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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 113: debated on Tuesday 31 March 1987

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Employment

Enterprise Allowance

1.

asked the Paymaster General if he has any plans to review the control and vetting procedures over applications for enterprise allowance and the subsequent use of funds granted under this scheme; and if he will make a statement.

All aspects of the enterprise allowance scheme are kept under review. I am, however, satisfied that the present eligibility criteria and control and vetting procedures are appropriate. All businesses supported by the scheme are monitored twice during the year in which they receive the allowance to ensure that they continue to meet the eligibility criteria.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, which demonstrates the extent to which that popular scheme is being monitored. Does he agree that, although any monitoring must be kept under review, the success of the scheme under the present system is guaranteed?

I certainly would be happy to give that guarantee. It is important to stress that we have changed the procedure as from 1 January this year, whereby the more effective monitoring procedure is put in place. We have also made awareness days compulsory for people who seek to apply for the EAS.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the highest percentage of employment growth has been in the new and smaller business sector? Does that not illustrate well how important it is for schemes such as the enterprise allowance scheme to encourage people to start in business on their own?

My hon. Friend is right. The enterprise allowance scheme has played a significant part in ensuring that the number of self-employed people is the highest for 60 years. The net increase in small businesses on a weekly basis is the highest in recorded history.

Regional Tourism (Television)

2.

asked the Paymaster General what information he has about the effect on regional tourism of television programmes depicting the English countryside, history and way of life.

It is not possible to quantify the actual effect of television programmes on regional tourism, but many successful television productions have clearly resulted in substantial increases in the number of visitors to the areas in which they are located.

Given that the BBC television series "Bergerac" has promoted jobs and tourism in Jersey, does my hon. Friend agree that many more regional companies should promote the areas in which their films are made? I refer to films such as "Connie", "Adrian Mole", and "Little Lord Fauntleroy", all of which were filmed in Leicestershire.

Perhaps it is more appropriate for my hon. Friend to refer to "Little Lord Fauntleroy", than to "Bergerac". He is right. We should do more to encourage regional television companies to do more to increase awareness of the location of their film and television productions.

Does the Minister agree that any television programme showing the conditions on railway lines between Bradford and Leeds will greatly inhibit the efforts that Bradford is making to promote tourism? Therefore, will he make urgent inquiries to find out why British Rail is reluctant to electrify the line to provide clean, fast and comfortable trains, which would help tourism, promote local industry and help us to combat unemployment?

The hon. Gentleman has something of a reputation for pushing the negative rather than the positive. I shall draw the point that he raised to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. The area that he represents—the point has been dealt with in the substantive question on the Order Paper—has benefited considerably from the production, "Last of the Summer Wine", and the hon. Gentleman well knows that.

Will my hon. Friend please have discussions with the television companies to see how the success of "Bergerac" and of "Little Lord Fauntleroy" may be developed and increased so that they can be sold abroad, and will he contemplate the development of a series on the railways so successfully based on Birmingham and the green county in their past development?

Does my hon. Friend agree that with about 1·5 million people working in tourism, it is one of our major areas of employment and future employment, and whereas the making of films is helpful and essential, it is only one part of that. However, there is nothing that I would like better than to see "Rob Roy" on the television screen.

It is a long time since any of us saw "Rob Roy" on television. It had a good run for a time, but I am sure that the vast majority of people in Britain, and possibly abroad, could stand another showing of that excellent film.

Community Programme

3.

asked the Paymaster General if he will make a statement on the number of places available on the community programme.

On 27 February 1987 there were 248,216 people employed on the programme. This is an increase of 56,338 filled places, since February 1986. In 1987–88 the programme will operate at an average level over the year of about 245,000 filled places which will provide opportunities for around 300,000 entrants, about the same number as in the current year.

Is the Paymaster General aware of the apparent capriciousness of the MSC and the place of the community programme, which means that in those areas where the programme has done well it will now be cut in order to favour those areas where it has done less well? Given that the community programme is a cost-effective scheme, would it not be worth while for the Government to increase rather than cut the number of places where the programme is doing well so that the total number of places has to increase if the Government's policy of assisting those areas that have done less well is to continue? Is the Paymaster General aware that Leeds city council has not taken up 500 places because the Government will not supplement them and, therefore, people who are unemployed in Leeds are caught between the MSC and the city council, which will not assist them in the community programme?

