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Employment

Volume 201: debated on Tuesday 14 January 1992

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Textile Industry

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will take steps to assist job creation in the textile industry in rural areas; and if he will make a statement.

The Department of Employment delivers a wide range of training, enterprise and employment measures through the Employment Service, training and enterprise councils in England and Wales and local enterprise companies in Scotland.

Other agencies, including the Rural Development Commission, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, play an important role in encouraging and stimulating enterprise in many sectors, including textiles, in rural areas.

Is the Minister aware that countries such as Spain are considered suitable cases for special EC support because 18 per cent. of their work force are directly involved in textiles? Is the Minister aware that districts in the United Kingdom such as my own. south-east Scotland, have similar percentages of people employed in textiles but do not qualify for either national or European support? Will he assure us that he will talk with his ministerial colleagues to ensure that the resources available to local enterprise companies and training and enterprise councils are sufficient to enable them to support the existing textile industry and promote diversification?

I very much appreciate the importance of the knitwear and textile industry in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. Although the unemployment rate in his constituency is well below the Scottish, and indeed the British, average, the textile industry in his district is going through bad times. The Government are helping to diversify: Scottish Borders LEC is purchasing Jedburgh information centre to help promote tourism, and the food processing and fish farming industries are developing and being supported in the district. Scottish Enterprise and Lothian and Edinburgh LEC are taking important steps to develop designer knitwear initiatives within the textile industry. I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's comments to my colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland, as it falls to him to deal with the hon. Gentleman's point about the designation of the district for European Community purposes.

Will my hon. Friend look into the possibility of starting a form of the small engineering and firms investment scheme for small textile and knitwear firms in rural districts to encourage them to modernise and to re-equip their companies with up-to-date machines?

My hon. Friend's question is one for my colleague the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. One problem with my hon. Friend's suggestion is that there are European Community rules on the subsidies given to the textile and other industries. However, I shall refer his point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

How can we believe that the Minister is serious about creating jobs in the textile industry when he will not even protect the ones that already exist? Is he aware that when the Conservative party came to power in 1979 many thousands of people were employed in the thread industry in Paisley and now only one mill remains, which employs 340 people and is threatened with closure this year? Is he going to stand by complacently while more and more people join the dole queues, or will he take action to save the jobs in the textile industry in Paisley?

We all know that the textile industry is an important industry which currently employs 400,000 people—48,500 of whom are employed in Scotland. During the past 10 years, the industry has been protected by the multi-fibre arrangement. The success of companies in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, my constituency and elsewhere in the country depends on their efforts, and the Government can do only a limited amount. The textile industry is still successful and employs many people, but its success depends on its own efforts.

Job Training, Chelmsford

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when he next plans to meet the chairman of the Essex TEC to discuss job training in Chelmsford.

My right hon. and learned Friend last met the chairman of Essex training and enterprise council on 28 November. He is aware of the excellent contribution that Essex TEC is making to the training and enterprise needs of the area, but he has no plans to visit it in the immediate future.

When my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State next meets the chairman of Essex TEC in Chelmsford, will he congratulate him on the splendid work that that TEC is doing in encouraging job creation, which in the past six months has led to 315 new small businesses starting in that area? Does my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary agree that that belies the guffaws and complaints of the moaning Minnies on the Opposition Benches, who constantly do down the excellent training that is available throughout Essex and the rest of the country?

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks, which were heard also by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, and I will convey them to Essex TEC, which is doing an excellent job. Its current budget is £28·75 million, which is a substantial sum from the taxpayer. It has 4,400 young people in youth training places and 1,300 people in employment training places. I am glad that my hon. Friend appreciates the good job that that TEC is doing.

Is not it a fact that all those training places were not needed in Chelmsford in 1979 because the young people there had jobs then, under a Labour Government? Is not unemployment the reason for the massive increase in the number of training places?

