HC Deb 22 January 1980 vol 977 cc187-9
8. Dr. David Clark

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further plans he has to increase employment in the Northern region.

Mr. Jim Lester

By concentrating regional assistance more sharply on areas of greatest need, such as the industrialised parts of the Northern region, the Government aim to encourage firms to invest there. This will both create new jobs to replace those that are being lost in the region's traditional industries and will expand still further the region's industrial base.

Dr. Clark

Has the Minister seen the figures published today, which show that for every 100 men and women in the Northern region unemployed last month, 107 are unemployed this month? Can he explain how public expenditure cuts in a constituency such as mine will affect local employers, who employ the vast majority of people in the area? Can he also explain how the great betrayal of the siting of INMOS in a non-development area will help anyone?

Mr. Lester

The question about INMOS is one for the Department of Industry. We regret the increase in unemployment as much as the hon. Gentleman does. As to the reduction in public expenditure, I must point out that in January 344,000 people were being helped by the special measures, as opposed to 255,000 a year ago.

Sir William Elliott

Before my hon. Friend considers the difference in employment in the Northern region this month as against last month, will he bear in mind that unemployment in the Northern region was exactly doubled in the four years during which the Labour Party was in office?

Mr. Lester

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I am very conscious of that fact. What we must do during our period of office is create new jobs and reduce unemployment. The policies that we are applying, which will provide a better balance between public and private expenditure and create an expansion of real jobs, thus providing goods and services that people need, are the only real hope for the Northern region.

Mr. Bagier

Did not the hon. Gentleman learn anything from yesterday's debate? Does he not recall being told that such things as the very high minimum lending rate stop small businesses from expanding? Does he not appreciate that all the measures which the Government are applying as so-called "shock medicine" provide no cushion at all for areas such as the North-East? Does he not appreciate that the Government's policies are driving the Northern region into a position where ordinary working people will rebel against what is happening to them?

Mr. Lester

I visit the Northern region, and intend to do so frequently, and I have seen no signs of rebellion. The minimum lending rate has been brought about because of the debt that we inherited from the previous Administration.

Mr. John Grant

In view of the serious unemployment figures announced today, does the Minister accept that the Northern region and other regions could be better helped by better use of EEC money? In that regard, has he seen reports that Commissioner Vredeling said in Strasbourg that the British Government have not approached the Commission for available EEC funds to deal with steel industry redundancies, and, far worse than that, that the Government have rejected £70 million that was specifically earmarked for that purpose? If that is so, is not that wanton irresponsibility on the part of the Government? Why have we not had a statement to the House explaining the situation?

Mr. Lester

My information is that those facts are not correct, but I shall be happy to check them. I am assured that my Department makes ample use of EEC funds and that it makes every possible claim that is available to it on the European social fund.