HC Deb 13 May 1998 vol 312 cc362-3
4. Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

If she will make a statement on the present level of unemployment in Northern Ireland. [40682]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tony Worthington)

There has been a decrease of 4,000 in the number of unemployed over the year and the current unemployment rate is 8 per cent. I know that the hon. Gentleman will want to welcome my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's package of £315 million, which is an investment in jobs and in prosperity. It means £200 for every man, woman and child in Northern Ireland.

I know that the hon. Gentleman has especially welcomed the money spent on the improvement of the Larne to Belfast route, for which he has campaigned over the years. It is an important instalment in our investment in jobs and prosperity for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Beggs

I thank the Minister for his reply, and welcome the continuing fall in unemployment. The Chancellor's announcement should contribute to further economic growth and prosperity in Northern Ireland.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the measures put in place by the Government to raise school standards and skill levels and to encourage the young, the unemployed and the disabled to become equipped for employment, together with the investment that they have made in life-long learning, will be successful only if the disadvantaged take the opportunities now available to them fully to realise their own potential?

Mr. Worthington

We believe that the right way to achieve growth and prosperity is to ensure that the peace process works. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor is backing that, and we want every hon. Member to back it. If we use the springboard of my right hon. Friend's package and ally it to a positive vote in the referendum next week, the prospects for Northern Ireland will be very good indeed.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

On the subject of unemployment, is my hon. Friend aware that it is important not to lose existing jobs? Will he therefore confirm that the Coastguard agency is concerned that the search and rescue service, currently carried out by helicopters from Aldergrove, will not lose jobs after the agreement or be subjected to different terms and conditions, as that would not be acceptable to the service?

Mr. Worthington

I shall bring the matter to the attention of Lord Dubs, who is responsible for it. I know that my hon. Friend will want to welcome the investment in roads and other infrastructure—such as the Larne road, the Toome bypass, the Westlink and Fermanagh airport—all of which are creating, and will create, valuable new jobs.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

May I place on record the thanks of the people of Northern Ireland for the Chancellor's £315 million package, which I hope will go a long towards alleviating unemployment? May I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that, in 1997, the Chancellor announced the creation of 5,000 jobs—few, if any, of which came to south-east Ulster? Many of the targets set in the Chancellor's recent statement will affect only the Greater Belfast area and north-west Ulster.

I therefore urge that new financial enhancement initiatives be created for south-east Ulster, such as that described in the answer on Killyleagh—which is in south-east Ulster—to the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) by the Minister of State, the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram). Special incentives are required to encourage relocation to and inward investment in the area.

Mr. Worthington

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the Belfast-Newry road, which cost £15 million and will be of considerable assistance to the area. I should also mention the fact that about £65 million will be invested in skills and in people in Northern Ireland. That investment will go into south-east Ulster, as it will go into every area of Ulster.