I have been told by those who must be obeyed that I should be brief.
Amid the electioneering that is taking place here and elsewhere, the ordinary, decent people we represent have to continue to meet the challenges and deal with the problems they face in their everyday lives. I should like to consider whether the public expenditure plans come anywhere near matching the needs, interests and expectations of my constituents. I should like the Minister to ensure that my remarks are passed on to his ministerial colleagues. I have made similar requests before, and he has courteously done precisely that.
The unemployment rate in my constituency is 12·9 per cent. Thousands of people are unemployed, some of whom are categorised as long-term unemployed. Among its objectives, the Department of Employment's glossy brochure states:
To help people to get jobs … To provide particular help to people who are long term unemployed … to make sure that unemployed people in receipt of benefits are available for and actively seeking work".
The unemployed people I represent are anxious to find work. In Scotland, the age-old Scottish solution is being applied to unemployment. It is the solution of migration and emigration. I want the Government to establish the restart programme. I must tell the Government that, in Greenock and Port Glasgow, those programmes are being handled with appalling sensitivity by Department of Employment and Department of Social Security staff. People who have been unemployed for many months are extremely sensitive to any "instructions" that they receive from the local benefit office, the local job centre or the DSS. They should be treated much more compassionately and sensitively.
Mrs Susan Coyle in Port Glasgow told me the other day that several of her friends have been treated in a disgraceful—she said "squalid"—way by officials as a result of the legislation which has introduced among other things the restart programme.
The Department of Social Security brochure claims among other things that the DSS claims to
Provide a good service to customers—one which is professional, efficient, responsive and fair
Ensure correct payments are made i.e. that benefit recipients are paid their correct entitlement".
That simply does not happen in the experience of many of my constituents.
About two years ago, over 1,800 shipyard workers and dockers applied for disability benefit in respect of the industrial injuries of vibration white finger, industrial deafness and other ailments. Many of those men are still waiting for the claims to be processed. The Department of Social Security in Stranraer, Greenock and Port Glasgow has treated those men with disgraceful insensitivity. Yet south of the border in the Sunderland area of the north-east of England, such claims have been dealt with much more speedily, efficiently and, dare I say it, generously. If people in the north-east of England can be treated in that way, the claimants on the lower Clyde should be treated with equal compassion and sensitivity. I hope that the Minister will pass my remarks on to his ministerial colleagues.