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Volume 169: debated on Tuesday 13 March 1990

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Labour Statistics


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what was the unemployment rate in Worcester in (a) 1979, (b) 1984 and (c) 1989.

Between 1984 and 1989 the rate of unemployment, unadjusted, for the Worcester travel-to-work area fell from 11·2 per cent. to 4·5 per cent. Worcester travel-to-work area, as currently defined, did not exist in 1979.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Will he confirm that that decline is greater than the reduction in unemployment achieved in Wales during the comparable period? Are the employment policies pursued by the Welsh Office and by his Department identical? If the Secretary of State for Employment was to succeed the Secretary of State for Wales, would those policies continue?

The hon. Gentleman has a close personal interest in the future of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales in relation to both their voting records. From January 1989 to January 1990, unemployment fell by 22·4 per cent. in Wales whereas in the United Kingdom as a whole it has fallen by 18·7 per cent. Wales has done considerably better than the United Kingdom over that period.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that unemployment in Wales has fallen by 150,000 as a result of inward investment and that that achievement is due in great part to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales? I am sure that the people of Worcester, too, would like to thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales for his efforts.

I agree completely with my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) also agrees, because he described my right hon. Friend as the best Secretary of State that Wales has ever had. In response to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), more people are employed in Wales than ever before.


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment by what amount the level of unemployment in the north-west of England has changed over the last three years for which figures are available.

Between January 1987 and January 1990 seasonally adjusted unemployment in the north-west region has fallen by 179,000 or 43 per cent.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that at the previous general election the Labour party promised to reduce unemployment by 1 million inside two years? Does he recognise that we have achieved that and more inside a shorter period? Does he agree that the best hope for the north-west, whose economy is booming, is a continuation of this Conservative Government?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We made no such specific pledges at the election, but we beat the Labour party's promise by two months. Unemployment has continued to decline since, and my hon. Friend correctly attributed that to the success of the Government's policies.

Is the Minister aware that in January there were 7,500 unemployed men and women in Oldham, that the number has increased since and that it is likely to increase even more unless his Department puts pressure on his colleagues to ensure that the multi-fibre arrangement is renewed and textiles are protected?

The hon. Gentleman knows very well the attitude of my right hon. and hon. Friends to that matter. We must look at the whole employment picture in the north-west, which, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg), is a very bright one.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the fall in unemployment of 179,000 in the north-west is due in no small way to the vigorous policy of inward investment operated by the Department of Trade and Industry and to his Department's strong small business policy which have created thousands of new businesses and brought in much new investment from overseas?

I am always happy to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's observations. It is easy to overlook the important contribution that inward investment makes to sustaining our excellent employment record.

As he surveys the background to the Budget next week—we have the highest real interest rates of any of our main competitors, the worst inflation record, the worst balance of payments deficit, and training gaps and skills shortages—can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us when unemployment will get back down to the level that the Government inherited in 1979?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware, but perhaps is not, that there are 1·5 million more people in work now than in 1979. That is the answer to his grossly extravagant claims, and that excellent record is the result of this Government's policies.


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest figure for the total work force in employment in the United Kingdom.

In September 1989 the work force in employment in the United Kingdom was 26,955,000—the highest level ever. This represents an increase of 3,391,000 since March 1983.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for those figures. As he said, it proves that 1·5 million more people are in work now than in 1979. Will my right hon. and learned Friend point out our job creation record to our European partners who would foist upon us a social charter?

My hon. Friend makes a most important point. We are determined not to have inflicted upon us policies that would undo our achievements since 1979. Those achievements are due to our policy of lower regulation and the freeing of enterprise. Many of our European colleagues have much to learn from that.

It is not difficult for the Secretary of State to comfort one of his hon. Friends from the south-east on a question such as this, although I note that he did not point out that two thirds of the increase in jobs last year was represented by part-time jobs. What does the Secretary of State say to an hon. Member from the north of England—from, say, the Sheffield travel-to-work area—where the number of registered claimants in January rose for the second month running?

