HC Deb 03 April 1978 vol 947 cc15-9
11. Mr. Michael Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what recent representations he has received about the high level of unemployment, particularly male unemployment, in the Cardiff area.

Mr. Alec Jones

I received a deputation led by the Lord Mayor last November. I am well aware of the general concern about the high level of unemployment in the Cardiff area.

Mr. Roberts

Is the Minister aware that the increase in male unemployment in the Cardiff travel-to-work area has over the last 12 months been 16.8 per cent. compared with a national average of 3.8 per cent.? Will he give an assurance that he will make maximum use of discretionary and steering powers to ensure that when East Moors works is closed a very bad situation will not be made catastrophic?

Mr. Alec Jones

We are aware that over the past year, and certainly with the closure of East Moors works, the people living there faced a very serious problem, caused basically by unemployment. That is why we have already begun discussions with the Welsh Development Agency and with the city council and county council, in which we are proposing that work be started immediately on one or two sites in the Cardiff area. It is for that reason that my right hon. and learned Friend announced that about £4 million would be available immediately for the construction of factories and sites in the coming financial year.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Is it not a fact that, under the policies of the Conservative Government, the East Moors steel works would have been closed several years ago? Indeed, if their policy were pursued, Britain would have no steel industry at all, with the result that many more thousands of people, in Wales in particular, would now be on the dole.

Mr. Alec Jones

I am very grateful that I have no responsibility in this House for the policies or suggestions made by the Conservative Party while in power, but the Conservatives seem to be learning wisdom the longer they stay in Opposition.

12. Sir Raymond Gower

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is the latest number of persons unemployed in Wales; how many of these have been unemployed for more than three months; and what were the comparable figures in 1973.

Mr. Alec Jones

On 9th March there were 88,479 persons unemployed in Wales. As to duration of unemployment, in January 1978 60,444 persons had been unemployed for more than three months. The comparable figures for January 1973 were 24,705 out of a total of 45,772.

Sir R. Gower

Has the Minister reflected that he and his ministerial colleagues have now been in office for more than four years, and have been in office for 10 years out of the last 14? Are not these figures a very sad commentary on the quality of their service?

Mr. Alec Jones

I am quite astonished that the hon. Gentleman, in discussing what is rightfully a serious problem in Wales and the United Kingdom, namely, the level of unemployment, should pay no attention to the fact that unemployment is a major problem affecting countries throughout Europe. Has the hon. Gentleman not heard of the world-wide recession? Has he not heard of the rapid increases in oil prices in recent years? It is true that unemployment is far too high in Wales, but the steps taken by the Government are intended to rectify that situation.

Mr. Kinnock

Is my hon. Friend aware that it ill befits the official Opposition—whose policies of enthusiastic cuts in public expenditure, and the destruction of the agencies established to sponsor development and employment in areas such as Wales, would bring about a doubling of the unemployment rate—to make criticisms of this sort? Will he accept that there is need for an additional commitment, especially in the form of investment in the steel industry, and in the form of job sponsorship in Wales, so that we do not lose another generation of young people because of unemployment?

Mr. Alec Jones

I agree with my hon. Friend that the measures which the Government have announced, specifically to help overcome unemployment in Wales, have almost inevitably been opposed by the Conservatives. I invite them to read again the speeches they made in the debate on the Welsh Development Agency when it was set up. I invite them also to think of the doubt which they have cast about the long-term existence, as a separate body, of the Development Board for Rural Wales. It is the aim of the Government to increase investment and to try to ensure that we have a good, strong, viable economic basis for employment prospects in Wales.

Mr. Geraint Howells

I am sure that the Minister is aware of the high unemployment figure in Ceredigion, in my constituency. In the towns of Cardigan, Llandyssil and Lampeter it is as high as 14 to 18 per cent. What plans has the hon. Gentleman in mind to persuade industrialists to come to our part of the country?

Mr. Alec Jones

We are certainly aware of the problems facing the people of Ceredigion, and that is one of the reasons why we were pleased to be able to announce recently the advance factory programme in that area.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Is the Minister aware that what Wales needs is not a number of ad hoc expenditure schemes to disguise the disgraceful nature of the unemployment which has arisen under the Labour Government but cuts in taxation to stimulate the smaller business and the younger business on which the future employment of Wales relies?

Mr. Alec Jones

The hon. Gentleman says that Wales does not need a great deal of expenditure on ad hoc solutions, but I invite him to say which of the measures the Conservative Party is opposed to would be subject to the type of cuts he suggests. Indeed, if its policies are carried out, many more people will be unemployed in Wales. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, as a consequence of the Government measures, 56,000 people in Wales have now benefited from the steps taken to save or create jobs, at a cost of over £50 million—public expenditure which the Conservatives would have cut.

Sir R. Gower

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Wigley

In view of the fact that only half the Questions relating to Wales have been reached, Mr. Speaker, may I ask that the orders in which Questions are taken should be reviewed and that Welsh Questions should be taken more frequently than once every six weeks?

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that Welsh eloquence has defeated us.

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