Skip to main content

Employment

Volume 175: debated on Tuesday 26 June 1990

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

Construction Inspectors

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans there are for increasing the number of specialist construction inspectors within the Health and Safety Executive.

In April 1990, the Health and Safety Executive embarked on a year-long recruitment campaign aimed at increasing the number of specialist inspectors in post across all disciplines, including construction.

Is the Minister aware that in 1988–89 there were 540 fatal accidents, mainly in the construction industry, and that it is believed that 90 per cent. of them could have been avoided? Will the Department get itself organised and do something to help to avoid such unnecessary deaths? Is the Minister further aware that many deaths could be avoided if the Department were determined to follow a proper recruitment policy?

I agree with at least some of what the hon. Gentleman says. He is right to draw attention to the fact that the "Blackspot Construction" report estimated that about 90 per cent. of fatalities were preventable, about 70 per cent. by management action. But the hon. Gentleman is wrong to assume that one can automatically reduce the number of accidents and fatalities simply by increasing the number of inspectors. The requests of the Health and Safety Commission have been met in recent years, but ultimately responsibility for preventing fatalities and industrial injuries must lie with those engaged in the workplace.

Will the Minister confirm that the Health and Safety Commission's plan of action has been returned to it by the Secretary of State, and is it connected with its bid for a further £7 million of funding? The Minister says that all its bids in recent years have been accepted. Will the present bid be met in full?

The Health and Safety Commission must discuss with my right hon. and learned Friend its plan of work. Those discussions have taken place and my right hon. and learned Friend has made it clear that sufficient resources to enable it to carry out that plan will be found from within our own resources, so the assurance that I gave the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) remains true.

Labour Statistics

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what was the total work force in employment in (a) the second quarter of 1979 and (b) the second quarter of 1989.

The work force in employment in the United Kingdom stood at 25.4 million in June 1979 and 26.8 million in June 1989, an increase of 1.4 million over the period.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, during a similar period, the number of people employed in the Norwich area, in particular in the city of Norwich, increased by 5,000, coupled with a downward trend in unemployment in Norwich, particularly among women? Does he agree that all of that would be put at risk if the Opposition's policies were put into effect, and that they would have a particularly disastrous effect on East Anglia?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. There can be no doubt whatever that the policies that would be pursued by the Labour party would work not only to the detriment of my hon. Friend's constituents—very serious though that would be—but to the detriment of the country as a whole.

Before the Minister becomes too complacent about the statistics, may I ask him to bear it in mind that within the figures are concealed sectors such as textiles and clothing, which have been faced with massive reductions in the number of employees? For example, Courtaulds has recently been closing mills in the north-west of England. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman see that those who are negotiating on behalf of the Government, including through the EC, ensure that the multi-fibre arrangement is retained for at least another 10 years, bearing in mind how important that arrangement is if the textile industry is to remain on its feet?

Those matters are taken into account by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in the negotiations to which the hon. Gentleman refers. But the country has learnt increasingly in the past 11 years that the key to success is to adapt to change and not simply to preserve existing patterns of employment wherever they may be. That is the basis for the extra 1.5 million jobs that have been created since 1979, bringing the total to 27 million.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that a higher proportion of the adult population of this country is in work than in any other European country? Does he agree that the greatest threat to the excellent figures that he announced this afternoon comes from some of the madcap socialist policies put forward by the European Commission and Mrs. Papandreou, which would simply make it more expensive and bureaucratic for employers to take on more employees?

My hon. Friend's analysis of the social action programme is entirely accurate. There is no doubt that those proposals would destroy jobs and make it infinitely more difficult for us to maintain the record of success that we have had for several years.

Does the Secretary of State understand—if I can help to persuade him, perhaps he will explain to his Back Benchers—that having a high proportion of one's work force in employment is not a sign of a developed, healthy economy? Britain is backward in that it has high numbers of young people who do not receive education and low levels of people in training. Labour's programme, which places great emphasis on those issues, will help Britain to catch up with the rest of Europe, rather than fall steadily behind, as it has done under this Government's policies.

I fancy that if there were fewer people in work in this country, the Labour party would not entirely welcome that. We can justly be proud of the fact that we have a record number of jobs here. It gives people the opportunities for employment and earnings that they want. It is shameful that the Labour party's policies would act to the detriment of those opportunities.

