§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Harris of Richmond rose to call attention to the flexibility of European labour markets in the light of the report of the European Union Select Committee Working in Europe: Access for all (Session 2001–02, 15th Report, HL 88); and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I commend to the House the report by the Select Committee on the European Union on European labour markets. It is rather unfortunate that it has taken such a long time to bring the debate before your Lordships' House—11 months, to be exact. Nevertheless, it remains an 142 important and relevant report. It is wide-ranging, and touches on the work of a number of Government departments, principally the Departments for Education and Skills and for Work and Pensions, but also the Departments of Trade and Industry and of Health, the Treasury and the Inland Revenue.
§ I am grateful to Professor Roger Vickerman, our specialist adviser, who drew on his considerable expertise to guide us through the many different aspects of policies that are affected by the desire to increase the flexibility of labour markets. I should also like to thank most sincerely Dr. Richard McLean, our Clerk, who has moved on to other areas of work in the EU committee structure, and Dr. Valsamis Mitsilegas, our legal adviser, who is thankfully still with us. They gave us invaluable assistance.
§ The wording of today's Motion has deliberately been chosen so as to allow a wide debate that covers the economic impact of flexible labour markets as well as the educational and social issues, on which the report primarily focuses.
As Members will be aware, the Treasury's second test for UK entry to the euro is,
whether there is enough flexibility to cope with economic change"—
and a key component of the test is the flexibility of labour markets. The test asks whether, if problems emerge, the economy is sufficiently flexible to deal with them. In particular, the Treasury is assessing whether labour markets can respond flexibly to skill shortages and unemployment in either areas or sectors, and thereby sustain economic growth.
§ We were not attempting to mirror this wide test on the flexibility of the economy, or to pre-empt the important work of the Treasury. Rather, our inquiry focused specifically on the flexibility of European labour markets and was based on a Commission communication on New European Labour Markets, Open to All, with Access for All, which was submitted to the Stockholm European Council in March 2001.
§ The committee concluded that it is important to work towards removing inefficiencies within labour markets, thereby making them more flexible, so that they are able to respond quickly to these changing times, when we have so many changes in technologies and demand.
§ There are various ways in which labour markets can be flexible, such as being flexible about wages or working patterns. The committee therefore questioned what the best way was of achieving flexibility in labour markets. The inquiry focused in particular on two forms of flexibility: occupational or skill mobility, enabling workers to be flexible about what work they do; and geographical mobility, enabling workers to be flexible about where they work.
§ On the first of these, the Committee wholly supported the Commission's objective of improving skills and thereby attaining higher occupational mobility. Indeed, the committee called on the Government to come up with additional policies in order to achieve an increase in the skill level of workers. I will return to these shortly.143
On geographical mobility, which was the second form of flexibility examined during the inquiry, the committee concluded that,
a degree of geographical mobility is desirable for European labour markets to work efficiently and thus for the economy to be prosperous".
People who wish to move for work should not be prevented from doing so.
§ The principle that, as a single market, the European Union should comprise an area without internal frontiers, is long-established. One of the Community's key objectives is the abolition of obstacles to freedom of movement for workers and services between member states. Furthermore, free movement within the Union is a right of EU citizens, added by the Maastricht Treaty and reiterated recently in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. While a number of steps have been taken to secure the free movement of workers, it is clear that barriers inhibiting their mobility still remain. The committee therefore considered that securing the right of freedom of movement through the removal of barriers is essential.
§ The committee analysed several different barriers to movement that still exist in Europe and made recommendations as to how these might be eliminated, and I shall return to these in a minute. However, the committee received no evidence of the number of people who currently want to move, but are frustrated from doing so. The committee therefore questioned the need for policies whose objective is to increase the aggregate level of geographical mobility in Europe. The aim should be to provide a framework within which those who wish to move can do so easily and not to increase geographical mobility for its own sake.
§ There is a complete lack of evidence on the factors influencing people not to move. The extent to which geographical mobility is artificially restricted by barriers is not known. It is not clear whether the low levels of mobility observed are an expression of individuals' general reluctance to move or of their inability to do so because of barriers. The committee was extremely concerned that policy is being drafted despite the absence of significant statistical information in this area. We strongly believe that the Commission and member states should invest in research in order to be able to judge effectively to what extent geographical mobility is an important factor in the development of flexible European labour markets.
The Government response frequently acknowledges the limited amount of research on migration patterns within the EU and on the reasons why individuals decide not to move. In a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, the then Chairman of the Select Committee, on 16th May 2002, Margaret Hodge said that the Government had noted the committee's concerns in this area and were,
considering raising the issue about research with the Commission",
as the Government felt that the Commission was best placed to undertake an EU-wide survey.
144 I therefore ask the Minister what representations the Government have made to the Commission on this issue. Are they putting pressure on the Commission to initiate such research? Until we know the reasons why few people move between member states for work, governments cannot sensibly draft policies.
§ We examined several of the potential barriers to people's geographic mobility. We looked at the economic and administrative barriers, such as the difficulties people face trying to understand different systems of housing, taxation, pensions and social security. It is important to increase understanding of these issues so that people understand their rights. The committee recommends that basic information on such rights should be freely available to all as part of a publicly-provided service, and hopes that the Commission further develops its website in this way.
§ We found clear evidence that the lack of mutual recognition of qualifications is a barrier to individuals and employers. The committee welcomes the Commission's intention to propose a simplified, more uniform, transparent and flexible regime of recognition for vocational qualifications in the regulated professions. However, as the committee is concerned that the benefits of mobility to the individual should be available to all groups in society, initiatives should be encouraged concerning the mutual recognition of qualifications in non-regulated professional and other vocational skills, in order to ensure the removal of barriers for all. The committee is also in favour of the Commission developing art overarching transparent framework for the assessment and recognition of non-formal and informal learning. Could the Minister please update us on the work of the European forum on the transparency of vocational qualifications?
§ The committee agrees with the Commission that a lack of language skills represents a significant barrier for those considering geographical mobility. The UK record here is appalling and shameful. Yet still the Government are not doing enough to rectify the problem of our poor ability to speak foreign languages. The Government's announcement just before Christmas on the teaching of foreign languages in schools is very disappointing. The leaching of the first foreign language to all pupils should start from age eight at the latest. An entitlement to some teaching, perhaps to be administered by someone with no teaching qualification, is not enough. Furthermore, we consider that it should remain a statutory requirement for all pupils to continue studying a foreign language until the age of 16.
