Skip to main content

Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 128: debated on Tuesday 1 March 1988

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Employment

Labour Statistics

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many people in Southwark and Bermondsey have been unemployed for longer than a year; and if he will make a statement.

On 14 January 1988 the number of unemployed claimants in the Southwark and Bermondsey constituency who had been unemployed for more than one year was 3,048. That was 285 fewer than in January last year.

Is the Minister aware that although unemployment has fallen a little since last year it is up by one third since 1983? Forty-six per cent. of those who are unemployed have been out of work for more than a year. What hope is there for people in constituencies such as mine that the inner-city initiatives will produce help for local residents and not for so many of the commuters who come in from onside inner-city areas?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, but I cannot help feeling that he is putting too gloomy a gloss on the matter. Unemployment has fallen by 12·9 per cent. in Southwark and Bermondsey during the past year. The travel-to-work area that includes the constituency has a lower rate of unemployment than the national average. If one considers the work done by the London Docklands Development Corporation, there is every reason to suppose that the jobs that are being attracted to the area and preserved and created there are certainly not all going to visitors. There is every reason to suppose that they are benefiting local people.

I am reassured by what my hon. Friend has said about the Southwark and Bermondsey constituency. Can he confirm that these promising signs prevail in the Southwark borough as a whole, and, in particular, in my constituency of Dulwich?

Whatever signs one looks at in the area, the position is hopeful. Job clubs in Southwark have helped about 225 people into jobs, the equivalent of 3,520 in Greater London. The YTS in Southwark is currently helping 555 people. The whole pattern is clear: the benefit that the whole country is enjoying is reflected in areas such as the constituencies of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden).

Companies (Tourists' Visits)

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he has to encourage industrial companies to open their premises to tourists; and if he will make a statement.

I shall continue to take every opportunity to promote the potential benefits to be gained from industrial tourism and am particularly pleased at the support expressed by Sir David Nickson, the president of the CBI, at my recent meeting with him. I welcome his proposal for a conference to be arranged by the CBI on this topic in September this year.

Everyone likes to watch other people at work. Who has not stopped to watch the activity on a building site or visited a local craft factory, such as a pottery or glassworks? Will my hon. Friend use his considerable influence to open up more mainstream industrial processes — for instance, car and furniture manufacturing—to industrial tourism? Who knows — that might even help us to sell a few more British goods.

As one who voted for the televising of the House, I believe that people do want to watch other people at work. In more serious vein, there is considerable potential for opening up more of our industrial factories to tourists. I want to encourage firms to progress from open days, or allowing only limited parties to go around, to embracing the concept of visitors and constructing walkways and viewing points, with proper visitors' entrances and access.

Will the Minister take a personal interest in the project being proposed by Jennings Breweries in Cockermouth in my constituency? It wants to turn part of the brewery into a sort of museum, but there appears to be some resistance from the councillors on the parish council. Will the Minister put it to them that Jennings' proposals are in the interests of the people of Cockermouth, and will he intervene?

I spend a great deal of time up in the Lake District and in areas covered by the Cumbria tourist board. In the next two or three weeks I hope to visit the Cumberland Pencil Company in Keswick. I shall certainly take on board the hon. Gentleman's points about Jennings and look into the matter. In due course, I may be able to visit the brewery, too.

Will my hon. Friend have a word with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to ensure that nuclear and coal-burning power stations have facilities for visitors and viewing galleries? Does he agree that as the sites are often on coasts and estuaries, they may become significant tourist attractions during a typical English summer?

My hon. Friend is right. He has opened up a new range of tourism opportunities for the electrical industry and coal mines. I should like to place on record the great success that British Nuclear Fuels has achieved at Sellafield, which receives 100,000 visitors a year.

Labour Statistics

3.

To ask the Secetary of State for Employment what has been the percentage increase in unemployment since May 1979.

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the level of unemployment.

Between May 1979 and January 1988 the seasonally adjusted level of adult unemployment increased by 122 per cent. on a consistent basis. The figure has now fallen by 647,000 since July 1986—which is the largest sustained fall on record — to 2,563,100, which is the lowest figure since April 1982.

Is the Minister not ashamed to come to the Dispatch Box to give those figures? Why is his boss, the Secretary of State for unemployment, swanning around the United States of America? No doubt he is cooking up some workfare scheme for the unemployed instead of coming to the Dispatch Box to tell us how the Government will create real jobs for unemployed people and get unemployment down to the level that they inherited from the last Labour Government.

