HC Deb 05 November 1986 vol 103 cc1058-66

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Maude.]

10.38 pm
Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

I am grateful for the opportunity of the Adjournment debate this evening because this is the 50th anniversary of the Jarrow march. I was born and educated at an elementary school within 200 yards of where that march started.

When those 200 proud men marched from Jarrow they did so, not for an extra bowl of soup or an extra crust of bread, but for the right to work and the dignity of a pay packet rather than the indignity of the means test which prevailed in Jarrow at that time. I can recall those days and the hardships that my parents faced. In those days Jarrow, where poverty was prevalent, was referred to as the workhouse without walls. I have always been proud of the men who took part in the march and of the dignified way in which they conducted themselves.

On 5 October 1986, when the 1986 march was about to leave Jarrow, I spoke to those who were taking part and reminded them of their responsibility, not only to themselves, but to the memory of that procession and to the 4 million unemployed today on whose behalf they were marching.

I want to put it on the record that I am equally proud of those who took part in the 1986 Jarrow march which finished this week and the dignified way in which they conducted themselves, in spite of provocation by certain individuals who should know better. The marchers were referred to as barbarians. It is not what is on a person's head that counts but what is in that person's head. The only barbarians that I can see are in government, who preside over 4 million of our fellow citizens on the dole — that human scrap heap. When Ministers offer to spend a week on the dole to prove that they can suffer the same as anyone else, I remind hon. Members that I spent six months on the dole in Jarrow and I know what it is about. It really annoys me when Ministers come forward with their little gimmicks suggesting that they can spend a week on the dole to prove that the dole is easy.

The 1986 Jarrow marchers have been a credit to all those whom they represented, to the memory of the 1936 crusade and the 4 million unemployed. I would like to put on record my sincere thanks to 10 of my constituents and the others who took part. For the record, I would like to mention my constituents by name: John Badger, Harry Thorn, Lawrence Maloy, Billy Orr, David Melia, Paul Laft, Paul Thomas, Steven Byrne, Wayne Scott and Ken Smith. I would like to pay a special tribute to Simon Osborne and Richard Hasswell, the two lads from Leeds who organised the 1986 Jarrow march.

Some people have said that the 1936 Jarrow march was not political, and the march of 1986 was. The 1936 march was organised by a Labour-controlled council. Four Labour aldermen led the march—David Riley, Paddy Scullion, Jock Hanlon and Joe Symons who later became a Member of this House. There were Tory marchers and the Tory agent at the time marched along. If any Tories had wanted to take part in the 1986 march they would have been welcome. None of the 1986 marchers were vetted for their politics. They were only vetted to ensure that they were out of work and entitled to go on the march. I have no doubt that the marchers would have welcomed one or two Tory ex-Cabinet Ministers who shed crocodile tears every time there was a debate on unemployment in the Chamber.

I vividly recall the 1936 march. As a small boy of seven, I saw the marchers leave the town hall. I can recall asking my father why the men were marching. He replied that they were going to London to find work. I asked an innocent boy's question: "Would it not be easier to fetch the work up here where the men are?" That same question could be asked today—50 years later.

Last night I presented a petition on behalf of thousands of people in my constituency. Little did I realise, as I watched the Jarrow marchers leave in 1936, that I would present a petition about unemployment in Jarrow. There is intolerably high unemployment in my constituency, like many other constituencies in the north, the north-west, Wales and Scotland. Our areas are being turned into industrial deserts by the Government's policies. The Government have cut regional aid. Regional aid is not a charity. We do not want charity in our regions. Regional aid is a right. Central Government are obliged to ensure that the regions are cared for. Instead of cutting regional aid, the Government should be increasing it.

My constituency has been devastated by the Government's policies. Unemployment has doubled in my constituency since 1979, when the Government were elected. It has increased from 3,600 to over 8,000. That is the Ministry's massaged figure. The unemployment unit's figure is more than 9,000. According to the Ministry's calculations, it costs more than £6,000 to keep a person on the dole. It costs the Government £51 million a year to keep the people of Jarrow unemployed— yet they talk about cutting public expenditure.

