HC Deb 17 November 2003 vol 413 cc471-3
6. Mr. John MacDougall (Central Fife)

If he will make a statement on long-term trends in employment. 1138638]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith)

The labour market statistics continue to show employment growing and unemployment on a downward trend. As a result of our policies for economic stability and welfare to work the United Kingdom now has the highest employment and the lowest unemployment of the G7.

Mr. MacDougall

I thank my right hon. Friend for his response and I congratulate the Government on their great success in reducing unemployment levels to their present levels. I hope that we can continue to improve our performance.

May I bring to my right hon. Friend's attention areas of special need, such as Central Fife, where we had a strong influence in traditional industries and manufacturing industries, which have suffered badly. What special efforts are the Government making to tackle such areas? Can he give a reassurance to the House that we will not return to the days when, under the now Leader of the Opposition, we had the longest continuing increase in unemployment of any — [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Smith

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. I take this opportunity to congratulate him on the sterling work that I know he has done over a number of years in regeneration and tackling unemployment in his constituency. He makes the important point that good though progress is, we need to do still more. It is especially important that we focus on pockets of particular disadvantage and remaining unemployment within each of our constituencies. I can assure my hon. Friend that through the incentive structure within Jobcentre Plus; the partnership work that we are encouraging with local business; and the work that we are doing, for example, through child care partnership managers to ensure that appropriate child care is available to help those who need it to move into jobs, and other area-based initiatives, we shall continue to drive forward. Our ambition is not just to have a better employment system, which is what we have, but to have full employment in every region and every community.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Is the Minister not worried about all the manufacturing jobs that are being exported to eastern Europe and Asia? When Black & Decker announced that it was going to the Czech Republic, when Dyson announced that it was going to Malaysia and, more recently, when Wedgwood announced that jobs were going from Stoke-on-Trent to China, were alarm bells not ringing in his Department? What advice is he giving the hard-pressed people who are scouring department stores in this country for gifts that are made in Britain?

Mr. Smith

It never ceases to stagger me that Opposition Members should run down British manufacturing industry and its enormous achievements. This Government have acted, for example, by introducing the research and development tax credit—there was no such encouragement under the Conservatives—and developing a skills strategy. It is only by being competitive in the high value-added areas of manufacturing industry that we will build on the considerable manufacturing success in this country. There have been successes in the aeronautical industry, for example, and success in my own constituency, where BMW is producing new Minis—a sales leader across the world—and taking on more workers. We should hear more from Opposition Members about the success of manufacturing industry instead of hearing them talk Britain down.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Lloyds TSB is proposing to close its call centre in Newcastle to exploit low-paid workers in India, with the potential loss of almost 1,000 jobs in my constituency, despite promises made when the centre opened two years ago that those would be long-term, sustainable jobs? What can he do to try to dissuade Lloyds TSB from that course of action, and what does he propose to do in light of the potential loss of tens of thousands of jobs in this country?

Mr. Evans

It is the same question the other way round.

Mr. Smith

I understand the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend on behalf of his constituents, and I can well imagine local anxieties. However, my answer is the same as the answer that I gave earlier. It is by investing in skills and competitiveness that we can best ensure jobs for the future. I urge employers in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere to keep the promises that they made to local workers and urge Members on both sides of the House to back a strategy of investing in skills so that more people can fill the 10,000 vacancies that are reported to Jobcentre Plus each and every day.

Economic stability and success are generating jobs in all parts of this country, and unemployment has fallen most in the areas where it was highest. If people face job insecurity, that is worrying, and we must do everything that we can to support them, but it is by equipping people with skills for competitiveness and supporting our competitive industries that we will best ensure employment for the future.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Is it not important to secure not just full employment, but productive employment? Over the past three years, the decline in manufacturing employment has been offset by a massive increase in public sector employment. East Germany, Poland and so on always had full employment in the days of the Warsaw pact and COMECON—the Council for Mutual Economic Co-operation—but they were never productive or satisfying places to live.

Mr. Smith

It is an outrageous slur on our nurses, doctors, teachers and police officers—we are proud of the extra numbers employed in those front-line services—to suggest that they are not productive. They are productive, and not only has there been a welcome increase in public sector employment, but there are more jobs in the private sector.