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Employment Summit

Volume 301: debated on Tuesday 25 November 1997

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If he will make a statement about the outcome of the Luxembourg special summit on employment. [16002]


If he will make a statement about the outcome of the Luxembourg special summit on employment. [16010]

I refer my hon. Friends to the statement made yesterday to the House by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the positive outcome of last week's summit. Will he confirm that, while it reflects our "welfare to work" emphasis on employability and flexibility, the discussions made it clear that flexibility would not involve the worsening of conditions in the workplace or more insecurity in employment?

I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that the text of the presidency conclusions, which were agreed unanimously by those present, stresses employability and adaptability. The guidelines are entirely consistent with Her Majesty's Government's policy of providing a fresh start for young people who have been unemployed for more than six months, and a fresh start for all adults who have been unemployed for more than a year.

The British Government's success in achieving an outcome that is entirely consistent with our policy objectives reflects the fact that the summit only happened at all because we supported the employment chapter in Amsterdam, and because we demanded a special summit through the ECOFIN meeting. The outcome of the meeting is a success for Britain, and it took place only because Britain made tackling the jobs crisis such a high priority.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Will he tell us whether our European partners agree with the Government that the economic growth required to create jobs should be based on a highly skilled rather than an exploited work force?

It was a frequent refrain at the summit that we must ensure that more is invested in training. For that reason, the countries involved committed themselves to making training available to 20 per cent. of the unemployed.

My hon. Friend is right. If we are to protect jobs in Europe, we will not do it on the back of low pay and poor working conditions; we will do it only on the back of high investment, high skills and high technology.

Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House why the Prime Minister said in his statement that he wished to avoid old-style state intervention, and then went on to announce 1.5 billion ecu of old-style state subsidies for industry across Europe?

First, to be precise, the sum is 1 billion ecu, not 1.5 billion ecu. The hon. Gentleman is 50 per cent. out. Secondly, it was agreed by all members of the European Union that the money would be provided by the European investment bank for investment in high technology and in small and medium-sized enterprises. We are all agreed that the future of Europe and of our economies lies in high technology, and that the future for jobs lies in the small and medium-sized sector. That is precisely why it was right to encourage investment in that sector.

Why has youth unemployment been falling rapidly in this country for the past four years, whereas it has been rising rapidly in all the other major European countries?

I congratulate the Government on forcing jobs to the top of the European agenda, but does my right hon. Friend agree that flexible labour markets have very little to do with macho management, hire and fire, and forcing down wages and conditions of service for staff, and everything to do with high levels of education and training and with releasing the skills and creativity of staff to improve productivity and quality?

My right hon. Friend makes a profound point. If we are to achieve the long-term aim of good training and high technology, a commitment is required from both management and work force. That is precisely what the social chapter is devised to achieve. That is why we believe that it is so important that the staff of a large enterprise should have ownership of the strategy of the company, through the right to information and consultation under the social chapter.