The whole House will be rather amused by the hon. Gentleman's interpretation. We all remember the serious problem of increasing youth unemployment in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Our training programmes—which are operating on a scale two and a half times larger in real terms than those of the last Labour Government—arose as a response to that problem, which existed when Labour was in office but about which that Government did nothing.

Overseas Visitors

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is his estimate of the volume and value of overseas visitors for 1992; and if he will make a statement.

The British Tourist Authority's latest forecasts are that there will be 18·3 million overseas visits to the United Kingdom in 1992, resulting in expenditure of around £8 billion—8 per cent. higher than the estimated expenditure for 1991.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on those excellent estimates. Does he agree that it is about time that Labour acknowledged the importance of tourism, rather than keep referring to jobs in a Mickey Mouse and candy floss industry? Will my hon. Friend consider instituting a national tourism week, such as that organised in the United States, to draw attention to the importance of tourism and to its employment factor? Furthermore, will my—

A national tourism week would draw attention to the growing importance of tourism in the United Kingdom.

I share my hon. Friend's frustration at the way in which the Opposition persistently regard jobs in tourism without any seriousness, given the major contribution that tourism consistently makes to the economy of my hon. Friend's constituency and to the whole country. My hon. Friend works very hard with local tourist bodies to promote York as a tourist centre, and very successfully too. I will certainly bring my hon. Friend's imaginative suggestion of a national tourism week to the attention of the tourist authorities to see whether they can take it up positively.

Does the Minister acknowledge that we on these Benches recognise the importance of the tourist industry to Wales? However, whereas the Scottish tourist board is entitled to market Scotland overseas, the position in Wales is not the same. What is the Government's attitude to the Tourism (Overseas Promotion) (Wales) Bill, promoted by the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan), to give Wales equality of treatment in that regard?

My hon. Friend's Bill has received close scrutiny and attention by the Government, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that the outocme of those deliberations will be known to the House shortly.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why we are so successful in attracting visitors from overseas is the strength of the United Kingdom market? Will he congratulate the English tourist board on its initiatives in promoting domestic tourism, and consider what more can be done to highlight its profile—just to perk up the aspidistras in guest houses and hotels throughout the south of England and elsewhere?

Yes. I am happy to pay tribute to the excellent efforts made by all tourist boards and authorities throughout the United Kingdom which in their different ways do a splendid job of promoting this country's tourist potential. Some 17 million or 18 million people from abroad choose to visit this country each year. That alone is a testament to the excellent work that is done. A large number of those visitors end up on the Isle of Wight. I am surprised that, on this rare occasion, my hon. Friend did not mention the Isle of Wight, so I am delighted to do so—and to pay tribute to the work that he consistently does on behalf of his constituents.

Industrial Relations

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will meet the Confederation of British Industry to discuss the long-term improvement of industrial relations.

I have regular discussions with representatives of the CBI on a wide range of issues, including the long-term improvement of industrial relations. I have at present no plans for a meeting on the particular subject mentioned by my hon. Friend.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that although the law can help to improve industrial relations, it is not enough in itself? When he next meets representatives of the CBI, will he impress on them the importance of greater employee participation as a means of improving industrial relations in the long term?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, it was for that reason that, together with the CBI, I launched an initiative to increase employee participation in industry. I also launched a similar initiative in the European Social Affairs Council.

It is of the utmost importance that we encourage employee participation to take place on a voluntary basis, in the way that best reflects the circumstances of each firm and industry, and not as a result of some statutory straitjacket imposed by Brussels.

I accept that employee participation should be tailor-made for each industry. Does the Secretary of State accept, however, that, if industries are not willing to act accordingly, a backstop must be provided to prevent some employees from being deprived of their rights of participation?

