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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 981: debated on Tuesday 18 March 1980

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Employment

Advisory, Conciliation And Arbitration Service (Small Firms)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what percentage of time is spent by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service on small firms' trade union recognition cases.

I understand from the service that a precise percentage of the time it spends on small firms' trade union recognition cases is not readily available; but that it is very small.

Has my hon. and learned Friend any plans to change the membership of the ACAS council in order to represent more fairly some of the problems with which it deals? I am particularly interested in small businesses. Is he aware that much of the time of ACAS is taken up by the affairs of small businesses yet they do not have a direct representative on the ACAS council?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's great interest in the problems of small businesses, most recently evidenced in his excellent speech in the House on 10 March. My right hon. Friend does not propose to change the basis of appointment to the ACAS council but notes that the CBI comprises within it a small firms council. It is important that the problems of small firms should be borne well in mind by ACAS.

Will my hon. and learned Friend say whether the Government intend to introduce a code of practice on recognition issues? If that is their intention, will my hon. and learned Friend tell the House who will be responsible for introducing the code?

There is no proposal to introduce such a code of practice. But the Government are considering whether ACAS can give general guidance to firms on the whole question of recognition matters and disputes.

Working Population (Trade Union Membership)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of Great Britain's working population were members of trade unions at the latest date for which information is available.

The proportion at the end of 1978, the latest date for which information is available, was 49 per cent. The working population consists of employees in employment, employers and self-employed persons, Her Majesty's Forces and registered unemployed.

Does not that proportion show the great responsibility that rests particularly upon those in positions of leadership in trade unions, especially at local level, to secure cooperation in the work process? Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to encourage that development in the interests of the economy as a whole?

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is "Yes, Sir." On the second part, I would say that, despite the fact that there are a lot of difficulties ahead and, probably, some strong disagreements, I think that the need for understanding and co-operation is absolutely essential, particularly at local level. Our nation works best when it is sharing its problems and working together.

Is it not misleading to include the Armed Forces in the total of the working population for the purpose of answering this question, since they are not really encouraged to become members of trade unions? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if they were, there might perhaps have been a more spirited attack on the Government's "bully boy" tactics towards members of the Armed Forces who are not to be allowed to attend the Olympics?

The question related to the proportion of Great Britain's working population. The Armed Forces are a very valuable part of the working population.

Is it not interesting that trade union membership is increasing despite the growth of unemployment? Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the trade union movement has an important role to play in industrial relations? Will he encourage those who are not in a trade union to join their appropriate trade union?

I recognise, of course, that trade unions have an important part to play in industrial relations. They have a vital part to play. I have always given encouragement to people to join trade unions. What is even more important is that they should not simply join trade unions but should play an active part in what goes on within them.

School Leavers (Employment Prospects)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the employment prospects for school leavers leaving school in the summer of 1980.

I recognise the serious employment problems confronting summer 1980 school leavers. That is why the Government have agreed to proposals from the Manpower Services Commission to expand the youth opportunities programme by 25 per cent. in 1980–81, and have renewed the undertakings to school leavers and the long-term young unemployed.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his acceptance of the Manpower Services Commission's proposals is very welcome? Is he satisfied that those participating in the youth opportunities programme will learn worthwhile and relevant skills? Has he any evidence to show that the private sector of industry is now more attractive to school leavers than the public service sector?

Certainly the work experience programme, where the youth opportunities programme has been working within industry, has improved in recent years. It has helped to keep down the cost of the schemes. The schemes still vary in their quality, and we need to achieve as large an element of training in the schemes as is humanly possible.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Manpower Services Commission will have to vary the youth opportunities programme if it is to deal with the problem of youngsters leaving the programme in the spring of 1981 without any chance of finding work? Will he take action to ensure that apprentice recruitment is maintained this summer?

I am aware of the difficulties referred to by the hon. Gentleman. I am also aware of the need to maintain the number of apprentices, and we are doing all we can about that.

Does not the Secretary of State consider that the time has come for some new initiative to encourage employers to create jobs for school leavers? Has he considered the possibility of an all-party appeal to the CBI and the small firms, and of using the media, especially television, to try to create some new thinking and new initiative? Perhaps employers could be persuaded to take on one more school leaver than they would have otherwise done. May I suggest that sort of campaign?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's suggestions. There are difficulties in making a specific appeal to small businesses at present. Having said that, we need to be more imaginative in the schemes that we are contemplating for youngsters. I hope that, before long, I shall be able to put more imaginative schemes before the House.