We must look at the allocation of places, but we are guided by need. At the moment we are trying to concentrate on those parts of Britain where unemployment remains highest. We are also seeing how the community programme places fit alongside the new job training scheme, which will provide a better option for many of the under-25s.

Half the places in Leeds will still be taken up by the Leeds city council, but we want to see a diversity of suppliers. The overall effect in Yorkshire and Humberside is that the number of places next year will be exactly the same as this year.

I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman is now urging us to support the community programme. I am told that long ago, when he was secretary of the council of voluntary services in Bradford, he was always opposed to it. Now that the Liberal party has come round and is seeking to imitate it, no doubt he has had a change of view.

I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that many of us who represent areas with relatively low unemployment strongly support his policy of taking places from the community programme in the wealthier parts of the country and redistributing them to areas with higher unemployment. However, will he make sure that the baby is not thrown out with the bath water and that specialist schemes, such as that operated by the Elfrida Rathbone Society, catering for those who find it more difficult to obtain work, are not scrapped at the same time as other more widespread schemes?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because it is sometimes difficult for those who provide worthwhile schemes to understand why they may be cut a little to allow more places to be provided in, say, depressed inner city areas. I certainly agree that we should have a look at specialist schemes and protect those, particularly that run by the excellent society to which he referred.

Will the Paymaster General now admit that on the figures that he has just given he has announced a cut of 10,000 places in the community programme and that the local cuts are greater than that because of the build up of some of the big national schemes, such as Branson? Will he admit that the reason is that he has found a better way to get people out of the unemployment figures, and that is called the job training scheme—work experience for benefit? Has he any plans to increase the allowance on the community programme? Will he admit that the net take-home pay on the community programme is £49 a week? If there is to be an increase, where will the money come from? Will it be from further cuts in the community programme?

The Opposition object when we introduce new programmes, and also when we try to alter the balance between existing ones. They take an extremely negative view. The figures that I gave show that the community programme, which has just gone through a period of rapid expansion, is being maintained at about the same level as last year. However, we must look at the impact of the new job training scheme, which we hope will provide 110,000 places by September of this year, chiefly for those under 25. We must see how the community programme sits alongside that scheme, as well as altering the emphasis.

The present allowance is tied to the market rate of pay— particularly the rates paid to local government manual workers— and the figures that the hon. Lady cites are better understood when it is appreciated that they are usually for part-time work, not for a full working week.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that while the community programme is essential to help the long-term unemployed, if it is used with imagination, it can also bring great benefits to local communities? In Lincoln, for example, an excellent scheme to construct a delightful walkway along the River Witham is helping both the unemployed and the community. Does the community programme not also provide encouraging results, in that the number of long-term unemployed is now on the decline?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am only sorry that his constituent, Mr. Peter Hodginkinson, who had so much to do with that scheme, has not survived to see it being brought into effect. That is one of many examples of how giving valuable work experience to the long-term unemployed can also bring benefits to the local community. That is why we are so pleased with our achievements in crime prevention in the inner cities, the farm and countryside programme and many other worthwhile aims of Government policy.

Labour Statistics

4.

asked the Paymaster General how many people in inner London have been unemployed for over a year.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The amplifier is still not working.

Order. I think that most of them are. Would the hon. Lady like to change her place?

I am well known to be a soft-spoken man, but I shall raise my voice.

On 8 January 1987 the number of claimants in the boroughs that make up inner London who had been unemployed for over one year was 86,300.

I put it to the Minister that every person who is long-term unemployed represents a human tragedy and that there is absolutely no hope for those people unless there is a change in Government policy. The waffle with which the Minister will answer my question is no response; he should be examining the long-term problems of those who have been unemployed for any length of time.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's first point. Each individual who has been out of work for more than 12 months usually represents a considerable personal tragedy. I am therefore glad that the number that I have given is smaller than that of 12 months ago. The unemployment rate has begun to come down, as long-term unemployment has begun to do in the country as a whole. The hon. Gentleman should not be so dismissive of the Government's economic policy and the achievement of their programmes. Last month saw the largest fall in unemployment in the country as a whole since records began.

Is unemployment not falling all over the country? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in my constituency it has fallen faster than in almost any other area? Does that not demonstrate the Government's commitment to steel-closure areas and other areas of high unemployment, and the fact that Government policy towards the north in relation to regional policy is highly commendable?

