§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham)
No. The action for community employment, ACE, programme in Northern Ireland already provides work experience on local projects similar to the proposed employment action programmes.
§ Mr. Dover
Will the Under-Secretary of State confirm that the action for community employment programme already provides 9,500 jobs for long-term unemployed people on local schemes? Does not that say a lot for the schemes there, compared with the arrangements here, in that they are far better than those in the rest of the United Kingdom? What would happen if Labour's minimum wage policy were introduced? What would be the effect on the programme?
§ Mr. Needham
The undoubted effect on the programme if Labour introduced a minimum wage would, unfortunately, be that many people who are currently employed 1074 would end up on the ACE programme. My hon. Friend is right—there are 9,600 on the ACE programme in Northern Ireland. Because of our level of long-term unemployment, that is much higher than any of us would wish. Nevertheless, when business is struggling in a very difficult market and when the multi-fibre arrangement is likely to be scrapped in the next few years, the imposition of a minimum wage in Northern Ireland could have devastating consequences in many parts of the Province. I hope that that day will never come.
§ Mr. Beggs
Two months ago, when the Minister was speaking about the unemployment figures in Northern Ireland, he said:I am convinced that the Northern Ireland economy remains robust and is weathering this difficult period much better than other regions within the UK.Now that unemployment has reached 13.7 per cent. of the population and is still rising slowly every month, does the Minister believe that further steps need to be taken to make additional provision for those who are likely to become unemployed? If so, will he make a commitment to that end? Does he agree that we must maximise the use of the expertise within our further education colleges?
§ Mr. Needham
The figures show that the Northern Ireland economy is still robust and is weathering the recession better than any other region of the United Kingdom. Unemployment in the north of Ireland has risen by about 2 per cent. in the past year compared with an average of 40 per cent. in the rest of the country. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be right and prudent for the Government to ensure that if unemployment continues to grow—albeit at a fairly low rate—there are programmes in place to ensure that people who lose their jobs are properly catered for. We are also considering a major increase in the job training programme this year. In the light of announcements about a package over here, I have asked my officials to put together a package for Northern Ireland to deal with those who are unfortunately losing their jobs.