My right hon. Friend is in the United States to promote the "Invest in Britain" campaign, which will help with jobs for this country. I am proud of the fact that unemployment has been going down strongly for the past 18 months in all regions, particularly in the hon. Gentleman's constituency in Falkirk, where it has been decreasing faster than the national average.

As the spectre of unemployment recedes, presumably to the political disappointment of many Labour Members, does my hon. Friend agree that one of the major challenges with which industry and the Government are faced is skill shortages? Can he offer some hope that this matter will be dealt with?

Yes, I can. However, when employers talk to me about skill shortages I always ask them how many people they are training. It is surprising how few have made the connection. We now have the new training programme that was announced by my right hon. Friend the other day, which will help considerably in this regard.

Has the Minister noticed the statement that was issued yesterday by the Society of British Aerospace Companies Ltd. It challenges the Government's assertion that 2·3 per cent. of gross domestic product is spent on research and development. Its calculations show that only 1·9 per cent. is spent, which is considerably below the amount spent by our nearest competitors. Is not that failure to invest in research and development reflected in the increased levels of unemployment from which we have suffered since 1979?

My Department does not deal with these figures, and I have not studied the report that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I was talking about investment in skills, which is important, and which we are keen to encourage.

Is my hon. Friend aware that some parts of the country that have been associated with traditional manufacturing industry and high levels of unemployment have experienced some of the most spectacular falls in unemployment? Will he pay tribute to the spirit of enterprise that has been shown in my constituency of Bury, North, where the level of unemployment is down to 7 per cent.? Will he pay tribute to the hard-working staff of the job centres in Bury and Ramsbottom, whose efforts have contributed to that fall?

Yes, the staff in jobcentres in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere have played a large part in the success. It is also a very good thing that over the year unemployment has been falling fastest in the west midlands, Wales, the north-west and the north, which are the most difficult regions.

Is the Minister aware that the Government's own "Labour Force Survey", just published, shows that in the year to mid-1987 the number of new jobs created was just 31,000, while the Government claim that over the same priod unemployment was cut by 221,000? Does that not prove that the Government's much vaunted big cut in unemployment is largely bogus and has much more to do with deterrent restart interviews and tighter availability for work rules than with any genuine creation of new jobs?

On the contrary, we have been creating new jobs very rapidly in recent years. The hon. Gentleman will see that if he compares our figures with those for overseas. Since June 1983 more new jobs have been created in this country than in the whole of the rest of the European Community put together.

Tourism

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the number of tourists visiting the United Kingdom in 1987.

By November 1987 the tourism industry in the United Kingdom had achieved a record, with 14·9 million visitors to the country. This figure is a 9 per cent. increase on the equivalent period in the previous record year of 1985. The total for the whole of 1987 will be released tomorrow.

I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent news. Can he estimate what contribution tourism made to the economy in 1987 and how our record compares with that of other Western nations? What is my hon. Friend's Department doing to help the English tourist board to move the many tourists who arrive in London to the regions? In my experience, Americans who come to south Dorset from London do not want to go back because of the wonderful welcome that they receive in places such as Weymouth and Swanage.

Let me take the latter part of my hon. Friend's question first. The English tourist board is working hard with the regional tourist boards to encourage American visitors to move into the regions rather than stay in London, Edinburgh and Stratford.

My hon. Friend asked about the contribution that tourism makes to the economy. There are a number of factors to be considered. The industry sustains 1·4 million jobs and the figure is growing at the rate of nearly 1,000 a week. We calculate that tourism now generates around £1·5 billion worth of new construction. In terms of overseas visitor tourist earnings, tourism is about 25 per cent. more important than aerospace, and four times more important than motor vehicles. Finally, my hon. Friend asked about other Western countries. We are fifth in the dollar earnings league in tourism, behind the United States, Spain, Italy and France.

Is the Minister aware that as tourism grows the number of official bodies proliferates and the arrangements could probably benefit from rationalisation? Is he also aware that some of the current problems arise from Government policy? For example, how are tourists to explore those delightful but remote villages in south Humberside and north Humberside when there are no longer rural bus services because of Government policies?

The hon. Gentleman knows that his specific question is for another Department. On his earlier point, while there may be a proliferation of tourism bodies in certain areas, a welcome feature of recent years has been the increasing partnership in the industry between the public sector — the regional tourist boards—and the private sector.

