HC Deb 10 May 1990 vol 172 cc388-90
10. Mr. Tim Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many people are unemployed in Northern Ireland.

15. Mr. Boswell

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the level of unemployment in Northern Ireland in March 1987 and March 1990.

Mr. Needham

The seasonally adjusted unemployment figures for March 1990—the latest available—show that unemployment now stands at 98,400. The corresponding figure for March 1987 was 123,500. This represents a fall of more than 20 per cent. during this period.

Mr. Smith

Does my hon. Friend agree that many of the political problems in the Province are attributable to structural weaknesses in the economy and former very high levels of unemployment? Does he agree that he has just given the House extremely good news? What was the trend in the Province in the early part of this year?

Mr. Needham

The trend in the Province in the last three months shows a proportionate decline greater than that in the rest of the United Kingdom. The growth rate of the economy in Northern Ireland is standing up extremely well. As for the future, my hon. Friend is right to say that we must improve our training to meet the economic needs of the 1990s.

Mr. Boswell

Does my hon. Friend agree that in the long term the best hope of reducing the disparity between Northern Ireland and United Kingdom unemployment lies in improving the skills of the work force? What contribution is the Training and Employment Agency making to that?

Mr. Needham

The Training and Employment Agency will be crucial to our success. Its board has wide United Kingdom experience and, I am sure, will come forward with ideas about how we can best proceed. Our aim is that everyone seeking work should have a recognised vocational qualification within five years and that, by the year 2000, 60 per cent. of all those studying should have three national vocational qualifications or at least one A-level equivalent.

Mr. Harry Barnes

Each month the Department of Employment Gazette publishes unemployment figures by parliamentary constituency. If the employment situation is so good in Northern Ireland, why is unemployment in Northern Ireland constituencies so high that seven out of the highest nine unemployment figures occur in Northern Ireland constituencies?

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman knows the difficulties that we face in Northern Ireland because of the problems that we have with terrorism. He should, therefore, congratulate the Government on our achieve-ments to date in having an extremely successful inward investment programme, an economy which is growing very fast and the immense changes that are taking place in the towns, cities and villages of the Province.

Mr. Ron Brown

As unemployment will always be high because of the security situation, is it not about time that the Government thought positively about withdrawing British troops from Northern Ireland? That would be a vital contribution to the Irish situation which has to be looked at time and again. It is about time that the Government made a decision on that.

Mr. Needham

I can think of nothing that would do less for Northern Ireland's economy than if British troops were to withdraw from Northern Ireland and security there were to become less stable. The key thing to do is to bring the communities together, continue with our programme of inward investment, improve training and continue along the path that has enabled us to succeed so brilliantly up to now.

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