Unlike Opposition Members, Conservative Members do not denigrate part-time work, which we believe has an important part to play in improving prospects for employment. The hon. Gentleman is aware that during the past few years unemployment has been falling in the north at least as fast as in other parts of the country, if not faster. Prosperity is spreading to all parts of the country.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one reason for the high number of people in work is the bonfire of controls over industry and the enormous benefits from reducing corporation tax levels, especially for smaller firms? Will he try to explain that to the Opposition, some of whose emergent policies would throttle British business and increase unemployment?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The task of explaining these matters to the Opposition is very difficult, but we must never give up trying.

Notwithstanding the welcome improvement in unemployment figures, does the Secretary of State accept that the numbers of long-term unemployed people in some parts of the country, including the pockets of unemployment in Liverpool, remain stubbornly high? Does he further accept that when chambers of commerce make representations about the impact of the Channel tunnel on the more disparate regions of England, it could have a detrimental effect on employment patterns? What consideration is the right hon. and learned Gentleman giving to that?

The hon. Gentleman is right that there are still pockets where long-term unemployment is too high, although long-term unemployment has been falling faster than unemployment generally. The Channel tunnel will benefit all parts of the country. I hope that when the hon. Gentleman talks about the effects of Government policies on unemployment, particularly in Liverpool, he will pay full tribute to the uniform business rate, which will go a long way to improving employment prospects in his area.



To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what was the increase between 1988 and 1989 in expenditure in Britain by overseas visitors.

It is provisionally estimated that overseas residents spent £6,850 million in the United Kingdom during 1989, 11 per cent. more than in 1988.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that last year was the third record year in a row for the tourist industry? Will he also confirm that more than 1·5 million people work in the industry? Does he agree that the Opposition's attitude to tourism is an insult to the people who work in it?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw our attention to the fact that tourism is a highly vibrant industry. About 17·2 million visitors came to the United kingdom in 1989, and about 15·8 million in 1988. As my hon. Friend said, that is a record. It is welcome, especially for people working in the industry.

The Minister mentions the importance of the tourist industry and the benefits to the nation, but I draw his attention to the miserable amount of money that the Government spend on promoting tourism in Britain. The sum of about £50 million is just petty cash compared with the potential earnings for the nation.

When one looks at the facts, rather than the rhetoric, one sees that in 1991 the British Tourist Authority will receive £27·7 milion and the English tourist board will receive about £14·5 million. Those are increases of 11 per cent. and 9 per cent. respectively. Where the hon. Gentleman goes wrong is in believing that an extremely thriving, mostly private sector industry could be helped by the dead hand of the state. Those days are gone and it is time the hon. Gentleman caught up.

Does my hon. Friend remember the figures under the Labour Government in 1978–79, when tourism was derided as a candy floss industry good enough only for Mickey Mouse? Could not we further increase expenditure if we put out tourist information centres to competitive tender and concentrated, in this European Year of Tourism, on foreign languages?

In an industry as successful as this, the good ideas will keep on coming. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that tourism has done extremely well under the Government. It comes badly from the Opposition to pledge their support for tourism but to deride jobs in the service industries.

I welcome the extension of foreign tourism in the United Kingdom. Does the Minister agree that it usually coincides with the success of the Government's policies and a decline in the exchange rate of the pound sterling?

I am not sure whether I can comment on that. The important point is whether we consider the industry in terms of overseas tourism of our citizens or of overseas citizens coming here. The industry is buoyant and has done extremely well under the Government.



To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of firms with 10 or more employees provide training.

The latest survey carried out by my Department shows that 80 per cent. of firms with 10 employees or more provided training for their employees in 1986–87. The survey excluded agriculture and the armed services.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures are most encouraging for the future? Do not they give the lie effectively to the charge that is often made that British employers are not willing to provide training?

My hon. Friend is right. A total of £33 billion was spent on training in 1986–87, and the amount spent by employers has increased substantially.