Have not the replies of the Secretary of State on this issue been quite bland and complacent? Has he not seen the forecast by the Manpower Services Commission that unemployment among young people is likely to double by early 1981? Surely he has seen the various economic forecasts, including the latest forecast by the Cambridge Policy Group, which shows the extent of probable unemployment. That will affect the job prospects for young people. Does not the youth opportunities programme require much greater expansion than is being planned? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what action the Government are taking to deal with the growing problem of the long-term unemployed, apart from cutting back fiercely on STEP?

Forecasts should be taken with a degree of scepticism, which is what happpened under the previous Administration. The youth opportunities programme will be expanded from 210,000 entrants this year to 250,000 or 260,000 in 1980–81. That will enable us to give the same commitment to school leavers as has been given in former years.

I am worried about both the growth in youth unemployment and the growth in the number of long-term unemployed. These are factors which, regrettably, have been with us for more than the 10 months that we have been in office.

Stockport (Redundancies)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what redundancies in the metropolitan borough of Stockport have been notified to him in the last month.

The number of proposed redundancies notified to my Department in the last month under the redundancy handling provisions of the Employment Protection Act 1975 for the metropolitan borough of Stockport involved 478 employees employed at five firms.

During the same period 19 redundancies at one firm were withdrawn.

Is the Minister aware that a recent survey by the Greater Manchester council showed that Stockport was losing more jobs than most boroughs in the Greater Manchester area? Is he aware, further, that a survey of small and medium-size firms shows that the managers of those firms were depressed about employment prospects? Stockport has a large number of medium and small high technology firms which listened to Conservative blandishments, yet they now face 20 per cent. inflation, 17 per cent. MLR, a doubling of VAT and constant interference from the Secretary of State—

Far from being complacent about the position in Stockport, we have visited the area to study the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman. I am pleased to see that the Manchester development corporation, in its traditional way, is setting up a good scheme in which it is buying 77 acres of land in Stockport to encourage the very businesses to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Will my hon. Friend say what proportion of notified possible redundancies actually turn out to be redundancies, and how many do not come to anything?

It is difficult to give the overall proportion. The figure for Stockport will require some research.

Does the Minister appreciate that many people in Stockport cannot understand why the firm that has announced most of the redundancies is doing so in order to produce investment in Northern Ireland? Does he not realise that we do not want a Government who simply move unemployment around the country, but rather a Government who create jobs?

This Government, through the changes in their regional policy, are trying very hard to ensure that jobs are created in the areas where unemployment is greatest. We cannot answer for the management decisions in specific companies.

Departmental Efficiency And Productivity

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will cause an investigation to be made into the efficiency and productivity of his Department; and if he will make a statement.

Investigations into the efficiency and productivity of my Department are undertaken regularly. I understand that similar programmes are undertaken in the Manpower Services Commission, the Health and Safety Executive and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. I welcome all steps which can improve our record, and I should be grateful for any suggestions that the hon. Member might wish to make, and to know about areas in which his experience has revealed the need for action.

I assure the Secretary of State that I meant no disrespect to him and his office when I mistakenly wrote to the Secretary of State for Industry on 1 August 1979 about Statutory Instrument 1979, No. 1024, on behalf of a constituent's small firm. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that Minister, when replying to my application for a certificate of exemption, did not answer the very point that I made in my letter? I thank the right hon. Gentleman, who, on 19 February, sent me not only a full reply but the necessary road transport industry training board levy exemption and training scheme document, which sets out the criteria for exemption.

Order. I remind the House that these questions finish at 3.15 pm when we turn to Prime Minister's questions? Unless hon. Members are brief, I shall not be able to call many to ask supplementary questions.

I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) phrased his question. I apologise to him for what was an inadvertent mistake. The industrial training board procedure is being considered, and I hope that the matter will not arise again.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House by how many civil servants he expects to reduce his Department over the next three years, and what percentage that represents?