§ I turn now to occupational or skill mobility. The globalisation of markets, industrial change and the unprecedented rate of technological innovation are producing rapid changes in the types of skills that are considered valuable and relevant in the labour markets. As a consequence, an increasing number of people may have to adapt to a change of job or career, involving different skills, during their working life. It is vital that people are equipped with the skills to adapt to these changes.145
§ A workforce that has high levels of skill mobility can adapt to labour market shocks more easily and respond to increasing unemployment in one sector by moving to another. Conversely, a low level of occupational mobility constrains the ability to fill job vacancies. Moreover, the CBI ranked skills among "the most important areas" for creating open, flexible labour markets.
§ I welcome the establishment of the Learning and Skills Council and the national Skills for Life strategy. These are encouraging developments. However, they are also much needed developments and are still at an early stage. The CBI maintained that, while the Government had improved the situations in schools, they had done little to address the needs of the older workforce. The CBI warned that the size of this problem should not be underestimated. Based on the findings of the working group chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Moser, the CBI said that in the UK 20 per cent of the workforce are functionally innumerate or illiterate. This is an appalling figure and is by far the highest in Europe. We cannot just address the UK's skills problems overnight. They are very difficult issues that will require a lot of time and probably a lot of money. The upskilling of the workforce must be an urgent priority for the UK. In order to increase occupational mobility and fill the identified skill gaps, the teaching of basic skills has to be coupled with the provision of lifelong learning. The committee supports the targeting of lifelong learning and training initiatives at third country nationals, women and older workers.
Yet, as the Government acknowledge in their written response to our report:
little progress has been made across the EU to turn lifelong learning into a daily reality for most adults".
There is a consensus, shared by the Government, experts, the TUC and the CBI, on the need to raise the skills of the UK workforce. There is a particular need to address poor basic skills of literacy and numeracy. Will the Minister tell us if the Government are planning to introduce a statutory right to time off for training to tackle the problem?
§ I very much look forward to hearing the rest of the debate and I commend the report to your Lordships. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen
My Lords, I welcome the debate, which the committee's members have long awaited. I place on record my congratulations and thanks to the chair of the committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, for her patient, kind, but firm guidance of what was, on occasions, her wayward group of Peers.
The report concentrates on the major barriers to labour force mobility within the European Union. We started from the agreed premise of the importance of the issue for workers in the UK and the need to equip them with the skills necessary to compete in the European labour market. Whether we like it or not— 146 and personally I do—we are part of the European Union and therefore we have to consider the position of our workforce within the Union. As has been said and as the TUC pointed out in its evidence to the committee, the right to move and work within the European Union is a fundamental right of EU citizens.
We cannot mention today all the findings of the report, so ably highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. I want to concentrate on what for me are the key issues. First, I want to consider how to establish skills across various workplaces. The need for increasing numeracy and literacy skills became ever more obvious as we gathered evidence for the report.
Over recent decades the labour market has changed substantially. More women have entered that market, the flexibility of working patterns has increased and information technology has changed working lives beyond all recognition in many areas. Workforces and their skills training have to improve.
We are talking about encouraging employees to gain basic and fundamental skills, but also about employers assisting in the task. That involves all citizens, regardless of age. Consideration must be given to expanding skills training to the newer entrants to the labour market, such as women, and to third country nationals, and to the retention and reskilling where necessary of older workers whose knowledge gained during their working lives is invaluable to a country's wellbeing. Basic skills are vital for increasing choices for workers, but alongside these we have to consider providing and improving academic skills and vocational skills as well as recognising the skills picked up through life which can be such an asset in a workplace.
I am mindful here of the undervaluing of women's skills which have arisen from bringing up and playing a pivotal role in a family. These include the organisational skills developed in ensuring that the family get to the workplace and/or to the school, on time; the financial skills gained by juggling the family budget, which is often still left to the female partner or the single parent; and the skills of dealing with people, gained by stopping siblings arguing and creating harmony in the family. These are all instances of what I am talking about.
Closely associated with these foundation skills is the question of language skills. As we continued our work in the sub-committee, it became ever more evident that language was undoubtedly a barrier to the movement of workers within the European Union. As the TUC said in its evidence, while English is widely taught and spoken as an additional language throughout the world, the language skills of the indigenous British workforce remain poor. This reduces significantly the scope for such workers to seek employment in non-English-speaking countries. I am afraid that in some quarters the myth remains that if we, the English, shout loud enough, we can make ourselves understood. I shall give a little anecdote. Some years ago, I went on a trip to Spain. On the first morning in the hotel, I came across two of our party bellowing at 147 one of the waitresses, "Where is the local market?". On receiving no response, one turned to the other and said, "Ridiculous. She doesn't appear to understand English.".
Matters have improved somewhat, but there is still a large language gap. That became increasingly clear as witnesses gave evidence. The committee feels very strongly that the Government should concentrate urgently on remedying that situation. The fear arose in our discussions, based on elements of the educational Green Paper, that the Government might be travelling in the opposite direction to that we had hoped. I ask the Minister to bring us up to date with the Government's thinking.
We recognise that some employers provide language training, for which they should be praised. Rather than a hit-and-miss approach, however, we feel that it should be part of the scheme for lifelong learning. We also feel very strongly that it should not be up to employees to use their own free time for such learning. Competent basic language skills would also help employers.
The question of mutual recognition of qualifications arose frequently in our deliberations. It was obvious from the evidence we received that the lack of such recognition proves a barrier to both individual workers and employers. The CBI, in its evidence, recognised that the question had been under consideration for a long time without a solution, but it believes, as does the TUC, that it must be overcome if workers are to be able to move within the EU effectively.
The CBI points out that employers remain unfamiliar with foreign qualifications. It would like to see a system that is able to,read across each EU country",and relate to all qualifications including a degree and professional qualifications. It would be interesting to hear from my noble friend any ideas that the Government have about the mutual recognition of qualifications.
