HC Deb 04 May 1982 vol 23 cc9-10
10. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the unemployment rates for the Northern region and the United Kingdom, respectively.

Mr. Alison

At 15 April the rates of unemployment in the Northern region and the United Kingdom were 16.3 per cent. and 12.6 per cent. respectively.

Mr. Dormand

Are not those figures disgraceful, particularly in view of the fact that in the Northern region unemployment has increased every month since this Government came to power? Instead of giving the usual bland and complacent reply that we always get on these occasions, will the Minister take note, and recommend the implementation, of many of the practical proposals that are made regularly by Labour Members? How long is he prepared to tolerate this desperate situation in the North?

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman will know that, like him, I share dismay at the persistently high level of unemployment in the Northern region, which goes back over many years and is partly due to the fact that its dependence on traditional industries, notably shipbuilding and steel, have made the region extremely vulnerable to the downturn. However, large sums of money indeed—£400 million in the latest financial year—are being spent to try to make prospects there better, and there are some signs that jobs are coming along.

Mr. Foster

Is the Minister aware that the unemployment rate in the North-East is about to take a further leap? If the closure of the British Rail engineering works in Shildon takes place, unemployment will increase by a further 2,500 in that small town of 14,000 people. Will he take note of the fact that those employees of British Rail Engineering have done everything that has been required of them? They have been co-operative, have cut their costs, and for many years industrial relations have been excellent. Will the Minister give his attention to this problem and say what he is prepared to do about it?

Mr. Alison

I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the British Rail Engineering Ltd. works at Shildon, Bishop Auckland. Both he and I can join together in hoping that productivity on British Rail will show some prospects of improving so that BR can expand.

Mr. Radice

Is the Minister aware that that was a complacent answer? In view of the appalling unemployment situation in the Northern region, which has doubled since the general election, is it not about time that the so-called Secretary of State for Employment got off his bottom and did something about it?

Mr. Alison

If the hon. Gentleman really thinks that the doubling in the level of unemployment since the general election has no connection whatever with the previous Government's appalling record of allowing pay and productivity to get out of step, he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.

11. Mr. Charles Morris

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied that assessing unemployment on the basis of the jobless in travel-to-work areas is the most efficient method of determining unemployment statistics.

Mr. Waddington

Yes, Sir. The purpose of the unemployment rates calculated by my Department is to measure an area's need for jobs. I am satisfied that travel-to-work areas, which are relatively self-contained labour markets, are the smallest areas for which such unemployment rates can usefully be calculated.

Mr. Morris

Does not the Minister agree that assessing the number of jobless, particularly in the regional city areas, produces a statistical nonsense? Is he aware that in Manchester the travel-to-work area embraces Moss Side and Wimslow; in Liverpool it embraces Toxteth and Allerton; and that in Birmingham it embraces Handsworth and Solihull? Surely areas such as those, which contain such wide social disparities, produce statistical nonsense if used to assess unemployment.

Mr. Waddington

We know that great social problems are posed by high concentrations of unemployed persons in small areas. That is one of the reasons why we have an urban programme, from which Manchester and Oldham are benefiting. However, statistics that show unemployment in very small areas really prove nothing. The size of a travel-to-work area is determined by commuter patterns, so that one can discover what jobs are available to those who are able to travel to them.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I recognise that some parts of Manchester have high levels of unemployment, but is my hon. and learned Friend able to indicate the level of unemployment in Manchester generally compared with the North-West?

Mr. Waddington

Nobody denies that the situation is serious, but unemployment in the Manchester travel-to-work area is 13.2 per cent., whereas it is 15.3 per cent. in the North-West as a whole.

Mr. Home Robertson

Is the Minister prepared to review the boundaries of travel-to-work areas where there have been substantial changes in travel-to-work patterns in recent years?

Mr. Waddington

We are always prepared to look at special cases, but the current travel-to-work area network was last reviewed in 1978 on the basis of the 1971 census. The network will be reviewed again when we have the complete figures of the 1981 census.