Long-term unemployment has increased fourfold, from 900 to 3,600. I recently received a letter from a constituent, who said: I am still unemployed after six years and I have filled in thousands of application forms and been on hundreds of interviews for jobs without success. It is slowly driving me around the bend, and I am under the doctor receiving treatment for severe depression … You see, Sir, the unemployed have no one to fight for them. I feel isolated and a cast-out, so they (DHSS etc.) can do what they like with them, and I think it's a disgrace, in this present day and age, if they get away with it. I realise you will be very busy etc. but myself and other unemployed rely on someone important to help or we will all be crushed into the earth. That man is genuinely unemployed—he is not trying it for one week, then returning to a plush job and a big house. He has written for hundreds of jobs, had many interviews, but is still unemployed.

Under-25 unemployment has risen sixfold from 500 to more than 2,900. As I have said before, I have been unemployed on numerous occasions. It was no consolation when standing in the dole queue for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, "You are all right this week Don, you are only one of 17 per cent.—last week you were one of 18 per cent." When someone is unemployed, he is 100 per cent. unemployed when there are no jobs available.

Since 1979 there has been not simply a loss of jobs in my constituency, but a haemorrhage. Swan's Hebburn shipyards of Hawthorn Leslies and Palmers in 1979 employed almost 3,000 people; today they employ five on maintenance work at Palmers. Hawthorn Leslies has closed. The Mercantile Dry Dock used to employ 305 men, but has now closed; the British Steel Corporation used to employ 306 men, but has closed; Boldon pit used to employ 900 men, but has closed; British Steel Brickworks used to employ 117, but has closed. Reyrolles employed 4,261 but now employs only 985. The list is endless.

This Government have done what Hitler's bombers failed to do during the war—they have stopped industry in Jarrow. It is a shipbuilding community and, like mining communities, is closely knit. Yards have been closed without regard to the social consequences. The march in 1936 was because of Shipbuilding Securities Limited, an organisation of merchant bankers, shipbuilders and shipowners who, because of over-capacity in the industry, decided to buy the yards and close them. The same thing was done by Graham Day, the past chairman of British Shipbuilders, at the behest of the Government.

For the first time in living history there is no shipbuilding on the south side of the river Tyne. To add insult to injury, a modern prefabricated shed built in Palmers and equipped by British Shipbuilders is now being used to store surplus grain. Instead of building ships to take the grain to the starving millions in Africa, we are storing grain. That is the obscenity of this Government.

Local authorities, the largest employers in our area, have had their rate support grant slashed by the Government. When the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), the chairman of the Tory party, insults the unemployed by telling them to get on their bikes, he forgets that those who get on their bikes are the young men. When they move out of their areas they do not take with them the old people's homes, the parks, the libraries or the community centres. They have to be paid for by those left behind. With the Government slashing rate support grant, that is an extra burden. My local authority has lost millions of pounds in rate support grant.

I want to point out similarities with the 1930s. When the Jarrow march took place in 1936, when seven out of 10 men were out of work, a charity fund was set up by Sir John Jarvis, the High Sheriff of Surrey. They used the fund to build a park in Jarrow. To get a month's employment in the park a man had to have been out of work for three years.

Today's similarity to that is the community programme, where someone has to be out of work for 15 months before he can get another job. Shipbuilding Securities Ltd., closed down Jarrow's shipyards and put a 40-year embargo on the building of ships. Tyne Ship Repairers is selling its Middle Dock at South Shields, and one of the conditions of the sale is that no one must repair ships in that dock. That is another of today's similarities to the 1930s.

Jarrow is a proud town with proud people. We are proud of our town and do not suggest in any way that we want charity. All that the people in Jarrow want is the right to work. We do not expect the Government to come along with a magic wand that will cure unemployment overnight. There are some ways in which the Government can help. For example, they could allow the local authority to spend the money it has raised from the sale of council houses. It sold 4,300 council houses last year and there are 7,200 applicants on the waiting list. Last year the council built 25 houses and this year it will build 46. According to my calculations it will take 276 years for the people on the waiting list to be rehoused in new houses — unless the Government allow the council to build houses using the money raised from the sale of houses.

The Government could announce a programme for refurbishment and replacement of power stations. That would help NEI-Reyrolle. A decade ago that company employed 12,000 men. Now it employes under 1,000. Unless we get some sort of power station programme there will be no power industry left in Britain.

