§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. McBride.]
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Elliott (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)
I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise the important subject of unemployment in the North-East of England. On 12th May this year 64,858 persons in the Northern Region were unemployed. This represents 4.7 per cent. of our employable population and twice the national average of unemployed.
In certain parts of the region—I quote Sunderland as a particularly bad black spot—the rate is extremely high, 12 per cent. of the male population being unemployed. The latest figures available to me give the deplorable information that of the boys in the region who left school at Christmas 15.1 per cent. are still without employment. That represents a very real social problem. It is also deplorable that 10.2 per cent. of those unemployed in the region are men of 55 to 59. No one can over-estimate the seriousness for a man of 55 to be unemployed. He is far too young to have finished his working life and far too old easily to find new employment.
I am glad to see in his place the Under-Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, who is also the Member for Jarrow, right in the heart of the region I am talking about. He is well qualified to understand the region, as I know he does. I look forward to hearing his remarks. I should have been very pleased to see in their places some of his colleagues from the region. I should have been gratified also if the Minister responsible for the North-East had seen fit to have been here to listen to the very serious story which I have to tell.
I am particularly gratified to see in his place my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). It is extremely good of him to be in his place at this time of night. I know that he is constantly concerned about employment in the country generally and is constantly asking me about employment and unemployment in the North-East in particular. Also in her place, as always when the subject of the North-East is 216 raised in any context, is my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), who may seek to catch your eye in due course, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will not tell the old story which a stream of Ministers who have recently come to the North-East have been telling. They tell this story in all sincerity and with some pride. They talk of the extra footage of factory space which has come into being in the last few years. They talk of the great works which are going on in road building and on other constructional work. We are aware that there has been substantial injection in recent years. We are aware of the increase in factory footage. However this does not and should not allow members of the Government to escape from the realisation that our unemployment remains depressingly high and that we are as an area apparently running ever faster but standing still.
We get a steady stream of visiting Ministers to the North-East. We are always delighted to see them and always hope that our lot will be improved by their presence. A short time ago it was calculated that they were arriving in the Region at the rate of two and a half per week. During the weekend, just to keep up this average, we had a visit from two. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, the hon. Lady the Member for Exeter (Mrs. Gwyneth Dun-woody), to whose speech I listened with close interest—she spoke extremely well—asked that we should not be too depressed by unemployment and should not allow it to blind us to what was going on. We are not blinded but we are very aware of our unemployment. The Lord President of the Council, addressing the Northumberland Miners' Gala at Bridlington, struck what I suppose he thought was an optimistic note when he said, "We have today a new type of unemployment in this country". He got a very good, sharp and hard reply immediately from a miner in his audience, as those of us who know the North country knew that he would. The miner shouted, "Yes, but it is still unemployment, even if you call it a new type of unemployment".
I wish to make these points on our deplorable problem. First, I ask the Under-Secretary to realise that, however much Ministers eulogise on what is being 217 done in the North-East, it is not enough. Secondly, there is considerable doubt in the Region about the effectiveness of some of the aid being given to us. Thirdly, it is high time that hard facts were faced and something done to alleviate the position. The unemployed of our region must have shuddered when they read in one Sunday newspaper yesterday that it is estimated fairly accurately by some students of our economy that we might well have 100,000 more unemployed by the end of the year. If there are 100,000 more unemployed in the country as a whole, it bodes ill for the North-East. In putting my appeal to the Government to face hard facts, I cannot do better than quote from the current issue of the journal of the Tyneside Chamber of Commerce:The fact is—and events are proving it—that the political and economic priorities were wrong, and wrong from the start. This is not a matter of political prejudice; it is a matter of results, and the score up to new endorses it.The editorial in the journal is very appropriately entitled,Only the score counts.Indeed, it does.
The priorities were wrong, in the opinion of many of us, from the beginning of the Labour Party's tenure of office. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth and many others of us warned time and again that the development area jam was being spread far too thinly. But when we used to say that at the beginning of the Labour Government's life, how we were shouted down by hon. Members opposite. We were told that the Conservative Party did not know how to plan. We were told that coming with the new Labour Government was the Department of Economic Affairs, and arising from that Department there would be the economic planning councils which were to cure all our ills.
I shall not in this short debate dwell on the subject of the economic planning councils, but, if they are to cure all our ills, it is high time that they began to do something about them. With the greatest respect to them, although they have presented us with a lot of statistical information, some of which we knew and some of which, possibly, we did not, the results of their efforts are difficult to see.
218 Taxation has been crippling to the nation. It hurts the development areas in many ways extremely badly. There is no better example of present and future taxation of the type which will hurt employment in the North-East than what is to happen to the employer's and employee's National Insurance stamp. Five years ago, the joint stamp cost 36s. 8d. In November this year, it will be £5 6s. 3d. Does anyone imagine that that fantastic increase helps our employment position?
