HC Deb 20 November 1992 vol 214 cc516-80 9.37 am
Mr. Ralph Howell (Norfolk, North)

I beg to move, That this House recognises that unemployment is nearly three million and rising; considers that unemployment is wasteful and soul destroying; recalls the original Beveridge proposals; believes that reform of the trade unions and the removal of restrictive practices have a valuable part to play in increasing employment opportunities; believes that the great majority of the unemployed desperately wish to work; considers that all sections of society would benefit from improvement of the environment and the infrastructure of the country; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to give the unemployed a voluntary choice between the current benefit system and participating in paid, environmental, caring and minor infrastructure work at an enhanced level of remuneration, thus in due course establishing the right to work and implementation of the original Beveridge proposals in full. This is an attempt to discuss a solution to an awful problem that confronts the country. Nearly 3 million people are unemployed, and the numbers are rising. If the old recording criterion were used, we know that unemployment would be set at a higher level than ever before. It is a national and human tragedy.

Unemployment must be shattering for those who experience it. I am sure that the whole House joins me in recognising what an awful experience it must be suddenly to find that one has no job and nothing particular to do. Boredom and family strain go with a person suddenly losing his job and often having nothing to do for a long time.

There are now nearly 1 million people who have been unemployed for more than a year. That is the greatest problem confronting this country, and the world. It is really a non-party issue. Unemployment is rising all over the world, for the simple reason that more and more sophisticated technology is continually putting people out of work. The banks are shedding labour because of their sophisticated machinery, and in shops new cash registers and so on are replacing jobs and putting more people out of work. On top of that, the end of the cold war has meant that the armaments industry throughout the world has declined—a fact for which everyone is grateful.

I believe that the time has come when this House should give serious consideration to finding a way out of this impasse. In the 1930s, we did something about the problem: we set people to work building roads. Most of the ring roads around our cities were built in the 1930s by people who had been unemployed. That was and is helpful to this country. We should learn from that experience, and also from the experience of America in the 1930s.

The Americans had an even worse depression than we did, and when President Roosevelt came to office in 1933, in the depths of the depression, he immediately said that he would get the country back to work. He set up the Civilian Conservation Corps and recruited 250,000 young men. Altogether, some 12,500,000 people were put to work under Government schemes. Although that was not as comprehensive as what I shall propose today, it did represent work for about a third of the unemployed people in America.

We should give this problem more serious thought than we have in the past. The election is not far behind us. Unemployment was not properly debated during that election; it was not a major issue, although it should have been. The time has come when the Government must give serious thought to finding a way out.

Month after month, we hear of increases in unemployment, and on every occasion we are told that there is some reason for hope—the figures are not quite as bad as we had anticipated. We seem to pretend that the problem will go away or will improve. The Government's solution is to train, retrain and provide work experience: never to give work. Of course the Opposition makes as much capital as they can out of the Government's misfortunes, but what are their solutions? To train, retrain and provide work experience: never work. The only difference between the Government and the Opposition in this respect is that the latter say that the Government are not doing enough of these things. I say that we have not applied our minds to the real answers.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

Before my hon. Friend moves on to those answers, can he tell us whether, during his examination of this problem, comparing today's position with that of the 1930s, he has discovered that a greater number of middle-aged and elderly people —in career terms—are unemployed today than then? If so, will the suggestions that he makes for dealing with today's problem incorporate this particularly disadvantaged group of workers?

Mr. Howell

My solution, when I come to it, will be comprehensive—to include anyone who wants to work. The state is the provider of the last resort; it has to make sure that everyone has adequate funds for housing, clothing and food. We spend about £10 billion in support of the unemployed. All I am saying is that we could offer work to everyone who wants to work, for roughly the same money—but I shall develop that point later.

We must examine every possible way of dealing with the problem. I know that the Minister of State has just been to the United States to look at workfare there. I do not believe that workfare, as practised in the United States, is the ideal answer, but I am glad that we are looking into it.

Under workfare in the United States people are obliged to work for benefit. My idea of the right to work is to do away with unemployment benefit and to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to earn a decent wage. The workfare experiment in America has been under way for some time. It was started by Governor Reagan in California and subsequently developed there.

The BBC sent over a "Panorama" team to America some years ago and made a programme that is well worth seeing, but its objective was clearly to discredit workfare. The programme met various people who were doing menial jobs. One of them was a former miner on a dustcart who described how pleased he was to be doing that job and how awful life had been before—his family had almost broken up before he was lucky enough to get onto workfare. It had saved his marriage, and he was a very satisfied person.

The programme also showed a single parent somewhere in the mid-west who had to take her three very young children right across town to the day centre every day and then go all the way back to her work, which was near her home. She then worked all day and repeated the performance each night. She insisted that she would rather be doing that than be locked away indefinitely at home with the children, but without work companions. In short, her life was 100 per cent. better than before.

I believe that it would be good for the country and for everyone in it if we could find a way of offering work to all who want it, but, before I get onto my proposals proper, I want to tell the House about how badly unemployment is rising and will continue to rise, whatever anyone says.

Average unemployment during the 1950s was 370,000. In the 1960s, it was 480,000, and in the 1970s it was more than a million. Average unemployment in the 1980s was more than 2,700,000. An artificial dip was created. Had the rules not been changed, unemployment would never have fallen below 2.25 million. That was static.

The dip has now disappeared, and unemployment has been rising again. Unemployment always rises whenever a Government decide to attack inflation. When inflation is brought down, unemployment goes up. Right at the end of the Thatcher Administration, when we started to become nervous about the level of unemployment and reflated to bring it down, we ran into the difficulties from which we are only now emerging. So there is no escape.

In view of those figures, which are rising in a steep curve, how can any reasonable person believe that unemployment in the 1990s will not average well over 3 million? We must face that, and we need to do something positive about it.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

I believe that the House will agree that my hon. Friend's argument works, whether or not unemployment rises above 3 million. Even if unemployment stood at 1 million, it would be a scandal for £8 billion to be paid to people on the sole condition that they did nothing worth while. The House is grateful to my hon. Friend for finding a non-partisan way in which to raise the problem of the non-use of people. It is a sin to abuse people; it is wrong to misuse them; but the greatest problem is not to give people any use at all.

Mr. Howell

That point has been well made, and I believe that the figure is higher than £8 billion or £10 billion. We have now reached the stage at which the official figure for the coming year is more than £10 billion of total waste; £10 billion of our money will be paid to people who in the main desperately want to work, and it will be paid on the condition that they do nothing whatever to help society. That must be a crazy idea.

Three arguments are put against my idea. The first is that it would be too costly. The second is that it would be compulsory, and the third is that there would not be enough work to be done. I think that I shall be able to argue against those in due course.

In my opinion, there is plenty of work for everybody to do, in any society, anywhere, at any time. It is crazy to believe that there is an economic argument which makes it necessary for people to be idle.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Does my hon. Friend not agree that, when we try to match people to all the work available, we must ensure that the work is appropriate to their skills and backgrounds? There is no point in trying to make a dustman take over the job of the managing director of a charity—or vice versa.

Mr. Howell

Yes; I will deal with that question in due course. People must have a choice. My scheme does not involve the direction of labour. What I shall suggest will be in no way compulsory. I say only that the state should offer work of various kinds—for example, environmental work, such as President Roosevelt offered in the 1930s. That category could cover all sorts of activities—improving derelict land, making the streets clean and planting millions of trees, as we ought to. It would cover infrastructure work and caring work. I shall deal with all that in due course.

My principal proposals are clearly set out in the pamphlet "Why Not Work?", which was published with the help of the Adam Smith Institute a year ago, and received considerable support right across the political spectrum. The best press report, which appeared in the New Statesman and Society, slated the Opposition for not coming up with the idea years ago. There was a time when we always used to hear from the Opposition about the right to work—so the article said that it was rather strange to hear that idea coming from this side of the House.

However, I am not interested in party political banter. I want to try to galvanise everybody into recognising that we could solve the problem quickly and for all time. I shall describe what the scheme would be like when fully operational—but, as I shall explain, it would come into operation over a period.

When fully operational, the scheme would establish the right to work. Every adult would be offered work for 40 hours per week at £2.50 an hour, or one third of the national average wage, whichever was the greater. That would be free of income tax, so it is a better deal than most of the unemployed get today.

Every person aged 16 or 17 would be offered the right to remain in full-time education, supported through child benefit and educational grants, or the right to paid training, or the right to employment in the right-to-work scheme, or up to 40 hours a week at £1.25 per hour for 16-year-olds and £1.75 per hour for 17-year-olds. That would be free of income tax.

Unemployment benefit would cease. The status of being unemployed would also cease. Every person would have the right to work or, for the under-18s, the right to education or paid training. The fear of unemployment, the fear of being discarded, would be removed, and everybody would have the right to make a contribution to society in general. Thus, every adult would have access to £100 per week, tax-free, if he or she cared to work for 40 hours. That is considerably higher than the present rate of unemployment benefit.

Adult couples, married or otherwise, with or without children, would be entitled to earn up to £5,200 each per year, tax-free, and would receive no other benefits. Couples with children and single parents would be entitled to the same overall support from the state as at present, but the first £100 would come from the right-to-work scheme. For example, a family unit now receiving £150 per week in various benefits would receive £50 automatically, and the other £100 would be paid if 40 hours' work were done. For every adult, it would be deemed that the full £100 had been earned, and any entitlement to further family or housing benefit would be paid accordingly. If someone did not avail himself of the opportunity, that would be entirely up to him.

Sickness, disability and similar benefits would continue as at present. People who were 50 per cent., or less than 50 per cent., disabled would be entitled to participate in the scheme, but they would receive disability benefit automatically as of right. In other words, someone who was 50 per cent. disabled would receive whatever he is now entitled to for his 50 per cent. disability but, as he is also 50 per cent. able, he would be able to participate either at a reduced rate of pay for 40 hours, or at the full rate for 20 hours. It is important that the scheme should enable partially disabled people to participate.

Now I shall explain how the scheme would be phased in. Initially, it would be for the under-21s. Little change in legislation would be required. We already have on the statute book a system whereby no benefit is paid to 16 and 17-year-olds. They should be—I say "should be" because I am not sure whether the system has worked as it should —entitled to training or to be able to continue with their education.

I suggest that we should extend that system to include all those between 16 and 21. As soon as possible, we should set up facilities for turning jobcentres into work centres. We should operate a scheme to find work and, as I said, there would be a variety of work available. There would be environmental work, coast protection work, minor infrastructural work and caring work.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. As he will hear from my later remarks, I do not approach what he is trying to do with any sense of absolute hostility. However, I point out to him that a guarantee was given to young people when benefits were taken from them. Unfortunately, one of the results of the Government's failure to honour that guarantee is that about 75,000 young people are waiting to take up youth training courses.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Lloyd

The Minister shakes his head, but he does not know what he is talking about. Of those 75,000 people, there are certainly quite a few who, because of cessation of benefit, find themselves with no income. I am simply not prepared to listen to anyone who says that we can establish schemes the effect of which would be to deny many of our young people any access to income. Such a scheme would be a cruel illusion.

Mr. Howell

In principle, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, I do not believe that his figures are correct. I do believe that we have not honoured in every case what we should have honoured for 16 and 17-year-olds. I very much regret that, because it discredits such schemes. However, let that not put anyone off the idea. The guarantee has proved a little difficult; I know that we intend to correct it as soon as possible. That difficulty does not detract from my proposal.

We should introduce my proposed scheme as soon as we can. We should extend the withdrawal of benefit, but should offer a generous and real work possibility at a higher rate of pay than at present. By the time the 21-year-olds reach 22, we should advance the scheme by one or two years a year. In other words, we should make it impossible for any more young people to move forward into the something-for-nothing society which has destroyed our whole social system.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

There speaks the party of freeloaders.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I believe that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) may want to make a contribution later.

Mr. Howell


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am dealing with a seated intervention. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West cannot make his point from a seated position now.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the great advantages of his scheme is the reduction it would be likely to bring, on the basis of experience in other countries, including the United States, in the high rate of juvenile and youth crime? It would take us away from the dependency culture into which so many people in their late teenage years fall. Boredom encourages juvenile and youth crime, which is one of the most serious factors in the rise of crime, especially in crimes of dishonesty such as car crime and dwelling house burglaries, which are such a scourge on society.

Mr. Howell

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend who makes a valuable point. When we talk about the social damage being done and about the overall cost, we should realise that a huge cost goes along with unemployment, especially for young people in the inner cities, in terms of policing and the extra cost of insurance for homes that are being burgled week in and week out. A tremendous benefit would accrue from the scheme in that important area.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

We shall gain more interest in examining the details of my hon. Friend's scheme if we do not rely too much on the crime reduction element, although that has a part. We should remember that 10 per cent. of males aged 15—well below school leaving age—have already been convicted of an offence for which they could have been sent to gaol for six months or more. We should recognise that the scheme would have some advantage in reducing crime, but the main purpose would be to avoid people being paid money on the sole condition that they do nothing worth while.

Mr. Howell

I was talking about the stepping up of the age limit at which benefit would be withdrawn and at which there would be no entitlement to benefit. By the time the 21-year-olds reached the age of 22, the limit would be stepped up to 23. No more young people would ever get into the dependency culture.

Lady Olga Maitland

Would my hon. Friend seriously consider suggesting his scheme to people in their 30s and 40s? The new age travellers, for example, were clearly fit and able to work, but showed no intention of looking for work.

Mr. Howell

Of course we should tighten up the work test. When the scheme was fully operative, it would be a work test. There would be no payments to new age travellers when the scheme was fully operative. There would be no classification of "unemployed". Work would be offered to everybody, and people could take that work the day after they left their previous employment. There would be no break. Whenever a person wanted to take up a job, there would be a basic income which would be a basic right for everybody.

A few months ago, I discussed my scheme with people in a job centre in Sheringham. I nearly got to the point of taking a vote; I am sure that, if a vote had been taken, it would have been carried almost unanimously. At least 75 per cent. were in favour. Just as I was about to get to the vote, somebody intervened and made sure that no vote was taken.

As well as starting with the young, I suggest that, in Sheringham or some such place, we should also run an experiment with older people. We should say that we have an obligation to ensure that all the young under 21, for starters, have work available to them. We should also put aside 20 or 30 places for other people on a first come, first served basis. There would soon be a queue. I know of many constituents who would love to take up such work. The pressure would then come from the unemployed themselves for more places in any particular locality.

That would not be something imposed by the Government; it would be demanded of the Government by the unemployed. That is a sensible and practical way in which to proceed.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the real problem is that of the long-term unemployed? In any six-month period, some 4 million people move in and out of work. Would not my hon. Friend's scheme be easier to implement if he allowed unemployment benefit to remain for the first six months of unemployment and operated it thereafter?

Mr. Howell

I am grateful for that suggestion. I do not take a rigid view; I am suggesting the scheme as a cockshy. Refinements may be needed and what my hon. Friend suggests may be one of them.

The scheme would simplify everything. There would be no tribunals or refunds and no complicated calculations involving thousands of civil servants mulling over silly sums and claiming back £2 here or as little as lop there. The whole thing would be quite simple. There would be a work centre. A person who worked for one hour would get £2.50, and a person who worked for the full 40 hours would get £100 at the end of the week, which could be paid straight into his bank account. There need be no cash exchange.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

My hon. Friend has already made it clear that he envisages a scheme whereby unemployed people would receive £100 a week, but he has added that entitlement to other benefits such as housing benefit would remain and that, if a family was entitled to benefits worth more than £100, the benefits system would be used to top up the income from the scheme.

Does that not mean that my hon. Friend would not succeed in removing all the complications? In practice, the benefit system would continue and it would be necessary to calculate the benefit entitlement of people with families to housing benefit and so on. Can my hon. Friend assure the House that his proposed scheme would yield the administrative savings that he claims?

Mr. Howell

I agree with my hon. Friend. I should like us to go for the full scheme immediately, but it is not practicable to do so. Once the principle was in place, however, we could adjust benefits accordingly and, in due course, phase them out and so wean the whole country off the dependency culture. That could not be done immediately. That is why I suggest that, initially, while we are trying to find a way to start the scheme—

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)

By the sound of it, the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that an unemployed man with a family—perhaps several children —would be paid £100 if he worked a full week. Does the hon. Gentleman expect anyone to take seriously the suggestion a family man would be able to pay his rent and feed, clothe and look after his family on that sort of income?

Mr. Howell

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place when I explained my scheme in full. I said—I was challenged on this by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts)—that a family receiving a total of £150 in various benefits today would automatically receive £50 in benefit, while the parent or parents would be offered 40 hours work at £2.50. Both parents could earn £100 per week if they wished to, arid if they did, they would probably be able to afford to pay someone to look after their children. Thus, no hardship would result from the scheme if it were introduced in the way that I have suggested—although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Havant pointed out, it would not clear away all the deadening bureaucracy in the system immediately.

Lady Olga Maitland

Has my hon. Friend taken into account, in considering how his scheme would work, the fact that, although it is laudable to encourage the unemployed to take up an occupation, they need time to look for long-term employment that is sustainable and viable? We do not want to take that from them.

Mr. Howell

Perhaps it would be necessary to introduce a refinement there, although I personally believe that, if someone seriously wants work, he will find the time to look for it after he has put in his 40 hours. We do not want too much of a nanny state, and if we go in for such provisions, we may find that the scheme is wrecked.

Over the years, I have received a great deal of support for my scheme. It is not something that I have thought up in the past day or two, but something of whose benefits I have tried to persuade many Governments over a long period. Lord Carr, who was Secretary of State when I entered the House in 1970, heard all about it—indeed, they have all heard all about it. Sooner or later, I shall win.

I have had something of a victory. I remember going to see Lord Tebbit in the early 1980s when he was Secretary of State. Norman Tebbit did not want to know anything about it. He had the answer to unemployment: it was coming down. In fact, it went up, but that is par for the course for all Secretaries of State. It is interesting to note, therefore, that, in his recent book "Unfinished Business", Lord Tebbit has given my version of workfare the top spot in his suggestions for putting the country back on course for prosperity. We have all heard about St. Paul, but it is cause for rejoicing when one of our number sees the light at the end of the Corridor.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will do his best to draw the attention of the present Secretary of State—who used to be one of my constituents and who has known all about my scheme for a long time—to our debate today. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will show—rather more than she did in the House the other day—that she is just as enlightened as Lord Tebbit.