My hon. Friend emphasised to me what was being achieved in his constituency when I last visited him and his constituents. That has lessons for inner London boroughs, because it shows that if a town such as Scunthorpe—which has been badly hit by necessary changes in the steel industry—can attract new industry and generate new types of employment, the same can be achieved in inner London boroughs. Indeed, it is being achieved, where local authorities co-operate with the sensible proposals that Government Departments have put forward to strengthen the economy.

Given the serious unemployment problem in inner London, does the Paymaster General accept that the further loss of long-standing industrial employment in the area is a potential disaster? Is he aware that British Gas plans to move nearly 700 staff out of the research station in Fulham? Will he make urgent representations to the chairman of British Gas that he should reconsider this proposal, which will have a devastating effect on the local economy and on local employment?

Decisions about the location of British Gas staff are for British Gas to determine. If a decision is pending that is likely to have an effect on Fulham, I trust that everybody will respond by creating conditions that will enable new employers to be attracted to Fulham to provide work there. Many major companies are moving work out of Greater London to provide it elsewhere in the regions. That is not altogether bad. London does not have a great manufacturing tradition. It is particularly strong in providing service industries and self-employment, and it is showing very substantial growth in all those areas across the whole of London.

London Visitor And Convention Bureau

5.

asked the Paymaster General what information he has on the amount of income that has been generated by tourism in the London Visitor and Convention Bureau area in each year since 1978.

Tourist spending in the London area increased from £1·8 billion in 1978 to over £3·9 billion in 1985. That is a rise of over 14 per cent. in real terms. A table giving full information has been placed in the Library.

I thank my hon. Friend for his interesting reply. Does it not illustrate that there is considerable scope for getting tourists away from the golden triangle, of which London is the centre, and into areas such as historic Newark-upon-Trent and the east midlands? How would my hon. Friend propose to reverse that trend?

The substantial increase in the section 4 grant expenditure under the Development of Tourism Act 1969 that was announced last year by the Government was principally to encourage the dispersal of tourists, particularly from the London area, into the regions. A very good example of that is the major tourist development that has been supported by the Government in the constituency adjoining that of my hon. Friend, which is known as Center Parcs.

6.

asked the Paymaster General whether he will state the figures for youth unemployment in 1979 and 1986 in the Sheffield travel-to-work area.

In 1986 the average number of unemployed claimants aged under 18 years of age in the Sheffield travel-to-work area was 3,980. Comparable figures for 1979 are not available because of changes in the way figures are collected. However, in 1979 the average number of unemployed registrants aged under 18 years in the Sheffield travel-to-work area, as defined in 1978, was 1,790.

Given the decline in manufacturing employment in Sheffield, the continued inequalities in the regional economies and the fact that the Budget is dependent upon a general upturn in the national economy, is the Minister aware that those figures are unlikely to be eased except by micro measures? Will he therefore look at Sheffield's employment plan, which can create 25,000 new jobs and training places and can therefore take more than 17,000 people off the unemployment register?

I accept that Sheffield has a difficult unemployment problem. There has been a slight but welcome fall in the overall level of unemployment in Sheffield over the last six months. We have a number of measures to tackle unemployment. Two job clubs are being opened today in Sheffield. They will bring the total number of job clubs in the Sheffield and Rotherham travel-to-work area to about 16. As for the Sheffield city council's plans, they are, in our view, very expensive, and their cost would have to be borne by ratepayers and taxpayers.

Will my hon. Friend look at the figures and remind the House of the level of unemployment in the Sheffield area between 1974 and 1979? Will he tell us of any time when a Labour Government have brought about a reduction in unemployment? Is it not a fact that every Labour Government have gone into a general election campaign committing themselves to a reduction of unemployment and that while they have been in office every Labour Government have seen a rise in unemployment?

The Minister says that the plans of Sheffield city council are expensive. Does he not think that it is expensive for 600 more workers, who were laid off in my constituency just recently in one of the main steelworks in Sheffield, to be on the dole and to pay them money for doing nothing when all they want to do is work? What kind of plans do the Government have that are not expensive for working people?

We are proud of the fact that we are spending nationally about £3·5 billion on overall employment and training measures. We are spending a lot of money. All I am saying is that the plans of Sheffield city council would, over and above that, be particularly expensive and would be borne by ratepayers and taxpayers. That would involve further job losses and industrial closures in Sheffield.

Inner Cities

7.

asked the Paymaster General what recent initiatives he has taken to promote employment in the inner cities.