On the question about transport, we are blessed with a pretty good motorway network which helps the regions, particularly the north, the north-west, Yorkshire and Humberside.

Labour Statistics

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the number of job vacancies registered with jobcentres in the east midlands.

On 6 January 1988 the number of unfilled vacancies, excluding community programme, registered at jobcentres in the east midlands region was 11,300. This was an increase of 18·1 per cent. on the figure for January 1987.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, which is very encouraging. It shows up some of the protestations from the Opposition, especially bearing in mind that there are fewer than 20 Labour Back Benchers in the Chamber for employment questions.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the important aspects of creating jobs is the creation of employment opportunities within areas? Is he aware that Derbyshire county council levies the highest shire county rate, and does he agree that that is a great disincentive to the creation of jobs in the county?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The fact that the figures can look so promising in spite of that is a tribute to the efforts of the people who live there. It is a pity that the county council does not seem to devote as much time to considering the implications of a high rate for job prospects as it does to other activities, such as removing the Latin mottoes from local schools and replacing them with propositions relating to nuclear-free zones.

Is the Minister aware that Derbyshire county council would have been able to do much more if, in the last financial year, the Government had not taken £20 million from it, thus creating difficulties for every ratepayer in Derbyshire?

While the Minister is on the subject of jobs in the east midlands, will he tell us why, when I was asking questions a few years ago about the massive unemployment in the area, he said that it was not the Government's fault? It is not the Government's fault when the unemployment figures are going up, but when they come down —marginally—the Minister claims the credit.

The hon. Gentleman asks me, by implication, to comment on unemployment in the east midlands, and I am happy to do so. East midlands unemployment was down by over 35,000 in the last year. That is a rate of 8·3 per cent., and compares favourably with the United Kingdom rate of 9·2 per cent., adjusted. On the other hand, I appreciate that if Derbyshire county council cannot understand the virtues of living within one's means, it is highly unlikely that the hon. Gentleman will understand them either.

Employment Opportunities (Lancashire)

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on employment opportunities in Lancashire.

On 8 January the number of unfilled vacancies registered at jobcentres in Lancashire was 5,716. This compares with 4,790 in January 1987. Only about one third of all vacancies nationally are notified to jobcentres. In the same period, unemployment in Lancashire has fallen from 79,344 to 65,623. All my Department's employment, training and enterprise measures are available in Lancashire.

I am encouraged by my hon. Friend's answer, as it bears out the fact that in my constituency of Fylde unemployment has dropped to about 7·5 per cent. Already, however, employers are experiencing shortages in both semi-skilled and highly skilled jobs. Can my hon. Friend tell me which items in his new training package he feels will contribute to addressing the problem? Does he feel that the voluntary sector has a role to play in that work as well?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right to suggest that the voluntary sector has a role to play. Certainly, employers in the Fylde area report particular skill shortages in administration, legal secretaries, computer staff and so on. The new adult training programme will be very much locally conceived and locally delivered, precisely so that it can take account of particular skill shortages and requirements in particular areas.

Does the Minister honestly believe that employment prospects in Lancashire and the north of England generally can be as good as they are in the southeast, unless the Government are prepared to take proper steps? For instance, a development agency for the northwest would ensure that we received the investment that is needed to achieve decent quality employment in the areas.

The short answer is yes. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State has already said today, the rate of unemployment is falling, not only in the more prosperous regions, but throughout all the regions. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to examine any of the indicators for the areas about which he is concerned, he will find that that good news continues. For instance, unemployment in Lancashire has fallen from 14·8 to 12·2 per cent. Although we may wish that it had fallen still further, the point is that in the present economic environment it is clear that all regions not simply the more prosperous areas will benefit from falls in unemployment.

Tourist Priority Sites

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Employment if he will create a list of tourist priority sites for the encouragement of investment therein.

The Government have no plans to create a list of tourist priority investment sites. However, in its development strategy, "Vision for England", the English tourist board has highlighted the many opportunities that exist for investment in a wide range of tourism developments.

Although politics is about priorities, and "unique" is perhaps the most overworked word in the English language, does my hon. Friend agree that the Settle to Carlisle railway line is a unique priority for salvation as we approach the moment of decision?

Yes. It is a good word and perhaps my hon. Friend should learn it.