The Employment Research Trust, which a number of my friends and I set up 12 years ago, has done much work in conjunction with Buckingham university to try to get the idea across. I am also grateful to the Adam Smith Institute, which supports the scheme and which helped me with the publication of the pamphlet "Why Not Work?" At the other end of the spectrum, the Low Pay Unit has been especially helpful. I have worked closely with Chris Pond for many years, and he fully supports what I am trying to do. Moreover, the New Statesman and Society gave the exercise a year ago a better write-up than any other periodical.

I have received support from unemployment groups throughout the country—including, in particular, a group in Finchley. I do not believe that any of those involved support my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) or that they supported his predecessor. Nevertheless, they have devoted most of their recent publication to saying that the scheme should be carefully considered and that it must be given top priority.

Every time I speak on this matter, I receive support from unemployed people throughout the country, almost all of whom want to work. I stress the fact that the majority of the unemployed want to work. They want comradeship, they want something to do, they want a purpose and they want an escape from the boredom of unemployment.

Mr. Hawkins

Can my hon. Friend confirm that one of the most interesting developments in workfare has been in the USA, in particular in California and West Virginia? Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to observe the. West Virginia experience, which has been particularly positive. It certainly reinforces what my hon. Friend has been saying.

Mr. Howell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments.

A constituent of mine—a Mr. Haines—has suddenly found himself unemployed at the age of 58. He started work when he was 15 and spent 41 years in employment and two years in self-employment. He is not entitled to any unemployment benefit—partly, I think, because his wife works for more than 16 hours a week, and perhaps partly because of his self-employment. I doubt whether he is even included in the unemployment statistics. There is something wrong with that.

Mr. Haines went to his local jobcentre, but he was told that it was impossible to find him work. He was told to come back in six months, by which time he would have lost the will to work and the jobcentre would reinstil it in him through some scheme or another. What could be more ridiculous than that? I am glad to say that he is one of those who are working hard and successfully to promote my scheme.

Mr. Gorst

My hon. Friend should persevere with his scheme beyond today's debate and beyond his conversations with eminent Secretaries of State. There is one important principle in politics—not that one does something that is right, but that one puts it across at the right moment. This is the right moment for my hon. Friend's scheme. In the past, Governments have wanted to spend money; more recently, they have wanted to save it. Today, they want to get value for their money. That is why my hon. Friend's scheme is worthy of support.

Mr. Howell

I am grateful for those comments. We must curb wasteful Government expenditure. We waste at least £10 billion in this area, and that is one of the most important aspects of the problem. We can push and push to no avail when the time is not right, but I believe that the right moment has arrived. All sides of the political spectrum realise that this is not a party political issue—it is a national and international issue. We should make it the cornerstone of our plans for reviving the economy.

Instead of telling our partners in Europe that we want nothing to do with the social chapter, we should say, "This is our social chapter. It is the answer to our problems and your problems." My scheme could be the answer to problems in Poland and Russia. I am sure that everyone realises that we cannot just worry about our problems, because the worldwide problems in, for example, the eastern European countries will soon become our problems if we do not find an answer to them.

I was pleased to receive a letter from my hon. Friend the Minister of State on that very point only a few days ago. He suggested that there might be a scheme of some sort, although I do not think that it would be the right sort to satisfy me. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will outline a pilot scheme to investigate whether my ideas could be used to find a way to solve such terrible problems.

We must deal with this matter with the utmost urgency. If it is left much longer, we will be in a deeper and deeper hole, pouring more and more money down the drain. We are ruining our economy because we have not faced such an important problem. There is only one way out. As I said earlier, when President Roosevelt took office in 1933 in the depths of the depression, he said that there was only one way out of the problems: "We must work our way out." That is the way to proceed.

10.26 am
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell), who spoke without party animus, for the opportunity to debate, in the words of his motion, the "wasteful and soul destroying" effects of the ever-growing job losses in Britain today.

The debate comes on a day of rapidly mounting public concern about the huge costs of mass unemployment, in economic and human terms alike. These costs have increased, are increasing and will go on increasing, in spite of the measures announced by the Chancellor in his autumn statement on 12 November. Indeed, many people think that the statement will make the dole queue even longer by reducing the purchasing power of millions of people who are already among the lowest paid and who, in many cases, have living standards that are little better than those of people on state benefits.

As of now, the increase in the jobless total compared with only two years ago is almost 1.25 million—71 per cent. The number of jobless people chasing every vacancy has shot up from 11 to 30. The number of young people out of work has risen by 323,000—an all-time high—and 541,000 jobs in manufacturing industry have disappeared.

It is against this background that I want to discuss the extremely daunting difficulties of disabled people—for whom the hon. Gentleman said that he wanted positive discrimination—as they seek to show that they have abilities as well as disabilities. I hope that, by common consent in the House today, it will be agreed that they are among the least fortunate and the most distressed of all the victims of the jobs famine. For them, unemployment is a double handicap that leads to double despair. They seek not sympathy but social fairness; not the dependence of state benefits but the independence of reasonably paid employment; not expressions of compassion but practical concern in a society about which one highly skilled disabled person, who lives in Surrey, commented to me recently: It would be an exaggeration to describe my status as that even of a second-class citizen. Another very able, but physically disabled, correspondent wrote to me last week from north London to say: I was made redundant as a Senior Research Officer into special needs education when the ILEA was disbanded. Since then I have attended 32 interviews for virtually the same kind of employment. Obviously my written applications were acceptable but the interviewing panels were either unable, or unwilling, to look beyond the nature of my physical disability, thus ignoring my proven ability to do the job. In the queue for jobs, these and other disabled people are the tail-enders in the longest and most soul-destroying queue in Britain today. The Spastics Society, in a justifiably bitter comment about the unmerited but widespread discrimination against disabled job-seekers, has been displaying a poster which pictures two job applicants, one disabled and the other able-bodied, with the caption: One has the degree in engineering the other has the job. As the society points out, employers can blatantly discriminate against disabled people, with no real fear of being called to account.

Colin Barnes, in his book "Disabled People and Discrimination", amply exposes and documents the extent of discrimination in comtemporary Britain. The 3 per cent. quota scheme which the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 provided is now a dismal failure. More than three quarters of the employers who are subject to its requirements do not meet the quota. There have been no prosecutions of defaulting employers since the present Government came to power.

Employers are now six times more likely to turn a disabled person down for an interview, even if his or her qualifications and experience are identical to those of a non-disabled applicant. People with disabilities are at least two-and-a-half times more likely to be out of work than the general population. Nor does that figure take into account the large numbers of employable disabled people aged 16 to 64—perhaps as many as 1.2 million—who are excluded from official unemployment statistics. Although they are very much "out of work", they are hidden by the Government's figures.

At present, only 1 per cent. of the work force are registered as disabled; yet according to the Government's own surveys, well over 3 per cent. are registrable. For their part, Ministers say that education and persuasion are preferable to the legal requirements of the 1944 Act. But the more repetitively they state their view, the more tragically unemployment grows among employable disabled people. However, that is not the clinching argument against the Government's view of the way forward.

If education and persuasion alone can achieve equal opportunities for disabled people, why is the Government's own record as an employer so poor? They are a huge employer and, if education and persuasion are better than statutory requirements, why have they not yet either educated or persuaded themselves to employ more disabled people? How persuasive is the advocate who has still to persuade himself of the worth of his own advocacy?

I want to set out briefly some of the most recent information available about the Government's approach as an employer to the quota of 3 per cent. In a parliamentary reply on 14 July 1992, the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, said in column 659 of Hansard that in June 1989 the number of registered disabled staff in his Department was 156–1.2 per cent.—and that in June 1990 the number was 153—again 1.2 per cent.

Also on 14 July, the Home Secretary told the House: In 1989, 143 members of staff in the Home Office were registered disabled, representing 0.3 per cent. of all staff."—[Official Report, 14 July 1992; Vol. 211, c. 540–41.] The percentage in June 1991 was approximately the same.

On 15 July, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville), reported: In June 1989 there were 30 registered disabled people employed in the Department which represented 0.7 per cent. of the total work force. In 1990, the comparable figures were 29 and 0.6 per cent."—[Official Report, 15 July 1992; Vol. 211, c. 748–49.] With such figures to explain, Ministers are being told not only by disabled people, but by employers, that it is not what they say that impresses those they lecture about education and persuasion, but what they do.

Lady Olga Maitland

Could you possibly explain—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Lady not to use the word "you" in that way.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly explain that, when disabled people are employed in any sector, it is expensive to meet their needs? It is all very well to say that not enough disabled people are employed, but the reality is that not all disabled people are suitable for certain types of work. It is necessary to provide facilities to help them to work. For example, they may need computers tailored to their needs. It is expensive, and it is a great problem.

Mr. Morris

I speak with some experience of administering help for disabled people. The hon. Lady is right to say that we must never simplify the problems. For example, there are often difficulties of physical access for disabled people to places of employment. Under the last Labour Government, capital grants were made available for the first time, in recognition of that difficulty, among other special measures. However, the inescapable fact is that the abilities of disabled people are massively under-used. For their part, the Government say that 3 per cent. of the work force are registrable, but nothing like 3 per cent. of the work force are registered disabled people. That is why disabled people feel that the way in which they are treated is a major scandal. They passionately want to work and, as I said, to demonstrate that they have abilities as well as disabilities.

Official statistics also show that, even when disabled people are in work, they are more likely to be lower paid and, despite their qualifications, in lower-skilled occupations than the general population.

Mr. Hawkins

The right hon. Member's work for the disabled and in championing their opportunities for work is widely respected on both sides of the House and throughout the country. Does he accept that great strides have been made in recent years, especially by voluntary organisations—I know that he is connected with many of them? While he is on the subject, I pay tribute to Blackpool and Fylde Access for the Disabled, in which, as the right hon. Gentleman may know, the work is organised by Clarissa Clarke, who is well known throughout the country.

The work of voluntary organisations, which have made the same case that the right hon. Gentleman has been advancing, is enormously important, and I hope that he will join me to pay tribute to their work.

Mr. Morris

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his intervention. I most warmly endorse what he said about the superb work that is done in the voluntary sector. Many years ago in the House, it was argued that, as state provision expanded, the voluntary sector would wither away. That was total nonsense. As state provision increased, so did voluntary effort. If we are to make disabled people fully a part of society, instead of being apart from society, there is enormous work to be done in both the statutory and voluntary sectors. The voluntary organisation to which the hon. Member referred is one of high reputation in the north-west. I am delighted to know of his connection with its work.

To resume, I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that, when disabled people are in work, they are more likely to be in lower-paid and—despite their qualifications—in lower-skilled occupations compared with the general population. The rights of disabled people in and seeking employment are further undermined by an education and training system that frequently operates in an openly segregationist and discriminatory way.

As I have shown in many representations to Ministers on behalf of the Rathbone Society, in whose admirable work my good and hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) also takes a close interest, most training and enterprise councils fail to meet the concerns of disabled people in their areas. A report about that, soon to be published by the Spastics Society, will further document the failure of TECs in their dealings with disabled people.

The right to work is dismissed as a slogan by disabled people who are denied basic civil rights which the non-disabled can take for granted. Their response to the Government's talk of "citizens charters" is to insist on becoming full and equal members of society. They want this House to provide a proper framework of legal rights to end discrimination against them. They point to the German levy system as a simple but very effective method of making employers meet their responsibilities. Employers in Germany have to meet a financial levy if less than 6 per cent. of their work force are disabled people. Large numbers of German employers meet the quota, but the levy produces an annual income of about £100 million, which is channelled directly to employment programmes for people with disabilities.

Nor are Britain's disabled people alone in insisting on a proper framework of legal rights to end the unjustified discrimination that they now have to endure. In a highly distinguished speech in another place on 4 November, Lord Renton, formerly Sir David Renton and the Member of Parliament for Huntingdon, appealed to the Government to find time in this House for the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which all organisations of and for disabled people want to see speedily enacted. He said: It is extraordinary and not very creditable that there has been such opposition, or nonfeasance in the past. He went on to say that when the Bill returned to this House the Government should at least provide time for its discussion … Better still", Ministers could take on the Bill themselves and make it a Government Bill."— [Official Report, House of Lords, 4 November 1992, c. 1526.] Much to their honour, other Conservative peers supported the Bill, just as many Conservative Members have also given it strong backing and continue to do so.

Civil rights legislation for disabled people is not just an idea whose time has come. It is an idea whose time came 10 years ago, when the committee which, as the then Minister, I appointed to look into restrictions against disabled people in 1979, reported in 1982 in favour of legislative action. Since then, legislation has been enacted in the United States, Australia and Canada, among other countries. We could have led the world, but instead we trail far behind.

It was left to President Bush, when signing the Americans With Disabilities Act 1990, to say from the White House lawn: I want to appeal today to our friends in the business community. You have in your hands the key to the success of this Act, for you can unlock a splendid resource of untapped human potential that, when free, will enrich us all. Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down. I referred earlier to the Spastics Society's poster about two job applicants, one disabled and the other able-bodied. Another of its posters is even more eloquent in its message to parliamentarians in all parts of this House. The poster shows two infants and the caption says: One has cerebral palsy, the other has full human rights. The picture of the two infants symbolises the rank injustices that millions of our disabled fellow citizens have to live with day in and day out. I ask not only the Government but the House not to forget them in this debate.

10.47 am
Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on raising this issue today and on his contribution to the debate on the problem known as, "Why work?" Whatever his frustrations in getting his message on workfare across, several measures that have been introduced to try to deal with the "Why work?" problem in the past decade can be traced back to the battles that my hon. Friend has fought. I shall mention three.

First, the benefits system now, more than ever before, ensures that, whatever their family circumstances, people can be better off in work than out of it. Family credit, which was introduced five years ago, is aligned with the structure of family premiums for income support, and ensures that one will always be better off in work, however low paid the job.

The only remaining wrinkle in what would otherwise be a complete benefit system, ensuring that people are always better off in work, is the provision for mortgage payments. There has been a welcome extention of home ownership, but, unfortunately, we are at the bottom of a recession. People have told me at my surgery in Havant that they will be worse off taking a job because, although they will receive family credit and housing benefit, while they are on income support their mortgage is paid. With that one exception, which is admittedly increasingly important, the benefits system ensures that people are better off in work.

Secondly, the Government have tightened up on what used to be called the "available for work" provision. In the past one was entitled to receive unemployment benefit if one was genuinely available for work, but that requirement has now been changed to one of "actively seeking work". I am sure that all my hon. Friends welcome that crucial improvement in the benefit system.

The third change was announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security during his uprating statement last week. Those people who are not actively seeking work will no longer be penalised with a 40 per cent. reduction in their benefit; they will now be in danger of losing all of their benefit. That is another welcome measure designed to deal with the absurd and anti-social behaviour of new age travellers and other groups.

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor and Maidenhead)

Does my hon. Friend share my welcome for the new training for work programme, which was announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment following the autumn statement?

Mr. Willetts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has added a fourth item to my list. That list adds up to a series of significant initiatives aimed at encouraging people into work to ensure that we do not reward people who remain unemployed for a long time.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman has referred to those who are denied benefit because they are deemed not to be actively seeking work. Does he understand that in many areas there is no work for people to seek actively? The idea of penalising people because they cannot find work is morally dubious.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke about rewarding people for long-term unemployment. Surely he appreciates that, even under this munificent Conservative Government, under whom income support and other benefit rates are poor, the reward for not working is poverty.

Mr. Willetts

The test of actively seeking work does not depend on the availability of numerous jobs in an immediate area. If someone sends off many job applications and, when offered, accepts a place on a training scheme, even if they live in an area which, sadly, is suffering from a high rate of unemployment, any sensible adjudication officer will accept that that person is seeking work and will not penalise him.

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) also referred to the current rates of benefit. One of the reasons that the benefit for low-income working families—family credit—was improved was precisely so that the Government could create a gap between income received in work and that received out of work. They have not done that by reducing the available benefits to those out of work, but by boosting the incomes of those who are in low-paid jobs. I stress the importance of improving the assistance available for people in such low-paid jobs, which creates an incentive for them to work. It is not true that benefits for the long-term unemployed have been cut in real terms.

I must express some doubts, perhaps the fashionable term is scepticism, about the new proposals on workfare from my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North, which go beyond the specific initiatives launched by the Government in the past few years. I am afraid that my doubts are wide ranging. The first relates to a matter of principle. As my hon. Friend made clear, his scheme essentially means that the state acts as the employer of last resort. In effect, a large part of the labour market would be nationalised, which represents a significant extension of the Government's role in that market. As a believer in free markets, I could not support such an extension.

I know that we are always told that if there are idle hands on the one side and unmet needs on the other, surely it is right for the state to step in to bring the two together.

Mr. Ralph Howell

I am sorry that my hon. Friend does not agree with the idea of the state being the employer of last resort, but I am grateful to him for his pleasant references to what I have tried to achieve in the past.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend has not taken on board the fact that the state is the provider of last resort and, therefore, it is the waster of last resort because it insists on providing billions of pounds while getting nothing in return. I know that my hon. Friend is a free marketeer, who really believes in the free economy, so surely he sees the good sense of getting some value for the £8 billion that we spend. Why should we not get something done in return to improve society? People could work to clean up our cities and our countryside; they could plant more trees to help the environment. It seems to me that my hon. Friend insists on being the waster of last resort.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I must point out that interventions seem to he getting a trace longer each time and that they are now too long.

Mr. Willetts

I was, of course, shocked to be described as a waster of last resort by my hon. Friend. I have not previously attempted to adopt such a role and I am not pleased to have it attributed to me today.

The problem is rather more complicated than my hon. Friend imagines. Of course, in the short term, my hon. Friend may be tempted by the idea of putting someone to work straightaway on planting trees, because that is better than having him unemployed. However, let us imagine that a software programmer is made redundant when his firm folds. If he lost that job on a Friday and, on the Monday, he is set planting trees, that would not be an efficient use of his time or his skills.