We are now making very good progress in our eight inner city task force areas, with over 90 special projects and schemes already approved to encourage enterprise training and job creation for the residents of these areas. We have also concentrated more effectively the efforts and programmes of the Manpower Services Commission and other Government Departments on the same eight areas and their residents. As the various programmes are implemented, the benefits of the Government's task force approach will become steadily more apparent over the coming months to the people who live in the areas concerned.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend welcome the imaginative way in which employers and others such as the Home Office and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders are co-operating with his Department? Does that not contrast strongly with the failure of those Labour-controlled local authorities which are not co-operating with the Manpower Services Commission and the inner city task force schemes?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the contrast, and it is unfortunate. We are now doing very good work under the community programme in providing work experience to help people to protect themselves against crime in the inner cities. A number of major firms are interested in engaging in community programme projects in the inner cities, especially McAlpine, which has entered into agreements with us. There are still some Labour-controlled local authorities that are turning away training and work experience proposals from the Manpower Services Commission. In the task force areas we are trying to overcome the objections of people, like the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, who have tried to reject such proposals, so that residents may have the benefit of schemes which the Government want to finance in those areas.

While it is right to concentrate on the continuing misery of unemployment in the inner cities, does the Minister accept that there is also vast unemployment in outer areas? In my constituency most of the high unemployment is in areas in the outer city, such as Braunstone, New Parks, Mowmacre and Stocking Farm, where unemployment ranges between 30 and 60 per cent. What will the Paymaster General do that he has not done before to help people in those areas?

I agree that it is not only in Leicester, but in cities such as Liverpool and Bristol, that as much deprivation is found on large estates on the edges of the cities as in inner city areas. However, the lessons that we are learning rapidly from places such as Highfields in Leicester can be extended through the urban programme and the Manpower Services Commission to other areas. We will take action as rapidly as Leicester city council and others help us to deliver the goods on the ground in the Highfields area in particular.

Has my right hon. and learned Friend seen the leading article in The Times regarding work, welfare and workfare? Has he noted the favourable replies given to me by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee yesterday? Will he now think again about introducing the comprehensive workfare system and giving it a fair wind?

We have given a guarantee of training to everyone under the age of 18, so that no one under the age of 18 need be unemployed and drawing benefit. From tomorrow we are going national with the job training scheme and will be greatly expanding its availability. There will be 300,000 people going through the community programme. We are making a whole range of worthwhile activities available to people to reduce the need to remain idle. The rules remain that anyone who draws benefit in this country must demonstrate that he is available to work and is actively looking for it. While my hon. Friend knows that I still have considerable reservations about what is known in America as "workfare", we are providing all the opportunities that people require, and we are entitled to expect people to take advantage of them where we provide them.

Is the Minister aware that there is 46 per cent. male unemployment in the centre of Manchester in my constituency and that that figure is still rising? How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman come to the Dispatch Box with deceitful distortions of the real facts? When will we get real jobs, not cosmetics?

I know that conditions are quite serious for many people in the middle of Manchester. That is why Moss Side is one of the places where we have an inner city task force operating. I know from my contacts with the city that quite a lot is happening there. It is a strong commercial and regional centre and the economy there seems to be reviving extremely well. The Government have done a great deal to help by financing such things as the G-Mex centre and, next door, the development at Salford Quays. Now that the national economy is reviving so strongly, I think that Manchester is one of those places where we have the greatest cause to be optimistic about the future.

What would be the effects on improving employment prospects in inner cities of a 1 per cent. tax on company turnover, as proposed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)?

I am a little bewildered about where we are on the 1 per cent. levy. Recently, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) appeared to deny that he had guaranteed that a 1 per cent. tax on turnover would be charged. I had to look up the Official Report to confirm that the hon. Gentleman had, indeed, committed himself to such a levy. I am waiting to hear whether he will commit himself to it again. Perhaps urgent consultations are taking place in Dagenham about that matter.

The Paymaster General will recall that last February, when he launched this scheme, he said that the task force was a bold experiment in creating real jobs. As he has not made any claim for real jobs in his statements since, can he now tell the House how many real jobs have been created by this scheme, or how many jobs he expects to create by this scheme? Is not the real truth that this is a propaganda hoax on people in the inner city areas? The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not creating real jobs. It would be much better if he gave the £20 billion that he robbed from local authorities back to them to create real jobs.