I cannot give the figure offhand, as much will depend on the level of employment. If my hon. Friend will help me to reduce the level of unemployment, we shall reduce the numbers even more quickly.

Will the Secretary of State accept that a reduction in manpower is not necessarily the same thing as an improvement in productivity and efficiency? Will he look particularly at the reductions of between 30 and 40 per cent. being made by the Manpower Services Commission in terms of the numbers of disablement rehabilitation officers and the severe effect that this will have on disabled people?

I am concerned about getting efficiency with the minimum number of people employed in the Department. I am certain that my Department can well afford to make contributions to reductions in manpower.

Textile And Footwear Industries

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what retraining opportunities there are for those made redundant in the textile and footwear industries.

I am informed by the Manpower Services Commission that workers made redundant in the textile and footwear industries are eligible to apply for the full range of courses available under the training opportunities scheme. I should like to point out however, that potential redundant jobs in both the textile and footwear industries may be supported under the temporary short time working compensation scheme and that help or assistance under this scheme has been of particular benefit to the textile industry.

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that his departmental officials who are responsible for checking the applications under the temporary short-time working compensation scheme in the footwear industry are disallowing holiday pay benefits which are paid to those workers on short-time working in the textile industry? Is this not a grave anomaly which should be rectified?

I do not think it is so much a matter of principle. In the textile industry holiday pay is credited to employees on a weekly basis, and it stands to their credit. That does not apply to other industries. I agree, however, that it is an anomaly and I shall look at it carefully.

While the temporary short-time working compensation scheme is of some value to the textile and footwear industries, it is of no value when the firm faces not a lack of orders but an inability to sell at the right price because of high exchange and interest rates. Given the fact that we are now entering a more serious recession than that which existed even in 1976–77, will the Government agree to look carefully at the possibility of instituting a successor to the temporary employment subsidy which would be of great value both to the textile and footwear industries?

The policy of high interest rates, which is being pursued by the Government, is being pursued by the Western world as a whole, and at present our interest rates are particularly favourable compared with those of America and Germany.

The temporary employment subsidy fell foul of the Treaty of Rome and was regarded as an unsuitable system for subsidising industry. For that reason we have the temporary short-time working compensation scheme, which is working.

While paying full tribute to the Government for continuing the temporary short-time working compensation scheme, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees with me that preventing the redundancies—which lies within the Government's power—is a far better way of dealing with this problem? Will he not agree that the textile and footwear industries are suffering unfair competition? Will the Government now consider using selective import controls to give fair competition for these two strategically important industries?

I know that my hon. Friend is vigorous in the defence of the textile industry and his own constituency interests. The imposition of selective import controls is not a matter for my Department. I am assured by the Department of Trade that all measures are being taken to protect the textile industry from unfair competition. In fact since May 1979 all the measures that have been available have been used extensively—far more than ever before—to protect the industry from unfair competition and low cost imports.

Has the Minister had any discussions with his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Education and Science about the possibility of capital resources available in technical colleges in the textile areas being used for retraining textile workers who are made redundant?

I am delighted to inform the hon. Member that we have regular consultations with the Department of Education and Science on the best way of using further education policies and educational training within schools as well in the way that the hon. Member has suggested.

I am delighted to hear the praise and support that the Minister is now giving to the benefits of the short-time working compensation scheme. It strikes me as odd that the Government, on taking office, dropped proposals for a statutory permanent scheme. Will he now review the short-time working scheme and resuscitate and bring back to the House the propsals for a more permanent scheme?

The right thing for any Government to do is to look at these schemes annually and judge them against the unemployment situation and take whatever measure is necessary.

Job Vacancies (Recording)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the existing arrangements for recording job vacancies and whether he has any proposals to ensure that the registered numbers of vacancies more accurately reflects the actual numbers of vacancies.

I appreciate that the existing arrangements for recording job vacancies do not provide a measure of total vacancies. As a general guide, there are about three times as many vacancies in the economy as those notified to the Government employment services. However, changes in the numbers of registered vacancies provide a useful indication of trends.

If, as my right hon. Friend stated, only one-third of the vacancies in any area are recorded at the local jobcentre, does he not think there should be a more rigorous campaign directed towards employers or potential employers in order to draw to their attention the facilities available and the good reasons for recording their vacancies at the jobcentres?