When the Minister calculates the amount spent on training, will he include in this year's figure the £11 million given to Astra Training Limited and the land which was passed to Astra, valued at almost £100 million, on which the skill centres are situated? That was a complete break with the policies set out in the Deloitte Corporate Finance Ltd. document issued on behalf of the Department of Employment. When will this ramp of taxpayers' money be given the publicity that it so richly deserves?

That money was made available to ensure that Astra could continue training at those skill centres. It represents an excellent agreement for the taxpayer and those who will continue to get training at the skill centres concerned.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the increase in expenditure on training demonstrates the Government's increasing commitment and the fact that, in addition to the substantial success of the training and enterprise councils, the more control employers have over the delivery of training, the more their commitment will be and the better it will be for the long-term future of the British work force?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Training and enterprise councils represent the most exciting initiative ever in training. I am delighted with their progress and my hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise it.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the 1989 labour force survey has just been published? Why, after 11 years of indifference and inactivity, do only 14 per cent. of British employees receive any form of either on or off-the-job skills training? Will he concede that we are in the second division for skills training—and not seeking promotion to the first division, but trying to avoid relegation to the third?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on drawing on his footballing past for the analogy in his question. I do not accept the suggestion of second division status in any respect. The latest labour force survey statistics show a substantial increase in the number of employees in receipt of training. We propose to build on that increase, and the training and enterprise councils will ensure that we succeed.

Disabled People


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many disabled people were helped into jobs by his Department's programmes in 1988–89.

In 1988–89, an estimated 77,200 people with disabilities were placed into jobs by jobcentres. In addition, many found jobs by other means following participation in other Department of Employment programmes.

Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that the figure that he has just announced is an impressive witness to the work undertaken by his Department to help the disabled? I say that with particular pleasure because 22 years ago I was a junior official in the Department. Will he continue to give a high priority to helping people with disabilities to get and keep work?

I shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the officials in my Department concerned with disabilities. The evidence of increased commitment can be seen in several ways, one of which is by looking at the increase in expenditure. In 1986–87 we spent £220 million on help to the disabled in employment and now we spend about £350 million.

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is two years since his Department commissioned an important review into employment services for disabled people? When will the report be published?

My hon. Friend and many other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen await the publication of the consultative document, and we are doing our best to produce it as soon as possible. We have decided that it would not be appropriate to publish it before we know the results of the survey of people with disabilities in the labour market. That has been commissioned and is being completed. We hope to be able to publish the consultative document in June this year.

Unofficial Strikes


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of industrial action taken in Britain is unofficial action.

A recent special exercise showed that in 1988 approximately one half of all stoppages and one third of all working days lost resulted from unofficial disputes.

Does not the common sense vote by the ambulance workers to return to work illustrate how awful it would be if there were an unofficial strike by pockets of ambulance workers? Does my hon. Friend agree that it says much for the Employment Bill which is going through the House of Commons that it would make such wildcat strikes illegal?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw the House's attention to the provisions in the Employment Bill which will require trade unions to say whether they support industrial action in particular cases. It is interesting that in Committee Opposition Members did everything that they could to defend the rights of unofficial strikers.

In view of the ambulance workers' decision, why could not the Government have settled the dispute much earlier without the problems that have been caused? In relation to unofficial strikes, does the hon. Gentleman want workers to become wage slaves who must accept work whether they like it or not? The last right that ordinary working people have is the right to say no if they do not want to work for a particular employer in certain circumstances. By denying that, the Government are taking away a basic human right.

That really is the voice of the day before yesterday. It is remarkable that at a time when the citadels of state Socialism are crumbling all over Europe, the hon. Gentleman can get up and make a remark like that in favour of unofficial action. I should have thought that people who claim even a passing acquaintance with the trade union movement would be prepared to say that unofficial action should not be supported, but, to be frank, I never thought that the hon. Gentleman would take that view.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the vast majority of the British people are sick and tired of having to suffer at the hands of those who choose unofficial action, particularly in the public sector, and that the vast majority of the British people are thankful that at long last the Government have decided to do something about the problem? Does he agree that the attitude of Opposition Members in Committee, who continually opposed the progress towards this change in the law, is to be condemned and means that they are totally unfit to form a Government?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. If anyone wants evidence of the fact that Labour is the striker's friend, as it always has been—[HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful!"]—he could do much worse than read the reports of what was said in Committee. As hon. Gentlemen have just admitted, it is quite disgraceful.