Real jobs are being created all the time in the task force areas— in the work and training which Tarmac will provide on the Broughton road contract in Birmingham, in the training which we are providing for new jobs in the Copthorne hotel in Birmingham and in all the work which we are doing in Gloucester Grove. It is artificial to produce exact figures in response to the type of questions posed by the hon. Gentleman. I am horrified to hear that the hon. Gentleman has recommitted himself to putting money into the hands of the Left-wing local authorities. No doubt he is still committed to Southwark council's proposals for employment creation, hut, when he goes to Southwark, he will find that the council's activities do a great deal of harm to employment and training in that borough and that our task force is providing some of the few signs of hope there.

Cumbria And The Northern Region

8.

asked the Paymaster General what effect he expects the Budget measures to have on employment in Cumbria and the northern region.

The Budget will help to sustain the pace of economic growth, enterprise and employment creation throughout the United Kingdom, including Cumbria.

Is the Paymaster General aware that in the northern region, in Cumbria, and in my constituency the general view right across the political spectrum is that, if the Government had the money to give away in the Budget, they should have spent it on supporting schemes, supporting public services and developing real jobs instead of throwing away taxpayers' money on imports? Why does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not understand that the majority of people believe that personal greed should come second to solving the problems of unemployment, especially in areas such as mine where people simply cannot find work?

This year, because of the growth in the economy, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to combine reductions in taxation with restraints in public borrowing and increases in public expenditure, particularly on education and health. My Department has had its biggest increase in public expenditure during this Government's period in office and more than £3 billion is now spent on employment and training. I am glad to say that unemployment is falling faster in the northern region than in almost any other region. The major threat to jobs in Cumbria, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, comes from the policies of the Labour and Liberal parties on nuclear power and Trident.

When my right hon. and learned Friend visits Cumbria on Friday, and my constituency, he will see for himself that unemployment in Cumbria is falling faster than in any other part of the United Kingdom— as a result of former Budgets. Will he reflect on the disastrous consequences for jobs in Cumbria if our main industries are closed down— I refer to Sellafield and Trident at Barrow and Furness—and if agriculture is rated for tax as the Labour and Liberal parties propose?

I am looking forward to being in Carlisle on Friday and to visiting Penrith and the Border and seeing what is being achieved there. I can only endorse my hon. Friend's remarks. There would not only be a direct effect on jobs in Cumbria. Many northern engineering firms with contracts under the defence, or the civil nuclear programmes, are threatened by the policies of the Labour and Liberal parties.

Is the Paymaster General aware that the collapse of the engineering industry in the northern region has left many people, who have worked in that industry throughout their lives and are now aged over 50, without any prospect of ever gaining employment again in their lives? What hope will any of those schemes give to those people?

Of course, I appreciate that parts of the north-east have been especially badly hit by the rapid changes that have taken place in steel, shipbuilding, to some extent coal, and heavy engineering in this country. That is why I take encouragement from the way in which new jobs are being created in the region, from the rapid increase in self-employment in that part of the country, and from all the attempts that are being made through enterprise zones and inner city task forces to stimulate new investment. Jobs are being created in retailing. For example, the biggest retailing development in this country is in the north-east.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that about 6,000 new small businesses were set up in the northern region last year? Will he come up to the north-east and explain to my constituents the way in which the Labour party would help the unemployed by taxing them more heavily as soon as they found their first job?

I remain bewildered by those proposals. I agree with my hon. Friend that, having passed through a difficult period, one can now find all the signs of a regeneration in industry and employment in the northern region, for which we have been waiting for some time, since we came out of the recession. I see no hope for employment in the north if we return to policies of higher taxation, borrowing and inflation, and measures such as the expensive training levy which would be imposed on the turnover of every firm in the region.

Job Training Scheme

9.

asked the Paymaster General what response he has had from local authorities to the job training scheme.

In general, there has been a good response from local authorities.

Is the Paymaster General aware that some local authorities, especially Scottish local authorities, are reluctant to participate in that scheme, unless it is seen to involve real training for real jobs with realistic wage levels? Will he try to meet those objections because otherwise the job training scheme will be seen to be yet another Government trick to try to fiddle the unemployment figures by conscripting people from the dole queue into phoney jobs?

I hope to assure local authorities and the hon. Gentleman that the training provided by the new JTS will be good quality training aimed at providing real jobs because it will involve work experience with employers. No local authorities have yet come forward to sign a contract, but many have put forward proposals, and I hope that we reach agreement with those in Scotland. I hope also that no local authorities or trade unions will be tempted into playing politics with the JTS or getting us bogged down in trade union arguments about rates of pay.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Labour party's attitude to this imaginative scheme to introduce training to a substantial number of young people in particular, is similar to the attitude that it displayed to the youth training scheme in its earlier years? Can we look forward to a similar change in its attitude?

