West Midlands

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th July 1974.

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Photo of Mr Raymond Carter Mr Raymond Carter , Birmingham, Northfield 12:00 am, 9th July 1974

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the employment prospects for the West Midlands Region.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood

Currently there is a strong demand for labour in the region and it is the Government's policy to do all they can to maintain employment at a high level.

Photo of Mr Raymond Carter Mr Raymond Carter , Birmingham, Northfield

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that in a region where one-quarter of the industrial work force is employed in the car industry the announcement by British Leyland that it is encountering difficulties and has doubts about the future has met with disquiet? May I ask, therefore, what his Department and the Secretary of State may be urging upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer in terms of economic changes that may remove the causes of those doubts?

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood

I cannot anticipate what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer may say. I hope it is reassuring to my hon. Friend that unemployment in the West Midlands is 1·9 per cent., which is less than in Great Britain as a whole. I understand his concern about job prospects at British Leyland. However, in the West Midlands there is a particularly strong demand for skilled engineering workers, and expansion plans already begun for Rover, Triumph and Jaguar at Birmingham, Coventry and Solihull are expected to continue. I hope that my hon. Friend will find this information reassuring.

Photo of Mr Christopher Tugendhat Mr Christopher Tugendhat , City of London and Westminster South

How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile his optimistic statement with the collapse in consumer spending revealed in the first part of the year and with the dismal state of hire-purchase figures? Surely these are much more revealing than his hon. Friend's question and his rather sanguine reply.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood

I do not think I was making either optimistic or pessimistic forecasts. I was simply giving the House the facts.

Photo of Mr Jack Ashley Mr Jack Ashley , Stoke-on-Trent South

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the North Staffordshire area of the West Midlands Region there will be a catastrophic increase in unemployment if the Shelton steelworks are allowed to close? While recognising the demarcation problems between Ministers, may I ask whether my hon. Friend will undertake to consult the Secretary of State for Industry about the Shelton steelworks as unemployment would be a grave problem for North Staffordshire if the works were allowed to close?

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood

There are always consultions between the Department responsible for the steel industry and my Department about the consequences of redundancies. I have seen some of the effects of this problem. Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has announced arrangements for consultation with Members of Parliament and trade unionists about the effects of closures. We shall certainly do all we can to assist.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable apprehension about the future in the Birmingham and West Midlands area where it is felt that already the area is too dependent on the motor car industry, where a substantial fall in the demand for manufactured goods is foreseen, where there is a shortage of liquidity on the part of manufacturers, made worse by Government measures, and where it is felt that the situation would be made much worse if the Government adopted a harder line in directing industrial development out of the West Midlands? Therefore, will he confirm that there is no question whatever of the Government adopting any policy to move any future industrial development out of the West Midlands?

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood

There is a contradiction in what the hon. Gentleman has said. The West Midlands area is very much reliant upon engineering. Diversification is one of the objects of Government policy. Although it is not a matter for my Department, I know of no immediate proposals for the moving out of industry. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Department of Industry is considering an application from the British Leyland Motor Corporation for an industrial development certificate.