§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I beg to move,That this House, while appreciating that the measures taken by Her Majesty's Government to alleviate unemployment have benefited Sunderland, nevertheless, in view of the persisting high level of unemployment in the borough, calls upon the Government to take further and immediate action.I greatly appreciate the co-operation of the House in enabling me to raise a matter of overriding importance to my constituency. In case I become a little critical now and again, I should like to say at the outset that I fully appreciate that Government measures—the regional employment premium, the job creation scheme, the recruitment subsidy, the help for training and Government policy on advance factories—have all alleviated unemployment in Sunderland and the North-East.
912 Locally, I greatly appreciate the steps taken by the youth employment committee, for instance. As he will be retiring shortly, I should like to say that no one has done more for the young unemployed in Sunderland—a problem that we have had for many years—than Mr. Hudson, the principal careers officer. I also greatly appreciate the work done by Community Industry. I pay tribute to the self-help—we are always being asked to pull ourselves up by our own shoestraps—practised by both the borough council and the Tyne and Wear Authority.
I equally recognise that the problem in Sunderland is an aggravation of the national problem of unemployment. I impress upon the Government the fact that this has become the major issue politically. In the Common Market now, we head the unemployment table for the first time; with the problem of inflation we also have a grave and serious problem of unemployment. I know that that will be discussed next week and I do not want to trespass on the general issue—save to say that there are some aspects of the general problem which particularly affect us in Sunderland.
There is talk of import controls. What we are concerned about in Sunderland is some protection for British shipbuilding. It is no good, in the world in which we live, letting the Japanese get away with reducing their prices overnight by 30 or 40 per cent. I know that discussions are faking place, but if we cannot get a satisfactory solution through European channels, we should take unilateral action.
The Minister will be able to tell me that, relatively, the position of Sunderland and the North-East has improved, but that only means that other regions have got worse. It does not affect the essential problem in the North-East of heavy unemployment and the fact that within that region, Sunderland and the Wcarside area are the most hard-hit of all. It is a question not just of unemployment but of relative wealth. No impact has been made on this disparity. We remain much less well-off than other areas. This affects us in two ways which have a good deal to do with unemployment. We are worse off both in services and in housing.
913 As the Minister will know, I have been struck for some time with the importance in the assisted areas of the service industries. If we are trying to deal with the problem of unemployment, we must pay much greater regard to their importance; the fact that we lag behind other regions aggravates our unemployment problems. Similarly, we should pay regard to the fact that we have a large number of unemployed construction workers yet we compare unfavourably with other regions in our housing.
There is another factor, which I would impress upon the Minister probably more than anything else. We in the North-East, and especially in Wearside, are not asking him to deal with a temporary problem. Sunderland has had over 10 per cent. male unemployment for, I suppose, seven years. For seven years, we in Sunderland have lived as the country lived in the 1930s. So we do not want any temporary amelioration: this basic problem must be dealt with. I am convinced that in dealing with this basic problem we have to follow up general decisions by taking effective executive action. That is why I recently revived a demand that the North-East should be represented at Cabinet meetings by a Minister who has special responsibility for the region. We can surmise what has happened about Chrysler. The Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales—the two other major assisted areas—have a direct and articulate voice in the Cabinet. We want the same voice.
I shall give two examples to illustrate why we need a Minister with responsibility for the area. I am sick and tired of hearing about the location of the shipbuilding headquarters. The headquarters has to come to the North-East and, therefore, it should be in Sunderland.
We also want a skill centre in Sunderland. Sunderland has a bigger problem in providing facilities for training than elsewhere in the North-East. These decisions are the sort of decisions that are taken by Ministers who determine whether there is machinery for ministerial responsibility to be made effective.
I welcome the increased number of advance factories that are to be built but we want work in those factories. It is no good building factories unless there is productive work to be done in them. If there were a Minister responsible for the 914 area, we could get somewhere on this matter. I am not an advocate of direction in industry but this is a way to get things done. This is what the Swedish Government of 1931 did. We should be saying that we know the priorities—we ought to know them—and that if we cannot get the right production we should build a factory at the taxpayers' expense and put work into it. This would bring industry to the assisted areas more effectively than anything else.
