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Employment (Hull)

Volume 926: debated on Wednesday 16 February 1977

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Coleman.]

11.36 p.m.

I wish to draw to the attention of the House tonight on the motion for the Adjournment the extremely serious level of unemployment in Hull, which three hon. Members have the honour to represent. In the limited time available to us we shall seek to illustrate to the Minister and to the House the desperate need for special assistance to deal with the level of unemployment in this area. We wish to divide the time among the three Members who represent Hull. I shall use my limited time to attempt to analyse the problem as at present, and my colleagues will no doubt deal with some of the solutions that we generally agree should be considered by the Government.

The present level of unemployment is 15,000, higher than ever since the war. That is an average of 7·8 per cent. and 10 per cent. male unemployment. It is 50 per cent. higher than in the Yorkshire and Humberside area generally and considerably higher yet again than the United Kingdom average. It is higher than the rates for Scotland, Wales, Teesside and Aberdeen.

The point that we wish to impress upon Ministers is that Hull does not just reflect the problem of unemployment now to be found in all parts of the country. It is not a reflection of cyclical developments but is a considerable deterioration that has continued for almost a decade. We wish to bring to the Minister's attention the fact that it is not just a matter of saying that unemployment is bad all round.

In 1961 there were 2,300 unemployed and the rise to the present figure is a yearly average increase of 35 per cent. The duration of unemployment in Hull is serious. Over 4,000 have been unemployed for more than 12 months, one in three, well above the national average. So unemployment is greater and lasts longer.

Of the 2,000 young people in the Humberside area who are unemployed, 1,000 are in Hull, so we have 50 per cent. of the youth unemployment of the area. The loss of jobs has been at a considerable rate. Between 1973 and 1975 jobs were being lost at the rate of 280 a month.

That situation led to a debate in the House on 30th April 1975. The debate was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), who made points that I should like to reiterate in this debate. I should like to quote the Minister's reply. The Minister said:
"Humberside has had more than its share of setbacks in recent months, but there is no reason why these problems cannot be overcome. We are pursuing a strong regional policy in support of the area."—[Official Report, 29th April 1975; Vol. 891, c. 440.]
We can now, two years later, look at the record. The net job loss again has been 120 jobs per month, an average of 1,500 per year, and the reasons for this are considerable. I hope that I have the Minister's attention on this point. It is very important that he should have it established in his mind that we feel that the high unemployment in our area and the reason for the catalogue of misery that I have just outlined to him is due to the closure of industries and to industrial structural problems, and the result of Government decisions or lack of decision. Most of these decisions were outside the control of the Hull people.

The people of Hull have done a considerable amount through the local authority industrial development committee to attempt to counteract the problem. For example, after the Minister's statement in the 1975 debate, Imperial Typewriters closed down and 2,000 people were made unemployed. What could have prevented that huge multinational company from deciding to produce typewriters in Germany instead of Britain? The only force that could have prevented the company from taking that course was the Government by imposing controls and using its countering power to prevent the Company's decision to produce elsewhere.

In Brough, where aircraft are made, 450 men are to be made redundant due to the Government's desire not to put investment into plans, particularly the HS 146 which is needed not only for employment but for the civil aviation industry's future.

In the shipyards 500 people have been made unemployed. The Government reversed its promise to nationalise shipyards in the Hull area and so another 500 people were made unemployed. Needlers and our shipyards suffer from problems because of the denial of the regional employment premium given to competitor companies in the development districts because it is an intermediate development area.

I have before me a comparison of a manufacturing company in my area with one registered in Scotland. In the Scottish development area only 500 people are unemployed compared with over 15,000 in the Hull area. The plants produce the same product but the plant in Scotland gets £150,000 more in aid, and the result is that the product is produced in Scotland for £2·50 while to make the same product in Hull without the Government subsidy it costs £4·80. How is it possible to attract industry to an intermediate area such as Hull? Every day there is evidence of companies being shown these economic facts after first deciding to locate in Hull and then transferring to other areas—openly encouraged by Government Departments?