Obviously, as a former trade union official, the question of workers' rights was high in my mind during our considerations. As has been pointed out, they differ from country to country. If there is to be true mobility and access to employment, far more consideration of that problem is needed. The TUC pointed out in its evidence the difficulties that workers face in understanding employment contracts when moving to another country and finding on arrival that the terms and conditions are not what they expected. The workers involved frequently lack both the knowledge and language skills to enforce their basic rights.
Workers' rights cover many areas, such as pensions, health service provision and better information on taxation. Especially needed are full details of taxation liability. The subject exercises the minds of both sides of industry. The CBI confirmed,that the current social security and pensions regulations also proved to be a burden for firms, especially smaller firms".148 Various proposals were made during the taking of evidence as to how some solutions could be reached. I ask the Minister what the Government's reaction would be to a social security card system. It might simplify procedures without changing existing rights and obligations.
My final subject is the obvious difficulty we face in gathering our evidence on mobility of the workforce, which is vitally important to us. That difficulty is a lack—I would go so far as to say a drastic lack—of information available, as highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, who outlined proposals on the matter. The sub-committee became increasingly concerned about lack of information. I await with interest the Minister's response to those proposals. We believe that they could help to encourage more mobility and therefore flexibility for both EU employers and employees.
There is much more in the report than the issues I have raised. It deals with housing, children's education and providing assistance to the partners of those planning to move so that they can find employment too. However, the issues to which I have drawn attention—skills and qualifications, the mutual recognition of those skills, the importance of language and its teaching, the co-ordination of workers' rights, and the increase of information about mobility—are linked. I look forward to my noble friend's response.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Lord Brittan of Spennithorne
My Lords, I welcome the debate, because of the importance of the subject and the excellence of the work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and her committee. I have an extra reason for welcoming the opportunity to participate in this debate, which is that, when I was the Member of Parliament for Richmond, she was a distinguished constituent of mine.
The report points out the low levels of mobility in the European Union, and also that there is no evidence as to the extent to which that is caused by barriers to mobility as opposed to other factors. None the less, it is clearly desirable that whatever barriers there are should be removed. Therefore, I very much welcome what is said in the report about mutual recognition of qualifications, the lack of language skills, the importance of improving people's knowledge of their rights and, with regard to occupational mobility, what is said about lifelong learning.
Perhaps the most important statement in the report is about putting geographical mobility of labour into its proper context. Paragraph 26 states:When looking at ways to improve the efficiency of labour markets, it is widely recognised that geographical mobility should not be considered in isolation. The Commission's Communication points out that occupational (or skill) mobility should be considered as equally important … The CBI went further and in a report identified six forms of flexibility, of which geographical mobility was one. The others were: flexibility in working patterns [hours flexibility]; wage flexibility [pay]; skills flexibility; numerical flexibility [such as limited by employment protection legislation]; functional flexibility or internal flexibility [how much people are moving within jobs or within the organisation]".149 Continuing with the subject of rotation:They found that 'the overall level of flexibility' of labour markets, rather than any single dimension, was important".In paragraph 186, the committee said:The Committee appreciates that it is important to work towards removing inefficiencies within labour markets, so that they are able to respond quickly to changes in demand. Yet increasing geographical mobility is only one means of improving the flexibility of labour markets, and improving flexibility by other means … can reduce the need for geographical mobility".That being the case, I very much welcome the fact that the debate is stated to be about the flexibility of labour markets more broadly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, pointed out, and not just about the mobility of labour. The point that I want to stress is that there is a clear and strong relationship between the introduction of the euro and the flexibility of labour markets.
One can say that there have been three phases in the results of the introduction of the euro. The first phase was the preparation for the introduction, with the need for those who wished to participate in the euro to conform to the Maastricht criteria, which were essentially criteria about introducing sound finance where it had not previously existed. That meant changing countries such as Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece from having high inflation and high budget deficits into following sound financial policies. That was a remarkable and beneficial transformation over a wide part of the European Union.
The second phase in the introduction of the euro occurred when the euro was actually introduced; I refer not simply to the movement to notes and coins but to the period before then, when the euro was introduced as a virtual currency. We then saw corporate restructuring because, as a result of the removal of the exchange rate risk, we saw a great bout of mergers and acquisitions in the European Union and the massive explosion of the corporate bond market—the growth of corporate bonds across the EU. There was also reorganisation within companies of distribution arrangements because it was no longer necessary to have distribution arrangements in penny packets because of the risk of exchange rate changes. All of that is beneficial, although the full benefit takes a long time to come forward, as we found in relation to the changes in the early 1980s in this country.
The third phase in terms of the results and consequences of the introduction of the euro is only just starting. It involves economic restructuring and in particular moves towards labour market flexibility, which is the subject of this debate. The relationship between the introduction of the euro and the gradual start of much-needed economic restructuring, including labour market flexibility involves the introduction of the euro and removes and prevents the possibility of soft—
§ Baroness Knight of Collingtree
My Lords, I am most grateful. If I have interrupted a sentence, I am more than happy to wait until it has been completed.
§ Baroness Knight of Collingtree
My Lords, it may be relevant at this point that on two occasions, when we were taking evidence from witnesses on these matters, I raised the question of the euro and Britain's membership of it and was told that that was not relevant to the matters that we were discussing. The witnesses were unable to answer.
§ Lord Brittan of Spennithorne
My Lords, that is why it is so beneficial that this debate is not just about the report but also about the flexibility of labour markets more generally. I welcome the fact that if the committee was constrained, the House is liberated.
I was going to say that the third phase of the evolution of the euro is economic restructuring and in particular moves to labour market flexibility. That came about because the creation of the euro has removed the soft options that governments of all political complexions are tempted to follow when they get into difficulties. I refer to soft options such as devaluation, which governments cannot pursue because there is a currency for the whole of Europe, not for any one country. Another soft option is that of artificially low interest rates and exactly the same reason applies—there is one interest rate for the whole of Europe. The result is that countries are gradually but increasingly being forced to face up to fundamental structural problems such as the inflexibility of labour markets. Such problems are painful to deal with but it is essential to do so if European competitiveness is to increase.
