HC Deb 06 November 1979 vol 973 cc201-3
3. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on employment prospects in the Northern region.

Mr. Jim Lester

Future employment levels depend upon a number of factors which cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty. The Government's policies, however, are aimed at helping industry and commerce flourish so that more real jobs will be created both in the Northern region and in the economy as a whole.

Mr. Dormand

Is the Minister aware that the Northern Region continues to have the highest unemployment rate in the country and that, as The Guardian pointed out yesterday, it will get worse? Will he do three things immediately? First, will he persuade the appropriate Secretary of State to establish a northern development agency—a proposal which has the support of the northern branch of the CBI, which should commend itself to the Minister?

Secondly, will he try to persuade the NEB to place one of the Inmos manufacturing units in the Northern region?

Thirdly, and equally important, will he immediately increase the grant that is made to the North of England development council?

Finally, is it not a fact—[Interruption.] Conservative Members do not like the truth. Finally, is it not a fact that the Government are victimising the people of the North of England because they returned so few Tory Members to Parliament?

Mr. Lester

I totally reject the last point. I think that if the people in that area were to return more Tory Members of Parliament they would be better represented.

Of the five questions, three are not for me or my Department. However, I undertake to pass them on to the appropriate Department.

The previous Government were not convinced, and nor are we, that the establishment of a northern development agency would help in alleviating the unemployment problems of the Northern region.

Sir William Elliott

As one of the few Conservative Members of Parliament to be returned for the Northern region, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he is aware that a substantial proportion of redundancies in the Northern region are in engineering and associated industries, and that a number of our principal companies in the region are struggling and, sadly, will have to continue to struggle, to overcome the recent national engineering dispute?

Mr. Lester


Mr. Radice

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in Tyne and Wear 20 per cent. of unemployed men and 17 per cent. of unemployed women have been seeking jobs for more than six months? Is he also aware that the cuts in public spending which have just been announced will make that situation even worse?

Mr. Lester

The policies of the previous Government increased unemployment in the Northern region by 42.3 per cent. I have made two visits to the Northern region recently. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there are many vacancies in that area within reasonable travel-to-work areas of high unemployment. One difficulty that we face is mobility, and another is the distance that people are prepared to move to get the jobs that are available.

Mr. Bagier

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the figures for vacancies versus jobs mean that there are 11 people chasing every vacancy? Does he not realise that it is absolute rubbish to try to argue otherwise? Does he further agree that his initial announcement amounted to saying that nothing would be done specially for the Northern region? How does he equate that with the fact that last week his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced that there would be an increase of 300,000 unemployed in this country? What steps has he taken to support the North-East from the worst effects of those 300,000 unemployed?

Mr. Lester

The interest that Ministers in my Department have taken in the North-East goes a long way to disprove the statement made by the hon. Gentleman. We have taken a great deal of interest in the problems of the Northern region. It is clear that the region has expanded its manufacturing base for chemicals, electronics, telecommunications, scientific equipment, textiles, clothing, pharmaceuticals, furniture and plastics. There are 1,384,000 people in employment in the Northern region. That is a fair base on which to work and for our policies to expand.