HC Deb 12 March 1981 vol 1000 cc985-7
1. Mr. McNamara

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many redundancies have been notified to the Department of Commerce between July 1980 and the present date.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)

From 1 July 1980 to 2 March 1981, 31,250 proposed redundancies were notified to the Department of Manpower Services.

This figure includes applications for support under the temporary short-time working compensation scheme in respect of 24,239 jobs, and therefore the majority of the proposed redundancies may not take effect.

Mr. McNamara

I wish that I enjoyed the optimism of the hon. Gentleman in thinking that the prospective redundancies will not take place. To what extent have those redundancies been considered in the context of the island of Ireland as a whole? Would it not be an idea if the Government were to find a way of correlating the figures for the Six Counties with Ireland as a whole rather than considering them merely as an appendage of the United Kingdom unemployment and temporary short-time statistics? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that would end the disgraceful situation whereby the published United Kingdom unemployment figures do not take into account the unemployment figures for the Six Counties?

Mr. Butler

The hon. Gentleman's question is a little confusing. On a monthly basis we make clear what the unemployment figures in Northern Ireland are. It is right and proper that we should try to deal with the problems of Northern Ireland separately from those of the Republic. If there is a benefit from economic co-operation, that is another matter.

Mr. Kilfedder

Is the Minister aware that the average level of redundancy payments in Northern Ireland is lower than it is in the affluent parts of Great Britain and significantly lower than the £15,000 payable to coal miners? What do the Government propose to do to provide justice and some hope for those who are being thrown out of work in Northern Ireland and who need a decent deal on redundancy payments?

Mr. Butler

If the hon. Gentleman's figures for the statutory scheme are correct they reflect lower earnings in the Province and, possibly, shorter service. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Harland and Wolff workers benefit from the shipbuilding redundancy payment scheme.

Mr. Fitt

Is it not true that the Minister has today notified Northern Ireland Members that it is his intention to increase the funds available to the Northern Ireland redundancy fund, because he believes that there will be a dramatic increase in the numbers of redundancies in the Province? In view of the proposals announced in the Budget, particularly concerning tobacco and beer, is it not inevitable that there will be a massive increase in redundancies in those two industries?

Mr. Butler

It is quite correct that I have notified the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members of an intention as a matter of common prudence to increase the ceiling of the redundancy fund. On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I have made no secret of the fact—I do not do so on this occasion—that I expect unemployment in Northern Ireland to continue rising for some while yet.

Mr. Pendry

Does the Minister accept that his answers mask the true position in Northern Ireland? Will he accept that a number of part-time workers, including many in the public service, are not registered as unemployed and many workers have been sacked and are not receiving redundancy pay? The House needs to know more. Will the hon. Gentleman collate more accurate figures and make an early announcement to the House?

Mr. Butler

The gross figure that I gave to the House was not correct as regards the number of redundancies that will take place. Equally, there are some circumstances in which redundancies do not have to be notified, but, bearing in mind the time and expense that would be involved in collecting those figures, I do not see that there would be any benefit in that excercise. The notified redundancies give us a good indication of the situation.

Mr. Sandelson rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson), but I must make clear that I cannot go through every group and every party on every question.

Mr. McNamara

Which party does the hon. Gentleman belong to?

Mr. Sandelson

Will the Minister of State take note that on 12 February roughly 17 percent, of the labour force in the textile industry in Northern Ireland had lost their jobs? Unemployment in the industry is rising all the time and the figure of 17 per cent, amounted to 4,796 jobs. Is the Minister aware that the delay in strengthening the multi-fibre arrangement is having a crippling effect on the industry?

Mr. McNamara

The hon. Gentleman voted"Yes".

Mr. Sandelson

What pressure is the Minister bringing on the Commission to strengthen the MFA, and when may we expect a speedy revision of the arrangement? When will the hon. Gentleman announce to the House some progress in that direction?

Mr. Butler

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the ranks of those of us who are concerned to get a successor to the MFA. That is exactly what Ministers have said that they will achieve—a successor to the present arrangement that is at least as tough.