To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many British companies have 1,000 employees or more.
Recent research by the university of Warwick indicates that there are 3,024 undertakings in the United Kingdom with 1,000 employees or more.
Given that the United Kingdom has so many undertakings with more than 1,000 employees, does my hon. Friend agree that we would be disproportionately affected by the draft European directive on works councils? Will he assure the House that he will vigorously resist that further instance of discrimination against British industry?
Indeed. My hon. Friend has accurately described the position. The figure of more than 3,000 which I just quoted, when compared with 873 similar undertakings in France and 479 in Italy, shows that the United Kingdom has far and away more undertakings with more than 1,000 employees than either of our major European partners. That means that the irrelevant suggestions being made by the European Commission for mandatory information for and consultation with employees would bear much more heavily on British business than it would on our major competitors. That is why British industry is so adamantly opposed to that ridiculous directive. I give my hon. Friend the absolute assurance that the Government will continue to oppose it root and branch.
Why does the Minister have a graph on his tie of the economy in decline under the Conservatives?
I have been waiting for some time for hon. Members to refer to my apparel and I am duly flattered. If it helps the hon. Gentleman, I shall try to wear my tie upside down the next time I am at the Dispatch Box.
Is my hon. Friend aware that many of the companies that employ more than 1,000 people employ many women part time? Those women choose to work part time because it fits in with looking after their families. Please, please, please can we not destroy those part-time jobs?
My hon. Friend illustrates yet again that Conservative Members regard part-time employment as something which is productive and honourable, and not as something which is shameful or sordid. I believe that the millions of women and men who choose to work part time will understand very well that the Labour party seeks to destroy their jobs whereas the Government are in the business of protecting them.
The Minister will know that we appreciate and share his concern about the handicap that might be placed on British industry by the European social charter. Before the Minister takes the mote out of Europe's eye, should not he take the beam out of his own? Are not many British firms unduly handicapped by the harassment they get from regulatory bodies such as the Fair Employment Commission?
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. I must tell him that I have recently written to all the representative small business organisations in the United Kingdom asking them to give me examples of where excessive regulation is impeding their business. I am looking forward very much to their responses. I give the commitment that, when the Government are re-elected, we shall continue to fight to reduce the burden of regulation on British industry in order to make us even more competitive than we are already.