The Minister knows a bit about defence because he has just been switched from defence procurement. The Government could bring forward the orders for the type 23 frigates and the AOR 2 and that would help the shipbuilding workers. They could give back to the local authority the £9.5 million of rate support grant that they stole from it. They could let the Manpower Services Commission open new training centres in Jarrow instead of closing them at Killingworth and in other parts of the country.

Unless the Government do something about the scourge of unemployment, I shudder to think what the consequences will be. I warn the Minister and the Government that today's youngsters are not so deeply steeped in democracy that they will accept the solutions of the 1930s to the problems of the 1980s. The sooner the Government get that through their heads the better.

The first opportunity to go to the polls after the Jarrow crusade of 1936 was in 1945, when a Labour Government were swept in with an overwhelming majority. It is to be hoped, after the 1986 march, when we go to the polls next year or the year after, that the people will do the same as in 1945. Walter Runciman, the then President of the Board of Trade, told the Jarrow marchers when they went to see him in the 1930s that they should go back to Jarrow and work out their own salvation. We have done our best because at every local and national election since then we have retained Labour candidates. I hope that the country will take an example from Jarrow and will work out the salvation of Britain by making sure that they return a Labour Government at the next general election.

10.53 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. John Lee)

I sincerely congratulate the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) on having secured this Adjournment debate. I much appreciate his concern and deep commitment to the problems of the unemployed in Jarrow. From my previous ministerial involvement at the Ministry of Defence I particularly acknowledge his efforts to generate naval orders for the north-east yards.

I fully accept the seriousness of the situation in Jarrow. It is no coincidence that this debate marks the 15th anniversary of the Jarrow march. In 1936, as now, the people of Jarrow marched, they said, to make the Government face up to their duty to Jarrow and to other areas of high unemployment. The hon. Gentleman's well-respected predecessor, Ellen Wilkinson, wrote in 1936 that the Government of the day should not be given a chance to: get out of the awkward situation in which events like the Jarrow march and its nationwide publicity have placed them. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman feels such sentiments are still appropriate today, and I know that unemployed people from Jarrow and elsewhere yesterday presented a petition to the House urging help for unemployment blackspots. However, the hon. Gentleman does not need me to tell him that unemployment is not just a matter for local or even national concern: it is an international problem. Indeed, 16 million people are unemployed today in the EEC. We are constantly searching for ways to help industry and commerce create new jobs, and we are also conscious of the need to help the unemployed of this country.

However, it is an indisputable fact that the number of jobs nationally has been rising; over 1 million new jobs, admittedly many of them part-time, have been created since March 1983. Self-employment rose by 550,000 in the four years to June 1986. A total of 65 per cent. of the United Kingdom population is in work — higher than any of our European partners. The number of employees in the service sector is at a record level and the rate of decline in the number of manufacturing jobs has eased considerably since 1983.

Unfortunately this is of no immediate comfort to those living in the unemployment blackspots. I shall refer later to existing Government aid for these areas, but first I shall concentrate on Jarrow.

I can assure the hon. Member that the Government of today do not regard the plight of Jarrow merely as an "awkward situation". Areas like Jarrow cannot, and will not, be swept under the carpet and forgotten.

Tragically, Jarrow and south Tyneside have a long history of high unemployment, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, while unemployment nationally has been rising for the past 20 years. Tyneside has been the victim of industrial blight throughout this century. Indeed, as the hon. Member will be aware, south Tyneside travel-to-work area has the highest unemployment rate in Great Britain and, like the hon. Gentleman, I regard 26 per cent. unemployment as far too high.

Jarrow, like too much of the north-east, suffers from an all too familiar problem. It has depended on traditional, labour intensive industries—like shipbuilding and heavy engineering—which have found it difficult to adapt to a changing world market. While there have been welcome improvements in recent years, I think that it must be accepted that, historically, poor management, low capital investment and demarcation disputes have taken their toll.

There needs to be a fundamental change from the old industrial pattern to new technologies, but these changes are invariably painful and lengthy processes.