The stability and growth pact plays a positive role in this regard. I add in parenthesis that I fully support the modifications of that pact that were proposed by the UK Government and the Commission to take account of the full economic cycle and to distinguish between capital and current expenditure. The main thrust of the pact is wholly positive. In this country, governments of both major parties learned very painfully that you cannot spend your way out of recession. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, was the first major British leader who said so and the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, reinforced that approach, in word and deed, in spades. Commissioner Pedro Solbes, who was the economics Minister in the Spanish socialist government, did so recently in the call for Germany to put its finances in order. He said:Sound public finances are a condition for durable growth and rising employment".By insisting on that—by removing the alibis that otherwise might be resorted to and the drugs of inflationary finance and devaluation—the single currency and the stability pact are proving to be the greatest possible spur to structural reform, including increased flexibility of labour markets. A vivid example of that is being played out in Germany today. Far from the euro being the cause of Germany's problems, it may be the single greatest spur to its solution.
151 As has been pointed out in recent articles in the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times by two prominent Liberal Democrat MEPs, Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne, real interest rates in Germany are at the lowest level since 1980 and are substantially below the level that obtained in several periods when there was more spare capacity in the German economy than there is now. It is probable therefore that if the Bundesbank was still in charge, interest rates in Germany would have been higher, not lower, than they are today. There is no justification for making the euro the scapegoat for Germany's problems. The real problem is that instead of using a period of strong growth to put public finances in order and to introduce labour market flexibility and other changes, Germany introduced cumulative tax cuts and public spending increases, which amounted in total to 1.9 per cent of GDP. That failure to deal with structural issues, such as the lack of labour market flexibility, is the real cause of Germany's problems.
It is significant that when telling Germany that it must curb its excessive budget deficit, as the Commission has just done, what else did it say? It told Germany to introduce,far reaching structural reforms to raise Germany's low growth potential".That, in the Commission's view, should include liberalisation of Germany's sclerotic labour market, reform of the overburdened social security and benefits system and a radical reduction in the layers of red tape imposed on German businesses by federal and regional governments. That is what the European Commission is demanding. I believe that this is a seminal moment in the evolution of the euro.
I hope that the pressure of the stability pact and what has been said by the Commission will have a major impact on the debate in Germany. I hope that what has been done will make it clearer to those who rightly deplore the rigidity of labour markets in continental Europe that it is the impact of the euro and the rules associated with it that are by far the most powerful force for genuine structural reform, where such reform is so sorely needed.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Baroness Greengross
My Lords, I start by saying that it is a great privilege to have served on the subcommittee that addressed these issues. I congratulate our excellent chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, on guiding us with such sensitivity and clarity in our work.
I want to highlight a few points that struck me as being of extreme importance; many of them have already been mentioned in this debate. The first point, which has been mentioned, is that of the lack of information held by government authorities across government departments about what is possible and feasible in terms of flexibility of labour markets across the European Union. I refer also to the lack of information for individuals who wish to broaden their experience and travel, as they have a right to do, across different countries of the Union in the course of their working life.
152 It is awfully difficult if one's qualifications are not recognised. We seem to do much better in that regard with academic qualifications than with manual or professional vocational qualifications. Some of those difficulties are quite simple. We mean different things if we compare an engineer in Germany with one in Britain: a host of different meanings and various levels of qualifications are involved. We need to get that right. The issue is more important than it sounds. We need to get equivalence at many levels in relation to qualifications. That is particularly important in the caring, health and social care fields, such as child care, nursing and teaching. However, I believe that it is also important across the board.
Another issue that was highlighted for me was the importance of true portability of benefits, including pensions, across the Union. Much more work needs to be done along these lines, and it is important that the Government facilitate that work so that it can move along. We also need to remember the self-employed. Although we concentrated a great deal on what employers can and need to do in order to help their employees to be flexible and move across the Union, far less help seemed to be generated towards the self-employed.
I was very aware that we kept comparing what goes on in this country and Europe generally in terms of mobility—I am talking here mostly of geographical mobility—with what goes on in the United States. I accept that there is a big difference when everyone shares the culture. And, although there are huge differences between people in the United States because of their origins, it is one country and it has a common language. Mobility presents an enormous barrier and it will continue to do so, however well we achieve in language skills and so on.
However, we also have to accept that the level of geographical mobility in Europe, and, in particular, in this country, is too low for greater efficiency. That mobility needs to be increased and to become easier. In order for that to happen, we need to improve our language skills and our knowledge generally of the cultures of other countries in the Union.
The irony of the Government's announcement about the importance of language skills in secondary schools and about when they should begin is not lost on many members of the committee. I hope that, in some ways, the Government will address that issue because those conflicting announcements seem to be made at the wrong time. One topical way to make it easier for people to travel and to increase their mobility would be to use the international baccalaureate a little more than is currently the case in this country. That would ease the difficulties experienced by people.
As mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, in particular, we considered the role of lifelong learning and its current importance when the demographic picture across the Union is one of an ageing situation. We can take that situation as being of great benefit to all of us or a threat. If we are to treat it positively, we must make it easy for people to return 153 to the labour market and not so easy for them to leave it. Wherever they work in the Union, their skills and experience must be recognised. We must make it easier for them to travel and to gain the opportunity to continue working. Indeed, we must also encourage people to be retrained for new occupations in later life.
We also have to take seriously the difficulties that dual-career families face when they want to move. We should address what employers can do to help employees who are part of dual-career families and consider the opportunities available. The difficulties faced are partly due to a lack of information but it is also partly a case of making the opportunities for such families more trans-national across the Union. Those opportunities include schooling but they go wider than that. We must also address the question of how people with careers can travel so that they at least have the opportunity to live with their partner, husband or wife.
As mentioned by other speakers, the need for occupational as well as geographical mobility has highlighted the appalling level of basic skills in this country. If there is one priority, it is to get that right in terms of labour efficiency and flexibility here as well as across the Union.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Baroness Whitaker
My Lords, I shall make some brief points on geographical mobility—brief partly because so many other points have already been so ably made and partly because my voice may not hold out.
All of us on the committee which produced this report appreciated the skill with which our chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, guided us through some very surprisingly uncharted territory. Surprisingly uncharted because when one considers the founding of the European Community from its earliest days, free movement of labour was one of the cardinal principles of the single market and one of the first to be implemented. Yet when we took evidence for our inquiry all these decades afterwards, we could find virtually nothing to tell us how mobility of labour within the European Union works for the people who move, and not much to confirm its economic advantages, though common sense indicates there are many.
