To ask the Secretary of State for Employment by how much and by what percentage unemployment in the city of Leicester rose between January 1991 and January 1992.
In the Leicester local authority district, unadjusted unemployment increased by 4,877 or 40 per cent. in the 12 months to January 1992.
Is not the increase of 40 per cent. absolutely disgraceful? It is due to the inefficiency of the Government which no amount of Budget bribery can possibly erase. Does the Minister know that while the number of jobs went down and unemployment went up, crime in the county of Leicestershire rose by more than one third over the past 12 months, nearly double the national rate, but the chief constable has said that in the next year the force can spend £l million less? From the start of the day to its finish, the Government have got their priorities wrong.
The key question is whether the Government's policy will lead to an increase in unemployment or tend to reduce it. The hon. and learned Gentleman, who is an authority on this subject and a distinguished member of the Select Committee on Employment, must ask himself in all seriousness about the consequences for the supply of job opportunities of Labour's policies on the minimum wage and increased social charges. Those policies would have serious consequences for job opportunities.
Are not the best chances for employment in the city of Leicester and the county of Leicestershire today's Budget and the re-election of the Conservative Government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We must remember that 300,000 people who go into jobcentres find a job within a month.
Value Added Tax
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many firms were registered for VAT in (a) 1979 and (b) 1991.
At the end of 1990, the latest date for which figures are available, the number of businesses registered for VAT in the United Kingdom was 1·7 million, compared with 1·3 million at the end of 1979—an increase of almost a third.
Although the figures show a dramatic increase, is not my right hon. and learned Friend being characteristically modest? Does he forget the increase to £35,000 in the exemption limit for VAT? Surely, were not many more businesses created last year?
I was being characteristically direct in answering my hon. Friend's question. Of course, the increase in the total number of firms over the period was not one third, but two thirds—to nearly 3 million, or an average increase of almost 500 every working day.
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will introduce legislation to ensure that all employees have a right to an itemised pay statement.
Most employees already have the right to receive an itemised pay statement. We have no plans to extend the current legislative provisions.
The Minister is aware that those who work for 16 hours or less do not have the right to itemised pay statements unless they have worked for five years and that those who work less than eight hours have no right to them at all. Employees are scared to enforce their rights because if they did they would be unfairly dismissed. Should not every employee have that right and should not the Government therefore scrap the two-year rule, or are the Government determined to keep up their sweat-shop policies, contrary to what is happening in the rest of Europe?
I have received no representations on that matter and I am not aware of any disquiet among the groups that the hon. Gentleman described. As ever, we must balance the temptation to introduce such rights willy-nilly against the unreasonable cost burden that might rest increasingly on employers, especially those with only a few employees. I believe that we have the balance about right. If there is any question of unfair dismissal, those concerned always have the right to go to a tribunal, if they are protected in the way that the hon. Gentleman described. I remain to be convinced that there is a problem and that therefore we should necessarily consider the solution that the hon. Gentleman suggested.
Is not this one of several proposals that would add to the costs of employing part-time workers? Will my hon. Friend confirm that the directive on part-time working would mean that 1·75 million part-time workers, and their employers, would have to pay national insurance contributions?
My hon. Friend is correct. The Labour party has said that it would sign the directive on part-time working and many others, which would place an intolerable cost burden on British industry. That suggests that the Labour party does not care about employment. On the contrary, Labour Members are prepared to place ever more burdens on British business, which would only destroy jobs. That must be utterly reprehensible.
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions he has had with employers regarding child care.
The Advisory Committee on Women's Employment, which I chair and which includes employer representatives, has discussed child care on a number of occasions.The tax concession in the 1990 Budget, which allowed tax relief for employees on the benefit of nursery facilities provided by an employer, has been instrumental in promoting child care arrangements.