I have always argued that Sunderland does not have the capacity to employ its people. That is our major difficulty. I have argued the need for an industrial complex to be sited there. However, any project of that kind has to have direct ministerial backing. This remains a major issue in Sunderland in the light of what used to be called "development area policy".
I turn to some particular aspects of unemployment. The same considerations apply. The first group I take is the disabled. The position of the unemployed disabled is slightly better than it was 12 months ago, but we have to accept the fact that for years one in five of the disabled—20 per cent.—have lived their lives without ever having a chance to work. That situation is intolerable. The Minister has given me some hope about job creation. I hope that he will say more about this subject in his reply. I pay tribute to the work that Remploy does. However, that percentage of unemployed among the disabled is quite intolerable and more help has to be provided.
Another group comprises the juvenile unemployed. What is the position there? We have a situation similar to that which obtained in 1971, when I made a host of proposals. However, I am not too pessimistic, for some good resulted from the agitation of myself and others. Community Industry is doing good work, as is the job creation scheme. What is lacking is the pressure which comes from direct ministerial interference and backing to ensure that effective action follows.
One of the major matters I raised in 1971 concerned the Southwick welfare ground, which presented a good opportunity for something to be done about youth unemployment. I was told by the Minister that this was the type of project 915 which should be undertaken. Why is it not undertaken? We need someone with drive and the responsibility to ensure that it is undertaken.
I should like a whole vacant factory to be made available for young unemployed. They should be given a say in its use. Such action would evoke a response from the young, who face the melancholy prospect, having left school, of not obtaining satisfactory employment for years.
The problems of unemployment can be broken down into specific compartments which all demand ministerial intervention. That is why I mentioned the skill centre. We have a large number of unemployed unskilled workers. In the past, after an upswing occurred following a depression, we were told that we did not have those with the necessary skills to cope with the opportunities which arose.
Work for the unskilled which can be most effectively and immediately provided is what were regarded as public works in the 1930s. The North-East has plenty of scope for public works, for it suffers from industrial dereliction, and direct employment could be provided in putting this right.
Fifty construction workers are chasing every vacancy. The Northern Region's housing position compares unfavourably with that of other regions. Representations have been received today from the National Federation of Building Trades Employers about the fact that so many of our unemployed are construction workers. This is another example of the necessity for ministerial decisions dealing with the complicated problems of housing and construction.
In the years since I have been in Parliament I have devoted much of my time to speaking about the problems of unemployment in the North-East and Sunderland. One difficulty about policy making in distressed, or development, or assisted, areas is getting effective action following policy decisions. Most of the decisions concerning Government activity are taken by separate Departments. The Department of Education and Science takes decisions about school building. The decisions are made on general grounds. There should be specific provisions 916 designed to help areas like mine. That is fundamental to policy designed to offset the disadvantages of certain parts of the country.
To deal with just a few other groups of the unemployed, we have well over 800 unemployed clerical workers. In that situation, for the Government to do other than send the shipbuilding headquarters to Sunderland would evoke a reaction from the whole of the town. If the Government think that something should be done about unemployment, if they recognise that we have these large numbers of unemployed clerical workers and if, on top of that, they realise that one great disadvantage is that Sunderland is a large town without any commercial development which a town like ours ought to have, there is no alternative but to locate the headquarters in Sunderland.
I have mentioned the unskilled workers. We have, in addition, large groups of unemployed skilled workers. I have already mentioned that there are 50 construction workers chasing every job. We have 800 unemployed skilled engineers—that is only one craft—and there are 12 of them chasing every job. It is for this reason that I have said that if this problem is to be dealt with, the Government ought to look at the empty advance factories and put some work in them, and if work is put in them, regard should be had to the skills of the workers who are at present unemployed.
Having promised the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott) that I would afford him time in the debate, may I just say that I appreciate the action which has been taken generally in dealing with unemployment. I know that statements are to be made next week and that further is to be done. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has a particular concern about this problem. I have stressed, because it is important in this context, that we need a more direct ministerial responsibility for our region.
I think that the most effective step 1 can take is to invite my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to come to Sunderland and give us an assurance that he will discuss these matters with the people of my constituency and, having done that, that he will ensure an effective response from the Government.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Sir William Elliott (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
With the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), whom I congratulate on raising this subject today, I share a considerable concern about employment not only in Sunderland, but in the region as a whole.