So the need for more research, as the noble Baroness said, is one of our key conclusions. It is of particular importance because when someone moves countries to take new employment, more than a job is at stake. A family will often move too. The culture and values of one community will be substituted for another. A community network will be left behind. Children's schools, and in our case the public examination system will be new; as has been said, healthcare, social security and tax will be different; even the weather might take some getting used to.
Fortunately, the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights can make a sort of bedrock of common values; but above that there are many pressure points, positive and negative, which it would be very helpful to know more about. What are the 154 reasons people do not move to work, when it would help their own economy as well as the wider one to do so?
When I was in the Employment Department, as it then was, the UK was famous for not having much of an internal mobile labour market. People would not get on their bikes. They would face unemployment or less attractive employment in order to remain close to their community and their extended family. It was the despair of the planners. But were these people so wrong? Is not the reliability, flexibility and cheapness of childcare provided by the extended family an advantage? Is not the company of friends worth balancing against a bigger income? Some disadvantages of moving can be compensated for: childcare arrangements, facilities for dependent relatives, ease of transport to visit back home and so on. But if we do not know what the key factors are, we cannot give relevant information about them and we cannot plan to accommodate them.
Information about the new workplace was another surprising gap. As has been said, we did not find systematic provision of information, nor a harmonised system of mutual recognition of qualifications, particularly at ancillary and skilled levels as opposed to professional and academic levels. We welcome, as does the CBI, the European Commission's intention to close this gap, and hope your Lordships' House will have an opportunity to look at the proposals. May I ask my noble friend more precisely what the state of play is on this draft directive?
When we looked at the part schools play in mobility decisions we saw two striking opportunities. One was in our schools, to provide the sort of information which meant that life in another member state was not such an unknown quantity, particularly again, not for those intending to work in professional and academic spheres, who already have more access to such information, but for precisely the people who could take advantage of particular skill or labour shortages. As Professor Christoph Schmidt of Heidelberg University told us:the attitude towards Europe as a whole or the European Union is shaped very much early on in school age … would be scope for improving knowledge and acceptance in European countries for the idea of being a member of a larger common Europe".The other striking opportunity was the possibility of mutual recognition of public education examinations. The barrier to mobility most consistently cited was anxiety about the education of the children of the potential mobile worker. Children were at particular stages which should not be disturbed, they would have to face teaching in an unfamiliar language, they would not manage in a different public examination system, they would lose out when they returned home—all real and significant problems.
When we took evidence for this report, the Government had not completed their "Languages for All" strategy and so our recommendations have been overtaken by events—or perhaps, they even influenced events. However it came about, the Government's undertaking to give more stimulus to early learning of a foreign language, including our neighbour European 155 ones, is in keeping with the European High Level Skills and Mobility Task Force's recommendation that foreign language teaching should begin at eight and our recommendation, supported, as my noble friend Lady Gibson said, by the TUC evidence, that it should continue to 16. I echo the call to my noble friend the Minister to update us on progress in achievement of the strategy.
But finally, my Lords, there is a ready-made tool for making the lives of schoolchildren who move within Europe easier and more educationally rewarding—the adoption of the international baccalaureate, which is available in very few UK schools at the moment, but is consonant with all the continental public examination systems and acceptable as an entry to many universities in this country. My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel asked, in his very timely debate a year ago why this could not be done—in his words,an 'international baccalaureate' … would enable school leavers to go to university or into the job market with an educational qualification—including that of foreign languages which would allow them to choose where in the European Union they want to work and live".—[Official Report, 16/1/02; col. 1117.]He did not, I am sorry to say, receive an answer from the Government. Perhaps we could have one now. I commend this report to your Lordships.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Lord Higgins
My Lords, this is an interesting report, although in some ways the debate is more interesting, despite the lack of an official contribution from the Liberal Benches. My noble friend Lord Brittan of Spennithorne said that the committee was confined but that the House is liberated. I confess that I do not understand why the committee felt confined. This is an issue that needs to be put in the widest possible context, as some of the contributors have sought to do.
There is certainly no lack of documentation on this issue. In February 2001 the Commission adopted a new strategy for a new European labour market by 2005. In March 2001 there was the communication on which the noble Baroness's committee has commented. In June 2001 there was the establishment of a high-level task force and so on, and in February last year there was the publication of this report. I join those expressing some regret and surprise that the report has not been debated earlier. Inevitably, if one delays for a year, there is a possibility that matters may be overtaken by events.
That appears to be so because in July 2002, after the publication of the committee's report, the Government, through the Treasury, the DTI and the Department for Work and Pensions, published a good document entitled Towards Full Employment in the European Union. So far as I can see, that does not refer at all to the report of the committee, which is rather extraordinary. One would have expected that it would.
As has been pointed out, the report deals, on the one hand, with skills mobility and, on the other, with geographic mobility. In a sense the mobility in relation to skills is vertical and in relation to the location of jobs it is horizontal. As my noble friend Lord Brittan 156 pointed out, there is a clear link between the two and the extent to which there is geographical mobility may well depend on the extent to which a particular country's workforce has a degree of vertical or skill mobility.
There is much in the report with which one can agree, although to some extent parts of it express a view that is fairly apparent. Noble Lords have stressed the matter of education, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, particularly with regard to language. The committee rightly said that it found the situation in that regard appalling.
We are not simply talking about language in terms of tourists. The kind of training concerned here relates to the language skill that would enable someone from one country to work in another. A vastly greater level of language ability is required for that than if one simply wants to spend a weekend in Calais. I speak from experience, having spent much of my time in Holland. In regard to language I do not believe that many Dutchmen would have great trouble acquiring a job in this country, but I believe that a number of people in this country would have considerable trouble acquiring a job in Holland. I give way to my noble friend.
§ Baroness Knight of Collingtree
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. Does he also recognise that many people come to this country for a brief time as seasonal workers to pick a crop or to work in the catering or hotel industry? I support what he is saying—it is not quite the be all and end all that it may appear.
§ Lord Higgins
My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend is right. It is a matter of the level of skill. Working in the catering industry one can probably survive with relatively little English; it is another matter if one wants to work as a doctor in this country. Those two matters clearly interact, as a number of speakers have pointed out.