I am sure that the Minister is aware that the Midland bank, which has done much to develop child care, has said of the Government recently that they keep calling its representatives to conferences at which they urge the importance of child care, but they do nothing. Is it about time that the Government took the opportunities of our youngest children seriously, gave their parents the opportunities that they are looking for and made sure that children receive the very best start, which is something that is taken for granted in other European countries?
I have already referred to the tax concession in the 1990 Budget. That has shown that the Government are concerned. In the European Community, the United Kingdom has the highest proportion of women in work, with the exception of Denmark. About 63 per cent. of women of working age with children are economically active. That suggests that we are doing quite well by working women.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the United Kingdom has many more women in work than any other European nation and that tax relief on workplace nurseries, which was introduced in the 1990 Budget by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, has greatly assisted many working women?
My hon. Friend is right. It is too often forgotten—this is another dimension—that in Britain the age at which children start school is comparatively young. Children in Britain start school at five, whereas the starting ages are six in France, Germany and Italy and seven in Denmark.
When the Equal Opportunities Commission, in its equality agenda, describes child care facilities as meagre in the extreme compared with the facilities that are available in the rest of Europe, when we know that the women in work to whom the Minister has referred are often forced into part-time work because of inadequate child care arrangements and when we bear in mind his entirely complacent answer, is not it a good thing that a Labour Government are coming who will ensure that child care provision is expanded?
In a recent survey of women who work part time, only 6 per cent. said that they would prefer to work full time.
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many trade unions are taking part in the employment action programme.
So far as I am aware, none.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply, which is a great disappointment to all my right and hon. Friends. Does he agree with me that proposals to pay more to those taking part in the programme will mean inevitably that fewer places will be available?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is typical of the Labour party's attitude that it would fritter away additional resources by spending more money not on increasing the number of training places but on paying more to those already in training places. There would be no net benefit to training.
Instead of attacking trade unions, why does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman attack unemployment? Why does not he admit that since last year's Budget more than 500,000 people have been added to the dole queue? At the same time, there are 1 million fewer jobs in the economy. If present policies continue, hundreds of thousands of people will stand in fear for their jobs. Is not it the truth that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Government, having created recession and unemployment, do not care about the casualties of their policies?
The hon. Gentleman's synthetic protestations about unemployment would carry a little more conviction if he were not so determined to advance policies which, by introducing a national statutory minimum wage, by embracing the European Commission's social action programme and by imposing a jobs tax on employers, would make unemployment far, far higher than it otherwise would be. Even the proprietor of the aptly named Walworth Castle hotel in the hon. Gentleman's constituency near Darlington has said:
"Labour's plan would be nothing short of disastrous."
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what recent representations he has received on the subject of the introduction of a statutory payroll levy.
I have received representations from various sources on the subject of a statutory payroll levy related to employers' training expenditure. The most recent, from the Institute of Directors, firmly opposed
"any system of levy or tax that discriminates between employers on the basis of assumptions about what a firm spends on training".
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, among the many business men who have condemned the payroll tax as likely to cost companies money and, therefore, jobs, is the president of the chamber of trade in Teesside? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if the Labour spokesman is unable to convert to Labour policies those business men in his immediate area, he is also unlikely to convince the country?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Increasingly, we find protests from employers in the area represented by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) about the effect of his policies and those of the Labour party. The truth is now out—Labour's policies would be disastrous for jobs.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the labour force survey was published today? Will he take time to explain to the House why, in the past year, 177,000 fewer people were in training in Britain—a reduction of 5·4 per cent? Whatever happened to all the talk about a world-class skills revolution? What about the fact that £20 billion is supposed to be spent by industrialists? Is not it really the case that the Government do not care about training, that we have a disastrous training record and that it is high time that we had a Labour Government to tackle the problems?
The same survey showed an increase of more than 100 per cent. between 1984 and 1991 in the number of people receiving training paid for by their employers and seven times as many people receiving training now as in 1979. That is the reply to the Opposition's synthetic protestations. [Interruption.]
Order. I ask the House to settle down and listen to the questions.