My hon. Friend should recall that one of the ideas of Beveridge—the early Beveridge of great insight, who advocated and introduced labour exchanges—was that it was inefficient if an unemployed person accepted the first job that he could find. It might be better for that person to spend several weeks, indeed up to several months, on labour search to find the job that matches his skills.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Willetts

I will, but I hope that my hon. Friend will bear in mind the stricture that we received from Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Dicks

My hon. Friend has highlighted the difference between his view and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell). The workfare programme would offer a temporary post to someone while he was seeking a permanent job. My hon. Friend is confusing the two types of employment.

Mr. Willetts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, which I shall address later.

I have attempted to set out the reasons for my concern about the ambitious workfare scheme that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North has advocated. My first objection is one of principle. Of course it is frustrating when one sees idle hands when there is unmet need, but it is not the job of the state to make those idle hands meet those unmet needs; it is the job of a properly operating labour market. It is not an enormous command economy directing people into jobs that politicians decide are useful. That is not how a free economy works.

My second objection is a practical one of cost. It is difficult to see how any such scheme would be less expensive than our current system. I do not believe that there would be any savings on the administration burden of the benefit system. It is already clear from the debate that people who received £100 a week contribution for work that they might do under the workfare scheme would still remain entitled to income support and housing benefit to top up their family income. All the intricacies of the current benefit system would still be with us.

My next anxiety, which ties in with the point made about short-term versus long-term, arises from the unhappy experience that we have had with what is, in effect, a version of workfare for 16 to 18-year-olds. I supported that measure in principle because it seemed to make sense and, after all, it matched a proposal in the Beveridge report of 1942. But in practice it has not been possible for the training agency and TECs to deliver training schemes rapidly and effectively—

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for me to request that the Secretary of State for Transport be instructed to come to the House this morning to answer questions about the 5,000 redundancies announced by British Rail and the extremely serious difficulties that rail investment faces as a consequence of the autumn statement? It is appalling that such a state of affairs should exist in an industry for which there is ministerial responsibility, yet a responsible Minister is not present to answer for it.

As British Rail has directly linked its announcement of 5,000 redundancies with the inadequacy of last week's settlement, it is essential that the Secretary of State comes to the House before those shocking redundancies have time to take effect.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Whether Ministers come to the House is not a matter for the Chair, but I can inform hon. Members that Madam Speaker has not received any application from the Government for a statement to be made on that or any other matter.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I appreciate, of course, that it is not a matter for you directly to get involved in the movement of Ministers. The difficulty is that the 5,000 job losses have safety implications for many people using British Rail, and the redundancies are being implemented very quickly. The House should receive a statement from the responsible Minister because the Government's plan to privatise British Rail is the cause of the 5,000 job losses.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I can only repeat what I said, which is that it is not a matter for the Chair. Representatives of the Government are present, and I can say no more than that.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to the point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will know that in recent years, attempts have been made to get Ministers to come to the House to explain various matters. Sometimes the Chair has been able to convey a message to the Government to the effect that while a Minister might not be available immediately, arrangements should be made for a statement to be made before the end of the day's sitting.

You rightly point out, Madam Deputy Speaker, that representatives of the Government are on the Front Bench. Unfortunately, there is not among them a Minister who is directly involved in the issue. Would it be possible for you to convey to Madam Speaker the fact that we are raising these points of order in which we are urging that a Minister should make a statement, so that a Minister is here before 2.30 pm to make a statement before the Adjournment debate comes on?

The weekend lies before us. It is not as though we can press for a Minister to appear for questioning tomorrow, although that might not be a bad idea. I urge on you to take that step, Madam Deputy Speaker, because in the present climate of mass unemployment, with a Government who are causing more wreckage than Hitler caused in the 1939–45 war, at some point, Madam Speaker, Front Benchers or Back Benchers, must say, "Enough is enough". Accordingly, I appeal to you to inform Madam Speaker that we would like her to convey to the Ministers concerned our demand that one of them should be here before 2.30.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Further to the point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I understood you to say that Madam Speaker had received no intimation from the Secretary of State for Transport that he intended to make a statement today about the job losses. Has Madam Speaker received a message about a statement being made next week by the Secretary of State for Scotland concerning the announced 3,500 job losses by the Royal Bank of Scotland?

Are you aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, that that scale of job losses in Scotland is equal to job losses caused by, for example, the closure of a large shipyard or a steel mill? It is a matter of the gravest importance to us in Scotland. I am wondering whether Madam Speaker has been told that we may expect a statement on Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I understand that the answer is no.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (York)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I, through you, ask for a message to be sent to Ministers to let them know how seriously the announced job losses are taken in my constituency, which could be absolutely devastated by job cuts of that magnitude? Yesterday when I told Roger Freeman—[Interruption.]—who was in York, that there could be hundreds of job losses—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. In his concern, the hon. Member has forgotten the custom that we do not refer to a Member of the House by name.

Mr. Bayley

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I am concerned because while the Government yesterday morning described rail job losses on that scale as bunkum, the announcement of those redundancies was made in the evening. It is surprising that a Minister has not explained why such a change occurred in the course of just six hours.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, there should be time today to get a message to the relevant Minister so that he may have an opportunity to answer to the House for the appalling job losses that have been announced and the consequences for the travelling public.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I rise, rather extraordinarily, on a genuine point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, to seek your guidance. Under the rules of the House, a Standing Order No. 20 motion cannot be moved on a Friday. So we are in a predicament in that my hon. Friends and I would like to have had the opportunity, had this been a normal day, to raise not just the fact of the loss, or possible loss, of 5,000 jobs on the railways, but another report to the effect that Ministers have been thrown into panic by the requirement that people working in the public sector who move into privatised jobs will carry with them the rights, privileges and conditions that they had while in the public sector. That suggests that the two situations are interrelated and that an attempt is being made to get rid of 5,000 workers—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is now beginning to debate merits, whereas I can deal only with points of order.

Mr. Williams

I come directly to my point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, having given you some background on the two aspects, which appear to be interrelated. We are in the predicament that we cannot raise a Standing Order No. 20 motion until Monday. May I ask you at least to facilitate our attempts to get a statement from the Minister by saying that, should a Minister not come forward at some stage today with a statement, on Monday you, or the then occupant of the Chair, would be inclined to give sympathetic consideration to a Standing Order No. 20 motion moved from the Opposition Benches?

Madam Deputy Speaker

I cannot anticipate what Madam Speaker's views might be on Monday.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Would it be possible for the Secretary of State for Transport to come to the House now and speak in this debate and, in the process of doing that, explain the bunkum of his policies that have led to the redundancies?

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a slightly different point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is clearly important that we should debate transport at the earliest possible date. The person to facilitate that is not the Secretary of State for Transport but the Leader of the House, who almost certainly is now in his office in the Palace of Westminster.

In my constituency we are now going ahead with the Leeds-Bradford electrification scheme, and the announced job losses might throw that whole venture into jeopardy. Accordingly, you may have been informed, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the Leader of the House would be prepared to announce changes in the business for next week so that we may incorporate a debate on the catastrophe that is facing British Rail.

Mr. Trend


Madam Deputy Speaker

Is the hon. Member raising a point of order?

Mr. Trend

Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker, it refers to points of order made earlier about the events of last night. As a new Member, I have been sitting here brooding on the matter since those points were raised and I seek your further guidance. Was it a matter of parliamentary privilege, in the sense that one hon. Member wished to present a petition and another wished to move the Adjournment debate, and both were prevented from doing so through no fault of their own? Is it right, under parliamentary procedure, that they should have been prevented from proceeding as they wished?

Madam Deputy Speaker

I understand that Madam Speaker dealt with that matter last night and I have nothing to add to what she said on that occasion.

Mr. Keith Hill (Streatham)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We should be grateful if you would convey our urgent request to Madam Speaker for a statement by the Minister on the railway redundancies on three grounds. First, those redundancies—5,000 over a period of four months—are on a scale comparable, although by no means similar, to the coal fields redundancies on which statements were rightly made to the House. Secondly, British Rail has directly ascribed the redundancies to the tight settlement in the Chancellor's autumn statement. There is therefore a direct ministerial responsibility for those redundancies. Thirdly, as we have already heard, the crisis now facing British Rail has safety implications. It has been the traditional and historic right of the House to ask Ministers to explain the detail of British Rail policy on signalling and other matters. On all those grounds, there is an urgent and pressing case for a statement by the Minister.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Mr. Dicks.

Mr. Dicks

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Would it not be possible, even at this late stage, for the Opposition, who have their own supply day on Monday to change the nature of their business to discuss that point? I do not sit in the Whips' Office but if there are behind-the-scenes discussions, I should not be surprised if my hon. Friends said that they would be prepared to listen. It is no good the Opposition ranting and raving about safety today when they have their own supply day on Monday.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I have now heard quite sufficient to offer a comment to the House. Of course, I shall sec that Madam Speaker is acquainted with the strength of feelings that has been evinced in the various points of order. Although she cannot command Ministers, I have no doubt that Ministers sitting on the Front Bench will make it their business to convey those feelings to those concerned.

We must now continue our debate.

Mr. Willetts

Moreover, when one looks at the practical difficulties in implementing a workfare scheme it is clear that lessons can be learned from the experience of youth training schemes for 16 to 18-year-olds. I entirely supported that attempt and had no difficulties in principle in expecting that 16 to 18-year-olds should be in education, training or paid employment. However, in the past few years we have encountered serious practical difficulties in delivering a job guarantee. That is not surprising because, if a 17-year-old loses his or her job on a Friday evening, it is difficult for them to turn up on a Monday morning and suddenly be put straight onto a training scheme.

Training schemes operate on the basis of planning ahead. Employers who take on trainees want to know in advance who they will get and in what circumstances. They need to be confident that the trainee will stay for a year or two. Such long-term training is different from a social security system, which rightly tries to pick up short-term needs of people who suddenly find themselves without a weekly income.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North was a trifle casual when he said that if someone loses their job on Friday, on Monday they can immediately turn up and be put to planting trees. That is not how any employer can operate in the real world.

Mr. Ralph Howell

May I clarify that point? There is a great difference between fitting somebody into a training scheme and adding him to a work force—tree planting or whatever it might be. It is a pity that so many difficulties are being put in the way.

Mr. Willetts

I am sorry if my hon. Friend thinks that I am simply putting difficulties in his way. I am not trying to do so. I am trying to deal with practical issues, which would have to be dealt with before a scheme along those lines could become a viable proposition.

The American experience has already been described in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins). Many of us are wary of American experiences, as they can be misleading. Many states operate schemes which they call workfare because federal grants are available for such schemes. If they called their programmes "training schemes" or "assistance for single parents on aid for families with dependent children benefit", they would not receive federal support. So if the federal Government become keen on workfare, there is an enormous incentive on the state to dress up any old training scheme as workfare.

In practice, many of the schemes that now operate in America under the name workfare would, in this country, be classic operations carried out in the past by the Manpower Services Commission and now carried out by the Employment Service and training and enterprise councils. It is wrong to regard America as a country that has implemented workfare along the lines now advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North.

Mr. Hawkins

My hon. Friend takes up a point that I made in an earlier intervention. Although I accept his point about federal grants, which is an inevitable concomitant of grants being made available in any country, I strongly urge him to bear in mind the fact that many distinguished congressmen in the United States have called for genuine workfare. Those include a good friend of mine, Republican Congressman Bill Emerson from Missouri, whom I have had the opportunity to visit. I endorse those in the United States who call for genuine workfare and I believe that the states to which I referred earlier have implemented successfully precisely the kind of genuine workfare that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North believes in, and in which I also believe.

Mr. Willetts

I defer to my hon. Friend's wide experience of the American debate.

May I conclude with some constructive suggestions? I do not wish to leave any hint of a suspicion in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North, that I am here to carp or be negative. One possible way forward is for TECs to review how they are currently dealing with their work for the unemployed. I am worried about how TECs are now operating.

Although it is imaginative to bring together public funding, people from the private sector and people with business experience who know about training and the business of creating jobs, many of them seem to be tempted by the prospect of elaborate and ambitious training schemes that will produce computer experts and people for the high-tech industries. They are tempted in particular to cream off from the unemployed those people who may already have considerable skills and who, with a modest amount of extra training, will be able to contribute most obviously to the local economy. I do not blame them for that. I can see the commercial incentives for a group of local employers to operate in that way.

The trouble is that if TECs operate like that they are mimicking what a commercial training agency would do —taking on the best risks, best prospects and the people with the greatest chance of commanding a job in the future.

Surely public sector training schemes and publicly financed training organisations should aim to help the most difficult cases—people who may have been let down by the educational system or who may have modest skills. They should not help only those people who will immediately go into high-paid jobs at the sharp end of local industry but people who, if they can establish a track record of turning up for work at 9 am, can be given the confidence to seek work actively. They may then be able to hold down a job—admittedly a less well-paid job, but nevertheless a well-paid and useful job in the community.

My concern is that TECs are not paying attention to the hard cases. Instead, they are creaming off the exotica, the exciting cases. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to offer an assurance that TECs will not ignore their responsibilities for the long-term unemployed, especially those who, sadly, left the education system with modest qualifications.

I hope that we can establish even more clearly than in the past that if someone employed within the Employment service or in a benefit office doubts that someone who is signing on for benefit is actively seeking work, he or she should be able to offer such a person a place in a training scheme. Obviously, employment training is very relevant here. A refusal to take up such a scheme would be clear and unambigious evidence that the unemployed person was not actively seeking work.

We have made considerable progress over the past few years. I remember the time when the old Manpower Services Commission did not want its schemes to be used as a means of testing whether someone was actively seeking work. In those days the test was availability for work. The commission said that it did not want reluctant recruits. It did not want people participating in its training schemes only because the alternative was loss of benefit. That is another classic example of the creaming-off problem. The MSC, for example, wanted those who were already well on their way to finding jobs.

A positive way in which we can help to deal with the problem that is posed by those who lose the will actively to seek work is to use Government training schemes on a selective basis to test whether individuals are actively seeking work and to ensure that if they are not, their bluff can be called through the offer of a place on a training scheme.

As I have a constituency engagement early this afternoon, I shall not be able to remain in the Chamber until the end of the debate. It is—

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willetts

Of course.

Mr. Banks

I asked the hon. Gentleman to give way —I have listened carefully to his thoughtful speech—because if I manage to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall refer to him. He said that it is not the role of government to stimulate the labour market or to create employment. I think that he said that. He suggested that it is the role of an efficient labour market to provide jobs. Perhaps he will take the opportunity to explain why the Japanese have recently announced a $87 billion programme of public sector work to try to stimulate both their economy, which is in a much better state than ours, and the labour market generally.

Mr. Willetts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention because it gives me the opportunity to clarify what I said earlier. Obviously I did not make the point sufficiently clear.

The Government have enormous responsibilities in terms of employment and the labour market. The Government's responsibility is, first, to ensure that there is the right economic framework. That means ensuring that the growth of total spending in the economy is neither unsustainably rapid nor negative. We now have growth of nominal GDP running at about 3 per cent.

Another responsibility of government is to ensure that the labour market works properly. That is why we need trade union law reform. We must ensure that people are better off in work than out of it. It is a responsibility which calls for supply-side reforms, which the Government pursued in the 1980s. I hope that they will continue pursuing them in the 1990s.

It is the question of Government intervention that causes me to part company with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North. I do not think that the Government have a direct role to intervene in and run the labour market, and themselves to link idle hands and unmet needs by employing millions of people who would otherwise be unemployed. If the Government intervene in that way they will be nationalising the problem. It is, however, the Government's responsibility to make the labour market operate freely.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred in his intervention to the Japanese. It is true that the Japanese Government have produced a reflation package that is aimed at dealing with the problems of their economy. The hon. Gentleman says that the problems facing the Japanese economy are not as severe as those that face us. Actually, the collapse of property prices, asset prices and financial confidence in Japan is a more serious problem for the Japanese economy than that which faces our economy. In any event, in the autumn statement there is a set of measures which, I am confident, will bring economic growth next year.

If the Japanese are to succeed in their enormous programme of extra Government spending, they will do so only because of years of prudent control of both spending and borrowing. It is impossible for the Japanese Government to borrow for more than 10 years ahead. That is ruled out by the Japanese constitution. As a result, any Japanese Government who are faced with the problem of recession have the enormous advantage of having much less public sector debt than that of most other Governments. A lesson to be learnt from their reflation package is that when years are good we should run surpluses and pay off debts so that when years are bad there is some scope for the issuing of gilts. I am pleased to say that in these terms the British Government are in a much better position than that in which the American Government find themselves.

Mr. Tony Banks

I relish the opportunity of entering into a debate with the hon. Gentleman on some future date on the comparative states of the Japanese and British economies. Unfortunately, it is not possible to do that today, but I hope that the opportunity will present itself.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although Japanese property prices have fallen alarmingly, Japanese manufacturing capacity is so strong that the impact on the Japanese economy has been nothing like the impact of the fall of property prices in the United Kingdom? It is the underlying strength of manufacturing industry in Japan that places it in a much better position economically than that of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Willetts

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the strength of Japanese manufacturing industry. Sadly, we cannot say that Britain's industrial performance in the post-war period matches that of Japan. If, however, we wish to learn lessons from the Japanese industrial performance, we must recognise the importance of having a large and vital small-business sector, and of the Government staying clear of detailed intervention in the labour market and rewarding innovation and entrepreneurship.

Many of the stories that we hear about the role of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry—MITI—and Japanese Governments in their country's economic growth are not borne out by the facts. The Japanese had a great plan for their car industry; there was to be one Japanese Government-sponsored car firm that would lead the Japanese industrial revival after the war. The entrepreneurial spirit of Japanese industrialists was such that they did not fall in with the grand MITI plan. Instead, several individuals built up their own car firms. They established a much more dynamic industry than would ever have been created had there been adherence to the original strategy. I do not believe the claim that Japanese manufacturing and industrial success has been derived from so-called industrial strategies. Many of the claims are put about by MITI. They are not, however, borne out by the real evidence of what actually happens in Japan.

