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Unemployed Persons

Volume 884: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1975

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14.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest unemployment figure for Birmingham.

On 9th September 1974, 20,135 people were unemployed in the Birmingham travel-to-work area. I regret that later figures are not available because of industrial action.

My right hon. Friend said last week that he hoped shortly to give the House some estimate of the figures for January. Present indications are that he will be able to give national and regional estimates later this week.

Is the Minister aware that the employment situation in Birmingham is giving rise to serious concern and that the current problems within the car industry—in particular, those of British Leyland—are adding to the fears? Will he ensure, in the investigations into the future of British Leyland, that employment and its prospects remain a top priority? He must be aware that if British Leyland catches a cold Birmingham and the West Midlands might catch pneumonia?

I am sure that that point is fully taken by my right hon. Friends. It will be helpful to my hon. Friend to know that British Leyland has so far no plans for short-time working and has recently received new export orders worth £10 million for commercial vehicles. I hope that that healthy atmosphere will continue.

Is the Minister aware that the people in Birmingham will regard it as very strange and highly suspicious that no reasonably accurate estimate of the numbers of people unemployed has been brought forward today? What rise has there been in the number of unemployed building industry workers in Birmingham? Is it not tragic that men in this category should be out of work when there is such a need for housing in the city?

I am sorry, but I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the figures. My right hon. Friend has made clear that he will make them available to the House as soon as possible. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on taking such an interest in the housing programme now that he is on the back benches.

Is the Minister aware that trade union officials in the West Midlands are saying that the unemployment figures are rising rapidly and that they are concerned about them? Will my hon. Friend make representations to the Department of Industry that IDC policy should be less stringently applied to the West Midlands?

Of course, the unemployment situation is taken into account when IDCs are granted. If I recall rightly, the Department of Industry recently granted an IDC for an extension to the British Leyland works in the Midlands.

Is the Minister aware that the lack of success of the social contract is resulting in unemployment reaching higher levels than would otherwise be necessary? Will he impress on his right hon. Friend that the social contract involves the maintenance of a high level of employment and should not be just an excuse for causing unemployment, as is happening at present? Will the hon. Gentleman also ask his right hon. Friend to look at a reply which I gave in the summer in answer to a supplementary question, to the effect that the Opposition would co-operate in a review of the unemployment statistics so that the whole House and the country could be better aware of the true unemployment figures, and so that we might get a better balance into our economic judgment?

The latter part of the supplementary question hardly arises out of the original Question, and it is not a matter to be pursued here. In reply to the first part of the supplementary question, of course, one purpose of the social contract is to maintain the Government's objective in economic policy, which is a high level of employment. The observance of the social contract and a high level of employment go together.