No employees are deprived of their rights of participation. When it comes to consultation and employee involvement, however, it is very much better for such processes to take place on a voluntary basis. I believe that the best practices of British industry are second to none in the world; our task must be to encourage others to follow the lead that has been set by the best in industry. That was the purpose of the campaign that I launched with the CBI.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend remind the Opposition that the introduction of a minimum wage would harm industrial relations, rather than enhancing them? The sense of self-worth and the demonstration by employers of the value that they place on employees are best created by the existence of true differentials.

My hon. Friend is absoutely right. Not only would a national statutory minimum wage destroy countless jobs; one of the greatest problems that it would cause would be the maintaining of such differentials. Strife would inevitably arise as better-paid workers sought to maintain them. My hon. Friend has identified one of the most damaging consequences of the measures proposed by Labour.

Should not all anti-trade union laws be scrapped if workers are to have a real right to defend themselves—or does that not matter nowadays?

It is interesting to hear the lion. Gentleman explain the reality behind the small print of Labour's proposals in such graphic terms.

When my right hon. and learned Friend discusses industrial relations with the CBI, will he compare the position in the United Kingdom with that in France? France has recently experienced strikes in the rubbish collection industry, the ports, air traffic control and the railway industry—and they have taken place under a socialist Government. Does not that compare dramatically with the present position in this country?

My hon. Friend correctly identified the position in France—a position with which this country would be faced if Labour were ever returned to office. More strikes took place in the last year of Labour Government than have taken place in the past six years put together.

Employment Opportunities, Tameside

5.

To ask the Secretary of State Employment what action he intends to take to increase employment opportunities in Tameside.

The Employment Service and Manchester training and enterprise council deliver a wide range of employment, enterprise and training programmes to help unemployed people in the creation of employment opportunities in Tameside, as elsewhere.

In the 12 months to December 1991, Employment Service jobcentres in Tameside placed 7,119 people in jobs, and in Manchester placed 48,904 people in jobs.

Is the Minister aware that, in Tameside, unemployment has risen by a staggering 63 per cent. in the past 18 months? Although unemployment is high in other Greater Manchester boroughs, because of the benefit obtained from urban programme status, it is rising less fast in those boroughs. Will the Minister join me in urging the Secretary of State for the Environment to give Tameside similar status, so that it can offset the terrible waste of talent in the borough?

I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the hon. Gentleman's point about Tameside. To set unemployment in context, of course it has risen in Tameside, as elsewhere. It is striking, however, that Britain has a higher proportion of its population of working age in work than any other country in Europe, apart from Denmark. We should set that fact in the context of any rise in unemployment.

Is my hon. Friend aware that development corporations in Tameside, which adjoin my constituency, have greatly benefited jobs in the area? Did not a Labour Government want to abolish them?

My hon. Friend is well-informed about his area. It is important to note that jobs continue to be created. A total of 25 per cent. of those who sign on as unemployed find jobs within one month, 50 per cent. find jobs within three months and two thirds find jobs within six months. There is a continuing flow through the register and there are job opportunities for people who will take them.

Skill Training

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he has to encourage the development of community-based skill-training schemes.

The Government have given training and enterprise councils the responsibility and resources to plan and deliver training which is most appropriate to meet local needs.

What the Secretary of State said will be news to Hexagon Community Ltd. in East Lancashire road in Liverpool, which has found that the TEC in our area has abolished allowances for protective clothing and in many other spheres, as well as cutting the unit cost paid per person so that the entire staff has taken a pay reduction in the past few months. Is not it about time that the Government showed that they have a real commitment to training by encouraging self-help enterprises such as that in my constituency? Is not it appalling that those people, who give so much of their time, should be facing restrictions while the Secretary of State hides behind the skirt of TECs which have been created as shock absorbers for this dreadful Government?

The hon. Gentleman must make up his mind whether he supports his party's policy on the training and enterprise councils. We are assured constantly by Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen that the Opposition support TECs, are enthusiastic about the idea and wish them to continue. Training and enterprise councils are responsible for dealing with matters in their area.