Before the hon. Member for Newham, North-West intervened I was bringing my remarks to a conclusion. Many of my hon. Friends—there is a galaxy of talent on these Benches—have important contributions to make to the debate, which was initiated so wisely by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North. I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in the debate.

11.28 am
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on securing this debate on the work force—a debate which could last five hours. Had it not been for a mistake discovered in the Table Office, I would have introduced a motion today that would have lasted five hours as well. When the ballot names were called out, I, like most hon. Members, understood that my name had been called. I know that we are not supposed to name names, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am sure that you will forgive me if I do so today. My name, Ray Powell, was called by the Speaker. I am not often successful in this place at catching the Chair's eye, perhaps because I am short and need to stand on a seat to be seen.

Be that as it may, it seems that the name Ralph Howell was called that day. I have listened to the tapes, and bad as my hearing is, the tape is clearly audible—I could not hear the name Ralph Howell being called. Six days later, and after I had been invited to introduce a motion this morning, the Clerks told me, five minutes before midnight, that they had made a mistake. Unfortunately, millions of pensioners had already been told in the intervening six days that I was going to initiate a debate on their plight and their fears—probably to last for five hours on a Friday. So they were all very disappointed, as were my staff, who had worked like the clappers to organise the debate.

I am given to understand that this is the only time the Table Office has ever made a mistake of this magnitude. Knowing how ultra-helpful and efficient its staff are, I accepted their explanation and went on to raise a point of order with Madam Speaker the following day. She kindly informed me that there had been a mistake; she apologised, and told me that I might be lucky in the raffle taking place a matter of seconds later.

I could have told the Clerks how to ensure that I won that raffle, but I could not get to them so to advise them. So once again, after 14 years, I have failed in my attempts to secure a debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norfolk, North on being much luckier than I am. I listened to 49 minutes of his introductory speech—

Mr. Ralph Howell

I was in the House when the draw was announced, and I heard Madam Speaker call the ticket that I had just signed. I was in no doubt that my name had been called, and it is rather strange that there was any misunderstanding. I am extremely sorry that the hon. Gentleman lost so much time preparing his debate. I wondered why the Whips had still not told me how to proceed some days after my name was called. Perhaps that explains the delay.

Mr. Powell

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has explained his position. I feared that there had been some sort of ploy in the Table Office, prompted by the Government Whips. Just a week before, they had used strong-arm tactics, and I thought that they might be transferring their attentions from the dissidents to the Table Office—but I accept the hon. Gentleman's explanation.

Unfortunately, pensioners will not have a five-hour debate on their problems, their fears and their poverty—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The pensioners have done quite well so far, but I must remind the hon. Gentleman to address the subject of today's debate.

Mr. Powell

I was just coming to that.

I should like to tell the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) that, in the days when a Labour Government set up the Manpower Services Commission, the then Conservative Opposition strongly objected to it. Since 1979, when the Conservatives took office, there have been many changes in the schemes and organisations designed to find jobs for the unemployed. One hon. Member who is in his place today will well remember the Select Committee on Employment, on which I served some years ago. Like me, he will recall the many changes introduced by this Government. Many of those who have tried to run schemes to help the unemployed have run into difficulties.

The system of training and enterprise councils gives many people a licence to milk the unemployed and to profit from their difficulties. These vultures set up private schemes in my constituency to do just that. It is high time the Government took action to remove that licence from them. If we have money to spend on this grave problem, it should be spent on people who are out of work, not on those who profit from them.

In the past few weeks, the construction industry has issued a great deal of literature. Only yesterday, we heard that thousands are being made redundant in the cement-making and brick-making industries—yet we know for a fact that people in almost every constituency in the land are homeless. Some of them are homeless because they are out of work and cannot pay their mortgages, others because they can only afford to rent, but no local authority can build houses for tenants because of Government-imposed cuts in local government finance. As a result, construction workers are out of work and the homeless are not being housed.

I admire the hon. Member for Norfolk, North for studying the subject of workfare. I can well understand, too, why some of the people to whom he has spoken over the years have rejected his proposals. They probably found them rather bizarre. I would applaud any scheme that helps people who are out of work back into work—

Mr. Hawkins

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the main reason why people are homeless, especially in areas where his party is in control of local government, is that many Labour authorities have failed to refurbish their housing stock? If all the council housing stock that is not available for occupation were made so, the homelessness problem would be fairly well wiped out in most Labour authority areas.

Mr. Powell

I doubt that the hon. Gentleman's contribution or his analysis of the problem of the homeless is one to which I want to waste time responding. I invite the hon. Gentleman to my consitituency where, prior to the 1973–74 local government reorganisation, we had the largest rural authority housing association in the Pen-y-bont rural district, which built more houses in that area than were built anywhere else in the country. If the licence to sell people their council houses at a knockdown price had not been introduced and promoted by a Conservative Government, many more people on the housing waiting list today could be accommodated. That housing stock no longer belongs to the council but is privately owned.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene?

Mr. Powell

Allow me to reply to the last intervention.

Lady Olga Maitland

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Would it not be correct to point out that the hon. Gentleman is talking about homelessness, not workfare?

Madam Deputy Speaker

The hon. Lady anticipated a point that was going through my mind.

Mr. Powell

Perhaps it would have been more proper, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the hon. Gentleman who intervened in my speech to be told that—rather than for me to be called to order for answering him.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman noticed that I did not do so, but I said that I was considering that point.

Mr. Powell

With all due respect, Madam Deputy Speaker, I was not taking the matter up with you, but was responding to the second intervention while replying to the first.

Perhaps we may move on from the problems of the homeless, although I could speak at some length, and remain in order, about the number of people in the construction industry who have been put out of work by Government policies—engineers, architects, and other technicians who have no jobs as a consequence of Government policy.

In 1979, I was elected to represent Ogmore, which at that time had an unemployment rate of 3.7 per cent. The population was 105,000, and the electorate was 83,000. Two and a half per cent. of those out of work were unemployable because they suffered from silicosis and pneumoconiosis and were genuinely unable to work. In addition, we accept that 1 per cent. of the population might not want to work even if it were made available —and I think that most of them voted Tory at the last election. Nevertheless, everyone, including the Government in the past, accept that 1 per cent. element.

Although that situation changed, some people in Maesteg in my constituency, the unemployed male population—consistent with what the hon. Member for Norfolk, North said about people being unemployed for 12 months—have been unemployed since 1983.

Lady Olga Maitland

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether they are actively seeking work?

Mr. Powell

I am given to understand that they are obliged actively to seek work if they are to receive unemployment benefit. They are told by the DSS officer that if they do not actively seek work, they will not receive unemployment benefits. They are often invited to consider jobs that do not relate at all to their qualifications, but they are compelled to do so. Therefore, they are continually looking for work.

In 1981–82, the Government decided to close several collieries in my constituency, which meant putting 7,000 miners and many supporting workers out of work. The Government also declared redundancy for 12,000 workers when they started shedding workers at the Margam steelworks. In the course of 12 months, 7,000 miners, 12,000 steel workers, and 1,000 others were made redundant in my constituency.

In 1983, the last remaining colliery—St. John's—which employed 7,800 miners, was involved in the miners' strike and threatened with closure. Within a matter of months after that strike, it was closed.

It is no use the Government funding factories to produce dolls' eyes or teddy bears, when the unemployed are industrial workers used to a colliery. We want more than money and that kind of investment—we want community programmes of the kind introduced by a Conservative Government in 1982–83. Because of the extent of unemployment in my constituency when that scheme was devised, jointly with a trade union and others we formed an organisation named CATO—Community Activities and Training in Ogmore—to help produce jobs for the unemployed under the community programme.

That scheme lasted 10 years, until the introduction of Mid Glamorgan TEC, when it was refused further funding because it was not a private organisation run for profit, but instead allowed industrialists to contribute in the way that they wanted.

Lady Olga Maitland

Can the hon. Gentleman explain what happened to the 20,000 who were made redundant? Of course that was a great tragedy, but the Government introduced many training schemes. Did those people take up those schemes, and what occupations do they have today?

Mr. Powell

I was on that very point. I was talking about the CATO training scheme, which, under the community programme, had 650 trainees. We took the lease of a redundant hospital at Blackmill and created a day centre for the elderly, where caterers were trained to produce the midday meals not only of the elderly at that centre but of those who were brought to it just to have a day meal.

We created also a building programme for bricklayers, carpenters, plasterers, plumbers and other tradesmen. We trained not only carers for the elderly but caterers and building trade workers. A multifarious training programme was undertaken to help the elderly in particular to care for themselves in their own homes.

The current proposals for employing people in workfare is bizarre. In the CATO programme, the section for the young was organised at training workshops in Llynfi in Maesteg. In that workshop we had trained 280 of the young people when a Minister visited us. I forget the Minister's constituency, and his name, but I remember that he was involved in a fracas with a taxi driver at the Tory party conference. His successor as the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, who is in the Chamber, will know to whom I am referring.

That Minister visited the Llynfi training workshop to open a new section. He was told by the management and the staff—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) is reminding me that the Minister concerned was the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls)—so now we all know who I am talking about.

The management and those involved with training the 280 young people on the 12-month course had changed it to a two-year course; there was a 12-month extension. The Minister was told that 95 per cent. of the previous group of trained young people aged 18 had places in employment before they left their training at Llynfi. The Minister said that he thought that the youth training in his constituency was good, but that it could not find jobs for more than 60 per cent. of the trained young people.

CATO's objective was not only to train young people but to contact local industrialists who were prepared to offer them jobs when they had completed their courses. It is important that people in training do not find that they have served a period of apprenticeship only to find themselves without a job at the end.

I can speak with the benefit of some experience, having chaired CATO, and spent 10 years organising training for unemployed people. That training was essential in Ogmore, because of the massive unemployment created over a three-year period. I doubt whether we shall ever return to the position that we enjoyed in 1979, with a mere 3.7 per cent of people unemployed, most of whom were unemployable.

The time has come for a new method of audit for the present system of Government training schemes. I know that the Comptroller and Auditor General told the chairman of all the TECs last November that they were personally responsible for ensuring that the money was spent properly. But there is also a need for further careful examination—especially of the Mid Glamorgan TEC, which I believe has some explaining to do about where its money is spent. Who gets the profit from the Government grant aid?

If the Government continually cut the funds available for training schemes, they will continue to make life even more difficult for those who genuinely want to train people. Organisations such as Mid Glamorgan county council are doing a worthwhile job—

Lady Olga Maitland


Mr. Powell

Let me finish my sentence.

Organisations such as Mid Glamorgan county council are doing a worthwhile job training the work force, so they should be afforded the funding, or local government funding should be extended to help them to assist the unemployed.

Lady Olga Maitland

I am sorry to intervene yet again, but while the hon. Gentleman is talking about the sum which the Government are providing for training schemes, does he not agree that it was made clear in the autumn statement that the Government were altering the arrangements for such schemes, rather than making reductions? That is an important distinction.

Mr. Powell

With all due respect, I am beginning to wonder who is making this speech—the hon. Lady or myself. Nevertheless, I accept her intervention. She talks about the Chancellor's suggestion about how to tackle the problem of funding training, but we have had so many changes over so many years that the people involved in training the work force in this country have become more and more disillusioned. People who have devoted their whole careers to training now find themselves not only out of work but with little chance of finding themselves another job in training.

Funding should be made genuinely available—not, I repeat, for those who have invested money to make public limited companies out of the training schemes, but for people who are training with funding from Government and other public sources. If that happened, and the Government did not allow people to make any profit out of it, the money might be well spent. But if the money is given to those who have set up plcs to run TECs, it will go back to the profiteers rather than helping unemployed people.

We talk about trying to get jobs for the unemployed, but very few Conservative Members would talk about the poverty and degradation of families of people who are made unemployed. But those who represent constituencies such as mine travel around the valleys seeing miners, who have worked for 30 and 40 years in the collieries, out of work at 50. They are pushed on to the dole, with no chance of another job in another colliery, because there are no collieries in Wales left to which they could travel to work.

After 40 years in the coal mines, they find themselves without a job. At 50, they have no chance of getting a job, of getting out of the house and out of their wives' way. That causes misery. At 55, having worked all their lives to provide for their families, to buy their homes and the contents of their homes, they find that they arc pushed out of work, with no chance of another job. Moreover, their sons and daughters are in a similar predicament; having gained degrees, they come back home to look for work and find that they cannot get jobs either.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Powell

I was in full flight then, but I will give way.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. Is it not precisely out of care for families with unemployed members that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) wishes to introduce a scheme of workfare—to provide people with work if they want it?

Mr. Powell

I wish the hon. Member for Norfolk, North well in any sort of scheme that will provide jobs for people who are out of work, because I see the misery that unemployment creates. People may be trained as consultants, and they may have spent 10, 15 or 20 years becoming consultants. People can even become brain specialists, and they still find themselves without jobs in the national health service. Some people have devoted their lives to the national health service, and now they find themselves redundant. If the Government go ahead with their plans, we may find that many more trained and qualified people in the London area are unemployed. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) could say a lot more about the people whom the Government intend to make unemployed in the foreseeable future.

Lady Olga Maitland

The hon. Gentleman spoke about people moving out of their jobs. It is interesting to see that the culture has now changed. People recognise that, although they have been in one career for 20 years, it does not mean that they have to stay in that career for the rest of their lives.

Does the hon. Gentleman see any comparison between the position in his constituency and the coal mines that closed in Scotland? The middle-aged generation in Scotland have now been successfully retrained for the computer industry to such an extent that there is now an area known as Silicon Glen between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Mr. Powell

I am pleased that people in Scotland are getting jobs. I was talking about 7,000 miners and 12,000 steel workers being put out of work in one constituency within 18 months. If those 20,000 people were retrained in the computer industry, they would supply the whole industrial force for that industry. I very much doubt whether such retraining would be a solution in my constituency although it has happened in Scotland.

The Government should set their sights on trying to solve the problem of the unemployed. The points of order at 11 am today dealt with further mass redundancies. The Government do not solve the problem. I rarely read the Financial Times. I do not read it to find out whether my stocks and shares are going up or down because I do not have any. The headline today in the Financial Times is "Industry sheds 10,000 jobs." I read my local paper, the Western Mail, to see whether I have been quoted. I rarely have been. Its headline reads: "Black day as 9,000 lose jobs in Wales". Unemployment in Wales has increased by 150 per cent. since the Government came to office.

It is no good the Government saying that they have run down the steelworks because there was over-employment. I accept that there may have been some over-employment in the steel industry, but the seven pits in my constituency were closed when there was still a demand for coal.

We recently debated the Government's bizarre proposal to close 31 pits. As I have been involved in the mining industry and as I represent a mining constituency, I attended the debate throughout. My father was a miner, and I well understand the heartache of miners who may lose their jobs if the 31 collieries are closed. Some 30,000 more jobs may be lost.

The energy in those mines would be sealed in, and it would be difficult for future generations to tap it. Mining engineers have told me that, when collieries are capped, gas and water make it practically impossible and economically unwise for future generations to recover the energy resources underground. Twenty-one pits are under review and will be the subject of the inquiry, and 10 are to be closed—so much for the Government's promises in that debate. I feel for the miners and their communities because, over the past 30 years, my people have suffered. There is no chance of their finding work in my area.

I am a senior sponsored member of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. The proposals on shopping could lead to an increase in part-time workers. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Norfolk, North can enlighten me on the following point. At present, some people work only on Sundays. They are employed part-time to work in shops that are open illegally. Can such people be considered legally employed when the shop in which they work is breaking the law by being open? Such an employer may be small or large. Such an employer may be Tesco or Sainsbury.

If the Minister for Industry, the right hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), had been here today, he might have told us, because of his family connections, whether Sainsbury provides the proper rate of pay for workers on Sundays. Such companies are not legally obliged to pay the recognised rate because it is illegal to trade on Sunday. Companies could be paying wages below those legally required in the present system.

This week, the Government have proposed to do away with the wages councils which protect the underpaid and the under-privileged, including the low-paid shop workers. There will be no protection for them. Is the hon. Member for Norfolk, North prepared to ensure that, under his proposals, workers would be protected by councils similar to the wages councils?

Lady Olga Maitland

The hon. Gentleman referred to wages councils. I get the impression that, in trying to support a minimum wage for Sunday workers, the hon. Gentleman is trying to deny other people the chance of getting work. Surely that is not consistent with his desire to get as much work as possible for as many people as possible.

Mr. Powell

I take the hon. Lady's point. A person may be obliged to work on a Sunday and may be getting a Sunday rate at a store that is legally open under the Shops Act 1950. Shops in seaside resorts are among such shops. I am not talking about shops that may open if the Government's proposals are accepted. Some people may be able to work only on a Sunday and only in a shop that is open illegally. They have no legal protection when they go to work, because the shop should not be open.

Mr. McLoughlin

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that wages councils do not set rates of pay for Sunday work?

Mr. Powell

That may be so. I know the history of this Government since 1979. Some workers were protected under previous wages councils which were taken out of the system in 1979, in 1982 and in I985. The Government have reduced the number of wages councils three times. Most of the councils protected poorly paid people, including those in the shopworkers' union, which I represent as its senior sponsored Member. During the past 13 years, the extent of the protection afforded by the wages councils system has diminished. I cannot understand why there is a need to dispense entirely with that protection.

I have referred to shopworkers, although not at great length or in great detail. I had intended, Madam Deputy Speaker, to raise a point of order with you at 11 o'clock, but I could see that you were inundated, and I felt that, if I did so, I might not catch your eye immediately after the debate resumed. I wonder whether you will take the point on board now. I was going to ask whether a Minister was to make a statement about the Government's intentions and proposals on Sunday trading.

We read about the proposals in the Evening Standard and elsewhere in the press, and for six weeks we have been promised a statement. It is suggested that the Government will show us three different Bills and ask hon. Members to toss a coin to decide which one should be introduced. The details have not yet been disclosed to us, however. In the run-up to Christmas, the Minister has a responsibility to let shopworkers know whether the shops in which they work will be allowed to open on the Sunday before Christmas with the blessing of the Home Secretary, or whether they will be made to close under the Shops Act 1950. Like 4 million others, those people are seeking work. They are prepared to undertake menial tasks and will even go so far as to work on Sunday at very low wages, because they need the additional income.