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what has been the rate of growth of self-employment from 1979 to the present time among (a) men and (b) women.
The number of male and female self-employed in the United Kingdom grew by 55 and 109 per cent. respectively between 1979 and 1991.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Britain now has more than 3 million self-employed people, of whom 750,000 are women, many of them in south Derbyshire? Does he share their view that they work hard for their money, that they pay quite enough tax and national insurance and that they do not want to see what would be the worst disaster for such businesses in future—an increase in income tax and national insurance, as proposed by the Labour party?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are entitled to take great pride in the fact that so many more women have now chosen self-employment to promote their standard of living and that of their families. It is also true to say that if the Opposition parties were ever in a position to put their policies into effect, that self-employment record would inevitably be gravely harmed and the cause of women in particular would suffer much more.
The Minister knows that many self-employed are concentrated in the construction industry. Does he know that thousands of construction workers in Wales are out of work, yet Shelter Cymru tells us that 63,000 families in the Principality have experienced homelessness in the past year? Why cannot this incompetent Government get their act together and put those building workers to build houses for those families?
That must be a matter for the local authorities. I am often at a loss to understand the sense of priorities or the lack of priority among Labour-controlled local authorities in particular. They seem determined to spend their community charge payers' money on the most irrelevant and frivolous projects rather than concentrating on the real problems that the hon. Gentleman described.
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.
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest unemployment rate for the Holloway travel-to-work area; and what were the comparable figures for June 1987 and May 1979.
Holloway falls within the London travel-to-work area. In January 1992, the latest available date, the unemployment rate for the London travel-to-work, area was 9·5 per cent., compared with 8·7 per cent. in June 1987. There is no rate available for this travel-to-work area for May 1979.
Is the Minister aware that within the borough of Islington, which includes the Holloway travel-to-work area, fewer than 100 school leavers last year were able to find jobs and that, at the Holloway unemployment office, there is a gap between the 32 registered vacancies and the 11,600 people who are registered as unemployed? Does the hon. Gentleman recognise the terrible toll that that places on the community and, in particular, on the young people who cannot get work and see the possibilities of career development and a decent standard of living slipping away from them? When will he do something to bring jobs to inner-city areas?
During the last Employment Question Time, the hon. Gentleman asked me about job clubs in his constituency, and I have written to him about the matter. He and the House will be pleased to know that, in the 10 months to January, 1,607 people were placed in work as a result of their experience in a job club in his constituency.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons for the unemployment that exists in that part of Islington is the way in which the political friends of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) run Islington council? They specialise in squalor; they do nothing to help business; they cannot collect their rents; they did not collect the rates; they do not collect the community charge; and they keep homes empty. Is that the reason why the hon. Member for Islington, North will be swept away by the excellent Tory candidate in his constituency?
My hon. Friend has made a good point. Over the past 10 months, Holloway jobcentre has placed 2,006 people in jobs.
Disabled People (Unemployment)
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the current rate of unemployment for (a) registered disabled people and (b) disabled people generally.
The 1991 labour force survey reported 18·2 per cent. unemployment among people in the labour market who had a health problem or disability which limited the kind of work that they could do. I am afraid that we do not have later figures, figures for registered disabled people or figures comparable with the monthly claimant count.
Is the Minister aware that an unemployment rate among disabled people nearly four times as high as that among able-bodied people cannot be justified? As this is the Government's 13th hour and it is now too late for them to help, will the Minister explain to disabled people why the Secretary of State for Employment spends so much of his time rubbishing trade unions, rather than finding jobs for those people?
