Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Programme for Economic and Social Progress Review Committee Meeting.

Jim Higgins

Ceist:

1 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the date of the most recent meeting of the Central Review Committee of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress; if it was decided to revise the targets set down in the programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Central Review Committee, CRC, who are representative of Government, trade unions, employers, industrialists and farmers, meet, as a general rule, on a monthly basis and sometimes more frequently to review and monitor progress in implementing the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, PESP and the achievement of its targets and objectives. This process enables the social partners to have an ongoing input in the formulation of Government decision-making on all important economic and social policy issues.

The most recent meeting of the committee was held on Thursday last.

The programme itself, which covers the period 1991 to 1993, provides that there would be a review by October this year and a draft report for this purpose is at present being finalised by the committee.

Pending completion of this report, it would not be appropriate for me at this stage to anticipate or pre-empt the committee's discussions on it except to say that considerable achievements have been made under the various headings of the programme such as macro-economic policy, tax reform, social welfare, health and education. This indicates quite clearly the value and importance of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress and our consensus approach with the social partners in solving our economic and social problems. This process with its emphasis on co-operation and partnership in the common support of agreed targets and policies has worked very well and has the full support and commitment of all the different interests involved.

The major black spot is that of unemployment. At my request, the CRC are now examining new strategies and measures within the framework of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress to increase employment and I understand that they expect to be in a position to discuss its recommendations in the very near future.

The wideranging series of measures which the Government have introduced since the summer provide clear evidence of the Government's determination and commitment to tackling unemployment and, as the House will recall, I have given an undertaking to the CRC that their recommendations on new initiatives and strategies will be fully, carefully and quickly considered by the Government.

The core strategic macro-economic commitments of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress such as low inflation, a stable exchange rate policy within the EMS, a moderate approach to incomes and public spending, greater social equity and the debt/GNP and EBR targets remain essential to enable us consolidate the achievements we have made since 1987 and attain the highest possible employment and living standards for all our people in the years ahead. The continuing validity and importance of these policies and targets are all the more emphasised and are of even greater significance with the continuing turbulence on international exchange markets.

There is no question, therefore, of departing from these fundamentals which we have been pursuing so successfully with the agreement of the social partners and with such success in creating a low-cost competitive economy since 1987. This success is partly evident in the recent labour force survey figures for April, which showed that employment in our economy had been stable over the 12 months to April, in contrast with so many economies where employment declined.

I should like to ask the Taoiseach why, despite the clear commitments in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, not one remedial teacher has been appointed this year at either primary or post-primary level.

The Deputy should ask that question of the Minister concerned, the Minister for Education. What I am saying clearly is that there is no change in the targets set. A full review has been held and a report on that review will be submitted to me for consideration. I have given a commitment to the social partners that a full discussion will take place, not only on the aspect referred to by the Deputy but also on the wide macro-economic policy, education, health, social welfare and so on.

Could I again ask the Taoiseach, in relation to a key element, the phased programme for 1992 for caretakers and secretaries for schools with more than 100 pupils, why not one caretaker or secretary has been appointed?

That is not true.

Specific questions should be put down to the Minister concerned. I am dealing with the overall policy. From behind me I hear it said that the Deputy's claim is not true. Let us not dispute whether it is true or not true.

That is dishonest.

The Taoiseach's long and comprehensive reply made reference to the review that is about to take place in relation to the possible necessity of revising the targets because of factors over which the Government have or have not control. Could the Taoiseach confirm whether the Minister for Industry and Commerce will be party to that review?

All relevant Ministers who are party to the Programme for Economic and Social Progress— indeed, all Ministers concerned — will participate in the review.

Is the Minister for Industry and Commerce a relevant Minister? That is the question.

All Ministers who are relevant will participate in the review.

In view of the fact that the two key targets in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress were a substantial increase in employment and a major assault on unemployment, would the Taoiseach accept that his strategy is coming off the rails in that figures show no increase in employment and an increase of 74,000 in unemployment over 26 consecutive months?

Deputy Bruton should go back and check; there has been an increase of 45,000 people at work in this economy——

That concerns part-time jobs.

That is a fact; do not be dishonest.

According to the official statistics, 45,000 more people are in employment.

They are part-timers.

I can say, quite honestly and openly, that that is one of the best performances in any of the western economies.

Would the Taoiseach agree that the Programme for Economic and Social Progress was drawn up in January 1991, that the increase in employment to which he referred occured before that date and that there has been no increase in employment since?

The Deputy should also study very closely not alone the first factors to which I referred but also the recent labour force survey which tells its own story.

The Taoiseach——

You watch Lord Mount Charles.

Watch that good secretary you have.

Question No. 2, please.