I have described the problems in my constituency. I am eager to welcome to my constituency hon. Members who think that they have problems, and to show them the dereliction that has been wrought there by 13 years of Tory Government. I will take such hon. Members to the homes of people who have been made unemployed and show them the meanness of monetarism and the aggravating effect that it has had on a good work force. In short, I will show them the result of 13 years of Tory policy, and why the Government are in such an economic and industrial mess.

12.13 pm
Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on securing the debate. He spoke of his work, which has extended over many years, as a cockshy. I beg to disagree with him. His Adam Smith Institute text of 1991, entitled "Why Not Work?" is no cockshy; it is the locus classicus of all those interested in the work force, and for many years to come it will provide the starting point for serious consideration of the subject.

Workfare is a difficult word, prone to many different interpretations. I shall use it in the broadest sense. In that broadest sense, workfare has interested many Conservative Members in recent years. That is, in part, a tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North. Two former Members of the House who have now been translated to the other place have recently written about it. In his "Unfinished Business", Lord Tebbit adopts almost precisely the scheme that my hon. Friend proposes, and according to the press, workfare is also mentioned in Lord Lawson's memoirs—although I must say that, in that substantial book of more than 1,000 pages, I have not yet been able to find the section in which he is said to recommend workfare. The President of the Board of Trade has also written fluently on the subject, from a slightly different point of view. It is a subject of great interest, but one involving problems of definition. We must accept that, for the moment, the broad definition will suffice.

There are many different types of workfare in existence throughout the world. The example of America has again been cited today. The American system is very piecemeal: in some areas it is highly developed and in others it is fairly crude. I am sure that we will hear about Sweden which has a highly involved and expensive system. In considering Sweden, we must bear in mind the difficulties into which the Swedish economy has run in recent years and weigh up workfare as part of the Swedish Government's policy as a whole.

In the past my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North has referred to Switzerland, which is an interesting case. Switzerland has a programme that runs along similar lines, although I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that Switzerland is a very particular country which goes its own way and cannot afford us a useful example. Moreover, as my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) said, we should concentrate on our own case.

The central matter that we are discussing is unemployment. It is to the credit of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North that he has managed to change the question from "Why work?" to "Why not work?". He has placed greater emphasis on work than on unemployment. He gives us no hand-wringing, only progressive ideas for the future.

Unemployment is a blight on lives—on individuals, families, the community and on the whole national spirit. There was a time when unemployment was a very severe blight. One has only to think back to the last century and the novels of Charles Dickens. At that time, there were two sorts of unemployment—the unemployment of young men who lounged about on sofas wondering how best to spend their patrimony, and the shocking unemployment of the almost utterly dispossessed at the edge of the community who had little opportunity to better their conditions.

In more modern times—and this is relevant to workforce—the state has taken a much more active role in providing work for people and benefits for those who cannot work. The starting point has been Beveridge's famous report "Social Insurance and Allied Services", which appeared in 1942. Lord Tebbit, that distinguished former Secretary of State for Employment, writes: those who uphold the doctrines of Beveridge arc remarkably selective in their reading of his work. It seems to me that there were two great principles in Beveridge's work. He spoke of an attack on want, but went on to say: Want is only one of the five giants on the road of reconstruction and in some ways the easiest to attack. The others are Disease. Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. The second central theme of the report is this: Social security must be achieved by co-operation between the state and the individual. The state should offer security for service and contribution, not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility. It is clear from those passages that Beveridge understood the possibility of what we now call the dependency trap coming into existence. I think that Beveridge thought that his fellow country men were much sturdier individuals than we think our country men to be today. He was offering people the opportunity to make a start for themselves, but he was not denying them the all-important self-respect and responsibility that all individuals need.

That report contained the beginnings of the relationship between the individual and the state, which has been called the reasonable bargain. There are obligations—of the state towards the unemployed, but also of the unemployed towards the state. Human society has obligations towards the individual and the individual has obligations towards human society. That is one of the key features of the workfare scheme. It is also part of the great traditions that inform western society—for example, the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but also the traditions of other religions.

I want to quote from St. Paul—from Norman Tebbit to St. Paul is a great distance—who wrote to the people of Thessalonia that, if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busy bodies. I like the idea of busy-bodies meddling—it reminds me of the Liberal and Labour local government politicians in my constituency.

From the roots of that letter from St. Paul derive not only the idea that people have a responsibility towards the society of which they are a member, and vice versa, but the whole idea of the dignity of work. In the last century, at the time of the pre-Raphaelites, work was dignified in art and in literature. Indeed, the Church of England used to have almost a theology of work. People would regard work as an essential part of human dignity. Now I fear, the more negative aspects of the modern world are being emphasised by leading figures in our society.

It is important to realise that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North is, in important part, trying to re-establish the important concept that is deeply rooted in our traditions—that people should work and that they should be given the opportunity to work. They will respond to that opportunity because work, in itself, has moral value. Essentially, it is better and kinder for people to be doing something than to become used to doing nothing. Workfare, in its broad sense, offers the prospect of work and the dignity that goes with it.

We should not say that, for example, tree planting, the cleaning of canals, environmental work reclaiming wastelands or helping the handicapped and the elderly is not fit work—it is fit and important work which should be done be people throughout the country. As my hon. Friend said, his proposal is not a job-creating scheme because there is plenty of work that needs to be done.

If my hon. Friend's scheme were to be implemented it would help to ease the great fear of unemployment. People in my constituency are experiencing unemployment for the first time. When they first went into work they never thought that they would find themselves in that position. Even those who are not unemployed generally know of people in their families or living in their streets who are in that position. We must recognise that the fear of unemployment has spread throughout the country and throughout all social classes. That fear could be alleviated if people knew that if they lost their jobs there would still be something useful for them to do and they would not simply be facing acres of empty space.

Mr. Tony Banks

The hon. Gentleman says that people in his constituency are in fear of unemployment. Knowing his constituency as I do, and knowing that it includes Windsor castle, can he say whether anybody at Windsor castle shares that fear?

Mr. Trend

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not expect me to deal with that point.

Workfare offers the state a shift to, as they say in Sweden, the employment principle. I warmly welcome that. It offers a shift away from financing unemployment to finding employment. For the individual, it offers the dignity that goes with having useful work to do and it offers the opportunity to get something for something, rather than something for nothing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Havant spoke about the new age travellers who were a prominent part of our summer. I have no objection to people travelling around the countryside. Before the war Vaughan Williams used to do that. No doubt he walked in fields, sat down on a farmer's land and ate a sandwich. Perhaps he listened to a lark ascending and thought, "That's a good idea." But I object to people who despoil the countryside, perhaps ruining archaeological remains, breaking the law, outrageously camping on private property—and then expecting me to pay for it.

There is a great deal of support outside the House for the concept that I shall call reciprocal obligations. Full Employment UK published a report resulting from two consultations in my constituency at St. George's house, which is part of the castle. It is called "A New Policy Framework for Unemployed Adults" and it was published last year. It includes many points and it is another way of viewing the general concept of what we are discussing today. One point that it makes is that there should be automatic referral to a new community benefit programme. I understand that "community benefit" is the phrase used by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade when he writes about the matter.

The report suggests that there should be a last resort sector for those who have either been failed by the system or have themselves failed the system. The report contains an open-ended obligation. Some do not think that that is the right approach. We must accept that there are different approaches, and one of the key elements that distinguishes them is when or whether unemployment benefit should be stopped. That is a hard subject to discuss, but it must be faced. It is probably an essential part of the classic workfare theory—if I may call it that—that we must take seriously the prospect of stopping benefits at a certain point. If that were to be the case, in return—as part of the reciprocal obligations—the state would have to take seriously the level at which it funded the work fare programme.

It is very much to the credit of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North that he is exceedingly realistic in his excellent pamphlet on that point. All schemes that come before the House have to be tested for the costs that they would incur. I have some anxieties that even my hon. Friend's staged approach to introducing a full work fare system would incur considerable costs.

I have some other minor anxieties about my hon. Friend's scheme. One is that if a minimum income of £100 a week is established, it may in time become seen as a minimum wage—the floor below which people would believe that they should not fall. There is a minimum income in the present structure of benefits, below which people cannot fall, but there is a danger that, as people are used to the present system, they will regard the new system as a doubling of the minimum wage.

Mr. Ralph Howell

As my hon. Friend acknowledged, a minimum income operates for every individual in the country. Every individual can have support. That counters my hon. Friend's concern about the £100 being regarded as a minimum wage.

Mr. Trend

I am grateful for that clarification.

Another of my anxieties is that in some circumstances the workfare scheme could become part of what one might call the Mussolini approach to politics—the building of autostrada and the digging of holes and filling them in. It is a feature of totalitarian Governments throughout the world this century—one thinks of Mao's China or Stalin's Soviet Union—that they send work gangs out simply to keep them out of what the Government of those countries regard as mischief.

I do not sugest that my hon. Friend's programme of workfare has any features that could develop into the Mussolini approach. However, in a general sense, caution is needed in a free society not to place too many obligations on people or restrict their freedom of choice. From reading my hon. Friend's pamphlet closely, I know that his scheme is not a cheap labour scheme. In the pamphlet he made an important point that he did not mention today. His scheme would be voluntary. We should emphasise that.

I hope that I have expressed great support for the idea of workfare. It is valuable and should be examined further. I wish to deal with the employment and social security aspects of the present position. I welcomed the announcement made by the Department of Employment after the autumn statement this year that all people who have been unemployed for a year and do not take up other offers of help will be required to attend a job plan workshop. That is a step in the right direction. After people have been unemployed for a certain length of time, stock will be taken of their position and they will be given advice. It will be a moment to take tough decisions on difficult cases.

The announcement contained another important element. The training for work programme will replace the existing employment training and employment action programmes. It will be delivered through the training and enterprise councils. It is expected that 320,000 adults next year will be offered an opportunity to improve and update skills and learn new skills. or do work of benefit to the local community. The programme is still in its early stages. It refers back to schemes that the Government have run in past years. It is important that in the context of the training for work programme, we should consider in greater depth useful work that might be done by people who are unemployed.

The present social security position is interesting. On 12 November my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security made a statement following the autumn statement. It contained another welcome announcement. Regulations are to be laid to withdraw income support from those who are not even actively seeking work. My right hon. Friend made those remarks in the context of fraud. He hoped that savings of about £1 billion each year would be made when his proposals had been put into action.

I see the Secretary of State's announcement in the context of a new package that enshrines many of the concepts of workfare. The future might hold an arrangement whereby the unemployed are at least offered training or socially useful work. They should not be paid to do nothing. They should be given a basic-plus for their work. However, payment should be cut off for some people in certain circumstances. We should approach the problem from two ends, and if we did so our approach would have many of the characteristics of workfare.

The concept of workfare has a strong appeal. If I have achieved anything, I hope that I have stressed that the ideas of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North have an important moral purpose. I appreciate the practical difficulties in such a scheme, and he has been realistic about them. The appeal of the idea is that it offers people the dignity of work and self-respect and gives the state a chance to finance employment and not unemployment. The difficulties are such that, even if we were to move transitionally towards workfare, we probably would not start from the motion. We must find a way to include the advantages of the workfare scheme in Government policy.

Cost is the second difficulty, and it would be almost irresponsible of the Government to move to what one might call the harder aspects of workfare, unless they were prepared to make the money available to ensure that the system worked properly.

The Government's proposals will bring greater discipline and precision to what we mean by the reasonable bargain between the individual and the state. I urge them to keep the essentials of the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North in the front of their minds, because there is so much to be recommended in them.

12.36 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I remember Sir Alan Glyn, the predecessor of the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Mr. Trend). As Dr. Glyn, he was regarded with great affection in the House; we all have a fund of Dr. Glyn stories. I used to get on well with him, but I had one abiding fear—I had collapsed in the House, and was coming round to consciousness to be greeted by the vision of Dr. Glyn, about to descend on me to give me the kiss of life—not a pretty thought; but he was a man for whom the House had great regard.

The hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead spoke for some time about Beveridge, but he did not describe some of the things that Beveridge meant to us and to the country. Beveridge was an interventionist, and I find it almost inconceivable, given his interventionist stance, to hear him quoted approvingly by Conservative Members of Parliament, especially those from the remaining Thatcherite wing of the party.

I made notes as the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead spoke. Beveridge saw the state as enabler. He anticipated and looked forward to full employment and that is the biggest difference between Beveridge and Conservative Members—and some Opposition Members. In recent years, some people have accepted that full employment is not achievable in economic or political terms, whereas it used to be one of the areas of consensus between the two major parties; that objective was set out in our respective election manifestos.

There also used to be competition on housing between the two parties—both in government and in opposition. They used to say, "We built more houses than you did." I liked that argument—it was like an auction—and I would like both parties, whether in government or in opposition, to list the achievement of full employment and the building of homes as programmes in their manifestos. The two are inextricably linked.

Mr. Ralph Howell

It seems that we are now having a bit of an auction as to who has the greater regard for Beveridge.

Surely the hon. Gentleman must appreciate that one of the cornerstones of Beveridge's proposals for the unemployed was that unemployment benefit could not be paid indefinitely and that, after either three months or six months, that benefit should cease and work be offered. If a young person did not have a job, he was offered training, but he was never encouraged to take benefit alone.

Mr. Banks

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but he should remember what I said earlier—that theory works much better when full employment is the objective. Given the present economic situation, the hon. Gentleman has put forward not an alternative to full employment but a camouflage for unemployment.

If real jobs were on offer, the situation might be different. I am not talking about the f2.50-an-hour jobs of which the hon. Gentleman spoke. It is totally unacceptable for people to receive such an hourly rate, but many people currently exist on such pay. If there were genuine full employment and genuine jobs available, I would have great sympathy for the hon. Gentleman's proposals for those people who refused a proper job and did not take advantage of the training they had received at the expense of the state. We are not in such a situation today.

Mr. Ralph Howell

The hon. Gentleman is totally out of touch. When this matter is discussed in the media, I get many letters from unemployed people who are desperate to take up the £2.50-an-hour jobs that I have suggested. Whenever this matter has been discussed at election time in my constituency, my constituents have criticised me and said, "You have been talking about this for years. Why on earth can we not have those jobs that you have suggested?"

If the Beveridge proposals were in operation today, we would not be worried about the 2.9 million people who are unemployed, because fewer than 900,000 people would be unemployed for more than three months. In fact, there would not be as many unemployed people as that had we put the Beveridge report into practice in full in 1948.

Mr. Banks

A combination of Keynes and Beveridge would be ideal, but that does not take into account current circumstances. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to rewrite the Beveridge report to suit the 1990s, when that report was written in the 1940s and dealt with a completely different situation. The world has moved on, but not to the benefit of working-class people in terms of job availability and the way in which they are treated by the state.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) is trying to cover up the economic failings of the Government with a scheme that might be okay if we had a genuine, interventionist, Keynesian Government and the prospect of full employment, but that is not the case.

I listened very carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said. I respect his views, because he has been proven right in this House on more than one occasion. He likes to give the impression of being a simple farmer from Norfolk, but he is anything but that. Quite a long time ago, the hon. Gentleman suggested replacing, or paying for, poll tax with VAT. Later, the Government were looking for a way out of an appalling mess into which they had got themselves, and produced a variant of the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

I feel sure that what the hon. Gentleman is now talking about is on the cards, especially with the present Government in power. I say that because they have nowhere else to go. Unemployment is so high in Britain that it is pushing up the public sector borrowing requirement to the point at which they will have deal with it directly in terms of benefits.

Conservative Members may say that that has not happened yet, even though it had been anticipated. That is true, and I agree that many Opposition Members anticipated that something would be said in the autumn statement about not increasing the range of benefits in line with inflation. The Chancellor led us to believe that he might say something along those lines, but then adroitly drew back so that his supporters could cheer. But they are cheering temporarily, because there is almost an imperative in Government economic policy to go down that road.

I was pulled up by your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for having one of my apoplectic fits in a sedentary position. Knowing what a hard man you are, I am glad you were not in the Chair at the time; had you been, I doubt whether I would have been called to take part in the debate. I confess that I got angry as I heard from Conservative Members the sort of terminology one gets used to hearing from them—about the dependency culture and a "something for nothing" society. I recall the Secretary of State for Social Security saying much the same at the Conservative party conference and receiving cheap cheers from the blue-rinsed and red-necked hordes.

I am referring to the sort of terminology that really annoys my hon. Friends and me. When Tories talk about a "something for nothing" society, they are really talking about people on income support, unemployment and housing benefit and so on. They never seem to talk about the real parasites who live in our society and operate in the economy. I refer to the currency and commodity speculators and those who did so much damage to the Government's economic policy on black Wednesday, when we were forced to take the pound out of the exchange rate mechanism. Those are the real "something for nothing" merchants: the people who make money out of money and who cause or exacerbate economic crises.

They could not have succeeded as they did on black Wednesday if the British economy had not been so structurally and fundamentally weak. Speculators will always try a run against currencies—they did it in France a little later—but so long as the underlying economy is strong, they cannot succeed. The knew how weak the British economy was. I have no time for them. They are the "something for nothing" merchants with whom I would deal, and it is time for the Government to recognise the damage that they inflict on economic policy. The Government should produce a Europewide method of dealing with those parasites.

Mr. Gorst

May I help the hon. Gentleman to return to the bipartisan benevolence which I know exists as a strain in his political personality? Will he give us the benefit not so much of his distaste for the present Government's actions as an indication of where he believes the scheme has any merit, if he believes it has? If he finds flaws in it, perhaps he will constructively offer advice about how it might be made more palatable to him.

Mr. Banks

The hon. Gentleman asks the question in a gentle way, and I assure him that I have a fund of good advice for Conservative Members, although I doubt they would heed any of it. I shall make some suggestions later. This is probably not the sort of debate in which to go into the intricacies of a proposal that at present I consider to be inappropriate.