Employment Legislation

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what benefits he estimates have accrued from the changes in employment legislation over the last 10 years; and if he will make a statement.

By ending abuses of trade union power, such as secondary action and flying pickets, which disfigured British industrial relations for so long, our legislation has helped to attract massive overseas investment to this country, create record numbers of new jobs and reduce the number of strikes to the lowest level for more than 50 years.

Will my hon. Friend remind the public of the dangers of repealing that legislation and returning to the anarchy of trade union bosses and their flying pickets? Will he go on reminding the public that those are the policies that the Opposition want?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to the fact that any conversion by the Labour party to the virtues of responsible trade unionism is extremely short lived and skin deep. My hon. Friend should bear in mind the comment that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) made in his letter to The Times yesterday. He glibly said that it would be wholly unfair to ban lawful secondary action.

Have the Government finally stopped abolishing wages councils? If they have, is it because they are ashamed of their actions? Might they restore the wages councils that previously existed?

I can well understand that, on a question that highlights the Labour party's deficiencies, the hon. Lady would want to talk about the wages councils, but perhaps we can talk about them on another occasion. The point that arises out of this question is that trade union reforms that the Government have introduced have been overwhelmingly popular with the public and are seriously under threat, as anybody who takes the trouble to look at Labour party policy in detail will see.

Labour Statistics

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment by how much unemployment has fallen (a) as a percentage of the total and (b) in numbers since June 1987.

Since June 1987, unemployment in the United Kingdom, seasonally adjusted, has fallen by about 44 per cent., and by just under 1·25 million.

Is not it somewhat strange that Labour Members find the undeniable fact that more people are employed in this country than ever before sad and the sign of an underdeveloped country? I fail to understand that. Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend will confirm that the figure that shows that our unemployment level is well below that of our European partners is more important. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) in seeking reassurance that the bizarre and restrictive schemes of the social aspects of the Labour party's policy and our record on job creation should be brought to the attention of our partners.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. With the exception only of Luxembourg and West Germany, we have the lowest rate of unemployment in the European Community. There is no doubt that the policies that have led to our success in job creation would be substantially more difficult to carry out if the social action programme were implemented. I lose no opportunity to point that out to my colleagues in the European Community.

Is the Minister aware that the demise of the threatened steel industry in Lanarkshire would produce unemployment figures that even he, practised though he is, could not fiddle? Does he recognise that if the steel industry in Lanarkshire were to go, unemployment in the area would be 33 per cent. among males, 13 per cent. among females and 25 per cent. overall? Perhaps he intends to try to fiddle those figures, but would not it be easier for him to make representations to his colleague at the Department of Trade and Industry and ask him to get off his butt and do something to save the steel industry?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has made clear the Government's concern about the future of the steel industry, to which the hon. Gentleman refers. If the hon. Gentleman looks elsewhere in the United Kingdom, he will see that adjustments have taken place on a scale that has ensured that those parts of the United Kingdom that were most affected by closures in the steel industry now have a rate of unemployment that is lower than the national average. That proves that it is possible to adapt to change in a highly successful and effective manner.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the tremendous reduction in unemployment that we have seen in the west midlands owes a great deal not only to our legislative changes but to changes of attitude in the workplace, especially in manufacturing? Does he further agree that the co-operation of the workers to become multi-skilled creates not only a more flexible environment in the workplace but adds to the career potential of the workers? Would he like to add his good wishes to two companies in my constituency that this week received the Queen's award for export and technology? Those companies are Lucas and Yales and the workers deserve congratulations.

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the two firms to which she referred. She is right to identify the enhanced skills among our work force as one of the key factors responsible for our recent success. We want to build on what has been achieved over the years.

Safety Representatives (Building Sites)

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement about employment of safety representatives on building sites.

Safety representatives make a valuable contribution to ensuring satisfactory standards of health and safety, both on building sites and in other workplaces.

Does the Minister accept that in Question 1, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) emphasised the appalling safety record on building sites and the need for action? In answer to that question the Minister said that he did not envisage the appointment of more inspectors. If he will not appoint more inspectors, will he make sure that there are safety representatives on all building sites and that they are there for the duration of the contract so that we can have an improvement in safety? That applies especially to management-only contracts and where there is a continuing changeover of subcontractors, because that makes the continuity of safety difficult and contributes to the high level of accidents and deaths.