As the Department of Transport—I recognise that it has immediate ministerial responsibility for the decision—struggles to find a solution to the problem, will my hon. Friend recognise, not only that the River Ribble rises in the constituency of my right hon. and learned Friend the Patronage Secretary and that he has an interest in all this, but that my hon. Friend, as the Minister responsible for tourism, should do everything that he can to ensure that the line is not closed? Therefore, will my hon. Friend assure me today that he will speak to Department of Transport Ministers urgently to ensure that the tourism opportunities of the line are considered as part of the case against its closure?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for both railways and tourism, and I understand his passion and conviction for the Settle to Carlisle line. I should emphasise that, as my hon. Friend has already said, this is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. However, I assure my hon. Friend and the House that I have certainly ensured that the tourism considerations are taken into account. Indeed, I know the River Ribble well and I fish its headwater whenever I get the opportunity.

Will the Minister ensure that the Jarvis plc—MSC report on the Settle to Carlisle line corridor is brought to the attention of the Department of Transport? That report represents an important initiative by the Minister's Department regarding that line and its retention. Some of us suspect that the Department of Transport is planning to close the line. While the Minister is about that, could he look at the basis of this question—investment in tourist projects? He has spoken a great deal about job creation and so on, but why does the Department not put its money where its mouth is, for example, in projects such as the transport museum and associated tramway in my constituency at Low Moor in Bradford?

I believe I am correct in saying that the Department of Employment has funded, via the MSC, the Jarvis report to which the hon. Gentleman referred. As I said in answer to an earlier written question, that report will be published shortly. The hon. Gentleman should rest assured that the tourist implications have been and will be taken into account.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a trip over the Ribblehead viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle line, perhaps in a Pullman train pulled by one of our great historic steam locomotives such as a Great Western King or an LMS Duchess, blasting its way up to Aisgill summit is one of the world's greatest international tourist attractions? In comparison to that experience a trip even to Venice on the Orient Express is as a mere trip on Brighton pier. Will my hon. Friend both sample and save the Settle-Carlisle route?

I hear what my right hon. Friend says. Of course, all of us would like to see trains continuing to run across the viaduct, but, as a fisherman, I hope that they are not too heavy and do not disturb the fishing too much.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the fact that Carlisle city council and the Cumbria county council are continuing to finance the Carlisle-Settle line despite the fact that the county council is threatened with rate-capping? Does the Minister agree that the closure of the line would have a detrimental effect on the efforts made by Carlisle city council to promote tourism? Will the Minister, once more, speak to the Secretary of State for Transport and make those facts known to him?

All I would say at this stage is that I am aware that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport, is having discussions with a number of authorities, including, I believe, Carlisle.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, certainly within the heart of England, there is plenty of scope for tourist development? Will he have a word with some of his colleagues in other Departments to ensure that the integrity of those areas is maintained, so that Britain remains as we know it today?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend's sentiments. Only last night I was in Malvern, in the Heart of England tourist board area, and tomorrow I hope to be in the Forest of Dean.

Is the Minister aware that tomorrow's official tourism figures will show the biggest annual trade deficit in tourism for Britain for three decades? Is he aware that the Government's policy of high interest rates has sapped tourism as destructively as it has sapped our manufacturing industries? Is he further aware that the Chancellor's policy of tax cuts plus high interest rates is the exact opposite of what the British economy in general and tourism in particular really need, which are lower interest rates and a lower pound to boost exports, while keeping import prices as high as possible?

I am delighted that the official employment spokesman for the Opposition has, at long last, asked a question about tourism. That emphasises the importance of the industry. How he can possibly say, when our tourist industry is vibrant and buoyant, that the Government's policy has sapped it, I find totally incomprehensible.

Yts

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many people are currently on YTS schemes; what percentage of trainees on YTS schemes found jobs on the expiry of their training in the latest year for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement.

At the end of January 1988 there were 413,000 young people in training on YTS.

Results from the Manpower Services Commission's follow-up survey of YTS leavers show that, of those young people who left YTS schemes between April 1986 and August 1987, 60 per cent. were in a job and 14 per cent. were in further training or education when surveyed within a year after leaving.

Has my hon. Friend heard it said that YTS schemes are a source of cheap labour for employers, but do not the figures he has given deny that? Will he always ensure that the educational and training contents of schemes are well up to standard? Will he give the figures for Ealing in terms of YTS trainees in work?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that some people still seek to criticise YTS by suggesting that it is no more than cheap labour for employers. Anyone in that frame of mind has only to talk to many families throughout the country to find out that that is not the position. My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that standards of training must be maintained within the YTS, and they certainly are maintained. As for his own constituency, the figures are even more encouraging than the national average. In Ealing, 64 per cent. of YTS trainees went into jobs and 14 per cent. went into some other form of training.