The proposal of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North is, as the motion says, That this House recognises that unemployment is nearly three million and rising; considers that unemployment is wasteful and soul destroying". The real issue is about unemployment, so I shall deal with why this country has such high unemployment and what we should do about it. I might find the hon. Gentleman's scheme attractive if people looking for work could contemplate full employment, or as near as one can get to full employment. There is no such thing as full employment, because there will always be people in the process of changing jobs or being retrained.

Insufficient retraining is done in this country. If we look at other European countries we see how many times people are retrained during the course of a productive economic life. It does not happen like that in this country.

Yesterday I was giving out prizes at Sarah Bornell's school—an excellent girls' school in Newham—and discussing the situation that used to exist when I was at school and when the hon. Member for Norfolk, North and other Conservative Members were at school. We had options and could choose what job we wanted to go for. At university, too, different careers were open to us, and the world was full of far greater promise than it is now.

Now, all we can offer people is, if not a lifetime on the dole, certainly the prospect of going immediately from school, college or university on to the dole and then drawing benefit. People do not have the opportunity to decide which area of economic activity they want to enter and how they want to be trained.

Mr. Ralph Howell

It is difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. This country and the whole world have a problem, but he simply describes what it was like so many years ago. It must be right to address the problem and to find a way to solve it. If my proposals are not acceptable, where are his proposals?

Mr. Banks

I hope to get on to the many proposals I have in the next hour or so. I am not just reminiscing for the sake of it, although old men tend to do so these days.

I often hear Conservative Members talking about how bad things were when the Labour Government had to call in the International Monetary Fund because of economic problems, so I took the precaution of going to the Library for a set of statistics comparing today with 1976–77. They are very interesting. It is not that long ago—certainly well within the memory of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North. When the IMF was called in, the unemployment rate was 4–3 per cent.; it is now 10 per cent. and rising. In June 1976, 7 million people were employed in manufacturing industry; in June 1992, there were 4–4 million.

Unemployment has been caused by the fact that manufacturing industry has been decimated by the Conservative Government's policies. The hon. Member for Norfolk, North may say, "Hang on, this recession is all over Europe." That may be so now, but we have been in a recession for far longer than any other European country, and unemployment is still rising faster here than in any other of our Community partners. They are just entering a recession, whereas we have been in one and shall now go from recession into slump. One has only to look at this morning's newspapers. The Times headlines say: "British Rail axes 5,000 on black day for jobs". The Guardian says: "10,000 hit in swathe of job cuts". That is what is going on in this country and the hon. Gentleman should deal with the failure of his Government's economic policies, rather than looking around at ways of sticking plaster and a few bits of gum over the real problem of unemployment.

Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth)

The hon. Gentleman correctly talked about the IMF having to be called in, but does he agree that it had to be called in because the then Labour Government had totally mismanaged the economy?

Mr. Banks

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman something else. The statistics show that things were immeasurably better in 1976–77 than they are in the 1992–93 tax year. Between—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) jumps up and down like a demented jack-in-the-box. I shall give way to her in a moment.

Since 1979–80, the Government have had the benefit of no less than £110 billion-worth of receipts from North sea oil and gas. That is the patrimony that has been squandered by the Government. We have experienced economic failure when we were the only country in Europe, other than Norway, that was entirely energy-independent. To have received £110 billion and to have wasted those moneys is criminal.

Mr. McLoughlin

Was it by virtue of the hon. Gentleman's support for the autumn statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Opposition did not vote against it yesterday? My right hon. Friend has done an incredible job in protecting public investment, whereas the Labour Government slashed capital spending.

Mr. Banks

I do not think that the Minister can draw any great comfort from cock-up theory of history. Had there been a reliable and experienced Whip such as myself on duty last night, the cock-up would not have occurred. In the end, a Division would not have swayed the Government from their position. It was a slightly unfortunate accident, but, in comparison with the Government's breathtaking economic incompetence, it was a fairly minor matter.

Lady Olga Maitland

The hon. Gentleman has referred to the economy in the 1970s. The Labour party lost the 1979 general election because of the disastrous state of the economy at that time, and a Labour Government will never be re-elected.

Mr. Banks

The hon. Lady has made an extremely cerebral point in a characteristic fashion. In politics, the word "never" is not one which she or anyone else should use. In the interests of greater accuracy, as we say in the House, I shall send the hon. Lady a copy of the letter that I received from the Library. I would not want her arguments spoilt by having the facts in front of her, but if she reads the letter she will learn how better things were in 1976 than they are now.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

As for accuracy, it is nonsense to say that £110 billion has been squandered by the Government. How many new road schemes, new schools and hospitals and other forms of public investment have there been over the past 12 years?

Mr. Banks

It is indeed inaccurate to say £110 million. It is £110 billion.

So much more could have been done. If any of us had received a comparable sum—I am not talking about billions of pounds—we would have invested it with care. Instead, North sea oil revenues and capital receipts from the privatisation of nationalised industries have been used to keep people on the dole. Every person who is unemployed costs the country about £9,000 in terms of benefit and lost taxation. That is our money, not the Government's. It belongs to us all, and I want my money to be spent wisely, not squandered.

There is a practical solution to the problem we face. A good investment is to get people back to work. When they are at work, there is an immediate gain, because it is not necessary to pay them benefits. If they have real jobs and earn a decent wage, they can go out and spend some of their money. That should be fairly simple, even for the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Clifton-Brown

The hon. Gentleman misrepresents me—I said £110 billion, not million. If he does not believe that investment in schools, roads and hospitals is investment in our nation, I do not know what is. Will he tell us one policy of his that would enable us to achieve the full employment that he is talking about?

Mr. Banks

I can think of many. It is all a question of investment. Some economists recently wrote in an article in the Financial Times that, when it comes to worthwhile investment, it does not matter where the money comes from. A good investment is as good for public as for private money. It is the ideological fixation of the Conservatives that prevents them from realising that.

I want my money spent wisely and invested properly. The Chancellor failed in the autumn statement to say anything constructive about the £5.1 billion-worth of accumulated capital receipts that local authorities hold from the sale of council houses. He did say that they can use 100 per cent. of those receipts from now on. This is a bad time to be selling property; why not use the accumulated receipts to create work? Linking our earlier arguments, that would also do something about homelessness.

Large numbers of people living in sub-standard accommodation, private and public, and many others are homeless. There are also unemployed construction workers. One does not need a PhD in economics to realise that these factors should be brought together to solve a number of problems —

Lady Olga Maitland


Mr. Banks

One problem that cannot be solved is the agitation of the hon. Lady, to whom I give way yet again.

Lady Olga Maitland

The hon. Gentleman has spoken of homelessness in his constituency. We all know that thousands of people are living in sub-standard accommodation or are homeless in his constituency because its left-wing-controlled Labour authority is so hopelessly inefficient that it squanders money and refuses to go in for joint venture schemes which would provide homes and stimulate the economy—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. We are getting beyond the scope of the motion now.

Mr. Banks

I will relate my remarks to the motion, which is about unemployment. My point is that, by dealing with the homeless, we can create jobs in the construction industry. When a local authority starts to build, it puts money into the private sector.

The ignorance of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam is so profound that it beggars belief. The only way to deal with the problem is to make her come and see my borough—possibly a visit to which neither of us will look forward, but in the interests of my future sanity, it has to be done.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The House rises at 3 pm. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady can then go elsewhere; meanwhile, can we get back to the motion?

Mr. Banks

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is just that, by 3 o'clock, I may have been turned into a homicidal maniac by the hon. Lady.

It is nonsense to suggest that my borough does not go in for joint ventures. We enter into them all the time with the private sector, particularly in construction. I shall send the hon. Lady details afterwards. Newham has close relations with the private sector. We are not ideological, and we have no objections to it. The trouble is that Conservative Members are ideologically fixated. All we hear is, "Labour councils bad, Tory councils good." So let us move on.

People with such a simplistic view of life should not be in politics. There must be work with the private sector. It is the people who work in the private sector who live in my constituency and want the jobs. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) asked me how we can create more jobs. In Newham, it would help if the Government made a definitive announcement about the Jubilee line, instead of waiting for £400 million from the hank. As I said, investment is just as good for public money as it is for private money if it is sound in the first place.

Secondly, the construction of a railway station at Stratford for the channel tunnel link would bring jobs to an area in which the railway can play a traditional role.

It may be constructed by the private sector, but it would provide jobs for my constituents. I am not ideologically fixated—unlike the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam.

Mr. McLoughlin

The hon. Gentleman ought to acknowledge the amount of Government money that has gone into his borough, including the successful application not long ago for city challenge. The hon. Gentleman suggests that we take a simplistic view of Labour councils versus Tory councils, but the hon. Gentleman takes a simplistic view of Tory Governments.

Mr. Banks

The Minister does me less than justice. The Minister for Housing and Planning, who visited my constituency for city challenge is a man for whom I have some regard. I have known him for many years—since the days when he was on Lambeth council, together with the Prime Minister. That council provides a distinguished training ground for Tory politicians. I say thank you to the Under-Secretary of State—I will always thank a Government who provide jobs and initiative in my borough. I am not sure that city challenge is the way to do that. The trouble with competitions— [Interruption.] I notice that the Minister for Housing and Planning has just entered the Chamber—he will be pleased to hear that I have just referred to him in the most affectionate terms. He will be able to confirm my sentiment, and confirm that when he visited Newham, I thanked him—and he spoke approvingly of some of our initiatives.

We do not have a hang-up, and we will thank the Government for action that they take, but we also have a right to criticise if we believe that the Government are doing something wrong. The Under-Secretary of State and Conservative Members know that I am fair—harsh in my criticism, but warm in my praise, and I praised the Minister when he visited my borough.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, North is anticipating. I said before that he is a man ahead of his time. As he commented, there is nothing new about what we are seeing now—there is nothing new under the sun. We are simply seeing a variant of the workhouse, and something like the bankers' ramp of the 1930s. That always happens when expenditure seems out of control. The Government operate in the area in which they have the most influence —the payments of benefits. I fully expect to see more people like Lord Tebbit espousing the views that the hon. Gentleman holds, for all the wrong reasons.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, North is right to say that unemployment is a curse, but it has always been created by Government policies, though undoubtedly exacerbated by problems throughout the whole of Europe. However, we have been longer in recession than any other European country—and we are likely to remain longer in recession and to go into slump unless something more dramatic is done than the Chancellor's tinkering in his autumn statement.

Britain has some of the lowest unemployment benefit rates in the whole Community. In other Community states, unemployment benefit is related to previous pay. In this country, only a flat rate is paid. That is a pretty dismal view if one's income falls from average earnings of £300 plus to the £43 a week unemployment benefit paid to a single person. That is only 14 per cent. of the skilled rate, which is a dramatic fall. That is not true of every case, but that is the scale of the drama that can be experienced by people being in work and then out of work.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Earlier, I asked the hon. Gentleman to suggest one measure that would return this country to full employment. I hope that he will respond before he resumes his seat.

Mr. Banks

I am chucking them in as I go along. I have already mentioned the £5.1 billion of accumulated capital receipts, construction industry, Jubilee line, and channel tunnel link. This morning, I listened on the radio to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), who is an acknowledged railway buff. He made a good point on the "Today" programme. My wife and I were listening to the radio, and I said to her, "You would not believe that he was a Tory MP." The hon. Gentleman said that we should imagine ourselves going along on Victorian railway lines, yet travelling alongside roads which have only just been built—or at least, roads which were built in the 20th century.

In many respects we are still living off the Victorian infrastructure. So much investment in the infrastructure needs to be made. Spending money in that way is investment. I know that Conservative Members will say that such investment increases the public sector borrowing requirement and the percentage of debt in relation to the gross domestic product. But we have one of the lowest public debt percentages in Europe. We have the capacity to invest. We spend money when we give it out in transfer payments—benefits. But we invest money when we use it for the infrastructure and for retraining. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewksbury doubtless has many schemes of his own, but we should say to ourselves, "Our society has inherited infrastructure from wise decisions made in the past, and we should add to that stock." That is what we do in our private homes, if we are lucky enough to have them. If we can do that as individuals why can we not do it as a country? There are many ways of dealing with the matter.

The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) made a characteristically thoughtful speech, saying that it was not the Government's job to bring together the idle hand and the unmet need. He said that that was the job of the labour market. If it were happening I might have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman—but it is not happening. The free market does not work. It is "voodoo economics" as George Bush once memorably described Reagan's policy —and he might just as well have been describing Baroness Thatcher's policy. Voodoo economics has not worked. If it had worked I would say that there must be something in it.

Unemployment is so high in this country. The official figure is 3 million, and we must take into account the fact that there have been 19 or 20 changes in the method of calculating the unemployment statistics. If we returned to the original 1982 basis for the calculation there would be 4 million people unemployed in this country. Unarguably, on statistical grounds, 1 million of those people would be long-term unemployed. If someone tells me that that is a sign of economic success I shall ask that person what failure would be. If he replied that failure was 1976–77, the International Monetary Fund and the Labour Government, I should refer him to the Library, and the letter in my possession.

What worries me so much about present Government policies is the fact that we are looking at abysmal failure. Conservative Members do not seem to grasp the depth of the recession, nor how fatal it could be for this country. We could reach a point at which recovery would be impossible. Even if the long-awaited green shoots appear and flower into something, the underlying strength of the economy is poor, and manufacturing industry has been decimated over the past 13 years. What would happen if there were any growth in the economy, and any increase in demand? We all know the answer. We would suck in imports. This country's propensity to import is enormous —far greater than that of the United States, for example.

If we suck in imports that will further exacerbate the balance of payments, and cause the pound to fall even further, which will cause the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come back and say, "I must stick up interest rates to protect the pound."

Those are futile economies; they are the economics of the madhouse, as they say. This is the madhouse, and I am beginning to feel like an inmate—and perhaps to sound like one.

I must say to the hon. Member for Havant, although he is no longer here, that the Japanese have seen through those theories. They have announced an investment programme costing $87 billion. The Japanese are not known to throw their money around wilfully. I suggest that if the Japanese have decided that such an investment programme is a good thing, it is at least worth considering for this country.

I do not believe that Conservative Members have grasped the scale of our economic problems. At the end of the Chancellor's autumn statement they were waving their Order Papers. Why on earth they should do that, when every one of the Chancellor's previous predictions has been wrong, I do not know. I have not the faintest idea why they should think that he will get this one right. Even if he were to get it right it would not make any difference.

Watching Conservative Members last Thursday was like watching serried ranks of lemmings waving their Order Papers before plunging over the side of a cliff. If it were only the inhabitants of the Conservative Benches who were plunging over the cliff I should not mind; I should quite welcome large numbers of them going over—I mean no ill intent. But it will not be Conservative Members who lose their jobs—or at least, not immediately. They may not lose their jobs until the next election.

As we go further into recession it will be people in my constituency who lose their jobs. Some 18.6 per cent. of my constituents are unemployed. That is the problem in the London borough of Newham. The worse the recession gets, the worse it gets for Newham. Anyone who thinks that I draw any satisfaction or comfort from the failure of Government economic policies does not understand how seriously I view the problems of my constituency.

I see signs of extreme anxiety among Ministers as they do their calculations about timing. I hope that they are better at their calculations on the timing of the debate than they are at their calculations on the economy. They probably stand a better chance on the former. I realise that other Conservative Members also wish to speak.

Until the Government really grasp the depth of the horror facing the British economy, and until they get off their ideological hobby horse and start realising that, if investment is good, it is as good for the public sector to invest as it is for the private sector, they have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.

The days ahead for this country look exceedingly bleak. The only chink of light is the election of a Labour Government. Unlike the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, I never say never, because I believe that a Labour Government will be elected as a result of the economic problems forced on the country by the inept policies of the Government whom she supports.

1.15 pm
Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

I have a sneaking feeling that the speech by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was yesterday's speech. I am not suggesting that it was out of order, although it clearly bordered on that, but I believe that it would have been more appropriate in the debate on the autumn statement than it was today. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman was giving way to frustration. However, it is always enjoyable to listen to his vehemence, vigour and invective, laced as it always is with a great deal of humour.

The House and those of us who have sat through the debate today will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell). He has tried to produce a positive and constructive approach to the problem of unemployment. Whether the specific changes he suggests are right is less important than that his general approach should be accepted by the Government, examined and then, in the light of that examination, acted on. I hope that in that spirit—the spirit in which speeches have been made by Conservative and Opposition Members—we shall realise that we are reviewing the possibilities for the future rather than engaging in an analysis of the present.

In that spirit, I turn to one suggestion that is worthy of consideration, not in place of, or as an alternative to, present policy, but as an extension to it. The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) will recall that we were members of the Select Committee on Employment which visited Japan in 1986. The hon. Gentleman may be able to remind me of details or to correct me on specifics of the suggestion to which I want my hon. Friend the Minister to give serious consideration.

In 1986, we visited the Kawasaki heavy industries company which was a large manufacturer involved not only in making motor cycles, but in building ships. Shipbuilding then was suffering from world surpluses and seemed to be in terminal decline. Fortunately for Kawasaki, the Japanese Government operated a scheme to protect lifetime work forces from being broken up and thrown on to the unemployment heap, which would have been negative and barren.

The idea of the scheme was that the company should retain its workers so that they should not become an unproductive burden on society. The scheme involved the Government declaring a particular industry—in this case, shipbuilding—to be obsolescent, and subsidising firms for the extent of their wage bill for up to two years. During that time, approved projects that were already in the pipeline—though perhaps many years from fruition— could be pursued, and the firm would retrain its work force to build, say, helicopters rather than ships.

The great advantage of the scheme was that, instead of the work force being broken up and people being made redundant and turned into an unproductive non-wealth creating burden on the state, they were being positively retrained—perhaps at the same expense as if they had been drawing unemployment benefit and perhaps at slightly greater or slightly less expense.

I urge the Government to examine such schemes. I readily concede that they might not help us to deal with the obsolescence of the mining industry because, by their very nature, such undertakings do not have research schemes that can be brought forward. Perhaps I should add that that shows the desirability of privatising wherever possible and encouraging privatised industries to develop such research projects, the risk being taken in the private as opposed to the public sector.

