HC Deb 20 October 1999 vol 336 cc429-30
6. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

If he will make a statement on recent figures for unemployment in Northern Ireland. [929741

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. John McFall)

Latest estimates from the labour force survey for the period from June to August 1999 show that approximately 58,000 persons are unemployed in Northern Ireland. That represents a decrease of 3,000 over the year and the current unemployment rate is 7.8 per cent.

Dr. Iddon

I welcome that announcement, but will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the Chancellor's statement at Bournemouth that the Government's target is full employment? Does he agree that, if that can be achieved, it will represent one of the best ways of eliminating discrimination in the workplace, including religious discrimination?

Mr. McFall

I agree with my hon. Friend that the Chancellor's statement at Bournemouth was a signal statement. The Chancellor made his contribution to Northern Ireland in May 1998 when he produced a £350 million package for his initiative. That covers several areas, including investment funds, skills and entrepreneurship. The fact that the new deal is turning into a permanent deal is another good sign for the young people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

We all acknowledge the fact that unemployment is still far too high in Northern Ireland and we recognise the success that Government policies have had recently in reducing unemployment and providing new jobs. Will the Minister reassure those who may lose their jobs in the Mother's Pride bakery in Londonderry and in the Larne paper mills that the Industrial Development Board is doing everything possible to encourage new investment in such areas to give hope for the future?

Mr. McFall

The hon. Member mentions the loss of 84 jobs at British Bakeries in Londonderry, but that has been partly offset by the additional 50 jobs created in Belfast. With regard to the IDB and its involvement in new projects, he will be pleased to know that of the 21 inward investment projects in the past year, 13 have been placed in areas with high unemployment and social disadvantage.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

May I take this opportunity to welcome the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on behalf of my party and promise our fullest co-operation for the welfare of all our people? I also welcome the new Minister, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth). I express our sincere gratitude to the outgoing Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Redcar (Marjorie Mowlam), who will always be remembered in the hearts and minds of the people of Northern Ireland.

The Minister has welcomed the unemployment figures, but is he aware that they will be increased in the near future when those engaged in agricultural industry—the farmers, their families and workers—become unemployed? In his capacity as Minister with responsibility for economic development, will he create a special interdepartmental task force, including the Department of Economic Development, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture, to assess the needs of the farming community, and make drastic proposals to keep them on the farm and taking part in our rural community?

Mr. McFall

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in his constituency, British Aerospace has announced a £2 million expansion and 195 new jobs in Kilkeel. The issue of farmers is being addressed in the economic development forum, involving all the social partners, that I have established in the Department of Economic Development. Yesterday, I opened a £5 million project—the Government contributed £1 million—for Linden Foods in Dungannon, to ensure that the rural and agricultural elements are maintained. That project was well received by the farmers.

Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down)

Is the Minister aware that in the past year, the number of people directly employed in the pig industry in Northern Ireland has fallen by more than 50 per cent., from 4,000 to 2,000? That number is likely to fall further. What efforts has the Minister made to support the pig industry and to alleviate the acute financial and other distress suffered by farming families involved in the pig industry?

Mr. McFall

The Government acknowledge the serious situation of the pig industry and my noble Friend Lord Dubs is addressing it in his capacity as Minister with responsibility for agriculture. I mentioned earlier that I visited Linden Foods yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has also visited that project, as has Lords Dubs himself. We are working with the industry in Europe to ensure that we get the best possible deal.

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