The hon. Gentleman talks about resources. We are spending two and a half times as much in real terms as the Labour party spent when it was responsible for these matters. The hon. Gentleman must know that this is not one of the two immediate spending priorities to which the shadow Chief Secretary has signed up. He should face up to reality—drop the pledge or own up to the tax.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Government have spent more on training than Labour did when it was in power, even taking account of inflation? Does he agree that we need no lectures on training from Opposition Front Benchers, because they have objected to employment training, the youth training scheme and every other training proposal that we have made?

My hon. Friend is right. Before they start trying to lecture us on training, the Opposition—particularly the shadow spokesman on employment—would be well-advised to persuade the Transport and General Workers Union to drop its boycott of youth training, employment training and the training and enterprise councils.

Are not training programmes such as youth training and employment training predicated on employer participation but, because of the recession, the employers have contracted out, causing a crisis? We therefore need community programmes, such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), which are more expensive. Will the Secretary of State undertake to give extra resources to those programmes so that the ET and YT guarantees can be implemented? They are not being implemented now.

I do not accept either of the assumptions on which the hon. Gentleman's question is predicated. It is incorrect to say that employers have contracted out. Every recent survey has shown that many more employers are maintaining or increasing their training than are reducing it. Over 90 per cent. of employers who responded to a recent survey said that they were providing as much, or more, off-the-job training as they were a year ago. So, the hon. Gentleman is being far too pessimistic about the employers' commitment to training.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, despite the Opposition's opposition to every scheme that the Government have introduced in the past 12 years, there has been a sevenfold increase in the number of people entering training schemes?

My hon. Friend draws attention to the substantial increase in the number of people now taking advantage of Government-sponsored training opportunities, but, of course, there has also been a tremendous increase in the training provided to people in work—an 85 per cent. increase between 1984 and 1990. We are making great strides in the provision of training—employer-financed training and Government-financed training—and it is about time that the Opposition recognised that progress instead of constantly carping and criticising.

As the recession is now much deeper and more pervasive than Ministers are prepared to admit and as we have the fastest rising unemployment in Europe, how can the Secretary of State justify cutting 110,000 places for training young people and the unemployed at the very time when the recession is hitting hardest?

It is absolutely no use the hon. Gentleman banging on about resources, given that he has failed to persuade the shadow Chief Secretary that that should be one of the Opposition's two immediate spending priorities. Drop the pledge or own up to the tax.

Catalytic Converters

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is his estimate of the numbers currently employed in the manufacture of catalytic converters for the automobile and transport industry.

There are no separate estimates available for the manufacture of catalytic converters.

The Minister will be aware that British firms such as Johnson Matthey are at the leading edge of this technology. Is he also aware that in scientific and engineering circles there is much concern that the Government's indolence and reticence in supporting long-term investment in research and development in the leading technology will result in our suffering badly in comparison with our major competitors?

That matter is not strictly for me, but is one for my colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry. However, the hon. Gentleman will find that this country's record in research and development—in the private and, indeed, in the public sector—will bear scrutiny and comparison with that of most, if not all, others. The very fact that we have in this country possibly the leading manufacturer of such a high technology product which is so essential to environmental and pollution control in the future surely bears testimony to that and sits ill with the fact that the hon. Gentleman has sought to raise the subject of our lack of technology and R and D while in the same breath mentioning a world-leading company.

If we can get more cars sold on the domestic market, we can get more catalytic converters made. Will my hon. Friend join me in urging my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to abolish the 10 per cent. car tax in the Budget?

I admire my hon. Friend's ingenuity in using this question to raise what is undoubtedly an important matter. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Treasury are very much aware of my hon. Friend's point. I take this opportunity to remind them of it and I am sure that they will take it fully into account in their pre-Budget deliberations.

Unemployment, West Cumbria

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proposals he has for the reduction of unemployment in west Cumbria.

