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Volume 980: debated on Thursday 6 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will state the level of unemployment in Northern Ireland on 1 March 1980.

The level of unemployment in Northern Ireland on 14 February 1980, the latest date for which information is available, was 11·6 per cent.

Will the Minister confirm that the unemployment level is the worst since 1930? Does he agree that if a Unionist Administration at Stormont were presiding over these figures it would be the butt of ridicule from both sides of the Chamber? What does the hon. Gentleman intend to do over the next few months to rectify the situation?

They are not the worst figures since 1930, but they are still unacceptably high. The hon. Gentleman will know that there has been a gradual and consistent increase in unemployment since 1974—when there were about 27,000 unemployed—to 64,000 in 1978. Unemployment was stabilised in 1979. Since then there has been an increase which we find unacceptable. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has been working hard in inducing considerable new investment to come into the Province. Some 14 new firms have come to the Province in the past year or so, providing about 4,600 new manufacturing jobs in 1979. Recently 2,825 jobs were announced for this year. LEDU has established 1,330 jobs in small firms.

Will the Minister recognise that, according to figures quoted to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras North (Mr. Stallard) in early February, during the previous Question Time devoted to Northern Ireland, the statistics have risen in some areas to 23 to 26 per cent? In view of the high and growing rate of unemployment in the Province, does he agree that there is an even greater need to embark upon the functional co-operation on economic matters to which attention has already been drawn? Does he accept that there is a need to get together with the Republic to ascertain what investment may be jointly undertaken in terms of development projects between the two countries?

The right hon. Gentleman is right. There are some small pockets of extremely high unemployment. In Cookstown, for example, the level is 24·1 per cent. That is the highest level at present. It is a level that we find unacceptable. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that discussions on economic matters are proceeding the whole time with the Government of the Republic of Ireland to ascertain what joint effort can do to improve the unemployment figures. However, we are being successful in bringing in new industry by consistently employing in Northern Ireland the highest incentives that exist in the United Kingdom.

The Minister has quoted the job attraction figures, but he has not said that 4,600 redundancies have occurred within the past two months. Job attraction spreads over a much longer period. What does he intend to do to counter that loss? Is he aware that it is said by one economic analyst in the Province that if the loss is extrapolated it will lead to a minimum unemployment rate of 14 per cent. within the next year?

The redundancy figures have remained constant annually for the past three years. However, there was an increase in total jobs of 10,000 from June 1978 until June 1979. The problem is the increase in the size of the labour force. Bearing in mind the security problem in Northern Ireland, it becomes more and more difficult, even with great financial incentives, to attract new investments into the Province.