I think that, regrettably, there has always been a higher unemployment rate among people with disabilities than among the rest of the population. We attempt to assist, however, and the total number of people who have been helped through our sheltered employment programme has increased substantially during the past 10 years. Expenditure has risen substantially, from £88·2 million to £112 million. The number of people who have been helped through assessment and rehabilitation centres has also risen and expenditure on special assistance schemes has increased substantially. All those measures were designed to assist people with disabilities.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that many companies find that the loyalty given to them by disabled people more than makes up for any days that they may have to take off work to undergo treatment? Will he tell the House just how much effort he and his colleagues in the Department have devoted in recent years to bringing that message home to employers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The best way—indeed, the only way—in which we can make progress in that regard is by affecting attitudes and the culture that exists within companies. The Government have put a great deal of effort into persuading employers to take seriously the issues involving minorities in employment, including people with disabilities.
Does the Minister agree that discrimination against people with disabilities clearly exists in employment and that it was therefore a great pity that the very modest Bill presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) was talked out by supporters of the Government?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to a Bill relating to advertisements—
No. Will the Minister give way?
Order. If the Minister has not got the message, perhaps he had better be given it.
The Bill presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe dealt with discrimination against people with disabilities, particularly in regard to employment and jobs.
I do not believe, and the Government do not believe, that such a legislative approach is the right way to deal with the problem. Since 1944, for example, we have had a quota system which has never been effectively operated under Governments of either party. Rather than adopting an inappropriate legislative approach, we must persuade people and affect attitudes.
What would be the impact of the imposition of a minimum hourly wage of £3·40 on the disabled, to whom employment is so important in terms of dignity of life?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Many disabled people, often on income support, may earn relatively low wages, and the consequences of a minimum wage would be a withdrawal of job opportunities which would probably affect them in particular.
Does the Minister accept that an example would be a great deal of help to employers in the private sector? Will he acknowledge that Government Departments have not even come near their own target of 3 per cent. disabled workers?
We take very seriously our attempts to secure employment for disabled people in the Government. It is very difficult to meet the 3 per cent. target, but we are doing well in aiming towards it.
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many working days were lost through industrial action in North Yorkshire during 1979; what is the most recent comparable figure; and if he will make a statement.
Information is available only for the Yorkshire and Humberside region, where 55,000 working days were lost during 1991, the lowest for more than 25 years. The 1991 total is nearly 60 times lower than the 3·1 million working days lost in the same region in 1979.These figures illustrate the achievements of this Government's step-by-step industrial relations legislation. The fact that the number of working days lost in the United Kingdom as a whole in 1991 was the lowest since records began 100 years ago is testimony to our success.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those dramatic figures are eloquent testimony to the fact that under Labour the number of days lost was so dramatic that it resulted in near anarchy and that, as a result of our legislation, there are now proper secret ballots and democracy in the workplace? In the unlikely event of our ever having a socialist Government again could not we expect to return to those appalling figures of industrial anarchy?
I agree with my hon. Friend. One of the first things that the Labour party would do would be to change the law to make it easier for trade unions to strike. They would be aided and abetted in so doing by the Liberal Democrats. Their recipe for recovery is more strikes, more frequent strikes and more damaging strikes. That is the way in which they think that they can make the economy grow.
Can the Secretary of State say how many working days have been lost through unemployment in the north-east?
I can also tell the hon. Gentleman how many days would be lost as a result of the extra unemployment that would be caused by his party's policies.
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest unemployment figures for the Sheffield travel-to-work area expressed as a percentage.
In January 1992, the unadjusted rate of unemployment for the Sheffield travel-to-work area was 11·4 per cent.
Is the Minister aware that Sheffield is plunging into its deepest recession since the war, that according to new research by the city council's department of employment the true figure for unemployment is 17 per cent. compared with the Minister's adjusted figure, and that even the Association of Yorkshire and Humberside Chambers of Commerce is now calling on the Government to do something about a sinking economy? In the words of the regional secretary, sitting there and doing nothing is no longer an option.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to talk down his home city. I cannot give credence to the 17 per cent. figure. In spite of the recent very regrettable rises in unemployment, in his constituency and in Sheffield as a whole unemployment remains a quarter lower than it was at the last election and a third below its peak in 1986.
