Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the significant contribution provided by economic improvement, education and training have played an important part in reducing the number of unemployed people? For example, they have reduced unemployment in my constituency by 17 per cent. since October 1994. Does my right hon. Friend further agree that education and training and the improvement of job skills are a vital ingredient in continuing to provide opportunities for jobs?
I agree absolutely. My hon. Friend's question stands in sharp contrast to the question that the hon. Member for Peckham asked a moment ago. Education, as well as training, is important. The Government's reforms have ensured that more people stay at school longer and leave school with better qualifications.
We know perfectly well that the Opposition have opposed the national curriculum, they have opposed testing and they have opposed league tables in schools. When the Labour party left office there were 7,000 youth trainees; there are now 277,000 youth trainees. When it was in office, the Labour party was content to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to live on benefit. That is the party which now advocates the minimum wage—a policy which in Spain has created three times as many young unemployed as there are in this country.
Is the Minister aware that an advertisement for a job in this place, paying half the salary of a Member of Parliament, attracted 600 graduate applicants? Is he aware that an army of education system success stories remain unemployed? Will he, for once, give a straight answer to a straight question and tell the House what proportion of young people were in full-time work in 1979 compared to the present?
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a number, but I can say that, under the Conservative Government, youth unemployment is 13.1 per cent. In France, youth unemployment is 23.2 per cent.; in Italy it is 32 per cent.; and in Spain, which has had a socialist Government for the past 10 years, it is 35.4 per cent. If the hon. Gentleman wants to mix it with me, let us do so on the European comparisons.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the educational and training opportunities for young people in this country have never been better, with more A-levels, more vocational qualifications, job training and the new apprenticeship scheme? Should we not be exalting those opportunities for our young people, which enable them to get good jobs?
Today, 80 per cent. of 16-year olds are in education. Under Labour, the figure was 58 per cent. Today, 26 per cent. of 17-year-olds get two A-levels or more. At the end of Labour's term in office, the figure was about 14 per cent. Any indicator that we care to take shows that we are providing better education for our young people.
The Labour party not only let young people down when it was in office but now wishes to impose a minimum wage to make sure that they cannot get jobs.
I will not let that happen; there will be no minimum wage while I stand at the Dispatch Box. The Labour party would introduce a minimum wage and destroy jobs for young people.