We have seen the decline of the timber industry due to the small wharves, and that has meant the loss of 1,000 jobs. This requires a port policy to be developed by the Government. The crisis and crucial decline in fishing due to the consequences of the Law of the Sea Conference, Iceland and entering the EEC has cost another 2,000 jobs. Altogether, since the Minister spoke in those optimistic terms we have lost 6,000 jobs, over 250 jobs a month, and it is not possible to counter that with the measures presently available to us.

There have been demands made from my area for development area status. I have developed the idea that the regional employment premium, which would cost only £20 million, could be given to areas such as Hull that have higher unemployment rates than higher assistance areas. I shall quote from a letter that the Minister sent to me after these facts were pointed out to him by delegations and at conferences. In a letter of November 1976 the Minister of State for Industry said about extending development area status:
"The Industry Act 1972 provides some guidance on this point as … that Act requires that in designating Development Areas, account is taken of 'all the circumstances actual and expected, including the state of employment and unemployment'."
Frankly, Hull is in a critical state. We need special help for special circumstances. Unless the Government can give that, people will be asking why, if the Government cannot help in this special crisis, they should support the Labour Government. Hull has always returned three Labour Members. I hope that the Minister will heed the message from Hull that enough is enough and that we shall hear something helpful from him tonight.

11.45 p.m.

My hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) and I have travelled the railway between Hull and Paddington and Kings Cross like yo-yos, bringing delegations from our city, especially the county and district councils, to discuss fishing, unemployment and regional area status. We have come away with sympathy, understanding and consideration, but with very few jobs or opportunities for lasting employment for our people.

I said during the 1966–70 Labour Government that what was happening on Humberside was not just the sort of cyclical unemployment that we hear so much about today but was rather a structural unemployment that was cutting away at the roots of the economy in the area. The facts listed by my hon. Friend for Kingston upon Hull, East show that I was right. This is obvious when one looks at what has happened in transport, fishing and mechanical engineering.

Tremendous efforts have been made by the county and, particularly, by the city to attract new industry, but we have been thwarted on every side. We lack the ability to attract industry because other parts of this country's economy are felt to have more pressing needs than has Hull.

It is ironic that a fortnight ago I was talking to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport about trying to maintain the Hull to Scarborough railway line and one of the Scarborough delegation said that his town now had the biggest frozen chip factory in Europe and had won it from Humberside because Scarborough had development area status.

The director of a major company in my area told me that his firm invested in North Allerton—which has no unemployment—rather than in Hull because it received more regional assistance there. The company is considering further investment, but it is tempted not to invest locally, but to go elsewhere.

If for no other reason than to give confidence to our local firms, we should have development area status. On every criterion, the Hull travel-to-work areas qualifies for it.

We also need further help for urban renewal. It would be a considerable help if we in Hull and our part of the old East Riding qualified for English Tourist Board grants so that we could take advantage of the great number of tourists who arrive in England at Hull, but then disappear to other parts of the country.

We need a coherent strategy for the area from the Government. We see the unemployment figures rising and Freightliner disappears; we see matters of concern in connection with maintaining the infrastructure; the county council is talking about reducing teacher supply in an area of great urban deprivation.

It is not sufficient for Ministers merely to say that they are looking at the problem. They have been looking at it for over a year in the Department of Industry. We need a boost and something positive from the Government. The people of Hull are desperate. There is a frightening apathetic acceptance of the situation. But I warn the Government that the time will come when not only will county councils and city councils and trade unions protest but a great upsurge of feeling will emerge. My hon. Friend should be aware of that. We have had enough. We want positive action from the Government to alleviate the distressing situation and to show that we may have confidence in the Government.

11.51 p.m.

The Government are now well aware of the economic difficulties in Hull. Many civic and industrial deputations have wended their way to Westminster over past months. I have just returned from East Africa, and even there our plight is known through television coverage of our fishing dispute with Iceland.

