HC Deb 10 March 1977 vol 927 cc1611-3
2. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ire- land what is the present level of unemployment in the Province; and what percentage of those out of work are in the 16 to 30 years age group.

6. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about unemployment among school leavers in Northern Ireland.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. J. D. Concannon)

The total number unemployed in Northern Ireland in February of this year was 56,660, or 10.7 per cent. of all employees. Age analyses of the unemployed are produced on a quarterly basis and only for broad age bands; the most recent information shows that in December 1976, 65 per cent. of the unemployed were in the 16 to 34 age group.

The number of unemployed school leavers in Northern Ireland in February of this year was 2,434. This represents a fall of almost 75 per cent. compared with the 9,082 unemployed in July of last year. The rate of reduction in unemployment amongst school leavers is similar to that in previous years.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I am grateful for those figures, although I was not able to take them in as well as I had wished. Does the Minister agree that it is clear that there are large numbers of people in this age group who are still out of work and that it is from this group that recruitment for terrorism takes place? What initiatives has the Department of Manpower Services taken to help these people obtain a proper training, and is the Minister satisfied with the number of skillcentres in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Concannon

I am satisfied with the number of Government training centres in Northern Ireland. We have 14 centres there, which, in proportion to the size of the population and the number of people being dealt with, is 10 times greater than the provision in Great Britain. We therefore have reason to be satisfied. Several schemes to alleviate unemployment have been undertaken, and some are specifically aimed at young people, including, for instance, the youth employment subsidy. Other measures, such as the job release scheme and the temporary employment subsidy, are intended to alleviate unemployment in all age groups. This is a long-lasting problem in Northern Ireland, because some basic industries have declined in recent years and it has been difficult to get new investment, partly because of the troubles.

Mr. Hardy

Cannot some improvement be discerned, despite the continuation of recessionary conditions? How many places are available at the sustantial number of training centres in Northern Ireland, and is the figure an improvement on previous years?

Mr. Concannon

We are always willing to consider new ways of helping to deal with the problem. For instance, we are now training people on factory premises. We have a good record in this respect in Northern Ireland.

Unemployment among school leavers will gradually reduce until Easter, when there will be another steady influx on to the market, followed by a much larger flow in June. We are always looking for methods of getting these young people into employment.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

In support of what my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said in his supplementary question, may I ask whether the Minister is prepared to consider the introduction of what might be called a Young Ulster Community Service, to provide for all young people after they leave school beneficial alternatives to unemployment, crime and para-military activities? Would not the expenditure required on such a service help to bring order and peace, and thus prove a true economy?

Mr. Concannon:

I am prepared to consider any scheme for getting school leavers into jobs. There are a number of schemes in Northern Ireland in respect of which we are well ahead of the rest of Great Britain with such provision. I am continuing to examine this problem and I shall consider any suggestion.