HC Deb 21 March 1968 vol 761 cc593-4
Q3. Mr. Derek Page

asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the coordination of the Ministerial Departments concerned in dealing with the problem of unemployment; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. My hon. Friend will have noticed that since August last the numbers of wholly unemployed in the United Kingdom, on a seasonally adjusted basis, have fallen by 57,000, two-thirds of this in development area regions.

Mr. Page

Does my right hon. Friend consider that it is socially just to take taxes and to divert industry from the abysmally low-earning areas of East Anglia in order to send help to the development areas? Is it not time that we rethought our priorities with regard to regional development?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be aware that despite the anxieties and problems of a number of grey areas, and parts of East Anglia are very much involved here, the primary problem we have to solve in distributing industry is the still threateningly high unemployment rate in the development areas. In these circumstances, I hope that my hon. Friend will feel that it is right to concentrate on those first. We shall have the report of the Hunt Committee later in the year. As to East Anglia, my hon. Friend will be aware that our policy is to be as helpful as we can in the matter of i.d.c.s for industrial development there.

Mr. Prior

Is the Prime Minister aware of the very serious problem of the shipyards in East Anglia, which lie outside development districts? Will he have a special look at that problem, as they feel themselves to be at a great disadvantage compared with the rest of industry lying within the development districts?

The Prime Minister

I am aware of the problem. It arises perhaps more than anything in respect of the regional employment premium, and there are one or two other shipyards in other parts of the country also outside development areas. We are aware of the problem, but we must wait for the report of the Hunt Committee before we can see whether there is a special way of dealing with it.

Dr. John Dunwoody

While I welcome the reduction in the unemployment figures announced this afternoon, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend would not agree that there is still a very real and difficult problem in certain more isolated parts of the development areas? Would he do all that he can to coordinate Ministerial activities in solving this problem?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. As for the South-West, which is a relatively new development area, I am particularly alive to the special problems there. With regard to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, he will be very glad to hear that the authoritative forecasts for the peak of unemployment this winter reaching 750,000 or 1 million—and the right hon. Gentlemen opposite said with total confidence that it would reach 750,000—have not materialised, and that this afternoon's figures show that the March figure—usually one of the peak figures—was below 600,000.

Earl of Dalkeith

Could the Prime Minister say what plans he is making for his own unemployment, bearing in mind that certain members of the Cabinet seem to be becoming rather browned off?

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