I very much hope so. At present the Labour party does not really know its reaction to the JTS, having condemned it automatically when it was first announced. The only comfort that I take from its latest so-called 1 million jobs package, which is comprised largely of the same old measures, is that a large part of it is a plain imitation of our JTS programme. It proposes to provide 300,000 training places, whereas it claims that the 120,000 training places for which we aim in the JTS are too many, too quickly.

Will the Paymaster General confirm that only about 2,000 places have been achieved on the pilot schemes out of a target of about 5,000, that nearly half the people were over 25 and that there has been a high dropout rate? If that is the case, does it justify the Government's forced expansion of the schemes?

I do not agree with all those criticisms, but I agree that the point of pilot schemes is to see how they go and to learn from any problems we encounter. On the whole the response from trainees, agents and work experience providers was extremely good. Probably too many of those taking part were over 25 and we intend to target the scheme largely on the under-25s. I do not agree that the drop-out rate was bad. Some people leave the scheme because they find a full-time job where they can get further training and we do not object to that.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend warn young people who want proper training and a job that this is apparently yet another scheme which, according to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), a Labour Government would not contemplate?

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is fond of criticising all our employment and training measures, yet it is clear from his comments that he has not even bothered to read about them or to visit them and that he does not know what he is talking about.

He does a great deal of harm to his constituents in Sparkbrook if he tries to persuade them to do nothing, to be unemployed and on the dole rather than to take advantage of the various training and other work experience measures that we are providing.

May I assure the Paymaster General that a Labour Government will introduce proper training programmes which develop skills in this skill-starved nation and that they will not be anything like the job training scheme? Will he confirm that he recently announced that the job training scheme is not to be designated as approved training, thus admitting that it is work experience? Does he understand that the major objection to it is that the money is too low and the benefits are not sufficient in return for the work? If local authorities propose to top up the allowance to a decent rate, will he permit that under the scheme?

The hon. Lady must understand our scepticism: the Labour party has spent the past three or four years opposing every training measure that we have introduced and now she claims that Labour's training programmes will somehow be different. The only point that seems to concern the Labour party is how much trainees should be paid. If she concentrates merely on increasing pay for trainees, that will not improve training one iota. Nor will it reflect the worth to employers of people who are beginning to acquire skills. Therefore, we do not contemplate topping up the rate under the new scheme; we contemplate good quality training being given.

Job Creation (Training)

10.

asked the Paymaster General what proposals he has to monitor the quality of the training element in the Government's present job creation measures.

The Manpower Services Commission has detailed monitoring arrangements for all its employment programmes to ensure they are meeting their objectives.

Does the Minister accept that it is in everyone's interest to make the quality of training available to under 18-year-olds as high as possible? As the recent MSC report has suggested that up to 25 per cent. of new entrants to JTS are illiterate, instead of introducing consultants only to look at the cost-effectiveness of these schemes, is it not time to introduce consultants to look at the effectiveness of the training?

We are continually looking at the quality of our schemes. The whole emphasis is to improve the quality of our training and to reskill Britain.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the appalling fact that Bolton council has said that it will have nothing to do with the job training schemes, for some absurd political reason? Does he agree that it is denying Bolton a valuable source of Government funds, denying education and training to the unemployed and proving once again that Labour puts politics before people?

I find the approach of Bolton and other local authorities which oppose JTS depressing and sad. It hurts young people, who desperately need to increase the quality of their training.

Will the Minister accept that, instead of monitoring his schemes, his time would be better spent radically improving both the quality and quantity of skill training up to the level of our competitors, who spend up to 10 times as much, often financed by forms of levy, on training their people, as promised in Labour's "Plan for Training"?

The whole idea of a statutory levy for training purposes is totally unsatisfactory, and the additional cost to employers would result in further job losses.

Departmental Aid

11.

asked the Paymaster General whether he will estimate the number of projects that will receive aid from his Department in this financial year; and if he will estimate how much additional private investment this aid is likely to generate.

My Department funds a wide variety of schemes and projects to promote employment, enterprise, tourism and training. No overall estimate of the impact of this aid on future private investment is available.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, but may I ask him to be more specific about tourism? How effectively is public money used in promoting tourism projects, bearing in mind how important tourism is in the west country?