Is the Minister not being a little smug? Should we all not be concerned if 40 per cent. of our young people are unemployed after two years' training on YTS? Given that in some parts of the country the proportion is very much higher, should not the Minister be making plans to provide work opportunities for those young people? We know that in the Minister's target group for the new adult training scheme. among 18 to 24-year-olds, 25 per cent. have O-levels, 20 per cent. have A-levels and 6 per cent. have degrees, yet they are long-term unemployed. Does the Minister not realise that what is needed is not just more training but jobs for young people so that they can make a worthwhile contribution to their local communities?

I might have had slightly more patience with the hon. Lady had she not used every other occasion to denigrate and rubbish the YTS scheme. The figures are an average, and obviously an average is a combination of high and low target averages. On average, more than 74 per cent. of people go on to jobs, further training or education. By definition, if they had not been on the YTS scheme, presumably they would not have been able to get a job. Both sides of the House ought to be united by the recognition of what is being done for young people, in the hon. Lady's constituency and in mine. She should welcome that, not try to rubbish it.

British Venture Capital Association

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he has to meet the chairman of the British Venture Capital Association to discuss investment in smaller business; and if he will make a statement.

I met Mr. Lionel Anthony, chairman of the British Venture Capital Association, on 18 January. We had a wide-ranging discussion on ways in which venture capital investment in smaller businesses might be further encouraged, particularly in areas outside the south-east. In addition, I spoke at the BVCA conference in Manchester on 19 February.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the success of the Venture Capital Association and other funds, in producing more resources for smaller firms, is very much to be welcomed? Does he agree that the real anxiety centres on sums much smaller than is commonly invested by venture capital funds? Is he considering introducing, for example, an improved investment fund which would enable sums as small as £25,000 to he found for small firms that wish to expand?

I certainly agree with the first part of what my hon. Friend had to say. Britain's venture capital industry is the most advanced in Europe and has done well. On smaller amounts of finance below that provided by the venture capital industry, I remind my hon. Friend that in the first three years of the business expansion scheme half the firms involved raised amounts of less than £50,000, and nearly two thirds raised less than £100,000. We are always ready to consider further initiatives in this area.

The Minister knows full well, if he talks to the chairman, that there is an equity gap below £250,000, according to some sources, or below £100.000 according to others. However, the fact is that after nine years of this Government there is still a great shortage of investment, particularly outside London and the southeast. Is it not about time that the hon. Gentleman talked to his opposite numbers in the Department of Trade and Industry who have recently shelved a report on innovation centres, because one of the real ways in which small industries and firms can get moving in the high-tech area is if innovation centres are bonded with the ability to provide loans and equity capital? Is it not about time that the Government and those Departments got their act together for small business?

As I have already said, I recognise the problems of raising small amounts of equity capital, but that is what the loan guarantee and the business expansion schemes, and the other schemes that we have introduced, are about. As I have said, we shall go on considering further suggestions that are made.

Small Firms Service

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress of the small firms service.

The small firms service, through its information and counselling arms, works to promote viable and profitable small businesses. In 1986–87, in England, it handled over 283,000 inquiries and gave 38,210 counselling sessions. With the development of the local enterprise agencies, it is increasingly developing its counselling activities with established business. Copies of the annual report on the service for 1986–87 were placed in the Library in July.

I am sure that my hon. Friend's support for small business is greatly welcome, but will he say, following his announcement that there will be direct access to the small firms computer database, how that will operate and what benefits there will be for the chambers of commerce and local enterprise agencies?

I intend as soon as possible to make this database, which the small firms service operates, available in computerised form or hard copy form to other organisations in the small business advice area. We are working out the detailed arrangements now and I shall announce them as soon as I am able to do so. The database is already consulted by organisations such as local enterprise agencies and chambers of commerce ringing up the small firms centres. I want them to have direct access so that questions can be answered quickly, authoritatively and easily.

Excellent though the small firms service is, is it not the local enterprise agencies that have contacts at grass root level, so that it is imperative that they work closely together? What specific steps will my hon. Friend take to encourage close integration between the two?