Yes, this could be very helpful. In the case of the Post Office and British Rail, for example, certain discussions have been held so that they notify more of their vacancies through the job-centres.

Will my right hon. Friend inform the House about the rate of turnover in the number of vacancies notified? What effect does this have on the turnover in the long and short-term unemployed on the register?

The average inflow of vacancies in the three months ending January this year was 207,000 a month and the average outflow was 215,000 a month. The average number joining the unemployment register in the three months ending January was 382,000 a month and the average number leaving was 363,000 a month. Of course, 200,000 unemployed have been unemployed for four weeks or less and 1·1 million for 12 months or less. There is an enormous inflow and outflow.

Preston (Unemployment)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the current rate of unemployment in the Preston travel-to-work area.

At 14 February, the unemployment rate in the Preston travel-to-work area was 5·6 per cent.

May I thank my hon. Friend for the interest and concern that he showed on his recent visit to Preston? Has he any advice for those trade unionists in Preston who will be ordered to go on strike on 14 May rather than to travel to work?

It would be a dangerous precedent for any Minister from my Department to give advice to people who operate within trade union circles. I doubt whether they would appreciate such advice. However, I take heart from what I have seen recently in ballots within trade unions which show that common sense and justice are the interests uppermost in the minds of most trade unionists.

Electrical Equipment (Certification)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the speed of certification work at the British Approval Service for Electrical Equipment in Flammable Atmospheres; and whether he will make a statement on the industry study group's report on BASEEFA's testing and certification procedures.

The need to complete certification work more quickly at BASEEFA is acknowledged, and steps have been and are being taken to achieve this. Yesterday I received an interim report from the industry study group which I set up on 23 November last year and I shall be meeting the group on 31 March to discuss this report and the progress of its work so far.

May I remind the Minister that three-quarters of the applications to BASEEFA have been taking between 18 months to two years to process, compared with the German test house where they take only nine to 12 months? Will he accept the view of the industry that, if procedures could be speeded up, British exports could be increased by about 40 per cent.? At a time of rising unemployment, will he move speedily with the study group, which has been sitting for some time, in order to see that British industry is not further disadvantaged by overseas competition?

I entirely agree that the delays at BASEEFA have had an adverse effect on exports and on production of new appliances and products generally. For that reason I set up the industry study group in November. It may wells be that the answer to this problem lies in further sub-contracting. That will be very urgently looked at.

Is the Minister aware that a firm in my constituency, Wolf Safety Lamp, has had to wait two years for the certification of a lamp of valuable and important design, and that it is worried about the failure of the Government to speed up the process and to provide sufficient qualified staff in this important establishment, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) said, has formidable implications for the export of these important commodities?

To a great extent, the problem has been caused by the shortage of the necessary technical staff. There has been an improvement in the backlog and in the speed with which certificates have been issued. We are anxious to improve the staffing ratio. There is now only a shortfall of two in technical officers under establishment. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the matter is being pursued with vigour.

Employment Bill

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on his consultations to date on his proposed changes to the Employment Bill.

I have received representations from a number of organisations on the consultation paper on trade union immunities that I published on 19 February. The period for consultation comes to an end on Friday. I shall be considering all the representations before drawing up an appropriate amendment to the Employment Bill.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise the pitfall of creating martyrs in his attempts to redress the balance of power on the shop floor? Will he recognise the example of the tortoise rather than that of the hare as being more likely to succeed in the task with which we all wish him well in the months ahead?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's good wishes. At times I have been accused of being too much of a tortoise. I recognise the enormous pitfalls in the legislation, and I am determined to get it right so that it can stay on the statute book for many years.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all attempts to victimise and to discriminate against the trade union movement will be as strongly resisted as was the Industrial Relations Act 1971? Is he also aware that now, as at the time of the Industrial Relations Act and at the time of the dispute at Grunwick, the image of the Tory Party is one of deep hostility to the trade union movement? Is it not time that the Tory Party learnt to live with the trade union movement?

I am also aware that there are millions of trade unionists—the vast majority of trade unionists—who wish to see this measure on the statute book, protecting their individual and trade union rights.

