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Volume 591: debated on Monday 26 January 2015

11. What assessment he has made of the reasons for differences in the unemployment rate in the UK and in other European countries. (907183)

The UK has the fifth lowest unemployment rate in the European Union, and unemployment has fallen by more than in any other G7 economy in the past year. Thanks to welfare reform and our long-term economic plan, businesses are creating jobs and 1.75 million more people are in work than in 2010.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most recent EUROSTAT figures, which show that employment in the UK is rising at twice the rate of any other European nation, underline the importance of maintaining a benefits system in which people are always better off in work than not in work?

Yes, I agree with my right hon. Friend. The reality of what he raises is exemplified by the fact that the Opposition still cleave to the idea that they would copy the French way of doing things in respect of the economy. It is worth reminding them that in France—this is the system that they think is really good—the employment rate is down at 64%, the unemployment rate is 10.3% and the youth unemployment rate is up at 25.4%, which are all massively worse than here in the UK.

But it remains the case that youth unemployment here is much higher than in countries such as Germany, Austria and Norway. Does the Secretary of State agree that we will not tackle that until we tackle the scandal of the quality of technical and vocational education in our schools and colleges?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need to ensure that much greater emphasis is placed on vocational education in schools, including to get people ready for apprenticeships. The Government have done a huge amount towards that. There are 1 million new apprenticeships. The report that came out when we first arrived said that there had to be a greater emphasis on that. None the less, our youth unemployment rate is remarkable when compared with the average in Europe and, apart from Germany and Holland, is significantly lower than anywhere else.

In May 2010, the claimant count in my constituency was 1,702. This month, it is 684. In a European context, will my right hon. Friend help me? Is that fall in unemployment in my constituency due to the increased vibrancy of a diversified rural economy such as mine, or the absence of a plan long terme économique elsewhere?

My right hon. Friend puts his finger on it. The reality is that the Government have implemented a long-term economic plan. In that long-term economic plan, welfare reform plays a critical part in ensuring that people are ready and available for work. Our labour market is far more deregulated than that of many other countries in Europe. It is noticeable that today, in the light of the elections in Greece, everyone is talking about austerity, but the big problem in Greece, as in other countries, is that the labour market is so rigid that very few companies want to invest, because there is no flexibility whatever. That is why they come to the UK—this Government have a plan that works to help them to get profitability.

Unemployment in the Kettering constituency has halved since May 2010. What does my right hon. Friend think would have happened to the rate of unemployment in Kettering had Her Majesty’s Government followed the economic policies of France, which apparently are a blueprint for Her Majesty’s Opposition?

That is the point. Opposition Members do not like it very much, but let us follow that theme for a minute. The Leader of the Opposition extolled the virtues of the alternative to the long-term economic plan—the French plan, which was no economic plan as far as I understand it. We have now seen French unemployment go through the roof, employment rates fall and economic activity stagnate. London is now something like the sixth or seventh-largest French city because so many French people are coming to the UK because—we welcome them—they like to look for jobs.