The Employment Service and Cumbria training and enterprise council deliver a wide range of employment, enterprise and training programmes to help employment prospects for unemployed people living in west Cumbria as elsewhere. A package of measures to help the area, announced by the Government in June 1991, includes the establishment of an action team to support local initiatives and a £15 million English Estates programme to provide new sites, factories and work space in Copeland and Furness.

May I have an answer in a word of one syllable? Is the Minister satisfied that the resources in terms of the manpower and finance available to Cumbria TEC are sufficient to deal with the thousands of redundancies that are to be made at the thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield and also to deal with those now being announced by a number of companies in west Cumbria?

I should like to oblige the hon. Gentleman with a short answer, but it is difficult to encapsulate these things. I was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss those matters with him in my office and I understand the seriousness of unemployment in his constituency. We keep the question of resources for the training and enterprise councils under review. Government support for employment creation in the hon. Gentleman's area does not come only through the TECs. A number of initiatives are coming forward, such as regional development assistance and the special measures which have been announced. All of them are important and I will continue to keep in touch with the hon. Gentleman about them.

Jobcentres

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many jobcentres there are.

At the end of November, the Employment Service had a total of 954 local offices offering full jobcentre services.

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the great improvement in the services, management and organisation of jobcentres. Is he aware that it is a great advantage to have the unemployment benefit office and the jobcentre under the same roof, as we have in Gloucester, and will he ensure that more offices are organised in that way?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is our intention to spread across the country the advantages of integrated jobcentres. Through the Employment Service, we are this year helping some 840,000 people with places on our programmes. We expect the number to approach 1 million next year.

Is the Secretary of State aware that our jobcentres now face an increasing demand for their services? Is that any wonder when from the second quarter of 1990 to the second quarter of 1991 employment has grown by 300,000 in Italy, 200,000 in France, and 637,000 in Germany, while in the United Kingdom it has fallen by 706,000? Will the Secretary of State now own up to this unique recession which is causing so much damage and overworking so many of our jobcentres?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was listening to the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), a few moments ago when he pointed out that we have a greater proportion of people in work than any European country except Denmark and more women at work than any other EC member state. There are some 2·5 million more jobs in this country than there were in 1983 and we have an unprecedented record of job creation. As we emerge from recession as a result of the Government's policies, we shall be in a position to create jobs again in the 1990s on the scale achieved in the 1980s.

Youth Training

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he has to initiate an immediate programme of youth training in Crewe and Nantwich.

The hon. Lady calls for the Government to "initiate" an "immediate programme" of YT in Crewe and Nantwich. She will be interested to learn that in the past year the proportion of 16-year-olds in Crewe participating in full-time education and training has risen from 71 to 80 per cent. That seems pretty "immediate" to me.

Moreover, the South and East Cheshire training and enterprise council is currently spending £5·5 million on youth training—a sum infinitely larger than that spent in the area by the previous Labour Government, of which the hon. Lady was such a notable adornment.

In reply to a written question, the Minister told me yesterday that 55 per cent. of school leavers in the South and East Cheshire training and enterprise council area are going straight into youth training. He will also know that we have had a 47 per cent. rise in unemployment in my constituency in one year. Would he like to try to justify that to the young people who have no jobs and no hope of any being created under the present Government?

Unemployment is a fact and we deplore it. The hon. Lady's question, however, concerns youth training and implies that no youth training is available in her constituency. Her reference to my earlier answer shows that there is extensive provision of youth training in her constituency, on a far larger scale than ever before, and that people in her constituency are taking advantage of it.

Was it not a Front-Bench spokesman of the party of which the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) is a member who promised the 1990 Labour party conference that Labour would abolish youth training altogether?

The Labour party's record on youth training—and, indeed, on the whole range of training initiatives which have have come from the Government in the past decade—is deplorable. Opposition Members, especially those associated with trade unions which have been boycotting our training efforts, would do well to recognise that.

