HC Deb 04 December 1979 vol 975 cc209-11
2. Mr. Spriggs

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he is taking to reduce unemployment in the North-West.

3. Mr. Parry

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to reduce unemployment on Merseyside.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Jim Lester)

Every effort is being made to concentrate Government help in the areas of highest unemployment. This applies to parts of the North-West and to Merseyside in particular. However, real jobs can be created only by a successful partnership between Government measures and the energies and efforts of management and workers.

Mr. Spriggs

Is the Minister aware that since his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry downgraded the area of St. Helens from special development area status to development area status official notice has been given that the Rockware Group Ltd., a manufacturer of glass containers, is to make a further 460 workers redundant early in the spring of next year? Will the hon. Gentleman inform the House whether he is aware of the new job enterprise named Index of St. Helen's and whether he and his right hon Friend have been invited to take an important part in making the new job enterprise a success?

Mr. Lester

We are aware of Index and we have taken some interest in it. There is no direct connection between the redundancies declared by Rockware and the suggested reduction in the status of the area of St. Helens from SDA to DA. I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a delegation to see the Under-Secretary of State for Industry. I understand that my hon. Friend is considering carefully the arguments that were advanced.

Mr. Parry

Is the Minister aware that the 900 workers now occupying the Meccano factory in Liverpool were not given the statutory notice? These workers, some of whom have given 20 years and 25 years' service to the company, were given 20 minutes' notice by the management. So much for co-operation from management. The Minister will be aware of the reply given by the Prime Minister to me last Tuesday, when she accepted that there are serious and grievous problems on Merseyside. When shall we see the Government taking positive action to alleviate the problems instead of merely paying lip service to them?

Mr. Lester

The Department is investigating the special circumstances to ascertain whether there was any reason that prevented the company from complying with the requirements of employment protection legislation. I suggest that we wait until the facts are known before we decide whether a penalty is applicable. The unions involved are able to take the company to an industrial tribunal if it has not complied with its side of the bargain.

We all recognise the severe difficulties on Merseyside. Ministers have paid a series of visits to the area and they will continue to do so. We are trying to co-ordinate the efforts of all the Departments. We recognise that that is the only way in which we shall make an impact on Merseyside. I suggest that that is the only way in which to proceed.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Has my hon. Friend considered the recommendation of the North-East Lancashire Development Association that the phasing out of intermediate area status for North-East Lancashire should take rather longer than the three years proposed?

Mr. Lester

That is not a matter for the Department. However, I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend's remarks will be considered. There is a review of all these changes before they take place.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Is the Minister aware that in the Lancashire textile industry there is redundancy after redundancy and closure after closure? Will he consider again with urgency the need to reintroduce in North-East Lancashire the full panoply of temporary employment subsidy measures? Does he understand that previously they were a great help?

Mr. Lester

The real problem is that the TES measures, for example, had an adverse effect on Merseyside and prevented jobs from being created in that area. If we are to concentrate Government assistance where unemployment is at the highest levels, we are proceeding in the only way possible. We have a sophisticated system of notifying redundancies, but we do not have an equally sophisticated method of notifying the availability of jobs unless they are provided by Government assistance. We must be careful that we judge redundancies against the number of new jobs that are created, which must be more than the redundancies in the long run.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

How can the Minister say that every effort is being made by the Government to assist employment in the North-West and on Merseyside when every action that the Government have taken has seriously damaged employment prospects in those areas, not least the withdrawal of intermediate area status from one half of my constituency, which has serious employment problems? When are we to get the opportunity stakes of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer talks so blandly? When will my constituents have proper employment opportunities?

Mr. Lester

Intermediate area status in half of the hon. Gentleman's constituency cannot have had such a great effect. Of greater effect is the operation and co-operation of trade unions within his constituency in implementing the special measures. If he could get the trade unions to co-operate, we might be able to spend the budget that we have allocated.