Although my right hon. Friend has been compared with a sloth, a rhinoceros and now, today, a tortoise, will he accept the assurance of Conservative Members that we consider that the McShane judgment indicates that his opposition to the 1974 and 1976 Trade Union and Labour Relations Acts was right and that the balance must now be redressed?

Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are seeking legislation that can stand the test of time. It will not be perfect, and it will not always operate in the way in which some people think it should operate. However, it will be a great improvement on legislation that has been passed by the House in the last 30 years.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the two new tests proposed regarding capability and motive in respect of industrial action will delight the lawyers but will do nothing to improve industrial relations?

That is precisely why I published a consultative document and why I am listening carefully to what people say about it.

Thatchers (Training)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement, pursuant to the correspondence between the hon. Member for West Lothian and the Under-Secretary of State, on the training of thatchers.

I am delighted to inform the hon. Gentleman that Conservative Members do everything they can to support thatchers.

I am informed by the Manpower Services Commission that 10 grants for training in thatching in England are awarded annually by the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas.

The occupational demand is in England but CoSIRA's training facilities are available for trainees sponsored by the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies. About another 10 people annually take up training in England under private arrangements. CoSIRA's experience is that the volume of training for the occupation is appropriate. Most apprentices remain in thatching after training.

What does the Minister mean by "everything"? What about residential courses?

That hon. Member has the next question. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand that the training available must involve residential courses, because if they did not people from other parts of the world could not come to England to participate in them.

Does the Minister think that Professor Milton Friedman is well suited to instruct a "Thatcher", or anyone else? Will the Secretary of State make arrangements to appoint a new tutor for the Prime Minister?

North-East Lancashire (Unemployment)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further measures he proposes to take to help reduce unemployment in North-East Lancashire.

My right hon. Friend announced in the House on 14 February our programme of special employment measures for 1980–81.

By maintaining, for a further 12 months, the overall impact of the special employment measures, including the temporary short-time working compensation scheme, the programme will make an important contribution towards reducing unemployment in North-East Lancashire, as in other parts of the country.

Is the Minister aware that the crisis in the North-East Lancashire textile, clothing, footwear and engineering industries, and the thatching industry—which is now so bad that we have lost it altogether—is at its most serious since the war? Is he aware that the employers who write to me are in no doubt that the blame for that crisis rests with the Government? Can he say how much more serious the situation must become before he and his right hon. and hon. colleagues will consider reinstating the industrial aid to the region that it lost last July?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the unemployment rate in North-East Lancashire is, at 5 per cent., similar to the rate 12 months ago. We take seriously the question of the footwear and textile industries. The hon. Gentleman will know that delegations have recently visited the Under-Secretaries of State at the Department of Trade and the Department of Industry. We take seriously the problems affecting the industry, but they will not necessarily be solved by delegations visiting Ministers. They will be solved by the industry itself, facing the challenge of design and production. Many parts of the industry succeed and export successfully.

Iron And Steel Trades Confederation

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he last met the general secretary of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the time has now come to meet Mr. Sirs again and to advise him that after 12 weeks of a strike the work force in BSC has had no opportunity of expressing its view, except on a ballot about a ballot? Does he not agree that he should raise with Mr. Sirs the question whether he should instruct his executive to hold a ballot among his union members? Does he not further agree that, if Mr. Sirs disagrees, there is a case for the Government bringing forward legislation to compel unions to hold a secret ballot in these circumstances?

I am always prepared to meet Mr. Sirs if he wishes to come to see me. I understand that the chairman of the British Steel Corporation has said that BSC will hold a further ballot if the unions refuse to hold their own ballot and also refuse arbitration. With regard to making ballots compulsory, it would be better, and would be likely to lead to greater success, if we could hold more ballots by voluntary means. In that way, we would be more likely to get people voting on the issues than if the ballots were compulsory.

When the right hon. Gentleman next meets Mr. Bill Sirs, will he ask him whether he has carried out any negotiations with the chairman of the British Steel Corporation, who up to now, according to the press, has not been present at any of the negotiations? Will he also tell Bill Sirs that the men in the various areas—particularly my area—are standing firm behind their union, and it would take very little to move them to get a satisfactory solution? Will the right hon. Gentleman, who obviously has some sympathy with the problem, try to do his utmost within the Government to get the matter speedily resolved?

