HC Deb 21 January 1980 vol 977 cc1-4
1. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many people were out of work in Wales at the most recent count; and how this compares with the figures in February 1974 and May 1979.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)

I do not know whether it is in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I should like to wish Mr. Speaker a speedy recovery from his illness.

In answer to the question, the figure at 6 December 1979 was 85,177, compared with 38,424 in February 1974 and 83,024 in May 1979.

Mr. Knox

Does not my right hon. Friend think that those figures reflect badly on the previous Labour Government? Why does he think that unemployment in Wales more than doubled when the Labour Government were in office?

Mr. Edwards

It is, of course, true that unemployment under the previous Government went up from 38,000 to a peak of 101,000. It therefore ill behoves Labour Members to give lectures on the subject of unemployment.

Mr. Wigley

Does not the Secretary of State fear that the latest figure will double as a result of what is happening in the Welsh economy, with the rundown of steel and the consequent likelihood of a closure of as many as 22 collieries, the withdrawal of active regional policy and the general collapse of employment in all directions?

Mr. Edwards

As I indicated in my first speech from the Government Dispatch Box, when we came into Government the underlying trend of unemployment was rising. At a time of world recession and economic difficulty, there is a likelihood that unemployment figures will rise, but I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's claim that there has been an abandonment of regional policy. There is an effective regional policy being concentrated on the areas in greatest need.

Mr. Alan Williams

Since the right hon. Gentleman deplores the increase in unemployment under the previous Administration, will he give a categorical assurance that he will not allow the levels under the present Administration to exceed those reached under the previous Government? Will he tell us whether, in relation to the Inmos project, which could possibly have come to Cardiff—which was one of the three short-listed sites—he was consulted and agreed to the National Enterprise Board being released from the commitment that it gave to me that the production unit would go to an assisted area?

Mr. Edwards

I would not be so foolish as to make firm forecasts about future unemployment trends. I do not intend to follow the example of my predecessor, who told us week after week that the situation was being transformed for the better when, all the time, unemployment was rising. As to the Inmos project, no Government decision has been made on that matter.

Mr. Anderson

Is it not a fact that, although the underlying trend of unemployment may have been upwards when the Conservative Party came to power, everything that it has done since, whether in terms of regional policy, steel, coal, the high exchange rate or high interest rates, conspires to make the position worse?

Mr. Edwards

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's remarks on regional policy. We are concentrating help where it is most needed. The interest rates and many of the economic difficulties from which we are suffering arise from the excessive spending of our predecessors and their failure to take necessary action when the time for it was ripe.

Mr. Budgen

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is perhaps doubtful whether the Inmos project will succeed anyway, but that it will almost certainly fail if its location is determined by regional policy or political reasons?

Mr. Edwards

I make no comment about the likely success of the project, but there are extremely attractive indus- trial sites in the region, and if the project can succeed anywhere there is no reason why it should not succeed on those sites.

Mr. Alec Jones

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how he will concentrate regional aid in areas that most need it when, within a short period, each area of Wales will, thanks to the actions of his Government, have an equal need for help?

Mr. Edwards

I do not accept that that is so. There are areas with problems that have been, and always will be, greater than those elsewhere. We have always said that we will look at the allocation of development and special development areas as the situation changed. We shall reconsider those areas as the situation changes.

Mr. Barry Jones

Regarding the very serious phenomenon of unemployment and the right hon. Gentleman's efforts to combat it, which so far have not been very good, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that in the Deeside area, which is expected to cope with a very serious potential set of unemployment figures in the years ahead, it is generally believed that the £15 million package which he announced last year is now insufficient? Will he consider doubling it to £30 million?

Mr. Edwards

The hon. Gentleman should not try to give only part of the picture in pretending that all we are doing is spending £15 million on Deeside. I announced that we would be spending £13 million on Deeside in the first year and that that spending programme would continue to develop in subsequent years. There are very attractive sites on Deeside. There are good communications. The labour force has a good reputation. I believe that it is an extremely attractive industrial area.

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