Now, I make my appeal for action to help the region in what may well be the dying months of this Government. First, let no part of the £20 million to be taken from the development areas for the grey areas come from the North-East. We cannot spare any of it. This is not being parochial. It is said in fear, and very real fear, that this Government will get their priorities wrong again. We have no confidence in the North-East that they will get them right. One of the Hunt Committee's recommendations was that the grey areas should have this additional money. We have no quarrel with that. But the Hunt Committee also recommended that there should be a descheduling of areas which had overcome their major problems, and it recommended the descheduling of Merseyside. I do not state blandly that Merseyside should be descheduled, but I do say firmly—For goodness' sake let this assistance which the grey areas undoubtedly need come from areas which are overcoming or have overcome their problems. Let it not come from us. We need extra aid.
On the same principle, let us have concentration within the development areas on those places which need the greatest aid. This is what we have always said as a party. When the Labour Government took office and made the development areas great wide stretches of the country, covering in some instances areas which did not need extra aid under the development area legislation, we said that that was all very well provided that there was enough to go round. It is quite obvious that, due to the hopeless failure of the Government's major and basic economic policy, there is not enough to go round. So, in the dying months of this Government, let there be concentration of such aid as is available in those parts of the development areas, such as 219 Sunderland and the North-East, where it is very badly needed at present. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will say a word about the possibility of extra development area status for Sunderland and other parts of the North-East Region, where the unemployment rate is extremely worrying.
Thirdly, let there be urgent inquiry into the effectiveness of the regional employment premium. We were told that it would bring quick results, and we waited to see. Again, it is very doubtful whether R.E.P. has brought quick results. But the major point that I wish to make about it is that, in the North of England, there is considerable doubt expressed in the ranks of industry as to the effectiveness of the large amount of money being poured into the region through these means.
Fourthly, will the Government face up, even at this late stage, to the harmful effects of S.E.T. on development areas? The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade was told when she attended the North-East Development Council meeting in Newcastle on Friday that S.E.T. already had cost the region 12,000 jobs in the service industries. She appeared to be genuinely interested in the figure, and wanted details. This is a very distinct figure of the number of jobs lost in the service industries, arrived at after careful research by N.E.D.C. How many more will we lose in the service industries, in a region where the unemployment rate is twice the national average, when the S.E.T. increase has its full effect? S.E.T. is a nonsense. It is a ridiculous tax. It has hurt our region very badly.
Lastly, will the Government face the problem of unskilled workers? It is estimated, again by the North-East Development Council research team, that almost half our unemployed men at this time are without skill. I know that the Under-Secretary will say, quite correctly, that the number of training places in the Northern Region has increased substantially in the past few years. It has needed to do so. But again I would appeal to him for an inquiry into the use of our training centres and the types of courses engendered there. I appealed to his right hon. Friend in January of this year for an inquiry to be started in 220 the ranks of the new industrialists who have come to the area to make sure that they were getting from our training centres the skills that they require. In my experience, this is not always so. We need an urgent review of skills in the Northern Region if we are to do something about older men especially who find themselves redundant in mid-life.
I hope that what I have said in this short debate will go home to the Under-Secretary of State. Even at this late stage, we need some real action for the good of the North of England and its employment.
§ 12.44 a.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I shall be very brief, because the case which has been put so admirably by my hon. Friend has raised a number of questions which have to be answered by the Under-Secretary.
My hon. Friend referred to all the Ministers who have visited the North-East recently. The Prime Minister was there only the other day. He enjoys making observations and dictating policy to every Minister over whom he presides. The Prime Minister has been touring the shipyards and other places in the area hearing of our problems. I wonder whether he has impressed upon the appropriate Departments the need for action. I would like to know what results we will get from his tour.
Despite the fact that on the Tyne we have lots of shipbuilding orders, men are being discharged from Smith's Docks, in my constituency of Tyne-mouth, because there is no work for them. I understand that for some time the consortium has been pressing for assistance to establish a new dry dock to meet the increased size of tankers. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have just had the pleasure of having Princess Anne launch the biggest ship ever built in the country. What is happening? Has the Prime Minister given directions that we have to have this help?
Very sadly I heard today that, at short notice, Angus House, at North Shields, which for many years has served the British Sailors' Society and provided places for sailors entering the Tyne, is being closed down because there are so few ships entering the Tyne. This is a dreadful situation. I do not have time 221 to refer to the great anxiety about the port of the Tyne. We cannot get an answer about the iron ore shipments, about what will be done about the Tyne.
The Tyne is being run down, and we cannot get an answer out of the Government about how they will deal with the situation. They have moved some centres from Newcastle to York, they have done all sorts of things to denigrate the North. The Under-Secretary, with his experience and knowledge of the area, ought to stop this erosion and do what is necessary. I look forward to hearing the programme, which I am sure he will be able to give us.
