HL Deb 12 June 2003 vol 649 cc378-81
Lord Dormand of Easington

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the present unemployment rate for (a) England, (b) the southern region and (c) the northern region.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham)

My Lords, as my noble friend will know, we do not have a southern region or a northern region for statistical purposes so I do not have statistics on that basis. However, I have other figures that may be helpful. The current ILO unemployment rate for England is 5 per cent. Across the country it ranges from a low of 3.6 per cent in the South West to a high of 7.1 per cent in London. The North East's unemployment rate is currently 6.5 per cent.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, as my noble friend says, I am aware there are not specific southern and northern regions but she has given figures for those areas. Can she confirm that the figure for the northern region that she has just given is the highest of any region in the country and that that region has had the highest unemployment ever since figures were kept?

Despite all that the Government have done for the region—and they have done a great deal—is it not obvious that the policies, as they stand at the moment, are not succeeding? Can my noble friend say whether new approaches to the problems are being made and, if so, what they are? Does my noble friend agree that, despite the well publicised failures in the region, like Siemens and Samsung, it is very important that in the present circumstances the smaller companies, of which there are dozens, should be retained? Are the Government considering that very important problem?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I am delighted to be able to tell my noble friend that he is not right about his first statistic, which is good news. The region with the highest unemployment is London, particularly boroughs such as Tower Hamlets. However, the North East runs a close second. I am also happy to tell him that since 1992, when the unemployment figure for the North East was indeed the highest at over 12 per cent, that figure has now almost halved—down to the 6.5 per cent I gave in my first reply. The House will know—as my noble friend does—that some of the structural reasons for that long history of relatively high unemployment figures compared with the rest of England are associated with declining industries like coal and that coastal towns have also been badly hit.

One of the difficulties is the demographic problem facing the North East. The region has, for example, the lowest employment of people over 50 of any region in the country; it has virtually the lowest employment rate for ethnic minorities of anywhere in the country; it has the lowest percentage of women in employment of anywhere in the country; it has the lowest number of self-employed of anywhere in the country. That is why government strategy is to seek to target help on those groups who wish to work and have potential for work. That help ranges from New Deal to Neighbourhood Renewal, to coalfield funds, to the Single Regeneration Budget and Working in Europe.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the North East of England has always done its best to help itself? Does she appreciate that at present, thanks to the competitiveness of a section of our traditional industry, there is a very good chance of a considerable proportion of a contract for the building of a new aircraft carrier going to the north? If it does, that will be very good news for employment in the areas of Tyneside and Teesside.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, should that happen, I am sure we would all welcome it.

Earl Russell

My Lords, does the Minister agree that to understand unemployment we need to look at ward-sized pockets as well as at regions? In the light of that, can she tell the House the number of wards with more than 10 per cent adult male unemployment in the north, in London and in the south other than London?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was kind enough to indicate that that was his concern, so I took the opportunity to acquire the figures for him. Figures are not available at ward level but only at local authority level. At local authority level there are no districts in the UK where male unemployment is above 10 per cent. I am sure he will he pleased about that. Currently, the highest figure is for Tower Hamlets at 9.8 per cent. Four of the local authorities with the worst unemployment records are in central London: Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Lambeth and Southwark. The others, Middlesborough, Liverpool, Derry, Birmingham, Kingston upon Hull, Manchester and so on, come down in descending order. It is a combination of inner city areas where ethnic minority populations, for all kinds of reasons, including discrimination, have reduced access to jobs, of declining industries, and of coastal towns. Those seem to be the areas in which male unemployment remains highest.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House the increase in unemployment figures in England she expects as a result of the Government's policy on pensions announced yesterday, which will add huge burdens to the cost of business, made necessary by the tax of £5 billion that the Government is exacting every day from pensioners?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, there may be fluctuating unemployment figures today for reasons of which your Lordships, being parliamentarians, will be aware. However, I do not expect employment to fluctuate as a result of our pensions strategy. I am delighted that the noble Lord has given me the opportunity to move on to pensions strategy. I am absolutely delighted that yesterday the House gave such a warm welcome, led by the noble Lords, Lord Higgins and Lord Oakeshott, to the Government's proposals to increase the security for pension saving, thus extending the coverage of pension protection and the opportunity for greater prosperity in people's older age.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, will the noble Baroness answer my noble friend's question about the unemployment she expects in England as a result of those measures?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I have. I suggested none at all.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that coping with problems of unemployment in the provinces has been aided in the past by transferring work from London and the South East to those areas? Does she agree that that former policy was successful? Is she prepared to try to persuade some of her ministerial colleagues that it is worth revisiting? Would that not only help the provincial parts of the country that need additional jobs, but also perhaps ease some of the burdens and pressures in London and the South East?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

Yes, my Lords, I agree entirely. It is certainly the Government's strategy to relocate as far as possible those jobs, particularly in the Civil Service, which appropriately can move there. I believe that the House would recognise that much of the regeneration of the North West, in particular, has been aided by the relocation of government offices in that region.