§ Mr. Forman
asked the Paymaster General if he will make a statement on the European Community Labour and Social Affairs Council held in Luxembourg on 5 June.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
I represented the United Kingdom at this Council. The Council agreed the directive on equal treatment in occupational social security schemes, the recommendation on the employment of the disabled and the resolution on the promotion of equal opportunities for women. A new joint United Kingdom, Irish and Italian paper on the labour market was tabled for discussion and welcomed by the Council.
The agreement on the directive for equal treatment between men and women in employers' pensions or sick pay schemes is a major step forward in giving women valuable financial security on terms which are fair in comparison with those available to men. It will prohibit discrimination between men and women in the conditions of membership of schemes, in the level of contributions and subject to certain exceptions in the level and type of benefit. The United Kingdom Government wish to encourage and support the provision of good occupational schemes to workers and welcomes the directive for the important part it will play in ensuring that these schemes throughout the Community look after women workers as successfully as their male colleagues.
The United Kingdom Government welcome the recommendation on the employment of the disabled which encourages member states to adopt measures promoting fair employment and training opportunities for disabled people. The Government also welcome the fact that agreement on the terms of the resolution has been reached so rapidly. United Kingdom policy and practice is already consistent with the terms of the resolution.
I was also pleased to support the resolution on the second action programme to promote equal opportunities for women. I particularly welcome the attention which it gives to education and training policies which can expand women's occupational choice and encourage their entry into new technology jobs and entrepreneurship. The United Kingdom is already implementing a number of the measures suggested in the programme and will continue to promote equality of opportunity.
The joint United Kingdom, Irish and Italian paper on "Employment growth into the 1990s—a strategy for the labour market"—was tabled as forecast in my earlier reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) of 3 June, at columns 423–24. The paper, which proposes measures in four main areas— promoting enterprise and self-employment; flexible patterns and conditions of work; training; and steps to help long-term unemployed people—was welcomed by the Council, which agreed to continue its work on the 158W paper during the United Kingdom presidency, particularly at the informal meeting of EC Employment Ministers in September. It remains our aim to secure the adoption of an employment strategy along the lines of the paper later this year.
The Council also discussed a presidency note on the long-term unemployed. On behalf of the United Kingdom Government I was able to support its conclusions aimed towards giving more priority to the problems of long-term unemployed people. We will be looking to take the proposals in the paper forward in the United Kingdom presidency within the context of an overall labour market strategy.
In a discussion on the so-called Vredling directive, the Council reached conclusions recalling their earlier view that before further progress on the directive could be made a solution had to be found to the fundamental problems posed by the fact that in some member states the issue was essentially one for voluntary agreements between employers and employees. The Council concluded that it would not hold further discussions on the draft directive before the beginning of 1989, but that in the meantime the Commission should be invited to follow closely developments in the member states.
The Council was unable to reach agreement on the draft directive on equal treatment for self-employed women and on proscribing certain carcinogens. In the latter case the United Kingdom Government would have been prepared to support a text proposed by the presidency, but other countries had fundamental objections to it. In the former case the United Kingdom shared the reservations attached by the Republic of Ireland relating to the establishment of an unsuitable legal framework for the employment status of those who assist their spouses in the running of their businesses.
Finally, the Commission stated its view to the Council that in view of the lack of progress on the draft directive on parental leave, the Council would instead put forward proposals for a series of actions in the area of sharing family and occupational responsibilities.