Is the Minister aware that unemployment in the Blyth valley is still 2.5 per cent. higher than the national average? Is he also aware that a worrying trend in the Blyth valley is the number of long-term unemployed, which has increased by 24 per cent. over the past five years? Is he further aware that there are many job losses for the area in the pipeline? With the demise of Swan Hunter, highly skilled design workers have had to leave the area. Five hundred science and development jobs will be lost from British Gas and 400 jobs will be lost from Northern Electricity. Will the Minister get off his backside, get some jobs for the north-east and help the people of the Blyth valley?
The hon. Gentleman is ignoring the fact that job vacancies in his travel-to-work area have been rising very rapidly. I agree with him on one point: we all accept that unemployment is still too high. It is too high all over Europe and throughout the developed world.
In this country, the level of unemployment is falling and employment is rising far faster than it is in the rest of Europe. As the hon. Gentleman has wilfully provoked me, I remind him that when his party was in power the number of unemployed in the north doubled and rose at a far faster rate than it has under this Government.
I will just quote no less a person than Lord Healey, who recently said on Radio 4:
Don't kid yourselves. The minimum wage is something on which unions will build differentials. … Therefore, the minimum wage becomes a floor on which you erect a new tower.
The minimum wage would replace low pay with no pay. The minimum wage would create unemployment in Britain, just as it has done in Spain and France.