It is possible to be more specific about tourism because, under section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969, private sector support is approximately eight times the support that we give, which must be one of the highest ratios in the whole of the British economy.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Ql.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend is currently on a visit to the Soviet Union.

When Murdoch and company moved to Wapping, does my right hon. Friend recollect the bad jokes that referred to the Wapping big lies. Those lies are now a reality.

Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate his question to Government responsibility.

I shall certainly be doing that. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is now an orchestrated campaign to defame the Labour party to the extent that democracy is now threatened? Will he recall the Royal Commission on the press, which has not met for some 10 years?

It has been the prerogative of politicians through the ages to believe that they are misrepresented by the press, and I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that I believe that the difficulties of the Labour party are mainly self-inflicted.

Has my right hon. Friend been able to ascertain whether the Leader of the Opposition spent 20 or 28 minutes with the President of the Unied States, and how much of that time—[Interruption.]

Order. The same rule applies to both sides. Please relate the question to Government responsibility.

Has the British ambassador informed my right hon. Friend, and has the British ambassador been able to say, how much of that time was spent in apologising to the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) for mistaking him for the British ambassador?

I am in some difficulty, because I cannot believe that anybody could mistake the right hon. Member for Leeds, East—

I did not catch what was intended to be a helpful sedentary interruption. I think that there will be an opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to make clear the nature of the success that he thought he secured in North America. All I can say is that I am sure it is not my responsibility.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

I have been asked to reply. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

I am sure that the Leader of the House is well aware of the importance of the beef sector of the agriculture industry and, in particular, that Scottish beef production is of very high quality. Is he aware of the great concern over the EEC package in September, which is expected to knock £50 a head off the price of beef cattle, and does he appreciate that the farming industry is looking for an immediate and substantial devaluation of the green pound? Does he not think that, as Agriculture Ministers do not seem keen to take initiatives, when the Prime Minister returns there should be some push from the top for much-needed action?

I understand all that the hon. Gentleman has said only too well, representing the district that I do. He knows that the United Kingdom is not sovereign in the prosecution of its agricultural policy within the European Community. He further knows that it is a very easygoing solution to suppose that all these matters can be contained within the question of the devaluation of the green pound without fully taking into account the other factors. I take note of what he said.

Will my right hon. Friend do his best to persuade the Treasury to provide more money for trips abroad—[Interruption.]

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that when the Leader of the Opposition and his side-kick are away the former spends his time abusing his own country and the latter spends his time abusing the host country? Ought we not to see more of this?

I have to be as consensual as possible on this occasion and say to my hon. Friend that on the issue of trips abroad he speaks with great authority as Chairman of one of the major departmental Select Committees. The trips abroad essayed by them bring real value to this nation and to Parliament. Whether that can be said more widely, I leave for others to judge.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is the Leader of the House aware that tomorrow is the first day for the nurses' pay award, and the Prime Minister will be studying the review body's report? Will he use his influence to make sure that on this occasion, for the first time since the review body was established, the public are not deceived and the nurses cheated as they have been on each previous occasion, when the announcement has been that the Government will implement the report in full, but, by phasing it, they have ensured that they have not done so? For example, last year they gave only 75 per cent. of the review body's recommendation.

I am sure that the review bodies have played and very important part in securing the improved wages of the nursing profession over the years. I understand that in all parts of the House there will be sympathy for the view that any recommendation by the review body should be implemented as speedily and fully as is possible. Doubtless it has been the extent that that has been secured by this Government that accounts for an increase in real terms of nurses' pay of 23 per cent., in contrast with what happened under the Labour Government of 1974–79, when it fell by 21 per cent.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to scotch a rumour that is going round the Palace of Westminster today that President Reagan let the cat out of the bag, and that after our victory in the next election my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be appointing the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) as our ambassador in Washington?

Clearly, if the purpose of the visit was to secure widespread and continuing comment, it clearly was a success in those terms.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Has the Leader of the House seen the compelling evidence now coming to light about the damage being done to children's education because of inadequate funding to prepare for the GCSE? Why will the Government not divert funds from education gimmicks such as city technology colleges— described today by Conservatives as being both irrelevant and likely to create ghettos— and put that money into preparing for the GCSE so that 600,000 14-year-olds are not at risk of having their future blighted?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has a far greater role in public affairs than to be the foghorn of the Today newspaper. The Government are spending the £30 million in the current year on preparation for the GCSE, and next year that will rise to £115 million. Unless one is to be completely dismissive of the significance of public spending, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in hoping that the money was well spent.