I respectfully correct the hon. Gentleman in his recollection of what I said. I did not say that the Government were not prepared to appoint more inspectors, but that the mere appointment of more inspectors would not automatically ensure that there were fewer fatalities and accidents. The figures show that there are more inspectors in post in construction than the target. The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly fair point in talking about the need to have special regard to multi-contractor sites. He will be aware that the commission has issued a consultative document about that and we shall be interested to see the response to it.

Does the Minister agree that if we are to have high safety standards in the construction industry, we must have proper training? Is he aware of the excellent work carried out by the construction industry training board in raising the standards of training in the construction industry? Does he further agree that the CITB has an important future role?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to make the point, made by Ministers on numerous occasions, that training is very much the key, and that also means training of awareness and getting over to workers the fact that in the end they have to be responsible for their safety, as do employers. That is an uncomfortable message and therefore one that Opposition Members wish to obscure, but it is true nevertheless.

Does the Minister accept that the report to which he referred earlier showed clearly that a large percentage of the appallingly high level of fatalities and serious injuries in the construction industry is due to lack of proper supervision and training in safety matters? If the hon. Gentleman cannot persuade employers, or many of them, to accept their responsibilities, will he consider giving more power to the safety representatives, so that they can stop potentially dangerous practices without going through the present bureaucratic process of filling in numerous forms while the dangerous practice continues?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of having to fill in some form or of going through a bureaucratic procedure to stop an unsafe practice. If the workers on a construction site or in any other workplace feel that something is unsafe, a single telephone call to the Health and Safety Executive will enable the matter to be dealt with at once. I do not accept that merely giving extra powers to safety representatives in a situation that may require a high degree of knowledge and expertise is the way forward. Where I can agree with the hon. Gentleman—I am grateful to him for giving me the chance to reiterate it yet again—is that management has the key responsibility, and it is wholly unacceptable, as the "Blackspot Construction" report made clear, that 90 per cent. of accidents were preventable, 70 per cent. by management action. That is a message that management must take on board and I accept it to the hilt.

Travelling People (Salisbury)

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement about unemployment benefit claims by travelling people at his Department's Salisbury office.

I understand that there are 1,509 people claiming unemployment-related benefits at the Salisbury office, of whom 150 are registered as not having a permanent or fixed address. Claimants in that category are subject to the same rules and responsibilities for receiving benefits as anyone else who claims, including those of being available for and actively seeking work.

I have no wish to see the children of travelling people further disadvantaged, but will my hon. Friend have another look at the requirement that claimants should be actively seeking work, because it is increasingly difficult to explain to pensioners and low-paid rural workers why more than 100 hippies, who do not pay poll tax and make no contribution to society, can claim benefit all the year round in Salisbury?

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. As a Member with a rural constituency who has also been plagued by bands of brigands, I have considerable sympathy with what he says. It is relatively early days to know whether the actively seeking work provisions work. Clearly, those who have an interest in making them work to their advantage will try to do so. In the light of his experience, my hon. Friend may feel that the actively seeking work provisions are not having the effect that they should in particular cases, so if he wants to come and see me, I shall be more than happy to co-operate.

Labour Statistics

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will give the total unemployment figures and the rate of unemployment in May 1990, and May 1980.

In May 1990, the seasonally adjusted level of unemployment in the United Kingdom was 1,611,000, or 5.7 per cent. of the work force, compared with a level of 1,224,400 in May 1980, or 4.6 per cent. of the work force.

How can the Minister justify an economic policy that keeps unemployment low in and pumps massive wealth into the pampered English southern regions at the direct expense of the rest of the United Kingdom? Does not he know that the Low Pay Unit report shows that more than half the Scottish work force is on low pay at a time of high unemployment, and all that in one of the potentially richest countries in Europe? How can the Government call something that harms so many and helps so few an economic policy?

Unemployment in Scotland during the past year has dropped by more than 16 per cent. compared with a reduction in the United Kingdom as a whole of just over 12 per cent. Scotland is fully sharing in Britain's prosperity, which is a direct result of the Government's policies.

Has my right hon. and learned Friend noted that unemployment in Gravesham has more than halved since the most recent general election? Is not it the case that long-term unemployment has also substantially reduced?

My hon. Friend is right. There has been a proportionately greater reduction in the number of long-term unemployed even than in unemployment as a whole. I hope that Opposition Members welcome that.