The Minister referred to the crumbling citadels of Socialism in eastern Europe. Does he accept that some of those citadels crumbled because of the type of unofficial action that the Government are making unlawful?

That was a question of remarkable puerility, even for the hon. Gentleman. It would be interesting for anyone who thinks that the alliance might live again to examine the hon. Gentleman's voting records and see how many times he had to side with the Opposition in Committee.

Women Workers


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what further steps the Government are taking to develop child care facilities to ease the path of women into employment.

The provision of child care facilities is primarily a matter for employers. Ministers have recently taken a number of practical initiatives to encourage the development of good quality child care provision.

That inadequate reply will cause disappointment in many parts of the House. Does the Secretary of State understand that child care is an idea whose time has come, because the overwhelming majority of new entrants to the labour market will be women? We shall recruit them only if we take the right steps now. The Government should not have a hands-off policy—standing back and leaving it to everyone else—but should take the responsibility for creating a comprehensive nationwide system of child care. That will not come cheap, but the Government should bear the largest burden because they will recoup in extra income tax, national insurance contributions and value added tax much of the money that they would have spent on a child care system.

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said about the importance of making provision for women who wish to return to work. The labour force survey, which was published at the end of last week, shows a dramatic increase in the number of women at work and is evidence that women are returning to work in ever-growing numbers. However, I do not think that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman would suggest that the Government should assume responsibility for the wide-ranging measures to which he referred. That is primarily a matter for employers, who are increasingly recognising their responsibilities.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that a high proportion of women who return to work are employed by small companies which are incapable of providing the type of child care facilities that women need? Will he assure us that his Department is studying the whole range of possibilities, such as vouchers and other mechanisms, by which such women can be attracted back? There is already an excellent precedent in the employment training facility.

I note what my hon. Friend says. I am sure that employers are looking increasingly at precisely the type of facilities to which he referred. However, the primary responsibility must be theirs.

Is not the local authority the best provider of child care? It knows what local people want. If local authorities were given the resources, they would be the best provider of child care. That would stop kids being dragged about in the early hours of the morning on buses and other forms of transport. Why does not the Minister accept his responsibilities as a member of the Government? If it could be done during the war, why cannot it be done now?

I am afraid that I cannot share the hon. Lady's views about the omniscience of local authorities. Therefore, I cannot agree with her suggestion.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that more women are working in this country than in any other European country? Although many of those jobs are part time, which the Opposition deride, does he accept that many want part-time work because it fits in with their family responsibilities?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right on both counts. I take some comfort from the Select Committee's recent report on part-time work. It paid particular tribute to the record of my Department, which makes part-time work available to virtually everyone who is appropriately qualified to do the job in question.

Health And Safety


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when he last met the director-general of the Health and Safety Executive; and what was discussed.

My right hon. and learned Friend met the director-general of the Health and Safety Executive, together with the chairman of the commission, on 31 January for a discussion on the work of the commission and the executive.

Does the Minister accept that there are still far too many accidents at work, and that, tragically, far too many people are still killed at work? What steps will the Health and Safety Commission take to protect in particular the increasing number of part-time workers who have great difficulty in making representations to their employers about their working conditions, if they are dangerous?

The first part of the hon. Gentleman's question was entirely right. I am sure that that is accepted on both sides of the House. As for the Government's contribution to the funds that are needed, during the past three years we have met the HSE bill in full. The HSE's consultative document relating to those who work on multi-contractor sites goes a considerable way towards addressing the hon. Gentleman's concerns.

Is my hon. Friend aware that during the past 20 years there have been significant improvements in health and safety at work in this country and that we compare favourably with all other countries, particularly the advanced ones? Is he further aware that if we become too draconian, that can eventually be counterproductive? Will he please tell that to the director-general?

