HC Deb 21 July 1987 vol 120 cc198-200
8. Mr. Simon Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what contribution his Department will make to Her Majesty's Government's strategy towards inner-city areas.

Mr. Cope

Our Department and the Manpower Services Commission contribute an estimated £240 million towards employment, training and enterprise programmes in inner city partnership areas and the 16 task force areas. The inner cities already have a high priority for those programmes and will continue to do so.

Mr. Hughes

Will the Minister help us to resolve the apparent dilemma that exists in the Cabinet between his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment? The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is reported as saying that it is possible for inner-city residents to win inner-city jobs and that it is legally possible to discriminate in their favour. The Secretary of State for the Environment said that it was not possible to discriminate in favour of inner-city residents.

Does the Minister think that in future his Department might do rather better than creating bodies such as the London Docklands Development Corporation, which has meant that unemployment in constituencies such as mine has increased every year and that jobs have gone principally to people who live a long way outside the inner cities?

Mr. Cope

The hon. Gentleman asks me to deliberate between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Section 35 of the Race Relations Act 1976, to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred, deals with the restriction applied to members of a particular racial group, of access to education, training and welfare on the ground that that restriction fulfills a special need for improvement in those respects. That in no way contradicts what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment said.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, he knows that the south London business initiative and the north Peckham task force and other agencies of my Department are doing their best to help in his constituency.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I am sure my hon. Friend accepts that the resolution of our inner-city problems does not rest on his Department alone and requires the willing co-operation of the Department of Trade and Industry, the Home Office and others. In his specific contribution to the problem, may I urge him to view with caution the speeches that he will hear from people in the inner cities who claim to represent various groups—they do not—and others who want to help but who should not be let out without a lead? Those people can usually spend vast sums of public money to very little effect.

Mr. Cope

I shall do my best to identify the people to whom my hon. Friend refers.

Mr. Rees

Does the Minister realise that, despite what was just said, few of the people who take the major decisions on the inner cities know much about them, live in them or work in them? Will he ensure that his and other Departments accept advice from those who live and work in the area, because some of the decisions that are taken are palpably foolish?

Mr. Cope

Yes. The right hon. Gentleman has a lot of experience and will know that we take advice from those who are there and from people elsewhere who can contribute to the inner cities. We must bring expertise and assistance into the inner cities from outside those areas, as well as try our best to encourage enterprise and vigour in the people of the inner cities. We shall try to combine all these things.

Mr. Leigh

What contribution has been made to the regeneration of inner-city docklands in London and Liverpool by the national dock labour scheme?

Mr. Cope

I do not have responsibility in the Department for the national dock labour scheme. The scheme undoubtedly has a high priority in some people's minds and less in others. It is extremely difficult to tell what its contribution has been to employment.

Mr. Heffer

Since, immediately after the general election, the Prime Minister said that her strategy was to win back votes for the Conservative party in the inner cities, will the Minister explain precisely what the Government's strategy is in relation to the inner city of Liverpool?

Mr. Cope

The Government's strategy has been and remains to do all that we can to revive the inner cities. The hon. Gentleman knows that much has been done in Merseyside, to some of which he has contributed. There is a series of schemes to improve it. The Department of Employment provides training and encouragement of enterprise, and other Departments provide urban development corporations, urban regeneration grants, enterprise zones, estates action and a series of other programmes.

Mr. Heddle

Does my hon. Friend agree that a large measure of the blame for joblessness in the inner cities rests with profligate Labour-controlled local authorities, whose high-spending policies have forced up rates, which in turn have forced out businesses and jobs?

Mr. Cope

It is noticeable that the problems in the inner cities have grown while many local authorities have been spending a great deal of ratepayers' and taxpayers' money.

Mr. Meacher

Is it not clear from the Department of Employment's subordinate position in the division of responsibilities that, after eight years of destroying jobs in the inner cities, the Government still have job creation well down their order of priorities? Since the Local Government Bill prohibits contract compliance — the Minister has not answered this question—what incentive will there be for suburban building contractors to take on local labour? What guarantee can he offer to local people in greatest need of training and employment that they will not simply be left on the sidelines?

Mr. Cope

No one can guarantee the training and employment, but we have targeted our training and employment measures towards the inner cities in particular. The hon. Gentleman knows exactly why we have done that. My Department is working alongside the Department of the Environment, the Department of Trade and Industry and others in trying to solve these problems, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office.

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