Does the Minister agree that whether in Sheffield or throughout Yorkshire as a whole the history of a great industry and of a great industrial heritage was based on innovation and entrepreneurism? Does he also agree that what Yorkshire as a whole needs to restart the economy is low tax, low inflation and another Conservative Government?
My hon. Friend's question speaks for itself, and no doubt we shall hear more about such matters in a few minutes.
Merseyside Training And Enterprise Council
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when he next plans to meet the Merseyside TEC to discuss funding.
My right hon. and learned Friend and I meet TEC chairmen on a regular basis to discuss a range of issues, including questions of funding.
What advice or comfort can the Under-Secretary of State offer to those providers of training on Merseyside who have been driven out of business because insufficient resources have been allocated to the Merseyside TEC to provide contracts to them? What succour or comfort can he offer to the unemployed in my constituency of Knowsley, South, where 65 jobless now chase every vacancy advertised in the jobcentres? How can he possibly justify cutting training which is so desperately needed by a work force without jobs such as that in Knowsley, South?
There has been an increase in the overall budget made available by the Government for training. Negotiations between particular TECs and providers must be a matter for those TECs and providers.[Interruption.]
Order. May I ask the House not to indulge in private conversations. It is difficult to hear even at this end.
If the protests that have been made about cuts in training places on Merseyside are simply synthetic protestations, as the Minister said earlier, can he explain why projects such as the Hexagon project on Merseyside face closure? How can he explain that when 71,000 people in the city of Liverpool alone are currently unemployed? Surely that is an area where more training, not less, is needed.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is sympathetic to the idea of localism that lay behind the creation of the training and enterprise councils. The TECs are in the best position to make informed judgments about the qualities of particular providers. I will not second-guess the judgments made by Merseyside TEC in respect of any provider, including Hexagon.
North London Training And Enterprise Council
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions he has had with the chairman of the North London TEC to discuss the contributions of trade unions to training.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the day after the Transport and General Workers Union's disgraceful decision to boycott Government training schemes, the union was described as "the Labour party in so many ways"? Is he aware that the right hon. Gentleman who so described it was none other than the Leader of the Opposition?
I am. The Transport and General Workers Union voted to boycott youth training, to boycott employment training and to boycott the training and enterprise councils. Not a word of condemnation of that disgraceful position has come from the Leader of the Opposition, who is sponsored by that union, or from the shadow spokesman on employment, who is also sponsored by that union, or by any of the renegade crew who man the Labour Front Bench.
Unemployment, North-West England
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what new policies he has to reduce unemployment in the north-west region.
The Government's main role is to ensure a sound and stable economic framework within which enterprise can flourish and the battle against inflation can be won. In addition, since 1979 regional selective assistance worth £326 million has been committed to the north-west, creating more than 60,000 new jobs and safeguarding more than 60,000 existing jobs.
Is not it patently clear that the Conservative party and the Minister have no understanding whatever of what unemployment means to the unemployed, their families and communities? After 13 years, it is an absolute disgrace that no input has been made to tackling unemployment. The Government have failed absolutely to tackle unemployment except for some cosmetic surgery. Is not it about time that the Government recognised that the only cure for unemployment is to get rid of the Conservative Government as soon as possible?
If the hon. Gentleman really cares about unemployed people, will he join me today in calling on his Front-Bench colleagues to abandon their policy of a national statutory minimum wage, to abandon their jobs tax and to abandon their embrace of the European Community social action programme so that we can avoid the disastrous consequences for employment that would follow from such policies?
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the north-west of England is coming out of recession faster than the rest of the country? Will he also confirm that we are leading the way in many training schemes and that there is no doubt that housing—[Interruption.] Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that there is no doubt that, in housing and in many other matters, the north-west of England is showing the way and will continue to show the way?
I agree with my hon. Friend, who will continue to champion the cause of the north-west in the next Parliament. The only things that could put a stop to the recovery from recession in the north-west of England and elsewhere are the policies of the Labour party—for example, the sharpest ever peacetime tax increase, the national statutory minimum wage, and changes in the law to encourage strikes. Those would be the policies to put a stop to recovery. [Interruption.] We shall ensure—[Interruption.]
