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Lord Richard: My Lords, my noble friend says that he has attended this House for 25 years and has never heard a report from an international gathering with so much waffle and so little substance. I have not sat in this House for 25 years. However, during the seven or eight years that I have attended here, I have heard many interventions from my noble friend--and they are many, far more than reports put forward from international conferences. I do not think that even from my noble friend I have heard an intervention which, frankly, was such a travesty of the real situation.
My noble friend began by denying the value of training, as though somehow or other those Governments which took part in this conference were blaming the unemployed because they were not properly trained. No, we are not blaming the unemployed but we are blaming the system which has left them untrained. We are setting up a set of structures which will train them. For many years I have had a basic belief that if you train someone to do a job, on the whole he has a better chance of finding work than if he is untrained. I am bound to say that I was flabbergasted to hear my noble friend advance his argument today.
My noble friend said that nothing was agreed. For the first time in my experience there is money on the table. Cash is available to small and medium-sized enterprises in order for them to try to take on more labour. There is an agreement at European level that all the nations of the Community will advance in the same direction as regards unemployment. Not only that, there is a set of agreed guidelines; an action plan for each country is to be agreed; action plans for each country are to be followed up.
I would have expected that the attack by my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington would have been that the conference infringed his sacred principles of subsidiarity and national competence rather than that the European Council had not gone far enough.
In asking the noble Lord these questions, I should declare an interest as the chairman of the job creation competition programme in the European Union. First, does the noble Lord recognise that skill shortages are re-emerging already in countries like the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, where unemployment is falling albeit not so fast as the official figures in both countries suggest? Secondly, at the Job Summit was there discussion of further measures which might be taken to encourage skilled training in the small and medium-sized enterprises to which the noble Lord, the Lord Privy Seal, referred? Finally, with regard to the co-operation principles underlying employment programmes put forward by member states, will the noble Lord confirm that the purpose of the third way was to reduce unemployment without the massive increase in poverty and inequities which unquestionably defaced the record of the previous government?
Perhaps I may say a word about skills shortages. Many years ago when I was in Brussels--we were at the height of a major depression--it struck me that the ultimate irony and expression of incompetence on the part of member states would be to emerge from that recession needing skilled labour which was not there. It could only mean that our training policies had failed. Whether there was any specific discussion in relation to training in the SMEs I do not know. I shall inquire. If there is anything I can usefully add, I shall of course tell the noble Baroness.
The noble Baroness is right when she describes the third way principle. It is an attempt--I think that it is worth an attempt--to see to what extent one can have all the nations of Europe co-operating in a certain direction without committing themselves over much on one side or the other to a plain and perhaps over-precise statement of economic ideology.
Lord Beloff: My Lords, on reflection, does the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, agree that what has come out of this summit is an agreement that different member states should pursue the reduction of unemployment, which is their common goal, by their own measures; and that there is no need to worry about subsidiarity because it is there? On hearing the statements by the Prime Minister of France to go no further, is it not likely that when the action plans are
Lord Richard: My Lords, as regards the last part of the noble Lord's question, before 1st May of this year I was in favour of almost continual summits, preferably at long distances from the United Kingdom. My attitude on the absence of Prime Ministers from the United Kingdom may have modified slightly since then. However, of course these are important issues. They are important discussions on important subjects.
The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, says that if the countries act according to their own national plan, why bother with a summit? I was trying to think of a phrase which summed up my perception of the issue as opposed to his. The summit seeks to achieve guided co-operation, if I may use a phrase which will appeal to the noble Lord. These proposals are not compulsory. There is an agreement to co-operate for sensible, common aims. There are broad agreements on the guidelines which govern that co-operation. The proposal does not seek to go further than that at this stage. Whether or not one is in favour of being in the European Union, I cannot for the life of me see what is wrong with that.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement. I wonder whether he agrees with me that the reduction in barriers to women entering the job market is not merely teaching them about apple pie and motherhood, as the Leader of the Opposition seems to think. Am I correct in thinking that while our Prime Minister has contributed ideas which, with the new Labour Government, are fresh to European thinking, Britain has also been receptive to ideas developed on the Continent of Europe? Will he confirm in particular that our emphasis on reducing barriers to women and disabled people entering the job market received a warm welcome among our European partners, and that their emphasis on injecting demand into the economy was welcomed by the Prime Minister, as evidenced in investment by the European Investment Bank?
The general emphasis on training as a prerequisite to ensuring that the skills shortages referred to do not become significantly apparent is welcome right across the board. I am sure that there is agreement right across Europe on that important measure.
One is in a slightly reminiscing mood this afternoon. I am not quite sure why. One of the pleasures I receive from examining recent events in Europe is seeing that that terribly modest little proposal of mine, which was rubbished by the previous government for many years--namely, the parental leave directive--is now to be implemented. That is quite a good example of the way in which the Government now approach these matters. My noble friend is quite right.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, an interesting point made by the noble Lord was that some countries have it in mind to reduce VAT in some areas. Will he comment further on that? Will he say which countries have it in mind, and in which areas; and was the United Kingdom among them?
Lord Richard: My Lords, the answer to the final part of the question is no. What I believe happened is that some countries felt that in certain local areas there were small-scale enterprises which would benefit from a reduction in VAT in that specific sector and in that particular country. It had nothing to do with an overall European approach, but was limited to small areas. There was a certain amount of discussion about the matter. It was felt that the approach might be worth exploring, and if one country wanted to include it in its action plan, clearly it would have to be considered in the future. There is no commitment whatsoever on the part of the United Kingdom Government.
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