The parties to the dispute will have noted the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I hope that the two sides will get together and settle this dispute quickly. They may use arbitration, accept a ballot or simply reach an agreement.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that an official of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation made a statement last week to the effect that his members had been well behaved on the picket lines but that the time had come to exert more pressure? Will my right hon. Friend take the first opportunity to tell Mr. Sirs that he deplores such incitement to breaking the law?

I certainly deplore any incitement to break the law. However, on the two occasions that the courts have become involved in the dispute, the trade unions and Mr. Sirs have obeyed the law. Trade unionists are basically law-abiding. I hope that they will remain that way.

Open University

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment, following his recent visit to the Open University, what plans he has to promote training schemes through the medium of the Open University.

Although I have not visited the Open University since taking office, I was happy to speak at the graduation ceremony some weeks ago. I am glad that the MSC is already working with the Open University to develop updating programmes for managers and engineers and that it is considering the scope for greater use of distance learning techniques.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a tremendous amount of untapped potential that would benefit from some below degree level training at the Open University? Is it not time that the Government made some headway? Should they not introduce courses and provide the necessary cash to enable those who have been made unemployed in the textile industry, the thatching industry and so on to study at the Open University in the same way as others?

I do not wish to become involved in a question that may concern the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The Open University can help the Manpower Services Commission in distance learning techniques, training-for-management courses, tutorial support and the development of technical training. However, there is much to be done before we can move towards an "Open Tech". Retraining in adult life will become one of the more pressing needs of the next 20 years.

Manpower Services Commission (Training Services)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further changes he is planning to make in the provision of training through the Manpower Services Commission; and if he will make a statement.

The Government's aim, shared by the Manpower Services Commission, is to increase the effectiveness and relevance of training services provided by the Commission and by employers themselves. The Manpower Services Commission plans to expand its direct training services, which can be tailored closely to the needs of individual firms and to increase, within overall programmes, training at technician level and for computer occupations.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that on 5 March the Government said that new skillcentres would be opened in certain areas where they would be put to better use? Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that the rules governing the age at which a young person may enter a skillcentre will be reviewed? Will the Government discuss once again with the TUC the acceptability of a skillcentre course for a young person who is looking, for a skilled job?

I shall look at those points. The proposed building programme comprises a new young persons' centre at Lambeth, an experimental training centre on Merseyside and extensions to the centres at Norwich and Castle Bromwich. Perhaps more attention should be paid to the intake of young people. I shall consider that point.

As the number of unemployed school leavers will double according to the Government's figures by this time next year, and as the number of long term unemployed will increase from about 300,000 to 500,000 during the next few months, does the right hon. Gentleman not regret that the Manpower Services Commission's budget has been reduced by about £300 million? If the Manpower Services Commission will come back within the next few weeks and says that it cannot do the job adequately will the Secretary of State argue with his colleagues that the budget should be increased?

I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's forecast about the level of youth unemployment. The budget for the youth opportunities scheme has been extended by 25 per cent. this year. Although the amount of cash available for the training budget has been cut, those courses dealing with technical and advanced training have been increased. Skilled labour is needed in those areas.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the criteria that are used by the Manpower Services Commission, particularly in the case of married women when determining admission to TOPS courses? Does he not accept that admission seems to be biased in favour of those women who have yet to get married and produce a family and against those who have already completed their families?

We have made considerable cutbacks on the clerical courses and some of the managerial courses. There has been a low uptake in employment, of about 52 per cent., after those courses have been completed. We should reorient those courses that have a better uptake and those in which people make use of the training that they have been given.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 18 March.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had a meeting with my right hon. and noble Friend the Governor of Southern Rhodesia. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the anticipated net budgetary contribution to the EEC for this year will be about £1,100 million? Is she aware that if this is so, and unless the negotiations in Brussels reach a successful conclusion, there will be a growing demand to withhold part or the whole of our VAT contributions to the EEC?