I hope that, in the context of the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister will bear in mind the fact that there is no dignity in people being in receipt of public support. As has already been said, there is great distress. Anything that can be done to retain people in active work is highly desirable, whether it is necessary as a consequence of recession., of obsolescence or of the cumulative mistakes made by this party or another party or by no one in particular in the handling of the economy.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will believe that not only the scheme that I have outlined but the more detailed proposals advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North are worthy of further consideration, and that something will be done about them not tomorrow but, if possible, this evening.

1.22 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

It is always a genuine pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst), who at least reflects on what he says in the House. I shall return to his remarks, but, before doing so, it is only right that I should congratulate the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell), first, on winning the ballot and, secondly, on choosing a subject that goes to the very heart of our biggest single problem. The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right that the single most important issue facing Britain and western Europe is unemployment. We may differ over how we should tackle that problem, but we should not differ over the scale of the human misery that has been caused by the politics of unemployment for so many years.

I am not prepared to be charged with making partisan points when I say that I hold the Government and many of the policies that they have pursued for the past 13 years directly to blame for high unemployment and the human misery that it causes. To do otherwise would be to absolve those who have made some tragic decisions of their responsibility for that misery.

For all the time that I have been in the House and previously, my constituency has suffered from a high rate of unemployment. Many people think of unemployment as an inner-city problem. My constituents—like those of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who have similar backgrounds—are sometimes dismissed as having less value and fewer rights than others in our society. I deeply resent that, not just on behalf of my constituents but for myself, because I grew up in my constituency. Of course, I accept that the hon. Gentleman's motion shows that he does not support that view.

It is important that we recognise precisely what unemployment does within our communities and why the hon. Gentleman is right to seek solutions. Unemployment is brutally crippling our society. In my area—although this is not typical to Manchester—drugs are being sold on the streets on such a wide and open scale that it is leading both directly and indirectly to the most mean and callous of human behaviour. People are literally killing each other —not through the use of drugs, but through territorial wars. That comes down to the politics of unemployment being played out on the streets.

Many years ago, someone in my constituency said that the people serving as role models for the youngsters were those who rode around in big cars wearing good suits—things that they had earned from the drugs trade. Therefore, no one in society should be surprised if those youngsters themselves came to believe that the only way that they could make progress was to follow that lesson. That point is fundamental to the way that we deal with the problem. As I have said, the Government historically share a great deal of responsibility for unemployment. Because of their general macro-economic incompetence and their specific incompetence in dealing with micro-economic solutions, they bear the responsibility for allowing the unemployment problem to continue.

During the past few years the rise in unemployment in Britain has been far in excess of that in other European countries. The days are long gone when I sat on the Front Bench and listened to the former Chancellor, Lord Lawson, mocking the Opposition. He said that the future of manufacturing industry was no longer of any interest because it was yesterday's industry and we were looking to the brave new world of the service industries. He said that it did not matter that there was a balance of payments deficit on manufactures, although we consistently cried that that was the politics of stupidity. One or two Conservative Members echoed our cry, but not enough to change Lord Lawson's mind.

The current Chancellor told the Treasury Select Committee I do not believe in kick starting the economy by some artificial stimulus or device. In the autumn statement, the right hon. Gentleman slightly changed his mind. However, if he believes his words to the Select Committee, not only is he wrong but he is wrong at the expense of just those people that the hon. Member for Norfolk, North is trying to help. The problems caused by the Government's ridiculous economic policies have led this country to its current financial state and the heavy social price that our people are paying.

It is important to recognise that it will be many, many years before the social malaise caused by mass unemployment works itself out of the system—even if, in the short term, we can return to full employment. I can do no better than agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West, who emphatically made the point that if we want to return to Beveridge's debate about the future of Britain—going back not just decades but, technologically, generations—we must accept that Beveridge envisaged a society of full employment. The measures that Beveridge suggested were to be set in the context of a society which could offer effectively full employment.

Mr. Ralph Howell

I believe that Beveridge envisaged about 7.5 per cent. unemployment. He called that full employment.

Mr. Lloyd

Beveridge drew up the plans—on which both Labour and Conservative post-war Governments acted for some time—during the war years when people had returned to active work, whether war work or active service in the armed forces. Beveridge was among those who argued that post-war Governments should pursue the politics of full employment.

The Opposition believe that Britain must have a Government determined to pursue the politics of full employment and run the economy in a way that is consistent with that set of political decisions. Our fundamental problem in recent years has been that while the Government paid lip service to full employment, on every occasion they have made the needs of the unemployed and the requirement for full employment subsidiary to the other variables on which they chose to concentrate.

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) asked my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West which single measure he would implement. That simple question showed the fixation with a magic solution which has bedevilled economic planning in Britain for 13 years. It was simple-minded monetarism for a long time. The Government pursued simple-minded solutions on every occasion, such as sticking with the ERM at the rate at which we entered or sticking with a policy to keep inflation down. Those so-called solutions failed to deliver the goods and did not maintain a balance between the different aspects of economic management which are all necessary.

Mr. Deva

In previous speeches much was said about investing billions of pounds in infrastructure. But not one word was said about inflation. Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that it is a fact of our economy that the control of inflation is an important requisite for competitiveness because we shall continue to compete against low inflation countries, especially in Europe? Will the hon. Gentleman say a few words about how he would control inflation and make the public expenditure programmes work?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman will understand that we are not willing to take lessons from a Government who claimed that they had cured inflation in the mid-1980s, yet saw inflation rise again dramatically when Nigel Lawson was Chancellor of the Exchequer. That happened with the full connivance of the then Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher. Yet the same crass remedies were put into effect at a later stage and squeezed the lifeblood out of the economy. Even the Chancellor now uses a form of words which express his concern that he overdid monetary policy to such an extent that it squeezed the life out of the economy and caused the present recession and slump. That was the cause of at least a considerable part of the unemployment in our economy.

I remind the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury that it is necessary to achieve some balance of economic management. We must accept that, if we are to pursue policies that are consistent with full employment, we cannot have a simple fixation with squeezing inflation down on each and every occasion, even when the measures used are no longer appropriate to either inflation or employment. That is the central issue. That is why the Government will never shake off the blame for the misery that they have caused to millions of our fellow citizens by putting them out of work.

It is ironic that we are having this debate at a time when in the past few days Blue Circle—one of the giant firms in the construction industry—has had to lay people off because there is no longer sufficient demand. British Rail has announced 5,000 job losses. A huge number of jobs will be lost because of Government policies and their failure to invest in modern infrastructure, as British Rail's senior management made clear. As a modern trading nation we should have been investing in the railways, whether or not that was good for jobs. The failure to do so has caused job losses. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) mentioned 3,500 job losses at the Royal Bank of Scotland. Every job lost is a personal human tragedy and it is part of the daily litany of job haemorrhaging in our society.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I understand that the Labour party gave pledges in its election manifesto that it would not increase public sector borrowing above that planned by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and the hon. Gentleman would also have had only limited tax increases. All his schemes involve spending public money, so where would he get it from?

Mr. Lloyd

I cannot take lectures from an hon. Gentleman who has supported the Chancellor's pinball economic management, even for the short time that he has been in the House. If I were him, I would be ashamed to mention what the parties said at the election, given that the Chancellor has stood on his head during the six or eight months since then and it is doubtful whether he remembers what his party was committed to. Surely the hon. Gentleman does not want me to apologise for my party's pledges when the Government's management of the economy has been in total chaos. Even by the hon. Gentleman's standards, I think that that would be a little disingenous.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Who won the election?

Mr. Tony Banks

The Sun won it.

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend is very accurate. The Sun won it, but since that time, it has turned. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West is better at quick one liners—I am sure that he could think one up for me. I remember a headline in The Sun, which made clear what it thought of the Chancellor. Whatever value it saw in the Government in April has long since dissipated, as the Chancellor has proved his unfitness to manage the economy.

The debate is about unemployment and solutions to it, and it is instructive to set it within the context of present Government policy. Hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. I am sure that he will tell his hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North—as the Secretary of State did—that we cannot afford his proposed schemes, but he will also tell his hon. Friend not to worry because the Government are already doing a lot to deal with such problems.

I know that the hon. Member for Norfolk, North cares about the issue, and he must question the information that comes from the Treasury Benches. The Minister is not in a good position to rubbish the figures, because the Government are not prepared to publish any.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, North will understand that, if I am to trust the Government, who, he says, will set up schemes to provide training or work for young people, I require an absolute guarantee—not a guarantee to be perjured when it suits Ministers at the Dispatch Box—that no one will suffer financially if such training fails. They must guarantee to get people into work after training. We must not merely provide Mickey Mouse training—it must raise skill levels for the trainee and add value for the nation or we may as well not pretend that it has any merit.

Let us examine what has happened to youth training. The money spent on it has been cut by about 7 per cent. in this financial year, which is not great evidence of any commitment to youth training schemes.

Mr. Deva

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, but first I must ask some important questions to which I want the Minister to respond. Much as I respect the hon. Gentleman's views, I am sure that he will accept that we need to have the Minister's reasons on the record.

One of the problems with youth training is that the guarantee of that training has not been met. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has conducted the only survey of the training and enterprise councils that has sought to find out the extent to which that guarantee is being met. The Minister will not answer questions on this matter because he says that the information is not available. Let me tell the House what my hon. Friend was told. Of the TECs that he surveyed, 55,000 young people were awaiting either training or a job, as guaranteed. That is an awful lot of young people.

That survey was not comprehensive, because some of the TECs did not respond, but if we use it as a reliable estimate, it means that 75,000 young people are being betrayed by the youth training programme. Some of those young people have been waiting for as long as nine months for either a job or training. That delay is not merely equivalent to a bureaucratic aberration—it represents the system's total failure to deliver its promises. Perhaps Conservative Members will now understand why we are so dubious about the Government's commitment to the scheme.

One of the consequences for 16 and 17-year-olds whose promise of training or employment has been broken is that they are denied any form of economic support. Conservative Members—I exempt those who were elected in April—voted to take away income support for that group. At the time we were told that no one would suffer, because of that guarantee, but thousands of young people now have no form of economic support because that guarantee has not been met. They cannot claim any kind of benefit.

The failure to uphold that guarantee means that the promises given to the House have been cheated upon; what is more, it is immoral because it has made paupers of our young people. I relate unemployment to anti-social behaviour and criminality and I lay some of the responsibility for that at the door of those who have failed to uphold that guarantee.

Mr. Deva

Youth training is an important programme. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, currently, more than 250,000 people are given a guaranteed youth training place? We are the only country in Europe to offer such a guarantee. We are now spending more than £851 million a year on youth training. In 1979, however, when Labour was last in government, there were just 7,000 youth training places on offer.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman might care to cast his mind back to the rate of unemployment in 1979—the level of youth unemployment was far smaller then.

I am not against the idea of guaranteed training or employment, but that guarantee is absolutely meaningless for 75,000 people. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can thus understand why I do not understand the point he is trying to make. It is true that in a different era that guarantee did not exist. However, the hon. Gentleman must note that when his party took away the right to income support from those young people, they gave a solid, copper-bottomed guarantee that no one would suffer, because training or employment would be available to all. Yet between 55,000 and 75,000 young people have been betrayed. The hon. Gentleman should stand up and say to Ministers, "I cannot stand up in public and justify this. You must start doing something about it." Unless Ministers act, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand our diffidence towards schemes that contain any element of benefit reduction.

The Government have launched other training schemes that are meant to underpin training and improve the skills of the nation. The budget for employment training, however, has been cut by 15 per cent. this year. That has not happened because the number of the long-term unemployed has gone down; far from it, sadly that number has shot up. The hon. Member for Norfolk, North admitted that there are now more than 900,000 long-term unemployed people.

The long-term unemployed alone are costing the nation £8.5 billion a year. The hon. Member for Norfolk, North was right to refer to wasters of last resort because that is the most atrocious kind of waste. It is dreadful that the nation should throw billions of pounds into propping up unemployment. We see little for that money, considering, for example, what employment training achieves.

Indeed, I fear that employment training has become something of a joke—[Interruption.] I think that I heard the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) say "Rubbish." I appreciate that he cannot take part in the debate. I trust that he will now insist that the Minister gives a good response to the points that I am making on employment training, or the Whip will have been betrayed in his vow of silence, since he expects his Minister to speak for him.

Employment training is now in such a poor state that the probability of someone finding work after being on an employment training course is almost no better than the probability of someone who has been unemployed for six months finding work. Only 19 per cent. of those who have been on employment training schemes get jobs—[Interruption.] I am not surprised that the Minister should have a puzzled look on his face. He is puzzled because when I table questions to him on the subject, he cannot give me answers. The Department of Employment has no statistics. I challenge him to produce better figures, if he contradicts what I say.

My statistics come from reputable sources. If the Minister wants me to believe that employment training is better than I say it is, more work on the subject had better be done in his Department. On the other hand, rather than look for statistics that might prove helpful to the Government's propaganda case, they should put real effort into developing training schemes that genuinely help the unemployed.

Fewer than a quarter of those on employment training schemes are gaining qualifications. The number has fallen in the past 12 months. The idea of employment training being badly organised, badly structured and offering low-quality training does not concern only those who are forced into the scheme. It concerns all who hold views on whether the nation is wasting its effort in terms of providing training for the unemployed and giving training that adds value for the nation as a whole. So the charge against the Government is that, from the point of view of employment training and youth training, they have failed the nation.

The Government have moved away from high-cost schemes such as employment training and are placing greater emphasis on low-cost schemes such as job search and the job interview guarantee. But fewer than 17 per cent. of people going in for job search find work. That is pathetic. The rate for the job interview guarantee is 29 per cent. When I asked the Minister recently about employment action, he said that the Department had no information about the job outturn. If the Minister is to have any credibility when defending Government programmes of that type, he must do better. At present, when he gives information it is awful, and when he cannot give information we are left to speculate that the situation is probably even worse.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, North will appreciate that however well-meaning his ideas may be, we cannot trust the Government to deliver, their having failed in everything else they have done. Not only have they failed the unemployed, they have failed the nation. We cannot trust them even to delve into the type of scheme that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, because we know that they would not be willing to make the resources available to fund it properly.

To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, I should, from the Opposition Benches, comment on his scheme. While we do not accept every aspect of what he proposes—I shall explain our position—we appreciate that he is making a sincere attempt to examine the problem of mass unemployment and long-term unemployment and suggest something that might be done.

Some aspects of the hon. Gentleman's scheme have a role to play in the future of this country. However, I disagree fundamentally with his statement that unemployment is a permanent feature of this nation. The Labour party rejects the notion that we are a high unemployment society. Our society must recognise that the world of work is so important as a mechanism for distributing the country's economic wealth that a two-tier society—a first tier with those in permanent jobs and a second tier with those in devalued jobs—is socially unacceptable. Moreover, it is not politically necessary because we can begin to develop an economy that moves us back towards full employment.

Mr. Ralph Howell

May I try to correct the impression that I gave? I believe that unless the present system is fundamentally changed, the problem will continue to worsen. No political party and no system, other than a completely different one from the present system, could stop the problem increasing. If we tackle it in the fundamental way that I have described—I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support—we would take the weight of bureaucracy off the productive forces and could reach full employment.

Mr. Lloyd

The reason for the bureaucracy is that, if we have at any time nearly 3 million registered unemployed —in fact, 4 million unemployed—we are spending, simply in terms of the equation of benefits and lost taxation, some £25 billion a year, which is a phenomenal amount to throw down the black hole of unemployment. We must break out of that cycle, a point on which I am at one with the hon. Gentleman. We disagree not about ends or even about why those ends would be so liberating for taxpayers and those of us in work, but about whether the specific means will directly achieve what he suggests.

Some aspects of the hon. Gentleman's scheme cause me difficulty. I do not mean to be unkind when I say that the hon. Gentleman slightly glossed over the aspect of compulsion. He may have been diverted by his hon. Friends. Although he talks about choice between his scheme and existing schemes, it is inevitable that any Government introducing such a scheme would be faced with either directing people into that form of work or stopping benefit. He said that there would be no unemployment benefit but simply benefits topping up the notional rate of pay for work. When challenged, the hon. Gentleman partly conceded that there are technical reasons why that is not desirable. For those coming out of work, looking for work and returning to work, it is not sufficient to force them into the wrong type of work immediately when their talents could be better used elsewhere. They need a period of reflection and the time to look around. That point is not meant to be trivial; it is an important point on which I insist.

I want to know more about how the scheme would work in practice. The hon. Gentleman said that people would either be in work or training. Apart from the long-term disabled and sick, other groups would find it difficult simply to be marshalled into the first job that became available. Those include people with responsibility for family members who need assistance. We would have to be careful to ensure that we did not drive people into poverty through the bureaucrats' misguided actions.

Until we move back towards a world in which people are in work, and until we have properly structured schemes, I see no purpose in trying to dragoon people. If we dragoon one person it will be at the expense of moving someone. It would therefore be a considerable time before the idea of compulsion became relevant. Until our economy can offer people real choice—real work, training or even participation in socially productive schemes—the idea of compulsion will be difficult for us to accept as being helpful to the individual or society.

Mr. Ralph Howell

We are trying to solve the problem of unemployment. There is only one answer to it, and that is working. If the state were to be the employer of last resort, everyone would have the right to work and there would be no question of unemployment. If that work were available for anyone who did not have a normal job, there would be no more compulsion in accepting it than there is in holding down a normal job. After all, 90 per cent. of the working population have a normal job. Those people are compelled to get up in the morning, to travel to where they work and to do whatever they do. If they do not, they do not have a job. The position would be the same for those whom the state employed.

Mr. Lloyd

I understand what the hon. Gentleman says, but I could not accept a situation in which people who were presented with what they regarded as unacceptable choices would have no means of income maintenance were they to refuse to take up the opportunities presented to them. There must be proper choices, especially for young people, between adequate training and adequate employment. It is not enough to produce make-work Mickey Mouse schemes on the basis of "Take it; leave it and you will have no income." It is that element of compulsion which the Opposition could not support.

