HC Deb 30 June 1982 vol 26 cc887-90
16. Mr. Lambie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many long-term unemployed were registered in the Kilbirnie, Saltcoats and Irvine employment exchange areas at the last available date; and how this compares with the same time in 1979, 1980 and 1981.

Mr. Younger

On 15 April 1982, 3,318 people in the Kilbirnie, Saltcoats and Irvine employment office areas had been registered as unemployed for more than one year. The comparable figures for 1979, 1980 and 1981 were 1,324, 1,370 and 1,903, respectively.

Mr. Lambie

Is the right hon. Gentleman not ashamed to admit that he is the Minister responsible for employment in Scotland? Is he aware that not only is North Ayrshire a disaster area for unemployment, but that figures show that it is also another disaster area for the long-term unemployed, many of whom have been unemployed for over a year? When will the right hon. Gentleman get off his backside and stop sending his hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for industry and sport to Spain to attend football matches—with no apparent benefit—and start worrying about unemployment in the North Ayrshire area?

Mr. Younger

I share the hon. Gentleman's great concern about unemployment in North Ayrshire, particularly the long-term unemployed. However, I should not have expected that even he would accuse me of inaction. He must bear in mind what has been done to help the area. As part of the West Scotland special development area, the North Ayrshire area qualifies for maximum assistance. That was brought in by the Conservative Government, not the Labour Government. Since May 1979 we have made 19 offers of selective financial assistance to firms in the area. That involves over 1,470 new jobs. The hon. Gentleman cannot accuse the Government of inactivity, but I share his concern at the unemployment figures.

17. Mr. Robert Hughes

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

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

On 10 June 1982, seasonally adjusted unemployment in Scotland stood at 314,800 or 14.1 per cent. We have substantially increased the programme of special measures in the current financial year, but our strategy of controlling inflation within a sound financial framework, and restoring competitiveness, is the best way to improve employment prospects, both in Scotland and elsewhere; and I am encouraged by the progress that we are making.

Mr. Hughes

Is it not the case that the non-seasonally adjusted figure is 341,200 and that that is up by 16,500 since last month, representing 15.3 per cent. of the population? When will the Under-Secretary understand that the policies that he repeats month after month at the Dispatch Box are proving to be an abject failure and a disaster? Will he agree to change course and do something for the unemployed in Scotland instead of repeating, ad nauseam, policies that do not work, and cannot work?

Mr. Fletcher

Policies that reduce inflation, reduce wage settlements, reduce interest rates and improve exports and the balance of payments can only be good for Scotland, despite what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Is the Minister prepared to hold out any realistic hope, with present policies, of a significant reduction in this appalling figure, at least over the remainder of the lifetime of this Parliament?

Mr. Fletcher

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the increase in unemployment has been dramatically reduced, but it is still increasing, and is likely to do so, at least for some months yet. The right hon. Gentleman should not disagree with the Government's policies, as they are close to his policies on expenditure when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Ancram

Does my hon. Friend accept that, despite the unacceptable rate of unemployment, there is a growing public realisation that there are no easy answers to the problem and that the Government's economic policy provides the only long-term hope for the unemployed? Does he further agree that this was demonstrated by the positive swing from Labour to Conservative in the Coatbridge and Airdrie by-election?

Mr. Fletcher

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the by-election at Coatbridge and Airdrie and in the local government elections in Scotland it was obvious that the population of Scotland had far more sense in these matters than Labour Members.

Mr. Thomas Clarke

Is the Minister aware that the swing to Labour in the Coatbridge and Airdrie by-election, compared with the swing in the two elections in 1974—which resulted in a Labour Government—would lead to a Labour Government with an even bigger majority in a general election? Is he further aware that the lack of confidence in the Government's policies, particularly on unemployment, displayed by the electorate of Coatbridge and Airdrie is widely reflected among the voters of Scotland, who look for an early opportunity to give a similar verdict on those policies?

Mr. Fletcher

I am happy to welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House and to Scottish questions. We look forward to further contributions from him. However, I am sure that he will in future be more accurate, because my awareness, and that of the psephologists, is that the Coatbridge and Airdrie result, reflected throughout the country, would increase the Government's majority.

Mr. Myles

Does my hon. Friend accept that my constituents in Buckie find it difficult to understand why, despite an unemployment rate of 14.3 per cent. in the area, he has taken away assisted area status, whereas assisted area status is retained for areas such as Inverness, which also have the advantage of Highlands and Islands Development Board grants.

Mr. Fletcher

I fully appreciate the disappointment in my hon. Friend's constituency following the Government's decision on assisted area status. These have been difficult decisions to make. Nevertheless, following those decisions, 72 per cent. of the working population of Scotland still remain in assisted areas, and Scotland still has the largest special development area in the United Kingdom. Scotland has done well out of the reappraisal of regional policy that this Government introduced.

Mr. Millan


Mr. Speaker

Order. To enable me to call the Opposition Front Bench, I shall allow a minute extra at the end of questions to the Solicitor-General for Scotland.

Mr. Millan

I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Clarke). Why did the Secretary of State not answer the question about the appalling level of unemployment in Scotland? Is he not ashamed of the 341,000 unemployed in Scotland, a figure that has doubled during his period of office? If not, he should be. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State stop making all these optimistic noises about an upturn in the economy, when every indicator from the CBI, the Fraser Institute and everyone else predicts further increases in the already tragically high level of unemployment in Scotland?

Mr. Fletcher

The right hon. Gentleman must be aware of the impact of the world economy, even on Scotland. Scotland cannot be considered in isolation. The action of my right hon. Friend with regard to these matters is perfectly clear. He is doing everything possible within and without Scotland to make sure that unemployment levels are reduced. Indeed, under my right hon. Friend's leadership, the level of unemployment in Scotland compares very favourably with the rest of the United Kingdom—unlike the record of the right hon. Gentleman, who, while Secretary of State, had the satisfaction of doubling unemployment.