Is the Secretary of State aware that in the Bolton and Bury travel-to-work area, 9,500 jobs have been lost in manufacturing industry over the past nine years? Is that good for the economy of the Bolton and Bury travel-to-work area?

As I said, if we are to continue achieving success, we must adapt to change. That has been happening in the area to which the hon. Gentleman refers, as it has in all other areas. One must examine all the unemployment figures to reveal the truth, and the true picture that has been developing is one in which every right hon. and hon. Member can take pride.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in Scotland, as in other parts of the United Kingdom, the unemployment figures show clearly that more people are in work? The Governor of the Bank of England commented only yesterday how well Scotland has done in the transition from the old smoke-stack industries to today's modern industries, whereby people are much better off.

My hon. Friend is right. I never cease to wonder at the amount of time, effort and energy devoted by Opposition Members to denigrating the Government's record, when we ought to be debating policies that will help take the country forward on the most secure basis. On reflection, perhaps the reason why the Opposition do not want to discuss policies is that they know that theirs would work to the detriment of us all.

Low Pay

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many representations he has received concerning low pay for people under the age of 25 years following the publication of the last edition of the new earnings survey.

Since 1989, my right hon. and learned Friend has received 11 representations on that subject.

Is the Minister aware that since the Wages Act 1986 the United Kingdom has stood alone in not protecting young people on low wages, in contrast to our EEC counterparts? Is he further aware that young people are paid scandalously low wages in many parts of the United Kingdom? The Low Pay Unit has found some youngsters working for hairdressers earning less than half what they would if protected by the wages councils. When will the Government adopt the social charter to prevent young people being exploited in that way?

The hon. Gentleman has achieved a first today in managing to craft a question in which every single judgment that he made is precisely wrong. If he examines the evidence, he will find that the structure of wages councils, minimum wages, and all the other apparatus that Opposition Members like so well has the effect not of creating jobs but of destroying them.

Does my hon. Friend agree not only that a minimum wage would increase unemployment among the low-paid but that the best way of helping those people is to ensure that they do not pay national insurance contributions, as under the present Government? But they will if, by some mischance, a Labour Government are elected.

My hon. Friend is right to remind us that one of the effects of the draft directive on temporary work would be to ensure that 1·75 million low wage earners who do not pay national insurance contributions now would have to pay them. Apparently, that policy has the support of the Opposition—but it does not have the support of the Government.

Training In Work

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how he intends to increase the numbers receiving training in work.

The number of people in work receiving training increased by 70 per cent. between 1984 and 1989. The employer-led training and enterprise councils that are coming into operation around the country will actively promote measures to continue that encouraging trend.

Is the Secretary of State aware that according to the European Commission's 1989 labour survey, the United Kingdom has the lowest-skilled work force in Europe, with only 38 per cent. classed as skilled compared with the EC average of 63 per cent? Is he further aware that the National Council for Voluntary Organisations is quoted in today's issue of The Times as saying that it will have to axe thousands of training places because of Government cuts in training expenditure? Why do the Government still refuse to support the long-term future of this country?

I look forward to meeting the national council tomorrow, when I shall explain to it that the Government are spending some £2·7 billion of taxpayers' money in the current year on training, that we are seeing an increase in employers' contributions to training, and that the extent to which our work force is beginning to become well trained is increasing apace, and will continue to be enhanced as a result of the activities of training and enterprise councils.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the people who most need training are school leavers, who go into work instead of further education in one form or another? Will he consider making a link between employers' national insurance contributions and the level of qualifications that young employees manage to achieve while working for that employer?

My hon. Friend is known for his ingenious suggestions and that is one which we shall certainly consider, as we consider all suggestions to help performance in that area. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that young people who enter work receive training, and I am delighted that employers are increasingly recognising their responsibilities in that area.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that training organisations throughout the country are considering withdrawing from Government training schemes because of cuts in this year's budget, and will he deny that he has already agreed to cuts in next year's budget? When will he start to stand up for the interests not merely of his Department but of the future of training in Britain?

The hon. Gentleman's question is entirely inaccurate. Well over 90 per cent. of the recontracting exercise on employment and youth training has been completed. Possibly unlike the hon. Gentleman, I accept a responsibility towards those who have received training and are in need of it, but I do not accept responsibility for those who provide training, if they do not do so in the most cost-effective and efficient way.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that British employers are spending £18 billion a year of their hard-earned cash on training? Is not that encouragement by the Government much more effective than the compulsion offered to British employers by the Opposition?