My hon. Friend is right to remind us that standards are a great deal better than they used to be. However, they could be a great deal better in certain industries. I have in mind the construction industry and the self-employed. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees with me that a great deal more needs to be done.

Order. I called the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). I shall have to give the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) another chance.

It was a small piece of ventriloquism, M r. Speaker.

When the Secretary of State met the director-general of the Health and Safety Executive, did he discuss the lack of new personnel to monitor the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, the lack of specialist health and safety inspectors and the lack of a proper framework within which to do the health and safety work that the Minister says he wants to be done? That is not happening.

My right hon. and learned Friend has had wide-ranging discussions with both bodies. If the hon. Gentleman was trying to say, yet again, that a mere increase in the number of inspectors will automatically lead to an automatic decrease in the number of accidents, he would be disguising the fact that the responsibility for dealing with health and safety is ultimately the responsibility of those involved—both employees and employers.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Health and Safety Executive has been granted all the resources that it asked for, for this year and for the next two years? Does not that give the lie to the Labour party's propaganda?

I repeat to my hon. Friend what I said a moment ago in relation to the public expenditure survey over the past three years. Under this Government, spending in real terms is at least as good as it was under the previous Government. Opposition Members sometimes make the mistake of believing that all those problems could be solved by the mere expenditure of money. It is a beguiling notion. It would be good if it were true, but it Js not.

Disabled People


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of the registered disabled adult population are currently in (a) full-time and (b) part-time employment.

I regret that comprehensive information on the employment status of registered disabled people is not yet available. A study commissioned by my Department will provide comprehensive information about the numbers and characteristics of people with disabilities in the labour market.

We shall all be very grateful when those statistics are available. Does the Minister accept that previous surveys showed clearly that unemployment among disabled people—reaching about 19 per cent. in 1988—is much higher than among able-bodied people? Is not there a need to introduce programmes to educate employers into recognising that one disability does not mean general inability, so there should be discrimination to ensure that disabled people are offered posts for which they are qualified?

The hon. Lady made some good points. I thank her for her recognition of the need for a comprehensive analysis. There have been surveys, but, with regard to the type of job, the type of disability, and so on, they have been partial. We have decided to delay publication of the consultation document on the review, to enable us to take account of the study that is being carried out. That will be to the benefit of everybody who is interested in disability.

Will my hon. Friend do what he can to remove the uncertainty that hangs over training establishments, such as the SHARE community, year by year? Without training, so many people cannot benefit from the job opportunities that are available to able-bodied people.

Obviously, my hon. Friend understands how we make money available for training on a year-by-year basis. That is necessitated by the way in which my Department is funded. If my hon. Friend wishes to draw a particular point to my attention, I shall be very happy to meet him to discuss it.

Unemployment, Cornwall


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest unemployment rate in Cornwall; and what was the average figure in Cornwall in 1979.

In January 1990 the rate of unemployment in the county of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly was 10 per cent., compared with an average of 9·7 per cent. for 1979. Those figures are not adjusted to take account of seasonal influences or changes in coverage.

The House may be aware of the recent announcement that one of the two remaining tin mines in my constituency and in Cornwall—the Wheal Jane tin mine—is to be closed. This is a matter mainly for the Department of Trade and Industry, which has been funding the mine. However, I hope that Employment Ministers will make a special effort to help with, and take into account, the employment problems that may arise in that immediate area as a direct result of closure, if it goes ahead, and as a result of spin-off losses.

I am very sad to hear about those closure plans. I visited the mine, which, I think, is just outside the hon. Gentleman's constituency, some years ago. I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. However, I have to say that over the past year the fall in unemployment in his constituency has been sharper than the fall generally in the United Kingdom.

Health And Safety


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment whether he will make a statement on the Health and Safety Commission and Executive's annual report for 1988–89.

The report of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive was published on 26 February. Latest provisional statistics for 1988–89, published in the report, show an apparent levelling off of major injuries, which we very much welcome. But the number of fatalities, which include those from the Piper Alpha disaster, and high or increasing injury rates in particular industries demonstrate that there is not room for any relaxation of effort by industry to improve standards.

