HC Deb 12 December 1985 vol 88 cc1054-6
5. Mr. Nellist

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the present level of unemployment in the Province; how that compares with May 1979; and if he will make a statement.

16. Mr. Ron Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many people are currently unemployed in the six counties.

Dr. Boyson

At 14 November 1985 there were 120,563 unemployed claimants in Northern Ireland, representing 20.7 per cent. of employees. This compares with an estimated claimant figure of 58,100 at May 1979, representing 10.1 per cent. of employees. The number of unemployed in November was 1,259 lower than in October, due mainly to a fall in the number of unemployed school leavers.

Mr. Nellist

Is the Minister aware that sectarianism, like racism, breeds in conditions of mass unemployment, especially when it is coupled, as it is in Northern Ireland, with low wages and poverty? Is he further aware that all Socialists and Marxists would condemn the recent death threats against the thousands of building workers in the North but, rather than any programme for building Royal Ulster Constabulary stations, the North needs a massive programme of building houses, schools and hospitals, a reversal of the closure of the gas industry and means of improving the conditions of daily life for Catholics and Protestants alike? That is the way to defeat sectarianism.

Dr. Boyson

I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman regrets the loss of employment because of IRA threats to those building new or replacement police stations. The police stations exist to protect people in both communities in Northern Ireland. They are not there to protect some Marxist Government that might take over one day. We deplore the high rate of unemployment. The Government are doing all that they can. With Government money, the Industrial Development Board provided 5,000 more jobs last year. The Local Enterprise Development Unit provided 4,000 more jobs, and another 15,000 jobs were kept going by Government money. Unemployment has not been created by lack of Government money. We want more private investment. I would welcome anything that the hon. Gentleman could do in that regard within his philosophical bounds.

Mr. Brown

As Northern Ireland is essentially a class issue rather than a religious one, what efforts has the Minister made to secure the presence of John De Lorean—one of his whizz kids—to face justice there and to explain why he created so much unemployment and havoc in the Province?

Dr. Boyson

I cannot agree with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. There is obviously a religious factor in Northern Ireland, and anybody who does not believe that cannot have been there. We can deplore it or accept it, but it most certainly exists. As for John De Lorean, investment was backed initially by a Labour Government and the decision was supported by the Conservative Government because of massive unemployment in the Catholic sector of Belfast. I pay tribute to the Government of the day for trying to introduce investment, although it was undoubtedly the wrong investment and we do not want any more De Loreans or Lear Fans. We want gilt-edged firms, which can provide employment for all sectors of the community.

Mr. Pawsey

What success has my hon. Friend's Department had in developing interest in the United States and securing investment from the United States? How many jobs have come to the Province as a result of his Department's efforts in America?

Dr. Boyson

One in eight people employed in manufacturing in Northern Ireland are employed by American firms, of which we have 26. Only three weeks ago we announced that DuPont, one of the most advanced firms in the world, is investing £45 million, which will provide an extra 350 jobs. I went over to America in September to try to get more investment. I trust that one of the fruits of the Anglo-Irish Agreement will be more American investment in both parts of Ireland, and more employment.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Does the Minister agree that one of the prime objectives of the new accord with the Republic is an improvement in the economic situation in the whole island of Ireland? What is happening at Harland and Wolff, and what are the hopes for new orders at the yard?

Dr. Boyson

John Parker, the managing director of Harland and Wolff, tries regularly to get orders from all around the world. His order book is very creditable. With Shorts, Harland and Wolff is a flagship of the Province. The Government will give both companies all possible encouragement and support in their search for orders.

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