I believe we can all agree about the argument on qualifications, as mentioned in the report. It is unfortunate that someone who is equally as good at carrying out a particular job as someone else finds him or herself immobilised—that is the strict way of putting it—from acquiring such a job in another country because his or her qualifications are not accepted. Surely, that is an area in which the European Union can take a positive line, as the committee suggests. As the committee points out, it is true that the language side—I am a victim of the English educational system in that respect—is a real problem.
I turn to a point on which a great deal of time was spent in the committee, although it has not been referred to at all in the debate. It concerns whether one should have a benchmark for mobility and whether the United States could provide such a benchmark. I believe it was suggested that the level of mobility in the United States may provide a benchmark for the European Union. By and large the committee is sceptical about that—I understand its view—not least because any such comparison is pretty invalid given 157 the problem to which we have been referring, namely language. Given the level of immigration over the southern borders of the United States, on the whole it does not have a language problem in relation to mobility.
The committee makes an interesting point that the United States' market is somewhat different because in many places there is a kind of specialised local skill, say in silicon valley in California or wherever, that is not reflected to the same extent in the European Union. The committee was right to be sceptical about that matter. What I find more puzzling is the committee's very clear statement regarding lack of information about barriers to mobility. It categorically states that there is a need for greater study of that.
We are talking largely of geographical mobility. I have some experience in the study of that. A long while ago I was an economic adviser to Unilever. I had to look into the question of whether and where we should site a factory in Italy. I reached the conclusion—I was very young at the time—that it would be best situated in the southern part of Italy because that was an area of low labour costs. I returned to Milan and told them that that was the situation but that there would need to be a three-shift system of work. That was greeted with howls of laughter. It was pointed out that no lady in the southern part of Italy would be very happy if her husband was on the night shift. But, we have a lot of data—more than the committee says—about barriers to mobility.
The other point that I am not clear about is that the committee does not appear to have gone to any great lengths in academic circles to see what the literature says about barriers to mobility, although there is a large amount of academic study on these matters.
§ Baroness Whitaker
My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that our specialist adviser was recruited to do that very job? He looked everywhere. We certainly could have found out about professional and academic mobility to a degree, but not about lesser skilled mobility. So if the noble Lord has any sources it would greatly enlighten the House if he could produce them.
§ Lord Higgins
My Lords, I am out of date. But even 20 years ago there was a degree of information on this issue. The committee draws attention to some of the barriers, which we have been debating today. It will not do any harm to get more information on those barriers. One or two particular barriers have been mentioned this afternoon; for example, problems as to housing, childcare or the existing structure of pensions. There is a range of fairly obvious barriers which inhibit geographical mobility, and certainly more work in that regard is needed. But it might have been worthwhile to have taken rather more specific evidence on this issue, given the powers which the committee has to send for persons and papers.
I wish to make one or two other points. I said at the beginning of my contribution that it was important for the study to be placed in the widest possible context. A huge change will be taking place in the European 158 Union with regard to immigration and to the extension of the Community to new countries. The same problems of language and disqualifications and so on will arise with regard to immigration, both legal and illegal and the extent to which those barriers affecting mobility within the previous size of the European Union will change. One has a slight feeling that to some extent immigrants to the European Union will be more mobile when moving from one country to another—and certainly that is suggested by the situation at the Channel ports and so on—than previously was the case, but the committee does not touch on that area.
There is also no discussion with regard to particular markets; for example, agriculture, where it is clear that the effect of the common agricultural policy, in terms of product markets, has a considerable impact.
Finally, there is the very important point made by my noble friend Lord Brittan as to the single currency issue. That matter is not touched on in the report. But the reality is that if one adopts a single currency over any given area—which area will vary a great deal with the accession of the new countries—it is apparent that mobility not only of labour but of factors of production generally are extremely important in the adoption of that currency. If there is the adoption of "one size fits all" interest rates, which are in existence in a large part of the European Union, although not of course in the United Kingdom, and if the factors of production are as immobile as this report clearly illustrates, there is a considerable transitional problem which may last a considerable time.
My noble friend Lord Brittan took an optimistic view that if one introduced a single currency, that is fine, everyone will adjust, Thatcherite-type deregulations will take place, and there will be nothing to worry about. The reality I believe is that, given the level of immobility suggested in the report, there will be a considerable period when those in the euro currency area will find that the stresses and strains are considerable. If, as a result of that, there is unemployment in one part of the European Union, it would obviously be greatly alleviated if the individuals concerned moved to another part. But, if they are, for whatever reason, immobilised, that unemployment is likely to remain for a considerable time before the immense but very strategic pressures, to which my noble friend has drawn attention, have the desirable longer-term effect.
None the less, this is an interesting report and we have had a fascinating debate. We look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, in particular in relation to his own government report which appears to deal with these issues but to be unaware of the committee's report. At least now the Government are aware of the report, and the debate has been very useful in that respect.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, I can certainly assure the House that the Government are well aware of the report. I shall seek to establish their awareness as I develop my speech in reply to the debate.
159 I am in a little difficulty—not a completely unpredictable difficulty—because I did say to my officials after the debate had been tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, that it might operate on more than one level. There was the possibility of it being substantially about the report and the issues contained in it and the advantages which we could derive from that substantial body of work, to which I pay tribute, but it might also be an occasion where a number of our well known colleagues rode their hobby-horses into the European debate as yet another opportunity to brief the Government on the great decision that lies ahead of us with regard to the euro and allied matters.
I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, rode a hobby-horse but a great white charger for his presentation and advocacy of the euro and its significance in the context of this debate. Of course he is absolutely right. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, is right to follow the position that the nature of the macro-economy is absolutely crucial to the question of the labour market and other price factors in the development of our economies and the general European position.
So I am in no way critical of the introduction of that dimension to the debate. I merely stress that inevitably, given the nature of that introduction based on the report from the Committee, most of my remarks are directed at that point. The noble Lord will forgive me if I resile from this wonderful opportunity to engage from the Government's perspective on the exciting opportunities that lie ahead in resolving this debate, which certainly exercises members of his party with great frequency, both in this House and in another place. It is also a matter for government as to the decisions to be taken about the economic tests and the eventual referendum, if one takes place, on the euro. Suffice it to say that we are grateful to the noble Lord for having introduced that broader context to our debate. However, I shall primarily seek to respond to the other issues raised, predominantly by members of the committee.
