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Labour Statistics

Volume 175: debated on Tuesday 26 June 1990

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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.