HC Deb 14 May 1981 vol 4 cc873-5
10. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the level of unemployment in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Adam Butler

The total number of people registered as unemployed in Northern Ireland on 9 April 1981 was 98,943; 17.2 per cent. of the working population.

I am glad to say that the underlying rate of increase in unemployment over recent months has slackened, but nevertheless I regret that we must still expect some higher figures in the future.

Substantial and lasting improvements can only come about with the strengthening of the economy which our policies are designed to ensure and with the greater efficiency and competitiveness of industry.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Minister accept that the viciously high level of unemployment has contributed to the unrest and to the difficulties experienced in Northern Ireland? When will the Government alter their policies and when will they ensure that unemployment is significantly reduced in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom? Does the hon. Gentleman believe that jobs in Northern Ireland can be secured only at the cost per job level of the De Lorean project?

Mr. Butler

Both in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom lasting improvements in employment can be ensured by reducing inflation and by helping industry to lower its costs.

Mr. Cryer


Mr. Butler

Yes. In that way industry can be competitive. The last thing that one should do is to take the advice of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends and to spend public money. That will refuel inflation and make industry even more uncompetitive.

Mr. Kilfedder

Does the Minister realise that his words will bring no comfort to the unemployed of Northern Ireland? For many people, being out of a job causes great heartbreak. Some of them have been in work all their lives. Does the hon. Gentleman realise that, in addition to the hardship of being jobless, such people must face increased council rents and increased food prices? Should not the Government do something to combat unemployment and the increase in the cost of living?

Mr. Butler

The hon. Member speaks with feeling on behalf of his constituents. They will take heart from the fact that, for example, this week I have opened two new premises in Northern Ireland. That is important because they are associated with advanced technology, where the future lies. I was in America two weeks ago. A considerable interest in further investment in the Province was expressed, largely from those involved in high technology. That is where the hope for the future must lie.

Mr. Fitt

Does the Minister agree that the figure of 17.2 per cent., appalling though it is, does not tell the whole story? There are places throughout Northern Ireland where the male unemployment figures are 25 per cent., 30 per cent., 35 per cent., 40 per cent. and up to 50 per cent. That is so in many areas, such as West Belfast, Strabane, Newry and Dungannon. There is now a great deal of frustration among all those people who have no employment, through no fault of their own. Will he further agree that he has always had the maximum co-operation from the responsible trade union movement in Northern Ireland, which has done nothing to bring about the Government's callous attitude towards the unemployed? Will he say today to the thousands of people who have almost lost hope that the Government will try to do what they can to increase the employment figures at the earliest possible opportunity?

Mr. Butler

It is correct that there are areas of unemployment in Northern Ireland which have percentages which are as high as those which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. It is for that reason that the Government not only offer Northern Ireland the most generous package of incentives for industrial development in the United Kingdom, but make available special rates of capital grant and special incentives to those areas of the highest unemployment. That is one way in which we can help positively.

Mr. Concannon

Is the Minister aware that, although the official unemployment figure for Northern Ireland is still just below 100,000, it has been said that the real number is probably 30 per cent. higher? We must remember those people who have not bothered to register because of the sheer futility of doing so. Does he not agree that the enormity of the unemployment problem in the Province is evidence of the total failure to improve or maintain normal economic life there?

Mr. Butler

The House must realise that Northern Ireland was the only region in the whole of the United Kingdom where unemployment fell last month. That is one reason why I was able to refer to the improvement in the underlying trend. Surely that is an advantage. I do not accept for one moment that 30 per cent. of those affected do not register. Over 32,000 people are benefiting from the Government's training and employment schemes, which are not productive jobs, but mainly involve training or work experience. They are of great advantage to those who undertake them and will make those people more able to do a job as they move on.

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