HC Deb 17 February 1976 vol 905 cc1117-20
10. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further specific measures he proposes to take to stimulate employment on Merseyside.

Mr. Foot

I would expect Merseyside to share in the benefits from the additional package of measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 12th February. I fully accept that the employment situation on Merseyside remains extremely serious, despite all the measures taken to help.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that in spite of the welcome measures taken by the Government, unemployment on Merseyside is at an intolerable level? Is he aware that the rate there is higher than in Scotland and Wales, and that this has a tremendously demoralising effect on the area. The situation is, of course, exacerbated by the present recession, but we have witnessed a steady decline in employment opportunities on Merseyside in the last decade. Will my right hon. Friend now undertake a major review of the employment prospects in the area, with a view to securing its long-term prosperity?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept and understand the frustrations and feelings of my hon. Friends from Merseyside about the situation there. They will accept that, in spite of the great difficulties, the Government have made efforts to help. Help under the Industry Act has safeguarded about 17,000 jobs on Merseyside. To assist with the longer-term situation, the Government upgraded Merseyside to special development area status in August 1974. The dispersal of about 3,500 Civil Service jobs to the region has been promoted. Under the mitigating measures the Government have introduced, 63 job creation projects have been approved to provide about 1,100 jobs, and eight applications for the temporary employment subsidy have been approved involving about 788 workers. A considerable proportion of school leavers have had their jobs safeguarded by the subsidy. I fully appreciate, of course, that the school leaver problem, along with the general unemployment problem, is more serious on Merseyside than in the rest of the country. We have also stepped up the community industry scheme on Merseyside. I accept that we need more than that, but it shows that the Government have been making an effort to assist, and we shall consider any other measures put to us.

Mr. Steen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that although 1,100 jobs have in theory been created under the job creation programme, only half that number have actually got started? Instead of the officials of the scheme swanning around the country trying to advertise the programme as the panacea for all ills, they should be concentrating on mobilising people into jobs. Task Force was one organisation that was submitted for job creation approval on 19th November. It has still not had a reply.

Mr. Foot

I repudiate all the charges by the hon. Member against the job creation scheme. If he were a little more diligent in finding out how the scheme was working he would give a fairer report on it to the House. We are prepared to have everything out about what is happening under the scheme. If the hon. Member examines it more carefully he will see that it is doing a good job. No one has ever made the stupid suggestion—least of all those in charge of the scheme—that it is a panacea for all our ills. The hon. Gentleman should know that.

Mr. Loyden

I have a letter on my desk indicating that there is a further job loss of about 2,500 in Liverpool and that the position at Tate and Lyle and at Bear Brand is doubtful. Is my right hon. Friend aware that together these could result in Liverpool's losing more than 5,000 jobs? All the measures that have been taken have proved inadequate, and long-term measures are of no comfort to the unemployed. Will my right hon. Friend take immediate steps with his colleagues to look into the situation to see what can be salvaged from the job loss that is taking place?

Mr. Foot

I understand my hon. Friend's feeling on the matter. The Government consider every case where jobs are threatened to see whether we can assist either with the temporary employment subsidy or by direct means. This is the more successful way of sustaining industries in the long run. If my hon. Friends from Merseyside have any specific proposals that they wish us to look at, we shall certainly do so.

Mr. Hayhoe

Following the list of all the things the Government have done to improve employment on Merseyside, will the Secretary of State list all the measures that the Government have promulgated which have harmed employment prospects, not least of which is the Dock Work Regulation Bill?

Mr. Foot

The House gave a very short answer to the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) on that subject a few days ago. I am amazed that he dares to raise it again so soon. It is not true to say that we are responsible for creating difficulties in this matter. We are seeking to overcome them.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If we had had shorter questions and answers, I could have called more hon. Members.