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Unemployment Statistics

Volume 22: debated on Thursday 29 April 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many people are unemployed in Norther Ireland; and what steps he proposes to take to reduce the numbers who are out of work.

The total number of people registered as unemployed in Northern Ireland on 15 April 1982 was 111,925.

Priority in Government expenditure continues to be given to industrial development as the best way of promoting secure employment. The Government are also helping in the short term through our special employment and training measures, from which 21,600 adults and young people are currently benefiting.

As the figures represent considerable human misery and disillusionment, particularly among young people who should be paid to stay on at school after reaching the school leaving age, will the Government now introduce additional and radical measures, beginning with a tax holiday, which Eire provides, in order to attract new firms to Northern Ireland, as well as removing value added tax from all goods manufactured in the Province, to save its economy and industry from being destroyed?

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern, but the solutions that he recommends are likely substantially to damage not just the economy of Northern Ireland but that of the United Kingdom. He must judge for himself in making comparisons between the approaches to economic management of different countries. I remind him that our package of incentives for promoting industrial development in Northern Ireland is independently judged to be the best in Europe. For that reason we continue to promote it with all our strength.

The figures for unemployment that the Minister has given us are shameful. Nevertheless, they are inflated by a substantial number of people who are drawing unemployment benefit while working. Is the Minister taking every measure to ensure that people doing that will be apprehended?

This is always a matter of concern to the Government. It is the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Patten). I know that he and his Department are taking special measures to try to minimise this abuse, which is tantamount to stealing.

Will the Minister care to comment on the future of Short Brothers, in view of the announcement that many of the firm's apprentices are now to be paid off? That would make it seem that there will not be much future in young people being employed there.

It is true that Short Brothers has decided that it does not want the full number of apprentices that it took on. Therefore, I am afraid that there will be some redundancies in that area. With regard to the future, I had a meeting with the chairman and the chief executive yesterday, and I am glad to say that the company is on its financial target.

Does not the Minister appreciate that whenever he gives answers such as that they will be regarded by the people of Northern Ireland as complacent while unemployment is at 20 per cent.? Surely, we need a sensible use of public money, particularly in the construction industry, to reduce that figure quickly?

Charges of complacency are easy to throw around. We have to examine the facts. They are that we have the best package of incentives in the Western world for industrial development. It was only a few weeks ago that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced additional spending, over and above what had been planned, to help industrial development and particularly housing. All of these measures were devised to increase the number of job opportunities in the Province by about 9,000.