We encourage close integration. The database is a further step in that direction, and, for that matter, so is the integration of counsellors, on which we have been carrying out a pilot experiment in the Yorkshire and Humberside region, which we hope to develop further throughout Britain. Many of our small firms service counsellors operate from time to time in premises supplied, for example, by local enterprise agencies, and we are keen to encourage such co-operation.

Does the Minister agree that the small firms counselling service was started by the Labour Government? What progress has been made by the small firms service in general, against the blows produced by the Government's general economic policy, in stemming the loss of 2 million jobs in manufacturing industry since 1979 and providing jobs in small firms, for example, in engineering and machine tools? Is the small firms service making a positive contribution towards providing proper long-term jobs in the small firms sector?

I think that it makes its contribution. In the nature of things, it is very difficult to measure exactly what piece of advice led to the creation of an individual job, let alone to produce statistics overall. But certainly manufacturing, including engineering manufacturing, is well represented among the firms to which the small firms service gives advice.

Inner Cities

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the measures currently being taken by his Department to improve levels of employment in the inner cities.

The Department of Employment and the Manpower Services Commission provide a wide range of programmes which aim to equip individuals in inner cities and elsewhere with the skills and motivation to compete for available jobs and to stimulate enterprise and the growth of small businesses. The level of commitment is reflected in the estimated expenditure by the Department and the commission of over £1·1 billion in the areas of the 57 urban partnership authorities.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the inner-city officer in the jobcentre in Wolverhampton will be concentrating his help and energy on those unemployed people in some of the most deprived areas in my constituency, such as Low Hill and Heathtown, as part of the Government's initiative in reducing inner-city deprivation?

Yes, indeed. I had the pleasure of visiting the task force in my hon. Friend's constituency in Wolverhampton recently and certainly those areas, among others in Wolverhampton, are part of his special task.

Will the Minister confirm that many of the employment opportunities to which he refers are temporary, part-time and low-paid, and create an illusion of economic prosperity, rather than the reality, for many people living in inner-city areas?

Does my hon. Friend agree that the inner cities could very well benefit from a substantial share in the extra revenue from tourism in this country, and what steps does he propose to take to ensure that this comes about?

We attempt to encourage tourism in all parts of the country, but my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment, the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee), who deals with tourism, has a particular interest in creating employment in this way in the inner cities.

Does the Minister accept that the need in these areas is local jobs for local people, as opposed to developments which are attractive to outsiders? When are the Government going to accept that elected local councillors have a crucial role to play in the regeneration of our inner-city areas?

We believe that co-operation between Government agencies, local authorities and the private sector is very important to the creation of local jobs. The hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying that it is local jobs that we require as much as anything, but obviously other jobs have their part to play.

Confectionery Industry

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will estimate how many of those employed in the confectionery industry are full time and how many are part time.

In December 1987 there were an estimated 177,000 employees in employment in the confectionery industry, of whom 42,000 were women working part time. I regret that current estimates of the number of men working part time in this industry are not available, but in 1984 there were about 4,000.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures are indeed encouraging, but that they could be increased, according to the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Alliance, by some 2,250 if confectionery were re-rated in alliance with foods? Will he undertake to ask his right hon. Friend the Chancellor, even at this late hour, to look upon this favourably, especially since some further 6,000 people would be employed in ancillary industries?

No day of employment questions would be complete without a question from my hon. Friend about confectionery, employment and VAT. I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the point made about the projections from the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Alliance.

Does the Minister not accept that the figures for the travel-to-work areas are totally misleading, partly because the travel-to-work—

American Tourists

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Employment if he will make a statement on the number of American tourists who visited the United Kingdom in 1987.

Figures for the full year are not yet available, but in the first 11 months of 1987, 3,380,000 residents from North America visited the United Kingdom. This compares with 2,672,000 in the same period of 1986 and 3,634,000 in 1985.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the increase in American tourists indicates that the downturn in the value of the dollar has had little effect on the numbers visiting this country and that even more people are likely to come this year? Will he encourage American tourists by telling them that the world does not end at Watford and that there are parts of Lancashire well worth visiting, not least Hyndburn and Pendle?