We shall ensure that—[Interruption.]
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many unemployed people are currently engaged in training schemes.
There are currently some 300,000 young people on youth training, and around 150,000 people on employment training in Great Britain. Last financial year, some 740,000 people entered Government training programmes, compared with 110,000 in 1978–79—a sevenfold increase.
Is not it a fact that during the 13 years of this Government, 25 methods have been found to try to prove that unemployment is massively smaller than it is? Is not it also a fact that the unemployed are generally on useless training schemes and that, therefore, unemployment and the slump are far more massive than the Government care to admit?
The hon. Gentleman is talking characteristic nonsense. More than 80 per cent. of those on youth training gain a qualification or a job, or enter a further education course. We are the only country in Europe to guarantee a two-year training course leading to a qualification for 16 and 17-year-old unemployed young people. That is what the hon. Gentleman should recognise.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that since 1979 the Government have introduced more training places and a wider range of training courses both in width and in depth, in a way that has never been attempted before? We have spent far more money. Therefore it is nonsense for the Opposition to claim that we have done nothing at all about the problems of retraining.
My hon. Friend is right. We are spending two and a half times as much, after taking account of inflation, as was spent by the last Labour Government on training. That is because this is the only Government who understand training and care about training, and are determined to make sure that our people have high-quality training.
Ec Working Time Directive
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received from the CBI regarding the draft EC working time directive.
The CBI responded fully to my Department's consultative document on the proposed working time directive. It firmly opposed the Commission's proposals. I fully agree with the CBI that the directive would be a needless strain on United Kingdom competitiveness, and a threat to jobs and earnings.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposals, as attacked by civil engineers, would be a restrictive practice and would restrict the flexibility of the construction industry? [Interruption.]
I did not know that my question was so good. Would not the proposals restrict jobs, cause inefficiency and, with the minimum wage proposals, be very damaging to industry?
My hon. Friend is correct. No significant employer representative body in the United Kingdom has done anything other than condemn those irrelevant and damaging proposals very roundly. Her Majesty's Government will continue to fight to persuade our colleagues in the European Community that the proposals are not only unnecessary and unjustifiable, but would be extremely damaging to employment throughout the Community, particularly in the United Kingdom. I thank my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to the representations that he has made.
Will the Minister explain why European companies can apparently provide their workers with better conditions in terms of hours and minimum wages than this country's employers? Why is it that European companies do not regard looking after their workers well in terms of hours and wages as destroying competitiveness, but instead see it as a way to obtain good work from their workers? Why is that?
There are two good reasons. First, for many of our European partners, the rules apply on paper but not in practice. They simply do not put into effect the rules that the Community agrees. Secondly, investors from outside the Community, from places such as Japan, the United States and many others, look at the European Community and decide that the United Kingdom is by far the best place in which to invest due to the stability, skills and reliability of our work force. That explanation speaks volumes and answers the hon. Lady's question.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.
This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further meetings later today.
Is it not an appalling indictment of 13 years of this Government's economic policy that yesterday one of Her Majesty's coroners described the shortage of beds in one of Britain's principal hospitals—a shortage that has led to the death of a pensioner from Southwark —as appalling due to a 2 per cent. insufficiency in gross domestic funding of the national health service? As a result of the Government's policy, the pensioner's widow is more than £7 per week less well off in real terms than she was when the Government came to power. Is that not an example of private wealth at the expense of public underfunding? Are the Government to continue with the same policy or enact a U-turn at the last moment?
The hon. Gentleman well knows that there has been a dramatic increase in national health service spending on any measure one cares to take, far and above the amount necessary either to keep pace with the general level of inflation or to keep pace with the level of inflation in medical costs. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is the case, and he also knows that there has been an increase in net spending at all levels of income in this country.
