HC Deb 23 December 1976 vol 923 cc906-9
Q4. Mr. Steen

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Bwlch.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Steen

It is a pity that the Prime Minister will not be visiting this nice Welsh hamlet near Brecon. If he went there, he would see some of the 600,000 young people under 25 who are unemployed. Does he realise that the rates of pay under the job creation scheme are nearly double those paid in private industry and that if they were reduced more young people would have work created for them—or does he not care too much about the 600,000 young people?

The Prime Minister

Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I have not only been to Bwlch, but I can pronounce it.

Mr. John Davies


The Prime Minister

I understand that there is a difference on these matters of pronunciation between scholars from North Wales and South Wales. But I know this village in Powys, lying on the main road between Crickhowell and Brecon, and I have been through it many times.

Although the hon. Gentleman's question is serious, I do not think that it particularly relates to this village. Since the hon. Gentleman put down the Question I have had inquiries made. In the Brecon travel-to-work area, which includes this village, the unemployment rate, at 5 per cent., is one of the lowest in Wales. I know that the hon. Gentleman, from the Bills that he introduces but seemingly never prints, is concerned with ways in which we might overcome some of these difficulties. The problem is a very serious one, and it has been referred to in the most recent series of questions.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the bases of good cheer for the unemployed at present is the fact that the market seems to have received the Government's economic policy rather better than it has been received by the Opposition or the Press and that as a result the exchange rate of the pound in recent weeks has gone up from $1.55 to $1.68? Does my right hon. Fried agree that in the coming year one of the further actions that will help the pound will be to deal with the problem of the sterling balances? Is it the Government's view that the sterling balances should be phased out and that sterling should cease to be a reserve currency?

The Prime Minister

There is no doubt that sterling has been strengthened by the recent Government measures and, of course, by the IMF loan which has now been agreed. As to the future of the sterling balances, I have my own views about that, as the House will know. Others will have to enter into an international agreement if the sterling balances are to be phased out, and that might take a considerable period of time. However, shorter-term arrangements for ensuring that sudden withdrawals of sterling balances do not put a false value on sterling are now being considered and will, I hope, be brought to a conclusion.

Mr. Madel

If the Prime Minister will not be visiting the village the name of which I would not dare to pronounce, will he, with the Secretary of State for Employment, go to the Rubery Owen factory during the recess? The situation there is desperately serious and is having a very bad effect on plants such as Chrysler at Dunstable, and British Leyland. Does he agree that the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service ought to send a special unit to the factory for three or four months to help the company sort out its industrial relations, as 1976 has been a terrible year in that factory?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I believe that this problem ought to be solved. The general industrial situation, which is so much better, is due to the fact that both sides of industry—both management and the workers in the factories—have been co-operating to a great degree. I regret to say that that has not been true of the Rubery Owen factory.

I would prefer not to comment on the hon. Gentleman's suggestion but I shall convey it to the Secretary of State for Industry, who is taking a close day-by-day interest in the matter. Indeed, he had meetings on it yesterday and will do so again today. It is a situation that I should like to see solved. In general, I can see nothing in the situation at the factory that a little good will and common sense could not resolve.

Mr. Buchan


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Norman Buchanan—I am sorry, Mr. Norman Buchan.

Mr. Buchan

That was almost as bad a pronunciation as "Bwlch", Mr. Speaker.

While on the question of unemployment, it would be churlish of us on the Clyde not to thank the Prime Minister for his Christmas card and that of the Secretary of State for Scotland, in the form of their action with regard to Marathon shipyard, where the men have fought for so long to preserve their jobs.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that we do not necessarily want to see everyone kept in employment? I hope it is not too late for my right hon. Friend to send a Christmas card, in the shape of a dismissal notice, to the House of Lords so that we can get the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill through.

The Prime Minister

We in Wales are internationalists and we welcome the intervention of my hon. Friend into our affairs.

The Government have taken a decision with regard to Marathon, which should maintain employment. We believe that is a reasonable decision to take with public money because there may well be a future opportunity for these jack-up rigs. These are not the same as oil platforms, which must be built for specialised purposes. We believe that it would be wrong to allow Marathon to disappear at this moment when there are prospects for the future.

With regard to the House of Lords, let us preserve it until the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill is through. In the light of the present circumstances and developments in the shipbuilding industry, I believe that the House of Lords would be well advised to get on with the Bill so that the industry can have an assured future.