As a fellow Lancastrian, may I wish my hon. Friend a reet good happy birthday? I am working closely with the North-West tourist board and Lancashire county council to encourage more tourism to Lancashire. With regard to Hyndburn and Pendle, I refer tourists to an excellent article which appeared in last month's Lancashire Life.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having meetings with Secretary Shultz and with King Hussein later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty The Queen.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is she aware that because of the high nonattendance rate of patients, currently at 20 per cent., the waiting list for appointments at Sheffield's Hallamshire hospital ophthalmology, ear nose and throat clinic is now several months? That is typical. Is that something that my right hon. Friend will take into consideration during the review of the National Health Service?

I am aware that from time to time people who are called for operations do not turn up, for one reason or another. I hope that local health authorities will look into the matter. We shall, of course, have a wide-ranging review and take this into consideration. I know that some local health authorities, finding that this was a great trouble which caused operating theatre facilities and skills not to be fully used, established a list of people who could come in at short notice, and thus they have been able substantially to reduce their waiting lists and the time taken to have operations. That is a good practice.

Does the Prime Minister stand by her manifesto commitment to bring more help to low-income families?

Of course we stand by our manifesto commitment. It is only because of the excellent growth that has been achieved by the Government that we are able to do that.

How can the Prime Minister sustain that claim when her own Minister for Social Security and the Disabled admits that, as a consequence of the social security changes coming into effect next month, a family with one parent in work, earning £100 a week, will lose £10·15 in cash, a lone mother in full-time work earning £80 a week will lose £12·60 in cash and all families with one wage earner earning less than £140 a week will lose some money? Is this what the Prime Minister meant, when she spoke about helping low-income families?

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the overwhelming majority of low-income families will gain — [Interruption.]— from the social security changes. I think the right horn. Gentleman is referring to a particular list, which depends very much on whether or not they pay average rent. Many people in low-income families do not.

Is that all that the Prime Minister has to say to scores of thousands of people who are working, who earn relatively low incomes and who have one or two children? Are not those the very people whom the Prime Minister tells to stand on their own feet? How can they do that when she is deliberately dragging them down?

We are far from deliberately dragging those people down. They have much better prospects now, and they have had much better prospects, with increased tax thresholds, which they did not have under Labour. I am delighted, therefore, that we have a new recruit to the cause of reducing tax rates.

Would my right hon. Friend care to tell the House how much low-income families have already benefited from the fact that tax allowances have gone up much faster than the rate of inflation?

Yes, Sir. We have put up the tax thresholds very much. That has been one of our priorities, as well as reducing the standard rate of income tax, all of which is very helpful, particularly to people on low incomes. I cannot go any further, for reasons of which my hon. Friend is well aware.

Is the Prime Minister aware that Northern Ireland Ministers plan to introduce legislation imposing certain penalties, including contract compliance and grant denial, on firms alleged to be guilty of job discrimination? Does the Prime Minister intend to extend that legislation to the whole of the United Kingdom to satisfy the grievances, complaints and allegations of various minorities here in England?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would welcome all efforts to ensure that there is no discrimination. It should be a matter only of merit as to who gets a particular job and I hope that he will welcome that piece of legislation for Northern Ireland very warmly.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange to have a Health Minister visit the county of Shropshire to comprehend the importance of cottage hospitals to such an immense geographic area? At the same time, will she remind those who harp on about the level of hospital spending that the Government are financing the building of a £26 million giant hospital in the centre of the county? There is no cut in health spending in Shropshire.

I congratulate the district health authority, which has such excellent results. Since we announced a review of the Health Service we have been receiving details from a considerable number of authorities which say, "We have no cuts in ward services and no cuts in beds. We are not short of money because we are managing our resources well. We have excellent capital improvement, far better than we have ever had under any previous Government. We have more money, more staff, more doctors and more nurses."

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 March 1988.

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

Is the right hon. Lady planning to find time in her busy schedule to see a playback of the recent "World in Action" film "The Taming of the Beeb", in which she is portrayed as responding to criticism by declaring that the BBC must put its house in order? In view of the recent poll showing that the BBC is now seen as a Government poodle, is she satisfied that it has put its house in order? Is she now planning to send a similar message to the Church of England, the Bar Council, the Law Society, the British Medical Association, the British Dental Association, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and Conservative peers?

I have great faith in both the chairman and deputy chairman of the BBC.

In view of the recent discussion about the effect of high wage settlements, will my right hon. Friend state whether it is now her view that high wage settlements are a cause of inflation, or a consequence of inflation?

High wage settlements allied to high increased productivity do not have any effect on inflation. It is not a question of a wage settlement, but of a wage settlement in relation to what is obtained for it, and I am sure that my hon. Friend is very much aware of that.