I ask the noble Lords, Lord Higgins and Lord Brittan, this question. Is it not refreshing and a sign of changing times that we should have a debate about labour mobility, manpower, job opportunities and employment in which most of the participants in the debate are Baronesses rather than Lords? Both the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris and Lady Gibson, emphasised that in today's labour market, women play such an increasingly significant part that one cannot approach the matter without recognising the need to attune to those changes. The increased employment of women is reflected right across Europe, although our country represents a significant example.
Let me emphasise—I suppose that I am reflecting the element of gentle criticism made by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins—that a year has now gone by since the report, and things have consequently moved on. The Government are eager for work to develop in the context of the single market and the Lisbon agenda. The principle that the European Union should comprise an area without internal frontiers is long 160 established. As the noble Lord, Lord Brit tan, emphasised, we need the context in which that will be effectively advanced.
It is vital that we work to remove the clear obstacles to freedom of movement for workers and services between member states. The Government believe that if we are to achieve the Lisbon goals, we must concentrate both on removing the barriers to mobility—which have been so accurately identified in the report and today's debate—and on increasing the level and transferability of skills. Several contributions to the debate emphasised the necessity of improving skills, to which I shall turn in a moment.
The Government have placed the achievement of the Lisbon strategy at the heart of our European labour market policy. At the Spring Council in 2000, heads of government signed up to an ambitious objective for the EU, which is:to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the World by 2010, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion".That is a significant objective to which to sign up— not least, as has been mentioned, because other markets of some significance, not least the United States, have some of the attendant advantages of a common language—or, perhaps increasingly, two languages—and a single state structure.
The European Union is aiming for an overall employment target of 70 per cent by 2010. That is a good measure of people's ability to engage in work and have valid skills for the job market. Let us not be too bashful about our achievements. The UK, alongside Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, already operates at that 70 per cent level of employment. We have met the target; more work needs to be done in other member states that fall considerably below it.
If Europe is serious about becoming the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world we must equip our people with the skills and knowledge that the digital age demands. That is why UK Ministers argued vigorously for education ministers as well as employment ministers in the European Union to take seriously the role that education has to play in meeting the Lisbon goals. That is also why the Government are, as will be recognised throughout the House, making such major investments in education, training, skills and lifelong learning, all of which are geared to achievement, attainment and the effective equipping of our people with the requisite skills.
We are engaged in many of the areas raised in the report introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. We are working in partnership at the national level with the devolved administrations and at the EU level with our counterparts. Working groups have been established at EU level to take forward work in the areas of education and training. We have been urging the Commission and our European counterparts to adopt an approach that is practical, timely, flexible, non-bureaucratic and responsive to the needs of our citizens. We have taken the initiative by pioneering an innovative approach in the field of basic skills for adults.
161 The deficiencies in our society were rightly identified and should be recognised when there is such a high percentage of people who lack basic skills. In a sophisticated labour market, that significantly devalues their opportunities to engage in work and to contribute fully as citizens to their society. However, it was suggested that Britain was poorly placed in those terms—perhaps even uniquely so. That is not the case. Other European countries are as anxious as us—indeed, have every right to be more anxious than us—about that problem. Illiteracy and innumeracy are European-wide features. Other countries are desperately worried about that and, at times, have been only too keen to embrace the kind of strategies that we have been employing in the UK and apply them within their borders.
A few years ago, I recall attending a European meeting at which it was recognised that we in Britain had identified and taken the first significant steps to deal with what is a problem that goes back for generations—certainly decades. It was recognised that Britain was in the lead, first, in having analysed the issue and, secondly, in pursuing strategies to cope with it. I do not decry the significance of the role that we must play in improving basic skill levels; I am merely saying that we ought not to hide our light under a bushel. We should not suggest that the problem is unique to Britain—it is certainly not; it is one that we all need to tackle.
We should also recognise that a considerable amount of work has been done to improve movement of skilled people between countries. It is true that that tends to be at the higher levels of qualification, for all the reasons accurately identified in the debate, but we are also all too well aware that our health service—at high levels but also at some more basic levels—is dependent on significant contributions from those here from overseas. We should not underestimate the European contribution to that.
Following a pilot study, the Anglo-Spanish programme has recruited more than 520 Spanish nurses and more than 30 doctors to work in England, with more to come. A pilot campaign to recruit pharmacists has been initiated. Last year, nearly 10,000 nurses from outside the UK were accepted onto the Nursing and Midwifery Council register. Those health professionals have an opportunity to gain experience working in a different healthcare system and they, in turn, can share their experience and expertise with new colleagues.
As the House debated at considerable length on many occasions during the desperate days of the acute period of the foot and mouth disease crisis, we were able to bring in trained veterinary inspectors and veterinarians from Europe to assist our over-pressed colleagues working in that area.
The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, rightly alluded to the enlargement of the Community, which will bring a fresh dimension to the issue. We have co-operation agreements in place with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Estonia that are the 162 basis for active exchanges of best practice in education, including higher education and lifelong learning. We also have good relations with the accession countries in the field of education, youth and training programmes. We are mindful of that important dimension, to which the report alluded.
The importance of lifelong learning was emphasised by nearly all noble Lords who participated in the debate. I emphasise that the Government are committed not just to extending the concept of lifelong learning at a European level but to extending opportunities in our own country as effectively and rapidly as we can. Tribute has been paid to the initiatives taken. The Learning and Skills Council is a dramatically significant body in the process of enhancing the skills level of our people. It is still in its early days, and it has much to prove, but, together with the sector skills councils, learndirect and the Union Learning Fund, it is part of our strategy to create opportunities for learning for mature people, people at work and those looking for work throughout the nation.
Today, as we all recognise, no one trains for a career for life. There is inevitable mobility between jobs for all our people. So, it is essential that the structure for lifelong learning and training is reinforced. I have also mentioned the extent to which the Learning and Skills Council will reinforce our strategy on basic skills, to ensure that we continue to address ourselves to that issue. That is another matter that was raised in the report and in our discussion this evening.
