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Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, is the Minister aware that quite a number of people who are trying to invest in power stations, particularly in the north west, are awaiting the Government's announcement on their energy policy? If that policy were announced soon, those people would be able to invest and help to remedy the difficulties in the north east to which my noble friend referred.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there are very many examples of companies that are investing in the north east. Over the past six months 6,000 new jobs have been created in the region. For example, MTK Containers has taken on 220 staff, Black & Decker 350 and British Airways 450. It is very important to keep this matter in perspective and not engage in too much doom and gloom.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I begin by welcoming the noble Lord to the Front Bench and congratulate him on his appointment. I also commiserate with him that his Minister has decided to allow him to answer this Question today, especially in view of the general government line that interest rates have nothing to do with them and that unemployment and the destruction of manufacturing industry in many parts of the country--for example, West Central Scotland and the Borders--have nothing to do with them. I am not surprised that the Government do not like that. Will the
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his welcome this afternoon. I am sure that he is disappointed that my noble friend is not able to be here but I am sure that her answer would not be any different from mine. The Government are determined that the economy of this country should be run in the long term, in contrast to the past boom and bust situations and short-term political fixes which have had a damaging impact on both stability and productivity.
Lord Dixon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the biggest employer in the region is tourism and that this year government funding for the northern region via the English Tourist Board has been cut by 10 per cent. to £260,000? That represents 8p per head of population compared with £5 in Wales and £3.56 in Scotland. If the Government want to do anything about the problems in the north east does my noble friend agree that they should create a level playing field?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the support of the tourist industry to which my noble friend referred is a small part of investment in this country. The north east has much to offer tourists. It is a growth area and I am sure that it will continue to grow.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that is an extremely interesting question. The expression "the long term" means that over a period of years this country establishes stability in its economic policy and framework in a way that it has not achieved for many years. That is the aim of this Government's policy.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, while it is very important to have inward investment, which has created a large number of jobs, can the Minister inform the House how many of the redundancies in the north east have been due to a cutback in production by inward investors?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am happy to write to the noble Lord on that issue. Referring to inward investment as a whole, it is very important that we continue our efforts to attract it as much as possible. Our success in attracting such investment has brought wide benefits to the region in terms of initial investment, such as new technology, and its input into the economy as a whole. There is strong competition from other
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Government have no such estimate. However, the Labour Force Survey indicates that just over 1 million disabled people of working age who are receiving state benefits excluding child benefit want to work. This figure includes some 656,000 people who for a variety of reasons would be unable to start work within a fortnight.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Since the Green Paper confirms that at least two-thirds of the 6.5 million disabled are over retirement age and recent censuses show that about half of those of working age are already employed and many of the rest are very severely disabled, is not the scope for removing benefit from the disabled sector strictly limited although there is much willingness there to find suitable work?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am aware of the noble Lord's keen interest in the number of disabled people of working age. I suspect that much of the difficulty in trying to work out the precise numbers arises from how disability is defined and how that information is gathered. This can lead to a wide range of estimates both in terms of the overall number of disabled people and the age distribution within it. But the substance of the issue is that a significant number of disabled people wish to work. The crucial importance of New Deal for Disabled People lies in finding better ways to support those people who are on sickness and disability benefit but who wish to work and could work given the right support.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that very many severely disabled people would like to work part time but because they are fearful of losing their benefits they do not do so? Will the Minister look at part-time workers?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, yes. One of the benefits of New Deal for Disabled People, which is being rolled out through a number of pilots and an evaluation at the end of next year, is that it allows the Government to examine many of the issues involved in trying to support disabled people in work, and we must take account of both the incentives and disincentives for people to do so.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is not appropriate for me to comment upon press speculation on this issue. These matters will come before the Houses of Parliament in due course. As to the figures, I was referring to different approaches to surveys or the census. The figures that I quoted originally came from the labour force figures and show that the number of people of working age with long-term disabilities is just over 2.4 million. Of those, just over 1 million would like to work if they were able.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that part of the Government's difficulty in this matter arises from the practice adopted by the previous administration of artificially depressing the level of the official unemployed by transfers to disability? How long does the Minister believe the necessary statistical corrections to the system will take?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend raises an extremely interesting point in relation to the practice of the previous administration. I believe that this demonstrates the benefit of using the labour force figures which I have already mentioned.
Lord Rix: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the valuable financial support and benefits which accrue as a result of Access to Work to both employees and employers should be given far greater publicity, because a large number of disabled people and employers have no knowledge of this particular exercise?
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that any proposal to tax the mobility element of disabled living allowance would lead to many disabled people returning from work to welfare, because they could no longer afford transport to get to their workplace?
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