HC Deb 04 November 1980 vol 991 cc1087-8
9. Dr. David Clark

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest unemployment figures for the Northern region.

Mr. Jim Lester

At 9 October, the provisional number of people registered as unemployed in the Northern region was 160,856.

Dr. Clark

Will the Minister admit that those are the worst figures since the 1930s and that the position is becoming worse daily? Did the hon. Gentleman see the "Jobless Britain" total in The Sunday Times last week which featured seven major closures in the Tyne and Wear area? When shall we see some positive action from the Government to alleviate unemployment?

Mr. Lester

I paid a visit to the hon. Gentleman's constituency during the recess and he knows that I understand the great difficulties in the Northern region caused by the structural change which has had to take place and which is continuing. He asks what help the Government can give, but he knows that the Northern region receives the highest per capita aid in absolute and personal terms. It is higher than that of Scotland or Wales, and it is needed. The problem is not one simply of aid but of the structural change from the major engineering industries to the new technology indus- tries which the hon. Gentleman was happy to show me when I visited the area.

Sir William Elliott

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the last 12 months in the Northern region 145 new or reallocated factories have provided 3,500 jobs? Is he aware that in Tyne and Wear alone 70 new factories have provided 1,400 new jobs? Is he further aware that in Team Valley, the oldest trading estate of all, 200 factories are now providing 17,000 jobs? Does he agree that diversification is the future strength of the Northern region and will he continue to encourage its development?

Mr. Lester

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. The Northern region has made great strides in changing its industrial base. It is often said that the Newcastle area is full of depression and gloom although anybody who goes there knows that it has great vitality. New and exciting projects are taking place. That is a far better way to attract jobs to the Northern region than constantly to dwell on figures.

Mr. Foster

Does the Minister realise that in 18 months his Government have succeeded in reversing 18 years of positive regional development by successive Governments?

Mr. Lester

I do not realise that for one moment. We have expanded special measures in terms of trading and help in the Northern region. No reduction in grants has taken place. The area receives higher per capita assistance than either Scotland or Wales. There is a limit to the policy of putting money into a region and imagining that it will solve the problem.