Our vessels are tied up at St. Andrew's Dock in West Hull. About 30 vessels are involved and 750 men on deck. That can soon multiply to 4,000 men on shore without jobs. Some people disbelieve that Yorkshire and Humberside can be like Tyneside and Merseyside—yet we have always had low wages but a low cost of living. We have worked hard and played hard—as one can tell by our Rugby League record.

Unemployment statistics have worsened, as outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), and we now have 10·6 per cent. male unemployment. We have pestered the Government until we are blue in the face to achieve development area status. By any yardstick our case is overwhelming. The Secretary of State is sympathetic but he will not take any piecemeal action—and tell us we must wait until a new national map is made of new development areas.

Our engineering industry is in the dumps. The district committee of the AUEW has lately threatened to contract out of the political levy to the Labour Party because it is dissatisfied with Government policy.

All this is mounting up, and a malaise afflicts Hull. The people of Hull are downhearted because they believe that the Government are attempting nothing. I do not share that view. Part of our affliction is caused by the change in local government. Kingston upon Hull has been demoted to the status of a local district council—one of nine within the county council. We have lost control over our schools, planning and police. That militates against being cheerful.

Nye Bevan once said that there was nothing to fear but fear itself.

I applaud the local paper, The Hull Daily Mail, which last night gave us something better than the usual dirge. It said:
"High hopes of new jobs tonic for the Hull area."
By God, we need that.

I had today a helpful Answer from the Ministry of Defence. Hawker Siddeley is to be given an order for 24 Harrier GR3 aircraft. Unfortunately this will merely stabilise the existing position. Of course that is better than the job situation becoming worse, but it will merely hold the line in the sense that it will get no worse than having 350 men who could be and, I believe, will be displaced by 1st April.

The picture is not entirely black. There is much to which we can look forward. The M62 motorway is proving a tonic to the port, which in my view is the best equipped in Western Europe. The Humber Bridge is coming. Above all, I believe that it would be silly or fatal to sell ourselves short tonight. If the national economy picks up, we can pick up alongside it. We could well have better days to come. I can only wish that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will give the people of Hull and their Members some hope in his reply that these will come to pass.

1.56 p.m.

I fully appreciate the concern that has been expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) and Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) about Hull's level of unemployment. The Government fully recognise that the high level of unemployment is caused not only by the national and international recission but because Hull is facing a number of special employment probems. In particular, I appreciate the importance of the fishing industry.

My hon. Friends will know better than I the long-term importance of all the fishery negotiations which are presently taking place. Fishing vessels that formerly fished the Icelandic waters have moved on to other grounds—for example, the North-East Arctic. They hope to extend their sphere but the possibility of their doing this will only become clear later. Because the vessels have gone to other waters there has been little change in the number at sea and only a few jobs have been lost.

It remains our firm objective to protect the interests of British fishermen—indeed all those who depend on fishing for a living—in the negotiation of the common fisheries policy, including a variable zone of up to 50 miles reserved for our vessels.

I am concerned not only about employment in the fishing industry but about the closures and redundancies in the past few years. Forceful representations were made earlier to Ministers by my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, West and Kingston upon Hull, Central about the present situation of Hawker Siddeley and Needlers. Mention has been made of the order announced today of the 24 Harriers, not to prevent redundancies but to try to provide the stability that is of minimum requirement. We should prefer to see the creation of secure jobs, but I must outline the help that the Government's special measures have given to Hull. Of these, most— 2,637—jobs have been saved by the temporary employment subsidy scheme. Because we recognised how important this scheme was to Hull, as to many other areas, in December we decided to extend it when the REP was abolished in the development areas. The temporary employment subsidy is designed to save jobs. The job release scheme has been designed to create additional opportunities for unemployed workers in the assisted areas, including Hull, and to reduce the competition for jobs among the unemployed.

The scheme offers a tax-free allowance of £23 a week and supplementary benefit if necessary for up to one year to men of 64 and women of 59 on condition that in the case of the unemployed they neither take work not claim unemployment or certain other benefits and, in the case of those at work, that they are released by their employer, that the application is made with the knowledge and agreement of the trade union concerned, and that the employer recruits as soon as possible a full-time replacement from the unemployment register.