The committee rightly flagged up the importance of making information on mobility and skills available to our citizens. The UK has played an instrumental role in pushing for the development of a one-stop European information mobility site. Progress has not been as rapid as we might have wished, but the building blocks are in place, and most member states have now integrated the European Employment Services database into their employment service sites. The website receives 25,000 visitors a week. Vacancy information will be available to all job seekers throughout the European economic area—the 15 member states plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
The prototype for the Portal on Learning Opportunities Throughout the European Space was launched by the European Commission in November and is being tested. The "Dialogue with Citizens" portal provides practical information on other member states, such as access to work, study, goods, services and travel. We are trying to meet the point that was made about our people being less than well equipped with the information that they need to obtain jobs in the European Community and recognise the opportunities there.
Language is the one great barrier that all noble Lords mentioned. That is the most obvious factor that differentiates our single market from that in the United States. Several speakers suggested that the Government were going the wrong way. I think that my noble friend Lady Whitaker suggested that we were 163 pointing in the wrong direction. We do not think that that is so. We seek to extend language teaching to the crucial early years at the junior school stage—ages seven to 11—so that all our students will get exposure to languages, at the time when they are most enthusiastic about learning and most open to it. That has occurred in other countries but not this one. It is a major and significant step forward in encouraging enthusiasm for languages.
It is true that we suggest that language teaching after the age of 14 should be concentrated on students who choose to follow language courses at that time and have developed the necessary enthusiasm and commitment.
§ Baroness Whitaker
My Lords, for the record, I said—I meant to say—that the Government were moving very much in the right direction with language teaching at an early age. I should not like Hansard to show the opposite.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention, and I am sorry if I misinterpreted my noble friend's original remarks. My noble friend will recognise that anxiety was expressed in the report about the position on languages in this country. I emphasise that the Government regard language teaching as an important part of the education of our young people. That is the strategy that we propose to adopt.
The recognition of qualifications is of surpassing importance. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, said, it is more apparent and more readily achievable with higher-level qualifications at graduate level. At that level, institutions are more successful and work hard for mutual recognition of achievement. The noble Baroness was right to emphasise that it is, at least, as important in the broader vocational areas. That is where a great deal of work must be done. Under the Danish presidency, education ministers from 31 European countries adopted the Copenhagen Declaration on enhanced European co-operation in vocational education and training. We are committed to developing that and to developing credit transfer for vocational education and training. That is some way off, but it is the right way to go and will allow people who have achieved qualifications at a certain level to take them to institutions in other parts of Europe to develop their skills and get recognition for that.
I recognise that, even in this lengthy contribution, I have still not done full justice to the report and all the issues that it raises. That is probably because the subject is a major one and is probably the most fundamental issue relating to the economies of our country and of all European countries. The wealth of our countries depends on the skills of our people. That means that we must have strategies for guaranteeing that we develop those skills to the highest level and increase the opportunities for such development to all who seek to enhance their opportunities. Without those skill levels, people cannot be mobile in Europe. It is important that we get standardisation and understanding of different qualifications in different 164 areas and respect for those. However, if the skill levels are not attained, employers here will not take seriously applications from people who come from elsewhere in Europe to our country or vice versa, as the report points out.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, for introducing the debate. I appreciate the contributions that have been made. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, for the fact that, after he elevated the debate to a particular level, we were not all able to operate at that macro-economic level on the role of the euro. However, our debate has put the general issues into the context of a developing European economy.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Harris of Richmond
My Lords, it has been an interesting and enjoyable debate. I thank the noble Lords who made such kind remarks about my chairmanship of the sub-committee. I can assure your Lordships that it was always an enormous pleasure and privilege to work with my colleagues on the subcommittee. I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate.
I shall raise some of the issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, said that there was still a great deal of work to be done and spoke about the value of experience gained during life, especially the skills gained by women, who have to juggle so many roles in their life. That was particularly appropriate.
All noble Lords referred to the language gap. It was interesting to hear from the noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross and Lady Whitaker, and from the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, about the international baccalaureate and the problems of dual-career families.
The mutual recognition of qualifications was mentioned particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. I refer also to workers' rights and the understanding of workers' contracts when people move between countries. The security card system which the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, mentioned is an interesting idea, and perhaps the Minister will reflect on it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, mentioned the portability of benefits. She reminded us of the lack of help for the self-employed. That area could certainly be considered. The noble Lord, Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, said that it is not just a matter of the mobility of labour. He mentioned the thorny issue of the introduction of the euro which, as I said, we did not touch on during the course of our inquiry. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for raising the matter in the debate. I had hoped that the debate would be broader than its title and, indeed, that has been the case.
The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, asked for more research, especially in schools, and spoke of the scope in our schools as regards knowledge of other EU countries and the need to understand the skills that are required to obtain work abroad. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, for mentioning the time that 165 elapsed before the report was debated. Indeed, we were concerned about that time lapse. I am glad that he shared our view that we should not compare the US with the EU. We did not consider that a useful comparison. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, that with the best will in the world an inquiry can cover only so much. Our difficulty was to ensure that we focused on the Commission's proposals. That was our brief and we tried to keep to it. It was extremely difficult to do so as there were so many directions that we could have taken.
I thank the Minister for his contribution. I was disappointed that he did not take up the challenge to discuss the euro, if only on the margins of the debate. On behalf of the committee I accept his apology for the time lapse before the report was debated. I was disappointed by the rather rosy glow that he put on the areas that the Government are tackling, especially as regards education and training. The Minister reminded us that illiteracy and innumeracy constitute an EU-wide problem. Indeed, they do, but as the report reminded us, we have a serious problem in that regard. I do not think that we should keep repeating that the EU also has the problem. We have a serious problem as regards illiteracy and innumeracy that we must address. I congratulate and encourage the Minister with regard to some of the measures that the Government are taking to try to overcome some of these great difficulties.
However, the situation with regard to language teaching is not good enough. I wonder how the Minister reacts to the suggestion that half of secondary schools are preparing to drop language teaching when pupils reach the age of 14. That cannot be the right way forward. Does he not consider that full-time language teachers are required rather than assistants with no teaching skills? I am sure that we shall return to that matter in the future.
I am most grateful to all noble Lords who took part in the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.