HC Deb 06 July 1982 vol 27 cc134-5
4. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the percentages of unemployed in the United Kingdom and in the West Midlands at the latest date and in May 1979.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Michael Alison)

At June 1982 the rate of unemployment, seasonally adjusted and excluding school leavers, was 12.2 per cent. in the United Kingdom and 14.7 per cent. in the West Midlands region. The corresponding rates at May 1979 were 5.4 per cent. and 5.1 per cent. respectively.

Mr. Winnick

That is a grave indictment of Government policy. Will the Minister take note that, set against the tragedy of millions of our fellow citizens being denied the opportunity to earn their living, the usual jeering remarks of the Secretary of State are a grave insult to the unemployed? Will he also bear in mind that there has been no let-up in the factory closures and massive redundancies that constantly occur in the West Midlands? The people there have paid a dear price for the Tory electoral victory of May 1979.

Mr. Alison

To an extent, present unemployment is international"—

Mr. William Hamilton

We are talking about ours.

Mr. Alison

I repeat: To an extent, present unemployment is international and beyond the control of the United Kingdom Government; record levels are being registered in most industrialised countries. The words that I have just quoted come from the report on unemployment by the Select Committee in another place, signed by Lord Lee, Lord McCarthy and Lord Melchett.

Mr. Bulmer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people in my constituency believe that jobs have been lost in the Kidderminster carpet industry because selective help has been given to firms in other parts of the country, with which it competes? Will he discuss that with colleagues and ensure that such discrimination does not continue?

Mr. Alison

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said and undertake to look into the matter.

Mr. Golding

Where else in the world has unemployment in an industrial area increased as much as in North Staffordshire in particular, and the West Midlands in general?

Mr. Alison

As the hon. Gentleman knows only too well, a sad loss of competitiveness was registered as a result—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"]—of our appallingly poor performance in terms of output and unit labour costs in manufacturing industry, which are unmatched anywhere else in the Western world. That explains why we have such high unemployment.

Mr. Cormack

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is deep distress in the West Midlands and that until that area recovers properly the economy as a whole is in dire danger? Does he accept that many of us believe that there is a great deal to be said for a Minister with special responsibility for this area, just as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment was given special responsibility for Liverpool?

Mr. Alison

I note both what my right hon. Friend has said and his strong constituency links and roots in the West Midlands. He will appreciate that the level of manufacturing activity in the West Midlands is much higher than the average for the United Kingdom. That leaves the West Midlands more exposed to the cold wind of recession than any other part of the United Kingdom.