In view of what the Minister said earlier, does he accept that no Opposition Member is suggesting that there is a direct, hard and fast relationship between the number of factory inspectors and the number of accidents? However, the report shows an unjustifiably high number of fatal accidents—something which was commented on at the press conference last month. Does the Minister accept that factory inspectors do very important preventive work, which improves the situation? Surely the Government must look at that again and take an initiative to increase the number of factory inspectors.

I can agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman says. If he looks at the changes over the past two and a half years, he will accept that there has been a relatively late but welcome conversion to the proposition that mere inspector numbers do not automatically produce a decrease in accidents. Yes, inspectors have their place and, yes, that is why the HSE has been funded, but they are not the whole story.

As a result of the HSE report, has my hon. Friend found out whether the displaying of notices in all workplaces, giving the address and telephone number of the HSE, has ensured that employees and employers alert the HSE to many more cases of concern? Has my hon. Friend's Department looked in offices in the Palace of Westminster and seen how few seem to display those notices, which appears to be against the law?

I accept my hon. Friend's point about getting over to people the idea that there should be greater awareness of health and safety legislation. My hon. Friend asks me to pass judgment on a legal matter relating to the Palace of Westminster. I am tempted, but I shall decline.

Training And Enterprise Councils


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many corporate plans were submitted by 5 February and how many training and enterprise councils he anticipates giving approval to by 2 April.

Thirteen prospective training and enterprise councils have submitted their corporate plans and they are currently being considered. I am not prepared to speculate on the number that will begin operation on any particular date.

The Secretary of State will be aware that many other hon. Members and I welcome the setting up of training and enterprise councils, but he will be aware also that they will be judged by their success. Will their corporate plans include targets for the number of traineeships, for the number of additional qualifications and for the reduction in the number of unemployed people as a result of the TECs? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that 50 per cent. and more of the work force has had no training? Does he agree that, unless that percentage is substantially reduced, any change in structure will be a failure, as many other initiatives have been?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the TECs. I agree that they will be judged by their success. Not only will they be set targets, but a part of their income will depend on an assessment of their performance, and that is one reason why I am so confident that they will b a huge success.

Low Pay


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when he last met representatives from the Low Pay Unit; and what was discussed.

My right hon. and learned Friend has not met representatives from the Low Pay Unit.

Does the Minister accept that those who are on low pay, many of whom are in the old industrial valleys and rural areas of Wales, are the very people who will be hardest hit by the poll tax? Those families will get no benefit from rebates. Will the hon. Gentleman take up this matter with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that, at the very least, the position of those people is safeguarded in that they will not be brought within the tax rate by the non-indexation of tax allowances?

As the hon. Gentleman says, there is a community charge rebate system. Some 7·5 million people will benefit from a rebate of up to 80 per cent. Obviously, everyone, including the Government, will watch with great interest how the scheme develops in practice.



To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he is taking to meet the demand for qualified engineers.

It is a primary responsibility of employers to ensure that they attract, develop and retain qualified engineers. My Department, through the Training Agency, is taking action that will encourage employers to take a stronger lead in improving the supply of skills in industry, including engineering.

That action must be welcome. What liaison does my hon. Friend have with the Engineering Council to further its good work?

I recently had the pleasure of discussing matters with the chairman of the Engineering Council, Sir William Barlow. The measures that we are introducing, including TECs, recognition of the important role of employers in defining vocational qualifications and our various initiatives to encourage business and education partnerships, will all help to improve engineering skills.

Health And Safety


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the Health and Safety Commission's annual report 1988–89.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago to his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang).

Does the Minister agree that the greatest asset to industry is its work force and that the health and safety of that work force is of paramount importance? Is the Minister satisfied with the number of health and safety inspectors, and with what is he doing to increase the powers and numbers of health and safety inspectors?

I accept what the hon. Gentleman said in the first part of his question and I pay tribute to the work of the inspectors. However, we must both accept that a mere increase in the number of inspectors is not the whole answer to the question, although it is a valuable contribution.