Has my right hon. Friend had time to study the important report on occupational pensions by the Select Committee on Social Services? Does he agree that it contains a great many lessons for many people, particularly on the Maxwell scandal? Will he give the House an undertaking that, when the report calls for action from the Government, we can rely on my right hon. Friend to take action without delay?
I have seen the report. Our first step must be to examine it thoroughly and look at all the recommendations made by the Select Committee. It raises a number of complex and inter-related matters, some of which are for the pensions industry, some for the banks, some for actuaries, auditors and regulators. Some relate to the present legal framework. We need time to examine fully the findings of the Select Committee and to give our response. It is necessary to bear it in mind that the vast majority of occupational pensions schemes operate successfully in the United Kingdom—some 100,000 of them. The cause of the problem with Mirror Group pensioners is all too clear; There appears to have been a massive fraud, perpetuated under the very eyes of the trustees.
May I strongly recommend the report in question to the Prime Minister? I hope, it will lead, after the election, to his supporting us in putting its main recommendations into effect. Does the right hon. Gentleman recall giving the House, from that Dispatch Box, the assurance that the Government would not achieve the objective of tax reductions
Does he still stand by that assurance?"on the back of a burgeoning Government borrowing requirement now or in future"?—[Official Report 14 July 1988; Vol. 137. c. 588.]
Nothing that my right hon. Friend does or announces later this afternoon will change our objective, or our intention of maintaining medium-term balance in the fiscal situation.
I asked whether the Prime Minister stood by the assurance that borrowing requirement would not increase to pay for tax cuts, now or in future, under any Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was leader. Does the Prime Minister still stand by that opinion—yes or no?
I did answer that question. Before asking his second question, the right hon. Gentleman might have consulted the shadow Chancellor, who said last week that—[Interruption.]
Order. This is very unseemly behaviour.
I am sorry that Labour Members do not like to hear what they themselves said, but I intend to repeat it. As the shadow Chancellor said last week, "I"—that is, the shadow Chancellor—
Clearly the Opposition have no independent judgment whatsoever."am prepared to go on the basis of accepting the PSBR which emerges from the Budget."
Will my right hon. Friend take time this afternoon to watch the recent interview by Mr. David Frost, which revealed the success of the Government's health service provisions, and also that the Opposition's figures are totally bogus? That interview revealed also that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) does not know his NHS from his NUPE.
My hon. Friend makes his point extremely clearly. The bogus statistics of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) have been finally revealed. Without the steady drip-feed of leaked documents, clearly the hon. Gentleman is in some difficulty with his figures. As was pointed out to him in that interview, this year there has been a 7·1 per cent. increase in the number of patients treated compared with last year, which is higher even than the Government's forecast increase in patient care. I remind the House of the so-called Cook test. The hon. Gentleman said that the success of the trusts must be measured
The trusts have clearly passed that test, and I look to the hon. Gentleman to admit that."by the simple test of whether they do more or less work for the national health service patients."
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.
Given the proposed increase in pensions, does the Prime Minister honestly feel that it is sufficient—yes or no?
The hon. Gentleman knows what is the pensions increase. It has been announced, it is Government policy, and I stand by that policy.
My right hon. Friend will have heard in recent Question Times much about medicine in London. Will he turn his eyes to the country as a whole and to the north—to the West Riding and my own constituency, where the health service is thought to be one of the best in Europe?
It is not only thought to be so but it undoubtedly is so, and getting better in each and every part of the United Kingdom. That is largely because of the dedication of the staff and the increased resources provided by this Government.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.
I refer the Prime Minister to the barrage of criticism from the Select Committee on Defence over the Government's handling of Army cuts, and its implied call for a defence review. Is the Prime Minister aware that among right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who understand the Government's overall objectives, there is still a genuine fear that the outcome will be overstretch in peacetime and a dangerous shortage in times of tension? Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is one risk—one national lottery—which we can well do without?