We have had a long wait to get our debate under way. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving us on the Opposition side of the House an opportunity to express our continuing concern about unemployment in our region in general, and in certain parts of it in particular. I shall attempt to be as brief as I can in order that in the short time left we may obtain a ministerial reply to this short but very important debate.
The right hon. Gentleman said that ever since he had been in the House he had been raising the problem of unemployment in the Northern Region. So have I. We do so together with great regularity. Indeed, this is the second time in less than a month that we have raised the problem of unemployment in the Northern Region. It is absolutely true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that the town of Sunderland experiences this extra burden and problem of unemployment within our region. No matter how we manage to get a comparatively reasonable position vis-à-vis other parts of the country and as between one part of the region and another, Sunderland has a persistently high level of unemployment.
We are facing a worsening situation. There are 11,430 people unemployed in Wearside today compared with 7,611 a year ago. This is a frightening increase. The right hon. Member was right to emphasise the problem of juvenile unemployment in Wearside. It has now reached 1,107, compared with 537 a year ago—another frightening increase. The possibility of a new generation of young people in Sunderland who do not have the right to work is intolerable.
The motion calls for immediate action. We know from long, hard experience that it is never easy. Development areas always have additional problems in times of economic restriction. Inflation hits the whole country, but places like Sunderland are affected most. It is a great pity that the improving situation in our 918 region and the economy as a whole in the early 1970s has not been sustained.
We have had the sad news this week of the possible closure of Homeworthy, with the loss of 220 jobs. It is sadder still to read that part of the reason for this situation has been bad labour relations, together with vandalism and absenteeism. I also read today that jobs might be lost, though not in the North-East, in another firm which has been attracted to our region, Brentford Nylons. Officials of the Transport and General Workers' Union have said these people must be kept in work because a lot of public money is involved.
I hope that the Minister will come to the North-East, though there has never been any shortage of ministerial visits—at one time they were averaging two and a half a week. We still like to see Ministers, but even if we have another Minister for the North-East, that will not bring the business prosperity which is essential if we are to do anything about unemployment. Even if we had every advance factory in the country moved to the North-East, it would be of no help if the Government's essential economic strategy was not working.
I understand that the Sunderland North Labour Party has passed a motion blaming the capitalist system for violence and vandalism and calling for the nationalisation of the country's 250 monopolies to combat it. I find that rather odd reasoning. There has been a substantial threat of additional nationalisation in the past year during which crimes of violence in our region have increased.
There are not always the best labour relations in nationalised or big private concerns. It is in the small and medium-sized businesses that one finds greater contentment at work. Unfortunately, we concentrate too much on the bigger firms and not enough on the smaller businesses which jointly employ many people, but which are groaning under the weight of taxation. Big closures such as that of Homeworthy make the headlines, but there is a steady stream of redundancies in the North-East which do not make news. Many small businesses, shops and firms employing only a few people are closing or cutting down the numbers they employ.
919 A year ago, when I was fortunate in the Ballot, I initiated a debate on the problems faced by small and medium-sized concerns. My plea to the Government then was that taxation should be eased and that profits should be encouraged and not condemned in such places as Sunderland. I made that plea in vain, but I make it again today.
We need new industries and new Government offices and I join the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North in his plea for them. If we can get new industries, we must be able to man them and it is right whenever we debate the problems of the Northern Region to emphasise the tremendous problem of skill shortage.
I join the right hon. Member in asking for further training facilities in the region. He mentioned the job creation programme. I do not agree with the Sunday newspaper that suggested last Sunday that this was a cynical exercise. That was a very unfortunate term. The Opposition do not disagree with the Government's effort to get young people off the streets. Far from disagreeing, I was involved a few years ago in a small pilot scheme in Newcastle financed by private industry. The Government are to be commended, and not criticised, for having attempted, at least, to give young people standing on street corners something worth while to do.
But the scheme is not a cure for unemployment. It is only a palliative. I understand that it is to cost £30 million this year and that it will cost a great deal more in coming years. Its job-satisfaction content and element of training are low. Mr. Jim Harper of the TUC advisory committee was reported in the Press as saying that the job creation programme was a waste of money and that the money would have been better spent on training young people in Government training centres. Perhaps it would, but it is the training of the young in particular and, to some degree, of the middle-aged which is most important and which we need to emphasise to the Government.