The cost to British employers was £18 billion in 1986–87—the latest year for which we have full statistics. It has certainly increased since, and is a sign of the extent to which training takes place throughout the work force. Of course, we must do even better, but it is wrong to denigrate our present performance.

Skill Centres

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress towards the privatisation of skill centres.

The sales of the training businesses at 51 of the 60 skill centres plus the Skills Training Agency's head office, mobile training service, sales teams and colleges have been completed.

Is the Minister aware that very few people understand why the Government have given a few selected individuals £14 million of taxpayers' money to take away valuable skill centres, including the one in St. Helens, which have an asset value in excess of £100 million? Does the Minister agree that if a group of Labour councillors had attempted to give away public assets on that scale, they would probably have been had up for corruption?

It is not for me to comment on the possibility of Labour councillors being accused of corruption. The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. If he studies the profits of the STA, he will see that it broke even only once in the past five years. In 1989–90, there was an estimated loss of £30 million. The tender was conducted properly after professional advice was given. The National Audit Office is carrying out its usual value-for-money audit, and I am perfectly satisfied that when it announces its findings they will show that the hon. Gentleman's suspicions are entirely ill founded.

Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to condemn Labour-controlled Chesterfield city council for forcing the closure of its local skill centre?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. He has referred to one of the more unpleasant and nasty examples of a Labour-controlled council acting for wholly doctrinaire and political reasons, in this case, by refusing to extend leasing facilities to the new owners of a skills training centre simply because it disapproved of the act on political grounds. It would be difficult to find a more shameful example of political interests being put above the interests of those whom the training schemes are there to serve, but of course the Opposition will defend such action.

The privatisation of the Skills Training Agency is a public scandal. Why have £120 million worth of assets been given away, why has £25 million in sweeteners been given to the private sector and why was £40 million of employment training budgeted funding taken out and used to adjust the accounts and estimates of the Skills Training Agency? When will the Government pursue practical policies to improve our skills performance with the same enthusiasm as they pursue privatisation and profits for the very few?

The only scandal that emerges from this exchange is the hon. Gentleman's extraordinary inability to understand that an organisation capable of losing £30 million is not the sort of concern that can be sold for an immediate profit. The hon. Gentleman can scrabble round and cast aspersions as widely as he wants, using words like "scandal", but the sale represented a good deal for the taxpayer and a good deal for those who need training. The one thing of which we can be certain is that when the National Audit Office produces its report, the hon. Gentleman will not have the good grace to apologise to the House.

Training Schemes (Funding)

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will review the arrangements for the funding of training schemes.

Funding arrangements of training schemes are kept constantly under review.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in congratulating the many people who have worked hard to make a success of our employment training schemes? I acknowledge that some of the schemes may now qualify for fewer places as unemployment falls, but does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that that should not be the case in respect of disabled people and others with special needs? Will he ensure that, as the TECs formulate their plans, they will be required to provide funding for the adequate training of those people?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating those who provide training places and to give him the assurance for which he asks. The guarantee of a training place for every 16 to 18-year-old school leaver who cannot find a job and for the longer-term unemployed and other priority groups remains in place. We are committed to that guarantee and it applies, in particular, to people who are disabled and have special needs. I confirm that the arrangements that we are making with the training and enterprise councils take full account of the requirement to meet those needs and discharge those responsibilities.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman examine some of the problems that have been thrown up by cuts in training budgets? For example, in Truro, trainees in information technology have been thrown off the course half way through and have not attained the qualifications for which they were half-trained. Similarly, special groups which have been trained by voluntary bodies—such as refugees, who clearly have special training needs—are finding that the number of places has been cut.

The hon. Gentleman will find that all those to whom he has referred have alternative facilities available to them so that they will not be disadvantaged. In ensuring that the taxpayer gets full value for money, and thus looking critically to ensure that the most cost-effective and efficient training is provided, we are absolutely clear that none of those in receipt of training should be disadvantaged in any way.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, by increasing the training budget no less than threefold in real terms since 1979 and by providing 450,000 places on employment training, the Government have allowed the resources to be used more effectively through the training and enterprise councils? Will he also confirm that the TECs will be able to change the current rule under which victims of widespread redundancies cannot enter into employment training schemes for 26 weeks?

