trade is with European Union countries: both imports and exports. We are trying to expand the single market into areas where it has not been effective in the past: not just telephone directories, but telecommunications and the energy and utilities industries. I hope that we shall make advances during the European presidency. It would, of course, be better if we had the support of the Conservative party.

Sir Michael Spicer

If the Government are really serious about giving advice at ECOFIN on reducing unemployment in European Union countries, will they tell the French Government to uncouple their currency from the deutschmark, even if that means getting out of the exchange rate mechanism?

Mr. Brown

We have already discussed joint measures to tackle unemployment throughout Europe. At the Luxembourg summit in November, British proposals to help young people who have been unemployed for more than six months and long-term unemployed men and women who have been unemployed for more than a year throughout Europe—exactly the policies that we are pursuing in Britain—commended themselves to our European partners. Those measures will create job opportunities and give people the skills that will be effective in reducing the unacceptably high level of unemployment in Europe. Britain is leading the way in those areas.