The Minister should have gone on to say that that represents 19·3 per cent. of the working population, but is not the real rate more than 24 per cent. when the black hole of the Department's 19 statistical fiddles adds 16,000 uncounted people in Northern Ireland? How can greater unity among working people be brought about in conditions of mass unemployment and the attendant poverty that it brings, in which sectarianism—whether of the orange or the green variety—finds a ready breeding ground?
I deny what the hon. Gentleman has said. The Government have done a great deal to promote training and employment in Northern Ireland, which the Labour Government's mismanagement prevented that Administration from carrying out. Yesterday, for example, I announced a new package of employment measures. I am extending the restart programme to those who are unemployed for six months. The youth training programme will now guarantee a one-year training place to 17-year-olds as well as to 16-year-olds, so no person under the age of 18 need remain on the unemployment register. Moreover, the enterprise allowance scheme will be increased by 10 per cent. to offer a further 250 places, and a pilot scheme is being introduced to offer unemployed people in the 18 to 25 age range training places with employers' leading to a recognised qualification.
I congratulate the Government on what they have achieved and are seeking to achieve, but how can anyone have confidence in the employment or unemployment figures for Northern Ireland in view of yesterday's revelations by Mr. Justice Nicholson about a massive employment swindle in the building industry involving millions of pounds and apparently financing terrorist organisations? Will my hon. Friend ensure that Mr. Justice Nicholson's comments are followed up and the swindle brought to a complete halt?
Although it does not directly follow from the question, I can confirm that yesterday's convictions were the latest in a series of successful investigations into tax exemption frauds by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The Government are vigorously pursuing a policy of cracking down on such corruption.
Is the Minister aware that the unemployment level of 48 per cent. in Strabane in my constituency is the highest not just in Britain and Northern Ireland but in the European Community? Why is there no enterprise zone in that area, given that enterprise zones are supposed to be located in areas of high unemployment to help them tackle those problems?
As a former commercial director of a company in Northern Ireland, and having been responsible for placing millions of pounds worth of work in Northern Ireland, is my hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) has shown no such initiatives in relation to unemployment in Northern Ireland?
I am anxious to lend a hand to any colleague on this side of the House in the face of attacks by Conservative Members. The Minister has given the House good and bad news. The bad news is that unemployment is now 131,205. The good news, which we welcome, is the series of initiatives being introduced in Northern Ireland. Is the Minister aware that the figure of 131,205 people unemployed is greater than the total of 97,000 people employed in the manufacturing sector? More people are on the dole than are working and creating wealth in Northern Ireland. Is that due to Thatcherism, monetarism, plain incompetence, or all three?
Recent comments about the decline of the manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland have an element of truth in them, as they do throughout the industralised world. There is less employment in many areas in the manufacturing sector, but the line between manufacturing and service industries is now less clear than it was. Strong, lively industrial companies are prospering in Northern Ireland and it is a mistake to sell them down the river.