My hon. Friend is right to point to the exciting future in training that the training and enterprise councils will be able to provide. They will, of course, have greater flexibility in dealing with those who suffer as a result of large-scale redundancies. But that is only one respect in which they will be able to provide improved training.

Youth Training

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the availability of youth training places in each local labour market.

My right hon. and learned Friend is satisfied that there are sufficient training places to meet demand.

How many training places for young people in the Wirral have been deliberately axed by Government policy? Will the Minister guarantee that every young person in the Wirral who wants a training place will have one?

I entirely accept the premise in the hon. Gentleman's comments. I repeat what I said a moment ago: my right hon. and learned Friend is satisfied that there are sufficient training places to meet demand. Those places must exist to meet the guarantee in the Wirral and elsewhere. Although particular trainers may not succeed in having their contracts renewed in successive years, that is entirely different from the guarantee not being met. If the hon. Gentleman knows of a case where a potential YTS trainee has not been satisfied by the guarantee, we want to know about it. Our concern in that respect at least is the same as the hon. Gentleman's.

Does my hon. Friend share my suspicion that much of the clamour for even more money to be spent on training, despite the amount having risen threefold since 1979, is union-inspired? After all, unemployment has dropped dramatically, the number of school leavers has decreased and trainers are desperately looking for customers. Is not it about time that we considered the amount of money that we are paying out?

It is a rather curious and conservative feature of the Opposition that they believe that no adjustment in training provision is necessary when there are fewer people to be trained. When we take account of the effects of demography, which means that there are fewer young people, and the fact that employers are prepared to take a greater share of the burden of training, we can certainly strike a better deal for the taxpayer and for the individual trainee.

Is not there a danger that the Minister is misleading my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and the House when he says that the Government can deliver the YTS guarantee? Is not the reality that the Government are cutting this year's youth training budget by 10 per cent? The outcome will be that the Government will either be unable to deliver the guarantee or will reduce the standard of training available to youngsters on youth training. The Minister must come clean: either the guarantee has been dropped or standards have been dropped. Which is it?

The yawning gap in the hon. Gentleman's thesis is that he does not accept that, increasingly, there are fewer young people to be trained. To be fair, that is not a mistake that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) made earlier. Between 1988 and 1993 the guarantee group of young people between the ages of 16 and 19 will have decreased by about 20 per cent. It is complete nonsense to say that it matters not how many young people are available to be trained or by how much the numbers decrease, and that the training provision must remain the same. That is not a sensible use of taxpayers' money.

Social Charter

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what assessment has been made by his Department of the implications for job creation in the United Kingdom of the implementation of the measures contained in the European Commission's social charter.

The implementation of the social action programme would increase the burden of regulations on employers, impose new taxes on workers on low pay and deny workers legitimate opportunities for employment and earnings. It would put up employers' costs, damage the ability of firms to compete in world markets and destroy jobs.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that most people who work part time do so because they want to and that there is no point in smothering them in red tape and bureaucracy? Is the social charter absolutely necessary for the completion of the single market, or would the whole affair be better referred to the European Court of Justice, which has views on absolutely everything these days?

It is certainly unnecessary to have the social action programme to complete the single market. Although we hope to support some of the proposals contained in that programme, many of them would undoubtedly be damaging in precisely the way which my hon. Friend suggested.

Is not it true that, behind the rhetoric of the social charter, the provisions of health and safety at work put forward in EEC directives will mean an erosion of standards—often absolute standards—in United Kingdom health and safety legislation, such as section 14 of the Factories Act 1961? Its words would be replaced by the words "so far as reasonably practicable". Does not that mean a lowering of health and safety standards in our country?

The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that I shall do everything that I can to make sure that our health and safety standards are not lowered. On the contrary, I am keen that other European countries increase their standards of health and safety to match those in this country. That is one point that I shall make when the social action programme is under discussion.

Training Credits

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement about the progress of the training credits initiative.

Thirty-three training and enterprise councils and local enterprise companies have submitted outline proposals to operate pilot credit schemes. I have invited 17 of those to develop more detailed proposals by 27 July.

In consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and other ministerial colleagues, I shall then select about 10 training and enterprise councils and local enterprise companies to set up and run credit pilots.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the training credit initiative is a world first that augurs well for the work force in this country in the climate after 1992?