I confirm what my hon. Friend has said. If there were no change, our contribution to the European budget for this year would be £1,100 million or more. The final budget for the Community as a whole has not yet been fixed. If we do not find an equitable solution, we shall have to consider withholding part of our contribution. I hope that it will not come to that.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government's discussions with Lord Soames centre in part on a future aid programme to the newly independent Zimbabwe? Will she give an undertaking that those discussions will be widened to include an aid programme for Zambia? Will she bear in mind that the Zambian economy has suffered as a result of the long dispute between this country and Rhodesia?

My right hon. and noble Friend and I discussed the question of aid this morning. It is important to give Rhodesia a good start. We did not extend the discussion to aid to other countries. It is important that we carry out our prime duty towards Rhodesia.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the trade figures today show an encouraging trend in the level of manufacturing exports, despite the fact that the pound remains firm? Will she, therefore, ignore the wet economic forecast that has been made by the Cambridge economic group? Will she ignore also those who urge import controls on us?

I agree that some companies are doing extremely well. As my hon. Friend knows, I do not take much account of economic forecasts, because there is such a large number from which to choose. We must remember that we still export more manufactured goods than we import. Any import controls would run the risk of retaliation and that might hit our export trade very badly.

Will the Prime Minister study the statement that has been made today by Mr. Jacques Chirac? He said that Britain should pay a contribution to the Market, or get out. As those are the only two options available, will she accept the second one?

I do not accept that those are the oniy two options. The right hon. Gentleman knows that it is a question not only of the contributions that go in, but the lack of receipts that come out. We are trying to increase those receipts to substitute the expenditure that we already make so that we can get a better distribution of receipts from the Common Market budget to this country.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements fo Tuseday 18 March.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave a moment or two ago.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to study the campaign against waste in Government Departments, launched by the press? Will she commend that campaign to this House, to local authorities, and, above all, to her Ministers?

I was pleased to read of that campaign in the press. I hope that it will be taken seriously, and that people who have examples of waste will let us know of them. Some Departments are working well to reduce waste. For example, the Department of the Environment has managed to reduce its staff by about 6½ per cent. since the election. That compares very well indeed with local authorities, which have so far reduced their staff by only ½ per cent. Since the election the Department of Industry has sent out about 750,000 fewer forms.

As head of the Civil Service, will the Prime Minister inquire today into the removal of Mr. Matthew Cooper, a military historian and former Clerk to the Select Committee on defence? Was that because he criticised the Ministry of Defence for prohibiting senior civil servants, Service officers and Government scientists from giving evidence on the successor to the Polaris submarine missile?

I have no knowledge of the particular case. Although I am head of the Civil Service, I cannot be expected to know the details of about 500,000 people in the Civil Service. If the hon. Gentleman, in his usual courteous way, will let me have details, I shall make the customary inquiries.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Mr. Matthew Cooper is not a civil servant but an employee of the House? Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider whether the call for a strike by Mr. Sidney Weighell, the head of the NUR, on 14 May is likely to be good or bad for our economy and in the interests of workers?

I saw the report of a call for a strike by the NUR. If the TUC or the NUR wishes to lower its standing in the eyes of the general public, that is the way to go about it.

Does the Prime Minister recognise that by talking of withholding VAT payments she is threatening to act in breach of our legal obligations? Does she believe that our case in equity and justice is so weak that it will be strengthened by such threats?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, our case in equity is extremely strong. We believe that it should be met before we have to consider any such proposal.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider the massive disruption to local government that would be caused by the contemplated NALGO action? Will she deplore action that would withhold rate income to local authorities and cause chaos to the elderly, sick and others who depend on local government services?

I deplore any such action. I hope that people will consider the hardship that such action would wilfully inflict on others and will desist.

Will the right hon. Lady say whether press leaks about the Government's decision to cut back or redeem the £12 paid to strikers' wives and families are true? If they are, will she draw to the attention of her right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the speech that the Secretary of State for Industry made at the Conservative Party conference, when he explained that that would cause great hardship to families and would be an intolerable action for any Government to take?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that matter was referred to in the Conservative Party manifesto on which we fought the election. I have twice explained in the House that plans are under way, and we hope to make an announcement within a few weeks. Fresh legislation will be required.

Will my right hon. Friend express her astonishment at the news that the National Union of Students, which is always complaining about the inadequacy of student grants, is proposing to spend money on financing a strike by the so-called National Union of School Students?