Is it not clear from the figures for Crewe, and from the naional figures which show that nearly 100,000 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds are still looking for training places, that the Government are failing our school leavers? What sort of future are the Government building for a generation of school leavers who will go from school to the dole queue?

I do not accept the picture that the hon. Gentleman paints. Hundreds of thousands of young people are on YT, and doing increasingly well on YT in terms of qualifications and of jobs on emerging from it. We are monitoring the position on the YT guarantee, to which we are firmly committed, and we are making additional resources available as and where necesary. We have not had a request for additional resources for YT in South and East Cheshire; there does not seem to be pressure in that area. We are sticking by the YT guarantee—an important guarantee which never existed in the days of the Labour Government.

Part-Time Work

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will state the number and percentage of the United Kingdom work force currently in part-time work.

In June 1991, the latest date for which information is available, part-time employment in Great Britain was 6,491,000, or 25 per cent. of the work force in employment. Figures for part-time working in Northern Ireland are not available.

I am slightly surprised by the Minister's answer, because, as recently as 16 December, he said in a parliamentary answer that new earnings survey coverage of part-time workers was not comprehensive and, more importantly, that many part-time workers earnings below the income tax threshold were not covered. In view of the Government's admission that they do not know the facts about part-time work, why have they set their face against protection and safeguards for part-time workers? Or are the Government saying that, under economic policy, part-time women workers are expendable?

I have given the hon. Gentleman the figures which exist. He must recognise that no one will thank him for his vendetta against part-time work. Only 6 per cent. of those who engage in part-time work do so because they cannot get full-time jobs. We are interested in promoting part-time work and increasing the number of part-time jobs available, not diminishing it by imposing on such jobs the kind of restrictions that the Labour party is keen to see in place.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many women in Britain welcome part-time work because it fits in with caring for children and the family generally? We need no lessons from the Opposition who make rude comments about part-time jobs, saying that they are not real jobs. Many women think that they are real jobs and want more of them to be available.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. She understands the needs of her constituents. The Labour party would subject part-time workers to national insurance contributions and would burden employers to the extent that they could not afford to employ part-time workers in the way that they now do, which would dry up the supply of part-time work, to no one's advantage.

Cannot the Minister see that there is no reason in logic, probably no reason in law, and certainly no reason in common sense, why part-timers should not have the same protections as full-time workers? Bearing in mind the fact that the vast majority of part-timers in the United Kingdom are women, does not the lack of protection represent obvious indirect discrimination against women workers?

There is absolutely no question of discrimination.As a result of the Government's policies, there has been an unprecedented increase in part-time work, to the great advantage of those who benefit from it. The Labour party's policies would destroy those jobs.

What would be the effect on the number of part-time jobs of introducing a national minimum wage?

As every independent survey has confirmed, there is no doubt that a national statutory minimum wage would destroy countless jobs. A large number of part-time jobs would doubtless be among those which would simply disappear if that disastrous policy were pursued.

Asbestos

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will issue guidelines on the handling of asbestos in factories and other places of work.

The Government have already published a comprehensive range of guidance on the handling of asbestos in factories and other places of work, in support of the legislation that we have introduced to reduce the risks from exposure to asbestos in the workplace. This guidance includes two approved codes of practice, nine Health and Safety Executive guidance notes on specific workplace-related matters and a number of free leaflets and priced booklets.

Do Ministers share the concern of Bill Spiers and his colleagues in the Scottish Trades Union Congress about a matter that I have brought to the attention of the Department—that some insurance companies delay the finalising of asbestosis cases until the victims have died? If so, will the Government act on Lord Davidson's report in the event that it suggests a change in the law?

My colleagues in the Scottish Office are well aware of the criticisms of the present law. Indeed, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, they referred the issue to the Scottish Law Commission in September 1989. The commission is expected to report soon and I am assured that its recommendations will be considered urgently by my colleagues in the Scottish Office. However, I will bring the hon. Gentleman's concern to Scottish Office Ministers so that the matter may be given maximum attention and due regard may be paid to the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Health and Safety Executive has received all the resources for which it has asked in recent years to enable it to carry out its various functions?

