HC Deb 22 November 1979 vol 974 cc540-2
4. Mr. Kenneth Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the employment prospects for the Province.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Hugh Rossi)

The prospects for increased employment opportunities in Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, are uncertain because of the potential impact of the widely predicted world industrial and trade recession.

Recent experience has, nevertheless, confirmed the attractiveness of Northern Ireland for internationally mobile investment. To illustrate this, almost 5,800 new manufacturing jobs were provided in 1978 and more than 3,700 so far this year.

Mr. Lewis

Is my hon. Friend aware that there has always been very high unemployment among young people in Northern Ireland, and that this is not particularly helpful at present because they get into mischief? In view of the recent increase in MLR, will my hon. Friend take special steps to see that the jobs provided by small businesses in particular receive special emphasis?

Mr. Rossi

I am well aware of my hon. Friend's concern for the young people in Northern Ireland, because he has raised this matter on previous occasions. The Government share his concern. The bank interest rate has gone up ½ per cent. less in Northern Ireland in order to assist small businesses in particular.

Mr. McCusker

Can the Minister tell us the level to which unemployment is likely to rise in Northern Ireland as a result of his Government's policy? What is he doing to help the man-made fibre industry, which is essential to the wellbeing of the Province?

Mr. Rossi

The last question is a matter for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and the hon. Gentleman should address that to him on an appropriate occasion. The first part of the hon. Member's question has slipped my memory, and I ask him to repeat it.

Mr. Alan Clark

What effect does my hon. Friend think the ludicrous and impractical proposal for a De Lorean sports car factory will have on unemployment in Northern Ireland? Does he agree that it is a paradox that taxpayers' money should be directed into this project at the behest of one of the most notorious con men in the Western Hemisphere, when the MG car company, which has not had an industrial dispute for 30 years, has been closed down because of a lack of capital?

Mr. Rossi

The De Lorean project is also the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. However, the prospects in Northern Ireland for this scheme are highly attractive and have been welcomed throughout the Province. The project should provide a much-needed pool of employment.

Mr. Pendry

Is the Minister aware that many of his recent utterances have totally misled hon. Members and are calculated to do great harm to the people of Northern Ireland? Is he not aware that last month 64,812 people were unemployed? That was 11.4 per cent. of the insured population and the highest October figure for 39 years. Does he agree that the uncertainty is due to the Government's policies biting deeper and deeper, month by month, with the increase in the minimum lending rate and VAT? Will the Minister tell his right hon. Friend to stand up to the Prime Minister and fight her, and to stand up for the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, who need a better industrial future?

Mr. Rossi

The figures for unemployment are lower than the figures that the hon. Member quoted. Unemployment is just under 63,000, or 11.1 per cent. of the insured population. It is still too high compared with the 5.5 per cent. for the rest of the United Kingdom. That is not a matter that gives us satisfaction, but it is a persistent figure and a situation that has continued in Northern Ireland because of the underlying economic weakness, a lack of natural resources and the decline of traditional industries, such as shipbuilding, textiles and agriculture, which provided most of the employment in the Province. The hon. Member is well aware of those factors and it is precisely these that we are trying to combat with the highest investment grants in the United Kingdom. I have indicated the way in which we have been successful in attracting new investment and new manufacturing jobs to the Province. We are not at all complacent. As the hon. Member knows from the announcement that we made about the so-called cuts, we have preserved the manufacturing and construction industry from any economic measures that we have had to take.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must ask for shorter questions and shorter answers.

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