Nor would we be prepared to support the creation of work that led to competition with other forms of work, where those engaged in some forms of work were paid at the market rate and others were regarded as devalued, compulsorily directed employees and paid much lower rates. There must be the notion of the rate for the job, whether the work be planting trees or anything else. The Opposition are not prepared to have staff at hospitals—for example, cleaners and porters—come from an area of compulsion. We know that that would drive down wages. Indeed, the Government seek to do that already.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, North must understand our concerns. I shall bring my remarks to a conclusion because I know that the Minister needs time to respond on behalf of the Government. I shall do so also because there may be the chance for one or two other hon. Members to say a few words. I accept the sincerity with which the hon. Member for Norfolk, North has raised the matter. He is right to say that unemployment is the most important issue that the nation faces. A Government who refuse to listen to his words and to the same pleas from Opposition Members are a Government who are morally bankrupt.

Our charge against the Government is that they have been proved to be incompetent in planning the economy nationally and in making training schemes and work available at the micro level. They are technically incompetent. Even worse, they are not prepared to accept the social damage that unemployment is causing. They are not prepared even to examine what is on offer, whether they be the schemes advocated by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North or the suggestions that are made by the Opposition. The Government are trivialising the problem at the expense of us all. For these reasons we need a very different Government.

1.58 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin

I join all those who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) on the way in which he has approached the issue of unemployment and on the way in which he has brought it to the attention of the House. There have been many interesting speeches from all quarters. I would not want to refer specifically to individual Members. My colleagues have made some extremely important points and some of the contributions of Opposition Members have been worthy of consideration.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) told us about the problems that disabled people face finding work and about the implications that the workfare scheme might have for them. My hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) gave us a thoughtful speech on the wider implications of workfare. He mentioned some of what he thought would be the difficulties of implementing such a scheme.

The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) discussed the issue of Sunday trading. I am not in a position to respond to that, but I will draw his remarks to the attention of the Home Secretary.

My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Mr. Trend) also discussed the implementation of a workfare scheme and pointed out why he thought more work needed to be done on it. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) described what has happened in Japan. I shall certainly bear his point in mind.

I should like to reply to a couple of the points raised by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), but I do not want to focus too narrowly on the youth training guarantee, because I want to deal with the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North. When the Secretary of State for Employment met the TEC chairmen in July she made it clear to them that she attached great importance to the youth training guarantee. She told them that she believed that it should be their top priority.

This is a time of year when a great many young people flow off and on to the programme. It inevitably takes some time to sort out their needs; when exam results come through, people sometimes change their minds about going to university, and so on.

The hon. Member for Stretford was wrong to talk about a cut in the youth training budget. The point is that more people are staying on at school, a fact which I would expect him to welcome. We all want more young people to stay on and get qualifications—academic or vocational. That should not be a cause for division between the parties.

There are certainly enough places in the youth training programme and we place tremendous importance on its availability to young people. It is estimated that 216,000 people are available for YT, but that there are 244,000 places.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North has been a consistent advocate of workfare. When he has advocated other causes in the past, he has sometimes caught the Government's ear successfully. I well remember his saying that the community charge should be reduced by switching the burden to VAT, and he successfully persuaded the Government that that was the right way forward.

I am sure that my hon. Friend recalls other discussions and arguments of the past. One thinks of his conversations with Lords Carr and Tebbit, for instance. It is a pity that the three of them cannot meet now to see whether there is a meeting of minds. There would certainly be an interesting exchange of views.

My hon. Friend spoke today about his vision of a workfare scheme for this country. For many years he has been urging the Government to consider his proposal. I am sure that he is familiar with our response. The Government have often told him that we do not believe that unemployed people should have to work in return for their benefits. We have no plans to introduce a compulsory workfare scheme. I realise that my hon. Friend was not advocating such a scheme today, but it still might be helpful if I explained why I consider that a compulsory workfare scheme would be wrong—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister must address the House, not his hon. Friend—smart though his suit is today.

Mr. McLoughlin

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I was explaining why I believe that we should not go down the road of the compulsory workfare scheme. The Government believe that there are already certain obligations on unemployed people, and that it is important for young people who are not working or in full-time education to be involved in training for work. That is why we guarantee an offer of training to young people if they need it.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) for pointing out the difference in the type and availability of schemes now available, compared with 1979. We will not take any lessons from Labour about the importance of training young people. We attach priority to it, and regard it as important.

In the same way, we believe that it is reasonable that adults who are unemployed and who wish to claim benefit should be obliged to be available for work and actively to seek it. Our system places clear responsibilities on unemployed people to seek work. That is a condition of benefit. Unemployment benefit claimants have a duty under the benefit rules to be available for work and actively to seek it, and the Government have a duty to ensure that claimants satisfy those conditions and to give them every possible help in returning to work.

In recent years, we have done much to develop understanding of the rights and responsibilities of those who claim benefit while seeking work. We aim to do more, but the Government should not force people to work if they cannot find their own work.

Then there is the detrimental effect of compulsory work schemes on the labour market and the economy. The Government's aim is to improve the efficiency and flexibility of the labour market. That encourages labour to move towards areas where it can be productive, helping the economy as a whole. A compulsory scheme which forces people to work in jobs that they do not want and does little to improve their skills or motivation does not enhance either the efficiency or the adaptability of the labour market.

One of the most worrying features of such schemes is, in my view, their impact on wage determination. Many proponents of such schemes have suggested that scheme participants should be paid an allowance well in excess of the benefit payments they receive. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North suggested that workfare participants might receive a wage of £100 per week.

The fact that workfare was available for the unemployed at some guaranteed rate of pay would mean that level would effectively become a minimum wage. That point was well made by my hon. Friends the Members for Windsor and Maidenhead and for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). Individuals, whether unemployed or employed would consider jobs, whether full time or part time, only if they paid more than that level.

What is more, there would be knock-on effects. Employed individuals would seek to increase their wages to a level which restored differentials over those in workfare placements. That would be likely to lead to upward pressure on pay levels, lower levels of employment, and higher levels of unemployment. Meanwhile, as I described earlier, the signals and incentives for unemployed people to find productive and profitable employment would be diminished, so the net effect would be a levelling down to a low-wage, low-productivity economy.

The Government believe that a statutory minimum wage has no role to play in an efficient labour market, and can actively hold back the creation of jobs. That is one reason why we recently announced the abolition of the wages councils, to help increase the number of jobs available for the unemployed at wages that they choose to accept.

Furthermore, if rates of pay were fixed substantially above benefit levels—for example, the £100 per week that my hon. Friend has proposed—some individuals would have very strong incentives to join the scheme. They would include young people in school—though I accept my hon.

Friend's argument for a differential rate for young people—further education, or training who would substantially increase their disposable income.

The introduction of a workfare scheme would increase the levels of benefit dependency, which the Government have fought hard to reduce. In addition to social security benefits, we have provided assistance to the lower paid by the reduction in the level of taxation from 33 to 25 per cent. and the introduction of a new band of 20 per cent.—which the Opposition opposed when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced it in this year's Budget. That is a further measure to encourage people on low incomes to be less dependent on benefit payments.

The "unemployment trap" can arise at the point at which a person would be as well off receiving benefit as working. The effects have been significantly alleviated in recent years, and now only a very small proportion of the working population receive as much or more in income support as they might receive in wages from full-time work. That point was dealt with well by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant, who pointed out the difficulties which would arise.

The willingness of unemployed individuals to leave unemployment and look for work would be reduced if a workfare scheme were introduced. That was a problem which worried my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam. Would somebody on a full workfare programme have sufficient time and availability to go and look for other jobs? Nobody would wish to see that problem arise.

I recognise the importance that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North attaches to the scheme, and the persistence with which he has promoted his ideas. I know that he attended a meeting at the Department this week to discuss a limited pilot for localised voluntary workfare schemes. We are further considering the feasibility of such a scheme, in the context of increasing the range of local flexibility within the Department's programme. All of that would fit in with my Department's policy of providing more localised services for the unemployed. We have now accepted that there is an area of development, and the training and enterprise councils have been introduced throughout the country. That is welcome.

We already have several programmes for unemployed people which enable them to carry out useful work on a voluntary basis for the benefit of the community. Employment action was introduced in 1991 specifically to enable unemployed people to maintain their skills by undertaking work of benefit to the local community—and nearly 60,000 people have already participated in it.

At this point I shall describe in more detail what is available. I should especially like to draw attention to the package outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment last week. We shall also discuss in more detail with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North the way in which a pilot scheme could be introduced on a local basis, and consider the scheme in the context of his constituency.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me, and I shall not intervene again because I appreciate that he is trying to cover a lot of ground.

When the Minister talks about employment action, and the 60,000 people who have been through it, is he aware that recently, in answer to a question from me, he was unable to say anything about the outcome of the scheme? We have a scheme which, the Minister boasts, puts bums on seats—but we do not know what happens as a result of it. That is ridiculous. Every time the Government realise that one of their pet schemes has failed, the Secretary of State, like her predecessors, stands up and announces a whole plethora of new schemes to replace the failures of the past. The Government then ask us to take on trust that the next lot of failures will at last succeed.

Mr. McLoughlin

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but employment action has made a valuable contribution. I have talked to people on the scheme, and seen it in operation, and I am convinced that it has made a worthwhile contribution.

I shall now deal with the important package of new measures announced last week by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the light of the public expenditure survey settlement. I hope that some of what I say will go some way towards reassuring the hon. Gentleman that we have listened to what many people have said about the availability of training. We are determined to ensure that unemployed people continue to have the effective help that they need in order to find jobs.

The Secretary of State has conducted a full-scale review of employment and training programmes delivered through the TECs in England and Wales, through the local enterprise companies in Scotland, and through the Employment Service. The purpose of that review was to ensure that the right kind of assistance is available to unemployed people, and to ensure that the programmes delivering that assistance provide the best value for money.

The new package of employment and training measures arising from the review builds on the successful programmes that we are already offering to unemployed people. The package represents the widest range of help and the highest number of opportunities ever made available. There will be almost 500,000 more opportunities available in 1993–94 than there are in the current financial year. Furthermore, the new package of measures includes many of the recommendations put to the Secretary of State by the training and enterprise councils' working groups on adult training.

We firmly believe that the network of training and enterprise councils and the local enterprise companies, together with the Employment Service, is equipped to give positive and appropriate help to unemployed people in their own parts of the country. The new programme for adult unemployed people, to be delivered by the TECs and the LECs, is called "training for work". It will begin in April 1993. Training for work is a flexible and wide-ranging programme which will offer either skills training or temporary work opportunities. It will also offer shorter work preparation courses for those who need to brush up their existing skills to secure a job.

Training for work brings together two existing programmes: employment training and employment action. Those programmes have been effective in helping people become better able to move into permanent employment. The new unified programme will enable help to be provided which is aimed at meeting each person's individual needs. The focus of the programme is firmly on helping long-term unemployed people to get back to work. The precise mix of opportunities in each area will be for the TECs to decide on the basis of the needs and features of their local job market. I hope that training for work goes some way towards what my hon. Friends have urged us to do and will provide flexibility for the training and enterprise councils.

Mr. Trend

Under the new scheme, will the community work aspects be a continuation of the old programmes or will they be a development from them?

Mr. McLoughlin

The whole idea of training for work is to introduce flexibility so that TECs can best decide what is needed in their local areas. I hope that the scheme will go some way towards doing what my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North has asked us to do, in line with a number of other issues that I will not have time to outline. I know that some of my hon. Friends still wish to speak in the debate and I realise that they have remained in the Chamber for most of this morning.

There is much that I could say in this debate, but I am conscious that others wish to make a contribution. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North for the constructive way in which he has approached the subject and for his having taken a rare opportunity as a Back-Bench Member to have a full morning's debate on an idea which is not new to him. He has consistently followed his idea for many years as a Member of the House. I have outlined some of the things that we have managed to do and some of the new schemes that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced last week. I hope that I have shown that we have gone some way towards the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North. We shall consider the points that he made about his own area.

I thank all my hon. Friends who have taken part in the debate, which has shown the importance that they attach to the subject, and the importance that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North attaches to workfare and to the problems faced by the unemployed. Nobody underestimates those problems. The Government certainly do not.

2.18 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I echo the Minister's words. I have worked for many years with my former Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell), on his scheme so I know the details of it very well. I pay tribute to the way in which my hon. Friend has managed to move from his original paper in the early 1970s, "Why Not Work?", which centred on the disincentive to move from benefits, to today's changed circumstances of trying genuinely to find a solution to the tragic problem of unemployment.

My second reason for being here is that I care desperately for all those who are unemployed in Cirencester and Tewkesbury. Any new look at the problem must be worth considering. Many hon. Members have spoken in that vein.

The Financial Times of 2 March 1988 contained an article by Philip Bassett about the unemployment queue in America. Lest anyone should think that, by and large, the unemployed do not want to work, let me draw to the attention of the House the fact that one of those mentioned said—it is a particularly poignant quote: I don't much mind what I do; I just want to work. The vast majority of unemployed people who are unemployed through no fault of their own just want to work. I therefore pay tribute to the scheme on which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North has been working for so many years.

What can we do about the unemployment problem? Contrary to what several Opposition Members seem to think, the only real long-term solution is for the economy to perform and grow. That is the only way in which sustainable long-term employment will be provided. I therefore pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor who, in his autumn statement, provided mechanisms for investment to continue. That will ultimately provide jobs.

I also pay credit to my right hon. Friend for a measure in his Budget that will help the unemployed considerably. I referred earlier to the paper "Why Not Work?" produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North, and to the need to dispense with the dependency culture. The new 20 per cent. tax band will ease people out of benefit into work by enabling them to keep more of their hard-earned income.

Not only the present Chancellor but his predecessor, Lord Lawson, have also effectively taken people out of the tax net altogether. People who are starting work for the first time and those returning to work having been unemployed, who generally take low-paid jobs, can keep all the money that they earn. That is especially important.

What benefits would accrue to the country if we introduced the scheme that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North proposes? To my mind, the scheme would have to pass three tests. First, would the unemployed themselves want it? I hope that, by quoting the Financial Times article, I have shown that they would. The author of that article carried out a survey among unemployed people using that benefit office in America, where a workfare scheme was available, and found that 89 per cent. wanted a job to do. There is no question but that the scheme would pass the first of my tests.

Lady Olga Maitland

I am sorry to intervene when time is so precious, but does my hon. Friend agree that the American-style workfare programme has in many cases not been a great success because it has been coercive and compulsory, whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North proposes that his scheme should be voluntary?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend, but she will know that many different kinds of workfare scheme are available in the different states of America, as well as those in Switzerland and Sweden about which we have heard today, and that not all of them are compulsory.

The second of the tests is cost—a subject to which the Minister has referred. There is little doubt that a workfare scheme would cost more than what is now paid in unemployment benefit, but surely that cost to the nation would be, to quote a famous phrase, a price well worth paying because the scheme would have many spin-off benefits.

My third test concerns what the country would get from the extra cost involved. There are a number of benefits to be had from the introduction of such a scheme, the most important of which is that it would encourage the work ethic about which we have heard so much this morning. It would encourage people to go out to do a job, even if only for part of the day or for so many days a week. I have come across unemployed people in my constituency who are so demoralised that they live from Thursday to Thursday because that is the day on which they draw their benefit. That cannot be good for people. It would surely be far better to find them something to do. Hon. Members have listed many jobs that could be done under such a scheme. Existing jobs would not be taken away because so many new jobs would be created under the scheme.

Mr. Deva

Is my hon. Friend aware that recent research by Buckingham university's education research centre shows that to put a workfare scheme into place in Britain would cost about £850 million? I have enormous sympathy with the objectives of workfare, but, given that sort of expenditure and the controls required to put it in place, does my hon. Friend think that the money could be better used to increase training provision? Should not people be trained to meet the challenges of tomorrow, especially from the Pacific rim and Europe, in high technology jobs?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Although training is one part of the problem, it is no use training people for jobs that may never exist. With the best will in the world, there will never be enough training places for everybody—we have heard of some of the problems today. Indeed, I envisage that training would be part of a workfare system and obviously those on training schemes would not be expected to do a workfare job. I agree that training is vital, especially in today's dynamic and highly technical world. We need not only state training schemes but an extension of the many private schemes that have increasingly been set up during the past 13 years.

Lady Olga Maitland

The impression has been given that the costs of the workfare scheme would be borne by the Government or a Government agency. Perhaps an unemployed person's benefits should go to the employer. That would take that person off the Government agency list and make him a more attractive proposition for an employer. It would get that person into work.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Indeed, such schemes were introduced under the youth training scheme and employment training. However, we must be careful, because that sort of approach could lead to a cheap labour scheme. That is why I favour a separate workfare scheme such as that proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North.

It is surprising that the benefits of people working rather than being unemployed have not been fully explained this morning. A large number of benefits would come from workfare. They may not always be directly tangible, but I am sure that the number of intangible benefits will be enormous. For example, family life would be preserved. I have already referred to the demoralising aspects of not having a job. If people could be found even part-time work under the scheme, that would enhance their quality of life and their expectations and would help families to stick together through what otherwise might be an even more difficult time. I hope that it would only be a short time in most cases.

Mr. Hawkins

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most important aspects of the scheme is the enormous number of community projects that could be undertaken? My hon. Friend rightly said that so many people want to work, and there is so much work that needs to be done. Unemployment in the inner-town wards of Blackpool, South is unfortunately high, but I know that many people are desperate to work and that there are many jobs that desperately need doing.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Many jobs that should be done are not being done—for example, visiting old people, tidying up at libraries and so on. Workfare would not take away existing jobs; it would be supplemental.

Mr. Deva

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way yet again. There is one aspect of the workfare scheme on which I should like some direction, and I know that my hon. Friend is well versed on the matter so I look to him for guidance. One would hope that as the economy picked up and we moved out of the recession people who were on the workfare scheme would go back into proper and more skilled jobs. If people had been doing jobs such as cleaning and library work the gap between the level of skill required in the marketplace and their skills would have increased while they were doing workfare. How would the transfer be made?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend makes an important point. One would have to ensure that training played a continuous part in workfare—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.