asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will take urgent and specific action to reduce the level of unemployment on Merseyside.
The Government fully recognise the seriousness of the employment problem on Merseyside. It formed a major topic of discussion when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and I met the Executive Committee of the North West Regional Council of the TUC on Monday 24th November. Merseyside already has special development area status and is benefiting from the measures that we have recently taken to mitigate the worst effects of unemployment.
Is my hon. Friend aware that those measures are not good enough, and that the level of unemployment on Merseyside is a terrible indictment of this Government? Does he accept that the unemployment situation there is now almost of crisis proportions? Will he give us not words but action to bring down the level of unemployment?
I do not accept that the level of unemployment on Merseyside is an indictment of this Government. The measures to assist Merseyside include an expansion of Community Industry, a vast expansion of training places, from which Merseyside has benefited, the temporary employment subsidy and the school leavers' recruitment subsidy. In addition, there were 90 offers of selective assistance under the Industry Act, which have created or saved 15,000 jobs.
We have lost 80,000.
Merseyside has a grim unemployment total at present. It is a serious matter. The Government have taken a number of important measures, which assist, and they will continue to view the matter with great concern.
Why will not the Government give unemployed school leavers the opportunity to create their own jobs, so long as they are for community betterment?
There is nothing to prevent arrangements of a voluntary nature, which I think the hon. Gentleman has in mind. What we have done in addition to that sort of initiative is to create jobs under the Job Creation Scheme and the Community Industry Scheme. One welcomes any initiative to ensure that young people facing unemployment are not also faced with idleness, and that they can do something of use to the community.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, in spite of the Government measures he has outlined, Merseyside has 50 per cent. of the total unemployment in the whole of the North West Region? Is he also aware that the ship repairing and shipbuilding industries face massive lay-offs in the near future, and that Plessey is in the same position? In those circumstances, there will be further lay-offs of many workers in the near future. Does my hon. Friend accept that the projected situation is one of unemployment increasing rather than decreasing, and that therefore the pointed remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) are relevant?
We are very concerned about the prospective redundancies at Plessey. At my right hon. Friend's request, the Chairman of the Post Office has put revised proposals to the telecommunications industry which should reduce the level of redundancies.Some of the other points that my hon. Friend raised are matters for other Departments. There is a vast programme of advance factory development for the North-West and Merseyside. The assistance given under the Industry Act, the other measures that I mentioned and the advance factory programme show that the Government and the country have faith in the ability of Merseyside and the North-West to take advantage of an upturn.
Does the Minister accept that the whole of the North-West is aware of the problems of Merseyside? The Minister has already dealt with the measures which are being taken to help that area. Does he further accept that the more he tilts the balance of advantage in favour of Merseyside, the worse it will be for the intermediate areas of Lancashire, one of which I represent, where the unemployment rate is now 7·4 per cent. and rising steeply, and where the ratio of unemployment to job vacancies is 55 to 1? Will he please assist our area to become a development area?
It is not my responsibility to declare development areas. That is a matter for the Department of Industry. The hon. Lady has a point in that if a great deal of assistance is given to one area it can drain resources from another. I defend the special development area status accorded to Merseyside. As my hon. Friends have said, the area has serious unemployment problems. It is right that the Government should recognise them and do everything in their power to relieve a difficult situation.