I am delighted to be able to assure my hon. Friend that the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive, which each year make an estimate of the resources required to enable them to fulfil their statutory obligations, have received in full the amounts requested in recent years. Thus, they have been enabled to do a consistently excellent job in guaranteeing health and safety standards in the workplace. The standards in the United Kingdom are as good as those in many countries, and better than those in most.

Bearing in mind the fact that highly paid lawyers can secure massive libel settlements for their clients, can the Minister seriously justify the paltry payments which result from civil claims for compensation for negligence? In response to my hon. Friend's question, could he not simply have said that the Government accept that the disparity between English law and Scottish law is not tenable and that they will remedy it?

I think that I have given that assurance in so far as it is possible to do so at this stage. We have to bear it in mind that the Law Commission has not yet reported. If we are to take seriously the work done by a body such as the Law Commission, we must await the results of its deliberations and then act as quickly as possible. The hon. Gentleman will have to be patient. Perhaps he will have a word with his hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), whose expertise in this matter is, I suspect, second to none. The hon. Member for Linlithgow will probably be able to provide the assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks.

Training And Enterprise Councils

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress achieved by TECs in meeting their objectives.

Training and enterprise councils have made excellent progress. All 82 are now operational and they are developing a wide range of innovative approaches to meeting the objectives that I have agreed with them.

I am grateful for my right hon. and learned Friend's reply. He will be aware of the progress being made by the training and enterprise council in Somerset and, in particular, the important role that it is playing in helping to set up an effective chamber of commerce and industry to represent and assist business in the county. Will my right hon. and learned Friend give me a pledge that he will do all that he can to help the Somerset TEC to maintain the quality of its youth training?

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that pledge. The Somerset training and enterprise council is making excellent progress in improving the training being provided in the county and tailoring it to suit local circumstances. What is being achieved is what we expect to see when training is placed in the hands of local employer-led bodies, which are in the best possible position to ensure that the training is relevant to local circumstances.

Job Losses, Northumberland

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what evidence he has of recent job losses in east and north-cast Northumberland.

In the three months to June 1991, the civilian work force in employment in the Northern region fell by 15,000. I am afraid that my Department does not have up-to-date figures for smaller areas within those standard regions.

Surely the Minister is aware of the 300 jobs that were lost at the Alcan aluminium smelter and the 200 jobs which have gone from Ellington colliery. In those circumstances, does he recognise how vital it is to get European funds, genuinely additional to money being spent over here, so as to bring additional opportunities to areas that have been so hard hit? Will the Minister and his colleagues join in the fighting which seems to be going on in the Government and get the matter sorted out so that European funds can go to those areas?

I had a very useful and interesting meeting with the hon. Gentleman and some of his constituents to talk about unemployment in his constituency, so I know of it at first hand from him. I certainly take note of what the hon. Gentleman has had to say. He understands the problems of additionality. His remarks have certainly been heard and I will draw my colleagues' attention to them.

Ec Social Policy

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions he has had with his EC counterparts on the implementation of the social action programme; and if he will make a statement.

I have frequent discussions, both at Councils of Ministers and individually with my EC counterparts, about measures brought forward under the Commission's social action programme. In those discussions, I emphasise that the United Kingdom expects to be able to support a majority of proposals under the action programme, while we shall continue to resist those which would damage jobs and competitiveness in this country.

In talks with European colleagues, will the Secretary of State ensure that workers in this country are not left behind in terms of employment protection and rights? European competitors can afford to give greater rights and protection to women, the low-paid and part-time workers, so why should workers in this country be offered anything less?

Workers in this country will benefit from the greater flexibility with which British firms will be able to respond to the challenges that they will face in the 1990s, and we shall see more job opportunities created in this country as a result of the greater flexibility that will be available to us.