Sadly, there have been a large number of redundancies and closures in the area. But I believe that it is a mistake which does no service to south Tyneside to paint a picture of unrelieved gloom.

Let me now turn to the range of Government initiatives and measures that are available. First, I shall deal with what I would term national schemes. During this year, we have introduced the restart programme, the new workers scheme, and the pilot job training scheme, expanding YTS into a two-year programme, extending the community programme, the enterprise allowance scheme, and the jobclub programme. What we want is to be able to offer all unemployed people, whatever their skills or experience, something which will improve their chances of finding a permanent job.

In all, some 15,000 people in south Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead are benefiting from measures administered by my Department. This Government are, in overall terms, spending £3 billion nationally on employment, enterprise and training measures.

The expansion of YTS into a two-year vocational programme is a major step towards ensuring that every young person under 18 is either receiving high-quality training, or is in work or full-time education.

Nearly 7,000 young people in the south Tyne area are currently on YTS schemes and I believe that participation in YTS extends young people's perceptions of the opportunities open to them. It is a first step towards breaking the belief that there is no life outside the traditional industries.

Help for young people who have either exhausted their YTS entitlement or are too old for YTS is available through the new workers scheme which we introduced earlier this year. This scheme aims to assist jobseekers under 21 by providing financial assistance to employers who engage young people at rates of pay which reflect their relative inexperience. Another group which suffers disproportionately is the long-term unemployed.

The community programme — one of our major schemes to help the long-term unemployed—is currently providing temporary work on projects of benefit to local communities to over 7,000 people in the south Tyne area.

The restart programme, introduced earlier this year, offers a wide range of ways back into work to those who have been unemployed for a year or more. To date, nearly 3,000 people in Jarrow and South Shields have received in-depth counselling interviews from jobcentre staff.

One of the several options which the programme offers is a one or two-week restart course. About 600 people have been put forward for these courses, which help people assess their abilities and improve their job-hunting techniques.

Last month we announced the testing of a new restart programme for the six-month unemployed. Pilots will show whether we should extend restart nationally. Another initiative, which we extended nationally earlier this year, are job clubs to help long-term unemployed people help themselves in their search for work. Early results from job clubs are highly encouraging—two out of three people leaving them go into jobs—and we aim to provide 1,000 job clubs nationally by March 1987.

I understand that Jarrow job club opened on 6 October, and wish its members every success.

These measures are available throughout the country, but we recognise that some areas have particular problems towards which aid needs to be specifically targeted.

Jarrow, and unemployment blackspots throughout the country, need additional help to overcome their economic problems. South Tyneside is, quite rightly, a development area attracting the highest levels of regional aid. Since May 1979 the area has received some £50 million in regional selective assistance and regional development grants. This money has helped create some 1,600 new jobs and safeguard 11,000 existing ones.

However we ourselves cannot create the jobs that Jarrow and south Tyneside need, but through regional aid, we can, and do, help those areas attract the investment which can create new jobs.

Another problem which needs similarly-directed assistance is that of urban deterioration. Our Inner-city policy addresses itself to solving that problem by directing resources towards inner city areas suffering from a poor environment and a high degree of social need.

Through our urban programme we have allocated nearly £4 million this year to south Tyneside borough. This money will be spent on projects of social, environmental and economic value to the community, and more resources are available under the urban housing renewal unit's community refurbishment schemes and the urban development grant scheme.

South Tyneside also benefits from measures which offer advice and aid to shipbuilding workers facing redundancy in order to help them obtain new jobs, retrain or start their own businesses. We have given the Manpower Services Commission £1 million to retrain redundant British Shipbuilders' workers, and have allocated £5 million to set up British Shipbuilders (Enterprise) Ltd.

The Secretary of State for the Environment announced in October a new urban development corporation to be set up in Tyne and Wear. This urban development corporation will be able to spend over £100 million on Derelict land reclamation and the provision of infrastructure which will open up sites for private sector industry and housing development, It will complement the activities of the northern development company, English Industrial Estates, and Government Departments in the area.

