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The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities (Ms Tessa Jowell): Long-term unemployment is now at its lowest level for 25 years. As my hon. Friend will know, it has fallen by 70 per cent. in her constituency since May 1997. Government action is part of that success, but I hope that the House will pay tribute to the thousands and thousands of unemployed people throughout the country who have seized the opportunities provided by the new deal and other
Ms Blears: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Salford now has its lowest unemployment rate for 18 years. It is below 4 per cent., which is in stark contrast to the misery of mass unemployment in the Tory years. We still have more 750 people who are long-term unemployed, but we are having some success. This week, a young man was placed in employment who had not worked since 1992. He has received extra support through the new deal and a jobseeker's grant. For the first time, he has the chance of a decent future. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, under Labour, there will be more such measures of support to ensure that everyone has the chance to get a job, to get into work and to have a decent income for their families, in contrast to what happened under the Tories, when people were consigned to years of hopelessness and misery?
Ms Jowell: I can confirm that more help will be available to enable us to get rid of long-term unemployment and to see it as a thing of the past. Under the Labour Government it is win, win: a win for unemployed people who are equipped with the skills that they need to get a job and a win for employers seeking to fill their vacancies. Under the Opposition, who have pledged to scrap the Government's welfare-to-work programmes, it is lose, lose: unemployed people will lose and employers will lose because they will not be able to recruit the employees whom they seek.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): The right hon. Lady is being modest on behalf of the Government. Surely what the Government have done for the long-term unemployment statistics is simply to reclassify people. If one adds up the current long-term unemployed, the number of people currently in the new deal who are not listed as such and the number of people on follow-through, one realises that just a few thousand people have left long-term unemployment. Will the Minister now undo the spin of putting these people through the revolving door and tell the House the real facts about the real people who are still being disadvantaged by the swindle of the new deal?
Ms Jowell: The previous Government removed people from the unemployment register when they went on to training programmes. That is precisely the same as removing people from the claimant count when they go on to the training element of the new deal. There is complete consistency. What is different is that the new deal has virtually eradicated long-term youth unemployment--help that the Opposition would remove.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): Measures to tackle long-term unemployment have created many more opportunities for women. My right hon. Friend will be aware of yesterday's announcement that 12.5 million women are working in the United Kingdom labour market. She will also be aware that a significant number of those women receive less pay than men who do the same job, despite the anti-discrimination and equal pay legislation of the 1970s. Moreover, the equal value arguments can tie a case down
Ms Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for that. Yes, it is good news that figures published today show that more women are in work in the United Kingdom than ever before, but there is still a pay gap. To compare full-time women's earnings with full-time men's earnings, for every £1 that a man earns, a woman earns 81p. That is unacceptable in a modern labour market and the Government will shortly introduce proposals to tackle that pay gap.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Does the Minister agree that one of the most effective ways of tackling unemployment is to foster good work experience in schools and good business links with schools? Does she, therefore, share the concern of the National Education Business Partnership Network, which faces the prospect of its funding being slashed by up to 60 per cent., and which has described its response to that as varying from acute disappointment to utter dismay? Will she today guarantee that funding for those vital services from 1 April will at least be maintained, if not increased?
Ms Jowell: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State today announced a further £6 million to fund precisely that programme, so a total of £23 million worth of investment is going in after all. Of course, the best way to maintain high levels of employment is through a Labour Government.
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): I welcome the Government's recent commitment to full employment in every region, especially as it includes the employment of lone parents, disabled people and men over 55. Does my right hon. Friend accept that that will have an enormous impact on abolishing poverty in the northern region and will give a great boost to our prosperity?
Ms Jowell: I agree with my right hon. Friend. Our objective is full employment in every region. To achieve that, we must end long-term unemployment. That is why our welfare-to-work programmes are driving down unemployment, but the Opposition are pledged to scrap those programmes. We are working with unemployed people.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith): Under the school laboratories for the 21st century initiative, £60 million has been allocated from the Government's capital modernisation fund to tackle deficiencies in secondary school science accommodation over this financial year and next. That is enabling about 400 improvement projects to be carried out.
In addition, local education authorities have been able to apply for funding from the new deal for schools programme to improve the condition of school laboratories. So far, 151 such projects have been funded, at a cost of just under £37 million. Those authorities may also have incorporated improvements to science accommodation within larger schemes of school expansion, or rationalisation.
Barbara Follett: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and for the money that the Department has made available for 13 new laboratories in three secondary schools in my constituency. Although that is most welcome, will she tell me what measures the Department is taking to recruit and train more science teachers for secondary schools?
Jacqui Smith: I am glad that my hon. Friend has welcomed the extra investment in her constituency, which is important in itself in providing the surroundings that are necessary to maintain teachers in classrooms and to deliver high standards. We are pleased also, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, that new figures for applications for post-graduate certificate of education courses show that applications for chemistry have increased by 45 per cent., and for physics by 23 per cent. Applications overall for science have significantly increased. The action that the Government are taking to recruit extra teachers in all subjects, but particularly science, is having the necessary effect to maintain high standards and to improve them in my hon. Friend's constituency and throughout the country.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): So that we can have some criteria by which to judge the Minister's comments, will she simply say whether there are more or fewer recruits for secondary training in science for the academic year that began in September 2000 than in the academic year that began in September 1996? More or fewer?
Jacqui Smith: What is important is the action that we are taking to get more teachers into classrooms and more teachers into specialisms. We have already seen capital investment such as that which has been made in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett). The actions that the Government have taken in terms of training salaries and encouraging people into teacher training are having an effect. For the first time for eight years there are more people in teacher training this year than there were at this time last year. The Government are concerned to put in place actions that will encourage teachers into the profession and maintain them in it, while Conservative Members are keen to talk down the profession and worsen the recruitment problem.