HC Deb 04 November 1980 vol 991 cc1088-90
10. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Employment by how much unemployment has increased since May 1979.

Mr. Prior

Between May 1979 and October 1980 the number of people registered as unemployed in the United Kingdom, seasonally adjusted and excluding school leavers, increased by 586,000.

Mr. Dormand

In spite of what was said in answer to the last question, and in spite of what the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott) said, is the Minister aware that the biggest regional increase in unemployment has taken place in the North, and that the unemployment rate there continues to be the greatest in the country? Is he further aware that 37,000 redundancies have taken place so far this year compared with 15,000 for the whole of last year?

Will the Secretary of State therefore set up a commission to consider the special problems of the North—they are different from those of other parts of the country—with an instruction that it report within three months on action to be taken? Does he realise that the area is rapidly becoming an industrial desert because of the Government's great lack of concern?

Mr. Prior

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am, of course, aware of the factors he has described. The decision to set up a commission would be a matter for the whole Goverment. I shall draw his suggestion to the attention of my colleagues, but I am not certain that we need a commission. Rather we need an upturn in the economy.

Mr. Trippier

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many firms in the textile and footwear industries which receive temporary short-time working compensation have already claimed the maximum amount allowable of six months per employee? What plans has he either to expand or renew this scheme in order to avoid widespread redundancies for these two industries?

Mr. Prior

I am aware of these points and I know that they are creating a serious situation for some firms. The question is for how long "temporary" can be construed as being temporary, but I am examining the position further to see whether, given the tough restrictions on Government financing, there is any way in which we can help.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Minister aware that the pottery industry, which is very efficient, has particularly good labour relations and exports nearly half its products, has suffered an increase in unemployment of nearly 100 per cent. in one year, and that the rate is still rising? Is it not shocking to be destroying a fine industry like that? What does the Secretary of State propose to do about it?

Mr. Prior

There is no question of the Government seeking to destroy the pottery industry. We want to keep all these industries going as best we can. However, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, one of the factors that the pottery industry has to face is the very high exchange rate which affects its exports. That is bound up with high interest rates, and until we get the public sector borrowing requirement under control we shall suffer.

Mr. Thompson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the concentration of aid in certain areas is inhibiting the creation of new jobs in others?

Mr. Prior

That is always the problem with regional assistance. It is also one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry suggested that some areas should be taken out of regional assistance. It is one of the inevitable facts, but it is also important that we should give special aid in special areas.

Mr. Varley

Can the Secretary of State for Employment tell us of any action that he has taken in the past 18 months either to save or create jobs?

Mr. Prior

Yes, I could certainly give a number of instances, but I shall give just one. When we came to office the youth opportunities programme was running at 190,000 places a year. It is now running at 300,000. I could go on for quite a while, but that is one answer.

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