We must not forget that, despite the difficult times, contracts are being won and new jobs are being created in Jarrow. For example, Tyne Shiprepair of Wallsend has won a contract worth nearly £750,000 for vessel refurbishment from the Ministry of Defence, and Interconnection Systems is creating 150 jobs in South Shields to manufacture printed circuit boards. We should not forget that Nissan UK—while not within the south Tyneside travel to work area—is creating 2,200 new jobs over the next few years which will be accessible to Jarrow residents.

Indeed, nearly 2,000 people have been placed in work by the public employment service alone since April, and many more will have found jobs by other means.

So far, I have concentrated on measures to help the unemployed become employees. But there is another side to the coin. Earlier, I briefly mentioned the increase in self employment. Sixty per cent. more people were self employed in the north east in 1985 than in 1969. New business registrations were running at some 6,500 in 1985 compared with 5,800 in 1980. This is a start but the north east is none the less relatively deficient in terms of an active independent small firms sector.

We are convinced that a strong small firms sector is essential to our economy. We need small firms to develop all over the country as the innovators, employers, suppliers and wealth creators of the future. We have done a great deal to encourage the growth of small firms by reducing the burden of form filling and simplifying planning procedures. We have allocated £2¼ million for 1986–87 in support of local enterprise agencies such as the Tyneside Enterprise Development Company, and we have extended the loan guarantee scheme. We are also helping unemployed people who wish to set up their own business through the enterprise allowance scheme which has helped nearly 2,500 people in south Tyneside since August 1983. From 3 November, new enterprise allowance scheme businesses no longer need to be wholly independent in order to qualify for assistance, this means that people can start businesses under franchise operations.

I know that the people of south Tyneside are aware of the need to enhance local employment opportunities, and that the south Tyneside economic development committee is currently formulating policies to create new jobs and enhance the area's economy.

I hope that south Tyneside and Jarrow will not forget the potential of the service sector as a source of new jobs and increased wealth.

While I am not trying to say that manufacturing is unimportant, we are experiencing a marked, and probably irreversible, shift from manufacturing-based to a service-based economy. There are now five jobs in services for every two in manufacturing, and a substantial number of the new jobs created over the past two years have been in the service sector. Perhaps the Gateshead Metro Centre, likely to create up to 5,000 jobs, is a pointer to the future. An important part of the service sector is, of course, tourism, while Jarrow, with respect, may not appear the most obvious tourist centre, the area none the less has much to offer the historically-minded tourist as well as the avid reader of Mrs. Catherine Cookson.

I have tried to demonstrate that there are encouraging signs in Jarrow's economy, and we can, and do, help hard-hit areas to overcome their economic problems. The local authority and people of Jarrow are making laudable efforts to help themselves, and we have been supporting these efforts in the ways I have described. While unemployment is still a deep and depressing problem, we are rightly providing more benefits for the unemployed of today than were available to their 1930s counterparts. The unemployed of the thirties might have received benefit and assistance benefits, but not all would have been eligible for either, now an unemployed person may receive unemployment benefit, housing benefit and—if he has children—child benefit, free school meals and free milk, thanks to our welfare state. I do not want in any way to minimise the hardships of life on the dole today, but at least conditions are demonstrably better than when Jarrow marched 50 years ago.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we acre doing a significant amount to help both the regeneration of economic activity in his constituency, and his unemployed constituents. Though, I am sure that he thinks it is nowhere near enough. I urge him, however, to remember that the public purse is not bottomless. Throwing money at problems like Jarrow's is not the answer. Unrestrained spending achieves two things — short-term jobs—

Mr. Dixon

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Lee

I ask the hon. Gentleman to excuse me for not giving way. I must get on.

Mr. Dixon

It is costing £15 million to keep them on the dole.

Mr. Lee

Unrestrained spending achieves two things — short-term jobs which soon disappear, and an undermined economy, which takes a long time to recover. I know that the people of Jarrow cannot put everything right themselves, but nor can the Government. We all have to work together in a difficult situation.

We believe that the Government's role is to establish the economic conditions most conducive to job creation, we have the best job creation record in Europe, but we must generate even more jobs if we are to beat unemployment in Jarrow and elsewhere. We have after too many years, a stable economy with the lowest inflation rates for 20 years. Like the hon. Gentleman I would rather see faster results, but we must not sacrifice long-term stability for speedy, ephemeral returns.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes past Eleven o'clock.