The high level of unemployment in the North-East continues to mask the very severe shortage of skill. How much scope do we have for increasing training in the region? Are the Government training centres being fully utilised? Do we know 920 enough about the skill requirements of new and potential industries? Some inquiry ought to be made into the number of trained workers leaving firms which have spent money on their training to work in better-paid jobs in establishments with no training scheme. Is there a possibility of the £100 million that may be spent in the next full year on job creation being added to the cost of job training? That would be very worth while.
We should study training in detail. I join the right hon. Member in asking the Minister to take full note of the high level of unemployment among trained workers in the building industry. Perhaps it would not be a bad thing if we again considered as a short-term measure reintroducing Operation Eyesore. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire (Mr. Walker) was told on Monday that it was not practical to reintroduce the scheme at present. It involved a sum of £37 million, spent to great advantage in development areas. Operation Eyesore could be reintroduced and could take up some of the unemployed workers in the building industry.
In the Sunderland area, as anywhere else in the country, there are two main causes of unemployment that are closely related. The first is rampant inflation reducing demand and competitive price capability. The second is the activities of the unions which indulge in a policy of overpricing their members. We know too much about these causes in the North-East. The way back to rising employment in Sunderland will not be easy. Indeed, we know that unemployment will continue to rise.
Sunderland and the North-East in general need and merit the maximum of Government encouragement and assistance. Above all, we want capital investment. All the factories and training in the world will be of no use unless we obtain capital investment. That is where employment arises.
It is tragic that at such a time foreign investors are being frightened by threats of further nationalisation and higher taxation. We need an enormous effort to bring labour-intensive industry to the North-East. We also need opportunities for managers and clerical workers. We certainly need mobility of labour. This means persuading labour to move to other 921 areas, and it also means improvement in public transport.
There is room for this on Wearside. We need more industrial training. If we strive to attain these objectives, we can bring a balance back into the North-East—and I hope that balance will spread to the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. John Fraser)
I am sure that the House will acquit me of replying to all the detailed points raised in this debate since I now have so little time at my disposal. I shall study the detailed suggestions that have been made in the debate.
I was grateful for the constructive way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) made his speech. He concluded by saying that we should have a Minister for the North-East. I would remind him that there are co-ordinating arrangements in existence. However, I am happy to take up his invitation to visit Sunderland and to examine in detail some of the points he has raised. I shall try to arrange a visit early in the New Year. Perhaps I shall be able to give him a more detailed reply on that occasion rather than in the short time that is now available to me in this debate.
The Government recognise that the unemployment situation in Sunderland is extremely grave. It is not much consolation to those affected but I must point out that unemployment in Sunderland has not risen to the same degree as has occurred in the country as a whole. Notified vacancies in the Sunderland employment office area are at roughly the same level as they were at this time last year, compared with a decrease nationally of nearly 60 per cent. I accept that the position is grave and that hon. Members are right to be so concerned about it.
The Government obviously are worried about the situation facing this year's school leavers. We believe that the social damage resulting from young persons being blunted in their ambitions when they have just left school is extremely serious. It is right to emphasise what the Government have done for young people. We have given a recruitment subsidy for school leavers which has had a favourable effect in Sunderland. We have provided 922 an unprecedented amount of money for training—namely, a figure of £70 million. I believe that the number of places for apprenticeship training awards and so forth will maintain the level of training in that part of the country.
Both my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North and the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott) referred to the job creation scheme. At a time of high unemployment it was right that such a scheme should be introduced and I was happy that Sunderland should be first in the field in that respect.
I cannot reply in detail to criticisms made in The Sunday Times. However, I believe that they were destructive, ill-intentioned and biased and paid no heed to what had been done in the job creation programme.
In regard to Community in Industry, we have concentrated attention on those young people who find themselves in need. It is true to say that 60 additional places have been allocated to centres in the North-East, bringing the total to 630 places. Wearside has a centre embracing 150 places. Under the Training Opportunities Scheme we hope that 60,000 people will have been trained nationally in 1975 and we hope that that will give benefits to the North-East—
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.