Q4.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 March 1988.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Europe without nuclear weapons would be very much at the mercy of the Soviet Union, particularly because of the Soviet Union's preponderance of and superiority in conventional and chemical weapons? Will she therefore give an undertaking to the House this afternoon that, when she goes to the NATO summit in Brussels at the end of this week, she will urge her colleagues not to negotiate on the question of nuclear weapons in Europe until, on the one hand, we have parity of conventional forces in Europe and, on the other hand, we have been able to obtain agreement to negotiate away chemical weapons?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend that nuclear weapons will continue to play a vital part in our defence in deterring any potential aggressor. The history of two world wars shows that conventional weapons alone are not enough to deter war. I agree with my hon. Friend that after the coming 50 per cent. reduction in strategic ballistic missiles between the United States and the Soviet Union, the next arms control that should be negotiated should be to get conventional and chemical weapons down to parity. Only then should we return to consider nuclear weapons further.

Q5.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

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

Following the explosion at Crossmaglen last night and the revelation by Sir John Hermon that surface-to-air missiles, provided by Libya, are now in the hands of the Irish Republican Army, does the Prime Minister agree that the best way to counter terrorism is through the strengthening and consolidation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Does she also agree about the need to establish a joint security commission, and that justice and security must march hand in hand?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should continue to try to achieve increased security co-operation through the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and it is in the interests of those north of the border and in the interests of the Republic south of the border to do so. I do not agree that it would be wise to set up a security commission. I believe that justice north of the border is for the United Kingdom, and south of the border for the Republic.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that direct international flights into our regional airports are vital to the continued economic regeneration of those regions? Will she remind her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport that three American airlines have made new applications for flights into Manchester, and that those negotiations should not become buried in matters related to landing charges at Heathrow or any other matters that do not directly concern Manchester?

Yes, I agree that it is important, for the prosperity of regional airports and to ensure that there is not too much congestion in the south, that international flights fly straight into regional airports. My hon. Friend will be aware that we have been active in helping Manchester to get more international flights. Indeed, when I have been on overseas missions I have been active in trying to get more. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be seeing people tomorrow about the matter that my hon. Friend has raised.

Q7.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

Will my right hon. Friend take the time today to consider whether an amendment might be introduced to the Local Government Bill to prevent Haringey council giving grants to a bookshop which is selling a disgusting comic called "The Scum", which mocks the death of PC Blakelock, who was killed only yards from that shop on the Broadwater farm estate?

Many people would be utterly revolted that any such thing should be on sale, let alone on sale from a bookshop which received a grant from a local authority —

If the report is correct, many people, including, I hope, most Opposition Members, would be utterly revolted by that. What is certain is that measures in the Local Government Bill will strengthen the ban on party political propaganda at public expense and will require local authorities to take proper account of the publicity code of practice that will shortly be placed before Parliament for approval.

The Prime Minister has always taken every opportunity to condemn any act of terrorism, with the notable exceptions of the invasion of Grenada —[HON. MEMBERS: "Question".] — the support for the Nicaraguan Contras and, of course, the air raid on Libya, which was launched from Alconbury and Lakenheath. In view of the recent incontrovertible evidence of South African involvement in terrorism in Angola and other front-line African states, will the Prime Minister tell the House this afternoon whether that is a form of terrorism that she condones or condemns?

The hon. Gentleman is aware that one always condemns utterly terrorism and violence, wherever they occur. They are not a way of solving problems. He will also be aware that there are many peace movements under way in connection with Nicaragua. We wish them success.

Q8.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that tax harmonisation, which is being aggressively pushed by the European Commission, is not necessary for Community free trade and that, in fact, more genuine free trade has existed between states with very different taxation systems? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that tax decisions affecting this country are taken by this House?

I agree with my hon. Friend that tax harmonisation in the European Economic Community is not necessary for the completion of the single market in 1992. With regard to VAT, there are two quite distinct cases, one under the existing law, which is a directive approved by the Labour Government in 1977 and which became the existing law of the Community—and there have been recent cases decided under that — and the other, which my hon. Friend raises, which is a possible change in the law. In this case I have made it absolutely clear that we should vote against any legislation which deprived us of the ability to make our own decisions on the future of zero-rating for value added tax. Any such change could not go through the European Council except with unanimity, so we would be in a position to determine our own future.