I believe that the National Union of School Students comprises only a small number of pupils in schools, and the number is being progressively reduced. I hope that we shall not hear a great deal more about that small splinter union of school pupils.

European Community (Unemployment)

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister what discussions she has had with the European Economic Community Heads of Government regarding the increase in unemployment.

Unemployment in the Community has been discussed regularly at meetings of the European Council, including the last meeting in Dublin in November. I expect the subject to be raised again at the Council meeting in Brussels later this month.

Does the right hon. Lady recall that in the "Weekend World" television broadcast in January she stated that she hoped to get our net contribution to the EEC reduced before the Budget, which is next week? We therefore expect an announcement next week. Will she ensure that our £1 billion contribution is diverted to regenerating British industry in view of the Cambridge group's prediction of 2½ million people being unemployed by next year and even more she following year? Will she also consider diverting the excess from the vast profits made by the banks and oil companies to settle the steel dispute?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is our policy that the incentives given through tax should assist in increasing output by British industry, particularly in small companies, where the new employment comes from. We shall be discussing in Brussels the budget and probably the employment position. Even though under the previous Government unemployment more than doubled, there are still more people in work today than five years ago.

Did my right hon. Friend discuss with the West German Chancellor the problems of unemployment in our two countries? If so, did the Chancellor spell out the contribution made to his economy by the framework of industrial relations law, designed in part by British trade unions, and the realistic approach to collective bargaining adopted by West German unions? If the TUC is determined to take an extra day off in May, might it not be profitable for its members to give that time to studying the West German experience?

I have discussed that matter with the German Chancellor from time to time. He is the first to recognise that we set up the structure of unions in West Germany after the last war.—[HON. MEMBERS: "We?"]—Great Britain, or should I say the United Kingdom. The West German structure would in many ways be far more convenient, but we cannot go from where we are now to a totally different structure. We shall try to do everything that we can to improve industrial relations, and I believe that the Employment Bill will make a great contribution to that end.

Will the right hon. Lady also discuss with Chancellor Schmidt the system of industrial democracy that prevails in West Germany, an area in which so many British firms are still lagging far behind? In view of the rise in unemployment that will occur in this country this year, will the right hon. Lady assure us that the link between unemployment benefit and price rises will not be broken, resulting in the unemployed being worse off?

I have discussed many things with Chancellor Schmidt, including the vastly increased output per person in West Germany compared with this country. Increased productivity is one of West Germany's great achievements.

Regarding the other point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, I shall not give any assurance on matters likely to be dealt with in the Budget. The right hon. Gentleman must await the Budget Statement. He will not have long to wait.

That answer will arouse great suspicion in the minds of many. Does the right hon. Lady accept that it will be a lasting disgrace to her Government if they attempt to save public expenditure at the expense of the unemployed and the sick?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that he must await the Budget. But I am hardly likely to take criticism from him when it was he who doubled unemployment during the lifetime of the previous Government.

Does not the right hon. Lady yet realise that the link between unemployment and the level of benefits is of paramount importance to those who are likely to be put out of work by this Government's financial policy? Will she at least give an undertaking that child benefit will be increased by the relevant amount? Otherwise, does she not realise that, even in accordance with the policy of the Conservative Party, if it is not substantially increased in line with the increase in prices, that will increase the disincentive to work, so-called, for the unemployed?

It is the right hon. Gentleman who has the worst unemployment record in the post-war years. [Interruption.] Of course the Opposition do not like my saying that, because it is the truth and they cannot ignore it.

With regard to the subject of child benefit, again the right hon. Gentleman knows that he must await the Budget. He goes on and on, knowing that he must await announcements in the Budget. He has been Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister, and he knows that.

The right hon. Lady was very ready recently to give an assurance about payment of Health Service charges. Why cannot she give us a similar assurance now, unless she is proposing to run away—[Interruption.] If she is not, she should not be afraid to answer. It will be a lasting shame to this Government if they interfere with these benefits.

The right hon. Gentleman will have to contain his impatience for a few days longer until the Budget.

Order. I have received notice of three quite distinct points of order that hon. Members wish to raise. They will be called after we have heard the statement by the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I remind the House that we are on timetabled business today and that there is a Ten-Minute Bill as well as the statement, all of which must be borne in mind.