Orders of the Day — Employment Subsidies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th February 1978.

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Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince 12:00 am, 20th February 1978

My hon. Friend was making sotto voce comments. I thought he wanted to intervene. I could not hear what he said and I wanted, if possible, to answer him.

The point I was making was that this interference did not begin when we joined the EEC. I was suggesting that we were subject to investigation and criticism even on import surcharge, and that in many cases we have had to modify our proposals. At the same time I believe that we shall have some scheme to protect employment. The refined instrument which my right hon. Friend has at his disposal will help my constituency cope with its high rate of unemployment. In Skelmersdale New Town we have a figure of male unemployment of 17 per cent.

Whatever duties the Government owe to towns which have high unemployment rates, they owe a special duty to new towns. After all, it was Government advertising which lured people away from bad housing and poor employment prospects to new towns and promised them a new Jerusalem, and many of those promises have turned to ashes. This Government have said "We have done all that we could to help you", but I do not believe that they have, and I suggest that they owe a duty and debt to the people of Skelmersdale to reduce substantially that 17 per cent. unemployment rate.

We have heard today that engineers are brimful of ideas, and I have no doubt that they are. Members of the business association in Skelmersdale, worried about how they could help to reduce unemployment there, gave me a list of suggestions and ideas, which I discussed with them. We met a Minister at the Department of Trade and left with him some of those ideas, which I thought were very practical since they came from the managers of factories. They have not been acted upon, but I hope that they have filtered through to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and that he will be able to implement them. Some of them involve getting more help to take on unemployed youngsters and train them into skilled workers. We are always being told from both Dispatch Boxes that we shall face, as we have in the past, a lack of skilled labour when we get out of this dreadful international recession.

I am glad that that has been mentioned. I know that Opposition speakers have to pad things out a bit, although there is nothing substantial in this Bill which they can criticise. But they will do their whack in Committee. However, one Opposition Member gave the impression that this was a problem that we had in Great Britain. It is an international problem, and one which has come about since the oil crisis of 1973. No Western democracy has found a way to deal with it. They are all suffering comparable rates of unemployment, and it was wrong of the hon. Member to suggest that it was happening solely in Britain.

But, to return to what I was saying, we are always told that when we get out of the present recession we shall face a lack of skilled manpower. As I say, we have 17 per cent. male unemployment in Skelmersdale and the prospect facing youngsters is years on the dole, even after these job creation schemes which, after all, are only cosmetic. I agree with them, because they provide job experience, but they are no substitute for a proper career. If we are likely to face a lack of skilled manpower, the Government are in duty bound to encourage companies, especially in towns such as Skelmersdale, to take on these young lads. The managers there have put forward ideas, and I hope that they have filtered through to my right hon. Friend.

The other part of my constituency is in Wigan. I do not know how this refined instrument will help us in Wigan. Wigan seems to get the dirty end of the stick on every Government measure. We have had the inner urban renewal aid programme. Wigan missed out on that. We have the rate support grant. Wigan missed out on that. One of the consequences is that the rate increase in Wigan is terrifying. It is one of 10 towns in Greater Manchester which do not get any help. It has the highest rate of industrial dereliction, and now it has one of the highest rates of human dereliction, with a 10 per cent. unemployment rate. The rate support grant, from which Wigan did not benefit, means that the rates will go up by between 20 per cent. and 25 per cent. That will mean higher rates on factories and premises where people are employed. It will mean one hell of a job competing with other areas that already receive development area status or special development area status. In that way the problem will worsen.

I do not know precisely how my right hon. Friend can help in that direction. However, Wigan has an unemployment rate of about 10 per cent. and it does not enjoy any of the benefits enjoyed by its competitors. I hope that my right hon. Friend will find an opportunity and a means of helping towns such as Wigan with the refined instrument that he will have at his disposal. Wigan certainly needs that help.

I give the Bill my approval. There is no doubt that it will be on the statute book fairly quickly. I have no doubt that in Committee, if I am a member of the Committee, we shall be able to probe more deeply the powers that my right hon. Friend will have at his disposal. I am bound to say, as one who represents a constituency suffering probably more than any other from the cruel lash of unemployment, with male unemployment in Skelmersdale of 17 per cent. and 10 per cent. in Wigan, that I shall be looking for help in a special way. That is because the constituency is a special case. I shall be looking for substantial benefit. On those grounds I wish the Bill well.