The Army of the 1990s will be structured to meet our needs in the face of a changed threat, in particular the end of the Warsaw pact and the millions of Warsaw troops who previously were geared immediately to face us. Our forward planning is designed to enable us to take stock precisely as the Select Committee advocated. I stress that we believe our proposals are right, and we set them out clearly in "Options for Change."The hon. Gentleman says that all parts of the House take that view. Although I know that he does, I do not believe that all parts of the House do share that view. The occupants of the Opposition Front Bench appear to advocate 25 per cent. cuts in defence expenditure while the occupants of the Liberal Benches advocate 50 per cent. cuts in defence expenditure, both of which are irresponsible and both of which would have a devastating effect on our capacity to defend ourselves.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that proportional representation reduces democracy and effective government? Will he confirm that after he has won the general election and is back in No. 10, he will have no intention of changing our voting system? Will he condemn the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench for using the issue in a squalid attempt to lure Liberal voters into their camp and for indulging in two-faced opportunism?
I am not sure that Liberals generally need much luring into Labour policies; they are very similar. My views on proportional representation are well known. PR does not lead to effective government and I do not support it. Indeed, I agree entirely with what the Leader of the Opposition said a few years ago, that
I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman has told the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) that, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman is putting down an early marker for after the next election."proportional representation … is fundamentally counter-democratic in any case."
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.
Will the Prime Minister explain what compensation is available under his supposed citizens charter for the late arrival of economic recovery? Does he realise that it is not just an hour but a year and a half late?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity. I can tell him precisely what will be there. It will be a very low level of inflation, lower than we have known at any time in recent years, and steady sustainable growth leading to secure jobs, sustaining the Conservative party in government for many years.
Will my right hon. Friend tell me how best to reply to a constituent of mine who has recently completed a course of treatment at Broomfield hospital in Chelmsford and who tells me that the nurses and doctors were fantastic, that the treatment was magnificent and that he is fed up to the back teeth with the constant efforts of the Labour party to undermine and talk down the achievements of the health service?
My hon. Friend's constituent speaks for many people who have enjoyed the splendid services of the national health service in the last year or so. I advise my hon. Friend to tell his constituent that his experience is not unusual and that it is a tribute to the service that is available from the national health service. He might add that the reforms that are bringing that about are in danger under the plans proposed by the Labour party and that nobody could guarantee the increasing support and assistance from the NHS if those reforms were turned back.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 march.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the Home Office is withdrawing section 11 funding from all the colleges in the London borough of Ealing and that that adversely affects the Pathway further education centre in my constituency, where we have the largest concentration of people from the new Commonwealth? I find that totally objectionable from a Government who are shaping up to borrow and spend to save their necks.
I am not aware of the point that the hon. Gentleman raises but, as he knows, a tremendous amount of support has been made available through the Home Office and other sources to assist members of the ethnic minorities in this country. That continues to be the case.
With not a red rose in sight on the Opposition Benches, does my right hon. Friend realise that the traditional red rose of Lancashire is alive and well on the Government Benches? What message would my right hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancashire give us to take back to our constituents in the light of recent research showing that nearly 200 of the top British firms believe that the best way to increase unemployment and inflation and decrease investment would be the calamity of a Labour Government?
My hon. Friend is right. I share his remarks about the red rose belonging to Lancashire. It also belongs to the Rugby Football Union, which shows the red flag on its grand slam tie that it was generous enough to send me this morning. My hon. Friend is also right about the calamity of a Labour Government, because 86 per cent. of companies in that survey thought that Labour would be bad for the economy. I am concerned about what on earth is wrong with the other 14 per cent.
Mr. Tony Banks, supported by Mr. Tom Clarke, Ms. Diane Abbott and Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, presented a Bill to make statutory provision for fixed term parliaments, compulsory attendance at polling stations, a public holiday on days set for general elections; and for connected purposes; And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Thursday 9 April and to be printed. [Bill 112.]