Did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity last night to watch a television programme based on Labour's rule in Brent, which beyond doubt is based on intimidation and fear? Does he agree that this clearly demonstrates the uncaring face of the Labour party?

Yes, I do, and I believe that this is a development of municipal Socialism which must be abhorrent to those who hitherto have carried the standard for Labour in our great cities, people such as Herbert Morrison. It is that development of radical Socialism that is doing more damage to the Labour party than any other single issue.

While I am not being dismissive of the money used by the Government for the GCSE, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that every teacher concerned in secondary education, and certainly all the parents who comment, agree with the NAS-UWT that the amount allocated is too little and too late? Is his attitude not typical of a Government who underfund this important examination reform, a Government the members of whom do not send their own children into state education?

I can cheerfully share the experience of state education with the right hon. Gentleman. To answer the wider issue, I accept, of course, that many in the teaching profession, and especially the leaders of teachers' trade unions, argue that the sums are inadequate. I do not think that that would necessarily come as a total surprise. But on any judgment of the prudent handling of public finances what is being made available is a very reasonable sum which I believe, if properly used, can help in the implementation of the examination.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us, therefore, why it is that when next year double the number of youngsters will be undertaking the GCSE examinations the Government are to reduce the funding for that specific purpose by half?

I have just given the right hon. Gentleman the figure of £115 million for next year.

In considering whether there is anything in the Opposition leader's attitude to foreign affairs that might usefully be recommended to our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, does my right hon. Friend—

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows what I am going to say about the Minister's responsibilities.

Does my right hon. Friend reject the Opposition Leader's reported comment—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate his question to matters of the Government's responsibility.

When my right hon. Friend comes to discuss these matters with the Prime Minister, does he think that it would be a useful attitude for her to adopt in her conduct of foreign affairs to respond to a White House press spokesman by saying, "No, I bloody don't"? [Interruption.]

Order. That is unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. He must not use unparliamentary language by attributing it to someone else.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that that sort of petulant vulgarity—[Interruption.]—should be rejected?

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 31 March 1987.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Pursuant to the reply given by the Prime Minister to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) last week on the question of Caspar Weinberger's statement to Congress about the modernisation of NATO's first-use nuclear weapons, why is it, if it was set out clearly at the Montebello meeting in 1983, that there was no reference to it in the 1984 Defence Estimates? Could it be that Caspar Weinberger was lying to Congress, or is it more likely that the Prime Minister and her Ministers have been miserly with the truth to the House of Commons and the British people?

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says and tell him at once that I am in no position to comment authoritatively on what he says. What he says is a sufficiently grave allegation and I prefer to leave it to those who are able to answer so to do.

When my right hon. Friend meets the Prime Minister, will he bring to her attention a radio programme that took place on Saturday morning last in Scotland in which the discussion was about the Government's policy on nuclear weapons and negotiations, and the Labour party's policy in the same areas, when 90 per cent. of the calls coming in from all over Scotland were supportive of the Government and 10 per cent. were supportive of the Labour party, which seems to be a reasonable picture of what is happening throughout the country?

I was unaware of the programme, but I am not in the least surprised that it should reveal the balance of preference indicated by my hon. Friend. I will, of course, refer it to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has made it clear to the nation that it is possible to be strongly in favour of balanced nuclear disarmament and still maintain an interest in national security, with the nuclear component that that requires.

Q7.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

In view of the undoubted damage done to the British economy, particularly over the past 20 years, in the uncertain period before general elections, does the Leader of the House not think that it would be a good idea to move to fixed-term Parliaments?

I do not think that the uncertainty arid damage derive so much from the presence or absence of fixed-term Parliaments as from the uncertainty about who might win the election.

Will my right hon. Friend draw the Prime Minister's attention to the business section of last week's Sunday Times on her return, which, in a special five-page supplement, proved beyond peradventure that order books are at their best level for 10 years, that business prospects are at their best levels for 20 years, that exports, investments and manufacturing output are all rising and, as the article said, the economy is now going through its best transformation at any time since the industrial revolution?

I think that my hon. Friend alights upon one more piece of anecdotal evidence that reinforces the statistical indications that we now have a substantially expanding economy, which is at last resulting in a fall in unemployment. Nothing can be more discomforting to Opposition Members, not least the shadow Employment spokesman, to realise that we are now seeing a national recovery in output that is affecting unemployment.