So far the response has been disappointing nationally. In Hull only 134 people have been helped by it. Although I should be entirely opposed to pressure being brought on individuals, it would be helpful if my hon. Friends could assist by making this scheme better known among older workers—many of whom have led an arduous working life and who may wish to pack up work just that bit earlier. Not only that, but it can help those younger people of whom my hon. Friends have spoken.

The problem among the young is still acute, although the careers officers, helped by Government measures, have done an excellent job in reducing the number of school leavers registered at careers offices from 1,745 in July 1976, to 346 in January of this year. But, of course, we have to try our damnedest to find opportunities for those 346—and the other 2,331 young people under the age of 20 who are unemployed.

Already, young people in Hull have benefited from our special measures. The Recruitment Subsidy for School Leavers Scheme, when in operation, helped 373. Now we are assisting youngsters who have been unemployed for six months or more through the Youth Employment Subsidy Scheme, which gives those who employ them £10 a week for 26 weeks.

No enough employers have taken advantage of that scheme—only about 150 youngsters have been helped in Hull—and I hope that many more will do so. Unfortunately, too many employers in Hull, as elsewhere, refuse to give youngsters who have been unemployed a long time a fair chance. We have found this even with work experience, which is a scheme which we introduced to give young people a first-hand knowledge of working life. The Government, who foot the entire bill for work experience, would very much like to see more work experience projects in the Hull area, where only 79 young people have been helped so far. More firms should follow the example of Debenhams, which has provided an opportunity for eight youngsters, and others. We want the Work Experience Scheme to have as much impact in Hull as the Job Creation Programme which we have recently extended.

On the matter of job creation, can my hon. Friend give any information about the request by Humberside theatres for assistance having been turned down by his Department, when other areas have had help with similar schemes?

I have asked the Manpower Services Commission Job Creation Programme people to deal with that as a matter of urgency.

To return to the Job Creation Programme, 475 people have been helped by local sponsors, particularly the local authorities. Community Industry, too, has helped young people in Hull with particular difficulties in finding or keeping work. At present, 100 youngsters are engaged in a variety of jobs, such as extensions to buildings of the parish institute, conversions of air-raid shelters into a community centre and helping in a smallholding run by the local authority. We are concerned not only to provide job creation and community industry but to help young people get other training— which will assist them to get jobs in the future.

To supplement the main rapidly expanding TSA and industrial training board programmes, training is also provided at operator, semi-skilled and junior clerical level for unemployed young people who are having difficulty in finding a job. There are 77 places at colleges of further education in Hull, and 90 places with employers.

Adult training in Hull under the Training Opportunities Scheme has been greatly expanded—about 900 in 1975, with a target for 1977 of 1,400 people trained. The Department of Industry is even now considering an application for development area status for Hull, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Industry has met representatives from the Yorkshire and Humberside Economic Planning Council to discuss the case. This matter was also raised when my hon. Friend together with othe Ministers, met representatives from Humberside County Council on 25th January to discuss a number of issues. Some of these issues will obviously also be put again to my hon. Friend when he visits Hull on 4th March to see the problems at first hand.

The decision on development area status will be made by Ministers at the Department of Industry—and I am glad to see present my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for industry—but it will be influenced by the progress of the international negotiations on fishing, and it is still too early to assess the effects of the negotiations on employment in Hull. Even so, Hull already benefits from intermediate area status. Between 1st January 1976 and 30th November, £2 million worth of regional selective financial assistance was offered for 11 projects which are expected to create 217 jobs and save another 1,045. The Government have also allocated seven advance factory units and 10 terraced units to the Hull area, and more land has been and is being acquired for factory building. In 1976, 12 IDCs were approved, involving an extra 360 jobs.

The Accelerated Projects Scheme is also helping Hull through the construction of a major new factory involving many temporary local construction jobs and over 100 new permanent direct jobs, and also through the construction of—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Wednesday evening and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at six minutes past Twelve o'clock.