HC Deb 22 June 1961 vol 642 cc1663-5
16. Mr. A. Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps Her Majesty's Government now proposes to take to assist the Government of Northern Ireland to arrest the rising unemployment in Northern Ireland.

Mr. R. A. Butler

As indicated in the Answers that I gave to the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Oram) on 23rd March and to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Sir D. Campbell) on 4th May, a joint study group appointed by the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Governments is considering what measures can be taken to bring about a lasting improvement.

Mr. Roberts

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the high unemployment figure in Northern Ireland has existed for quite a long time? Whether one's constituency is adjacent to Northern Ireland or not, there is general concern that, whereas in some districts there is over-employment, in Northern Ireland there has been a pretty high rate of unemployment for a considerable time. Does not the Minister appreciate that something more fundamental should be done to give them something like the average which has appertained throughout England and parts of Scotland?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir; every endeavour will be made. There are special conditions in Northern Ireland which make the situation very difficult to deal with. It has been discussed with the Northern Ireland Government and with hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies. I am hoping that with the agreement of the Northern Ireland Government this study group will do some good.

Mr. Popplewell

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when he hopes to receive a report from the study group? This problem has existed for a long time. There is considerable feeling about it, and many of us have received representations. When does the right hon. Gentleman hope to receive a reply?

Mr. Butler

I hope that it will not necessarily be a final report, but that we shall receive reports from time to time. I hope that it will be a continuing process to keep us informed. [An HON. MEMBER: "When will the report be ready?"] I shall have to look into that and ask the chairman, but I hope to keep the House informed of progress.

Sir D. Campbell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my Ulster colleagues and I welcome the assistance given by the Government to the Northern Ireland Government to help solve the unemployment problem, and in particular their efforts to relieve employers in Ulster of the payroll tax if it should be introduced? Will my right hon. Friend impress on the working party—that is, the Brittain Committee—the need for urgency in submitting its recommendations, particularly with regard to our shipbuilding industry?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir. I am glad to make an affirmative answer, and to thank my hon. Friend for his tributes to what we have attempted to do. As a proof of that, last year we achieved the highest level of employment ever in Northern Ireland. There has since been a deterioration due to the shipbuilding situation. This is common to other parts of the country, but it is especially severe in Northern Ireland, and I will pay attention to what my hon. Friend said.