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Unemployed Young Persons

Volume 14: debated on Thursday 3 December 1981

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1.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many young persons under 21 years in Northern Ireland are unemployed; and what was the comparable figure in 1979.

Separate statistics of the numbers of registered unemployed young persons aged under 21 are not collected. However, for the under-20 age group the most recent figures as at 12 November 1981 was 23,991. The corresponding November 1979 figure was 12,956.

Does the Minister agree that young unemployed people anywhere are more than likely to get into trouble with the law simply because they are wandering around with nothing to do, and that the circumstances in Northern Ireland make them more vulnerable to the blandishments of paramilitary organisations? Therefore, tackling the problem of the large number of unemployed young people must be an urgent priority for the Government. What proposals does the hon. Gentleman have to bring before the House?

The hon. Gentleman's analysis is correct. Unemployed youngsters are likely to get into trouble. It is precisely because of that, and because of the very high number of young people out of work, that we are taking positive steps. I mention only one. The increase in the number of places under the youth opportunities programme from 7,000 in March this year to an estimated 12,000 by March 1982—an increase of 70 per cent.—is evidence of what we are doing.

In view of yesterday's announcement by Gallaher of the loss of 500 jobs in Northern Ireland, will the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State warn their Treasury colleagues that any further increase in cigarette taxation could be disastrous for both Carreras and Gallaher in Northern Ireland?

I think that it is recognised that the increase in the tax has had its impact on cigarette smoking. Equally, it has been a major contributor towards the Chancellor's strategy, and therefore it is to be welcomed in that respect.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that in some of the most difficult areas of Belfast the percentage of unemployed, especially Catholic unemployed, is far higher than in the Province as a whole, and that this constitutes an added problem?

My hon. Friend will know that there is no discrimination between Protestant and Roman Catholic in employment matters. In areas of high levels of unemployment—my right hon. Friend is correct about certain parts of Belfast, but this applies also to other areas of the Province—we offer higher discretionary grants for industrial development to try to improve the employment situation.

Is the Minister aware that his statement today and Government policies do not match the fact that almost an entire generation of young people in Northern Ireland have no industrial or other work experience, that their idealism has been soured and that their hopes have been dashed? Will the Government recognise that situation and take positive steps, including, perhaps, giving financial help to employers to take on more young people under the age of 21 for at least two years?

The hon. Gentleman should not exaggerate the position. The vast majority of young people are at work. However, he is right to point to the seriousness of the matter. It is because of this that the Government are offering incentives to employers to employ young people under the young workers scheme, which will come into effect in the Province at the beginning of January. It is conceivable that it is already having an impact.

Will the Minister take a long hard look at the recent report of the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, which demonstrates clearly the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) about the link between unemployment and crime? When he looks at that report, I hope that he will conclude that there is a strong case for the expansion of the economy, particularly to soak up unskilled youth unemployment.

I recognise that the connection exists. That is why we attach special importance to that group of unemployed people in our society. At the same time, we shall not ignore the needs of unemployed adults.

I shall not be able to call the complete round of hon. Members on other questions.