§ 12.47 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity (Mr. E. Fernyhough)
It will be impossible, in the few minutes left to me, to answer more than a few of the points raised. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) knows that he has me over a barrel on this problem. He knows that I have lived with it for the 13 years that the previous Government was in power, and I have still got it. I can best answer some of his points by quoting from the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) who made speeches in January and February. In January he said in Glasgow:There are several mistakes we made. First, we recognised too late the run down in the basic industries; secondly we kept taxation as a disincentive, and thirdly we did not do enough about communications.He made a speech in similar vein in Sunderland. The problem we are dealing with is not one which has arisen since the Labour Government came into power. It is true that, without trying to make a party political point, no one recognised how quickly the run-down in the basic industries would take place. Over the last five years in the North-East we have lost, on average, 10,000 miners each year. We have lost between 5,000 and 6,000 men in marine engineering, railways, steel and so forth. It is the colossal run-down in these basic industries which has meant that we are having to run like a March Hare to stand still.
Anybody who pretended that nothing had been done, who pretended none of the Government's policies had worked, would be doing a disservice not only to the Government but to the North-East. 222 I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) would care to think for a moment what was the state of the shipbuilding industry when the Labour Government came in. I wonder whether, had we not done what we did for that industry, there would have been 12,000 men employed in it on the Tyne now.
I ask the hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman to consider this: nobody suffers more than I do from the fluctuations in ship-repairing. I wish to goodness we could evolve some system whereby we could have ships coming in on a rota, but so long as we do not control the ships, so long are we unable to determine when they will come in. It is a very big problem to try to get a labour force steadily employed 50 weeks in a year in each of the various ship repair yards on the Tyne.
I acknowledge straight away that the figure of 64,000 which the hon. Gentleman mentioned is a very alarming one. Nobody is more conscious of it than I am, and nobody is more anxious to see it substantially reduced than I am, but I would have hoped, when the hon. Gentleman quoted Sunderland and the May figure, he would have taken into account that of that figure there were some 2,800 temporarily stopped because of a dispute. I acknowledge that Sunderland's unemployment figure is indefensible, but it was aggravated considerably in May by the fact that there were those 2,800 temporarily stopped. It made the total of 9,685. I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman—I have had the figure got through today—that for this month it has dropped down to 6,673. I am not complacent about that. I am not complacent, either, about the 18,000 still unemployed on Tyneside, but there has been a reduction of 0.2 per cent. on the May figure. I acknowledge that more has to be done.
Let us look for a second or two at what has been done—in this last 12 months in particular. Since the beginning of 1960 some 240 manufacturing firms, new to the region, have set up factories in the Northern Region or have made the decision to do so. Northern Region's share of the Great Britain total of estimated additional employment arising from I.D.Cs. amounted to 13.1 223 per cent. in 1966, 16.1 per cent. in 1967, and 13.6 per cent. in 1968, whereas the region's proportion of employees in manufacturing industry is only 5.3 per cent. The hon. Gentleman will know that not so far from him is the Alcan smelter. At the moment it is employing 250 workers; it will build up a labour force of 2,000. Similarly, at Seaton Carew the labour force employed at the moment numbers 500, but it will build up to 2,400.
As for the over-50s, a fair proportion of those are miners. The hon. Gentleman knows what we have done in order to lighten their burden. This must be stressed. We acknowledged that, because of the changes which were necessary in British industry, there was bound to be transitional unemployment, but we have tried to lighten the cross of those who have been made unemployed as a result of what I would call the second industrial revolution. We have tried to lighten their cross by redundancy payments, by wage-related benefits, and, in relation to miners themselves, for those aged 55 and over, by the nine-tenths take home pay. So it cannot be said that we are indifferent to the need for jobs or the hardships or indignities which those who are unemployed have to suffer.
I will give second place to no man in this House or in this country in my determination to try to resolve this problem, not only in the North-East but wherever it occurs. No society can call itself civilised if it stands idly by and sees young boys or adults rotting away without knowing the satisfaction of earning their living and the dignity and self-respect which come from that.
The hon. Gentleman also must do a little thinking. He asked me about the stamp. Does he agree pensions should be increased? Is he saying that pensions should be kept down to what they were five years ago? If he agrees that we 224 should put up pensions, will he tell me where the money is to come from if not from this source?
§ Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)
Will the hon. Gentleman be sure before his time ends to answer my hon. Friend's questions about whether any of the £20 million for the grey areas will be coming from the North-East, and whether the Government are prepared to review the money going on the regional employment premium?
§ Mr. Fernyhough
The right hon. Gentleman is an old hand and knows full well that neither of those points concerns my Ministry. I will see that the points are put to the appropriate Minister. I had no chance to get from the hon. Gentleman information on the points that he would raise and, because of the limited time, I have sacrificed what I anticipated he might raise to deal with one or two issues.
I repeat, I am as genuinely concerned as the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady. Since January the figures have come down each month, and I hope that this trend will continue, so that eventually the position will be reached where no-one will need to raise the problem. I hope that we shall see the same measure of prosperity there as obtains in other areas, and an unemployment figure no higher than the national average. I assure the hon. Gentleman that as long as I am in this position I will not quibble when he raises this problem. I am at one with him in wanting to see it resolved so far as lies within my power and within the power of men and women who have sympathy for their fellow men and seek to help them.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at three minutes to One o'clock.