People's March for Jobs

Part of Petition – in the House of Commons at 11:51 am on 22 May 1981.

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Photo of Hon. Peter Morrison Hon. Peter Morrison , City of Chester 11:51, 22 May 1981

I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said. I appreciate that he is concerned about the present high levels of unemployment. I understand that he is most concerned about unemployment in the West Midlands, particularly in his constituency in Walsall.

I hope that when the hon. Gentleman addresses the marchers this afternoon in Northampton he will correct himself in two respects. He talks about the high level of interest rates and the over-valued pound. Thanks entirely to the good housekeeping policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, interest rates in this country are at the lower end of the scale of all Western countries. The hon. Member also talked about the over-valued pound. I hope that he will be aware that the over-valued pound, which has come down substantially, helps to reduce inflation and means that we can buy raw materials from overseas more cheaply. Despite his saying that the pound is over-valued, the fact remains that our balance of payments surplus has been at record levels. That means jobs.

I come from a constituency in the NorthWest—Chester. It is but a stone's throw from Merseyside and Liverpool. I would be unbelievably blind and callous if I did not see the unemployment in the North-West, particularly in Merseyside, and if I did not desperately care about it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give me credit for caring about it. I did not go into politics—nor did any of my right hon. and hon. Friends—to see people without jobs. We want to see full employment, as the hon. Member does. To suggest that we do not care about the situation—he did not say so in so many words, but he nearly did—is both untrue and is not borne out by the facts.

The hon. Gentleman said that a large proportion of those without a job were under the age of 20. I accept that. If we did not care, we would not have a youth opportunities programme. That programme has been expanded this year to 450,000 places. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the long-term unemployed. If we did not care we would not have a community enterprise programme. About 25,000 of the longer-term unemployed will receive temporary support under that programme.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about short-time employment. If we did not care we would not have the temporary short-time working compensation scheme. Nearly 1 million jobs are being supported under that scheme. That is helping employers to avoid redundancies. The hon. Gentleman may not like that, but it shows that the Government and my right hon. and hon. Friends desperately care.

I accept that certain areas of the country are suffering more than others. The hon. Gentleman will agree, because that is common ground. Merseyside is one of those areas. Certain parts of the West Midlands may be other areas. The Government realise that. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what the Government are doing for Merseyside. As he knows, the march started from Liverpool. Under the Industry Act Merseyside, as a special development area, is eligible for maximum Government financial assistance. In fact, no area in Great Britain is eligible for more assistance. From May 1979 to March 1981, assistance worth £23·3 million was offered to 105 projects in Merseyside under section 7 of the Industry Act. The estimated employment associated with those projects is over 13,500. In the same period, £125 million was paid out in regional development grants. Under section 8 of the Act, over £1 million has been offered to 94 projects in that area.

The hon. Member will also be aware that in Liverpool we have set up an urban development corporation. It will be based on the Merseyside docks area. It came into being on 25 March this year. An enterprise zone will be established at Speke. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is also aware that Liverpool is an inner city partnership area with a budget this year of £17·6 million.

In terms of special employment measures, people in Merseyside are currently benefiting on the following basis: over 12,000 jobs are being protected under the temporary short-time working compensation scheme; about 1,120 people are benefiting from the job release scheme, and community industry has 638 participants; over 17,000 people in Merseyside entered YOP courses in 1979–80 and 24,700 entered in 1980–81; the provisional allocation for 1981–82 is 33,800.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that much taxpayers' money—not Government money—is going to an area where there is a big unemployment problem. I accept that it is a big problem. However, the hon. Gentleman may not like the fact—I may be wrong, and I shall be happy to give way if I am—that from the European regional development fund £51·7 million has been put into the Merseyside, Widnes and Skelmersdale special development areas since 1979. The hon. Gentleman may not like that, because he is not an eager supporter of the Common Market. However, the Common Market has substantial advantages because of the funds that are available. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if we were not a member millions of jobs would go, thanks to the lack of trade that would result from our withdrawal.

The march left Liverpool on 1 May. Therefore, it is now in its twenty-second day. I shall give the hon. Gentleman one or two figures to demonstrate that the Governmemt are doing everything within their power to make sure that unemployment is not as bad as it otherwise might be. In the last 22 days the Government have given the British Steel Corporation £77 million. That has meant the preservation of jobs. Over the year it will be £1·2 billion. In the last 22 days the Government have given to British Leyland £18 million. In the same period they have given British Shipbuilders £15 million and Rolls-Royce £7 million. Other industries have been given money, but those four industries alone receive nearly £2 billion from the taxpayer. In the past 22 days they have received over £100 million. We are also spending nearly £1 billion on special employment measures, and since the march began the amount spent has been over £60 million.

The Government will not throw more pounds at problems, because the country simply cannot afford it. I hope that when the hon. Gentleman speaks to the marchers in Northampton tonight he will put the other side of the balance sheet and explain how Labour will create jobs. If he intends to put more money into the system, where will it come from? Over the past 25 years Governments have spent too much money, which is why we are in our present predicament.