HC Deb 10 November 1980 vol 992 cc17-9
11. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what response he has made to the report of the joint emergency conference of the Welsh Counties Association and the Council for the Principality, held in Cardiff in October, regarding the need for Government action to regenerate industry and the economy in Wales.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

I have given careful consideration to the recommendations in the report and I have agreed to meet a deputation from the conference.

Mr. Powell

Is the Secretary of State aware that the conference consisted of a number of Tory-controlled councils at county, borough and even community level? They expressed the opinion that the Government should take a close look at the regeneration of industry in Wales. Now that the TUC and CBI at national level have come out against the Government, should not the Government seriously consider the effects which their policies are having on Wales? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I share the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) that the right hon. Gentleman should at least stand up for Wales against his colleagues in the Cabinet and fight to ensure that there is regeneration of industry before we go right over the brink?

Mr. Edwards

We are not only looking at the need to regenerate industry; we are also taking a considerable number of positive measures in that direction and have announced substantial public spending in Wales with that object in view. The conference had specific proposals to put to the Government, and I have agreed to meet a deputation to discuss them.

Mr. Hooson

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the defeat of inflation

creation of a high technology industry in Wales is the development of training programmes in that area.

Following is the information:

would be a most important contribution towards the establishment of a firm foundation for a strong Welsh economy?

Mr. Edwards

I agree that that must be our central objective. Of course, it is a total myth to assume that that represents an alternative to saving jobs. The fact is that the rising cycle of inflation over the years has increasingly destroyed more and more jobs. If we were to take that apparently easy way out, at the end of the day we would end up not only with higher inflation but with much higher unemployment.

Mr. Barry Jones

Does the right hon. Gentleman concede that a jobs chasm already exists in Wales? Will he bear in mind that in the area of Deeside in my constituency nearly 8,000 people are out of work? When will he give Deeside a major jobs project?

Mr. Edwards

I am aware of the serious nature of unemployment on Dee-side. I am paying a visit to the area on 24 and 25 of this month to discuss the problems with the local authorities and others involved. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that during our United States visit we spent a great deal of time talking about the attractions of Deeside and the neighbouring areas. A number of potential investors are keenly interested in the area's attractions. We shall obviously do everything in our power to make sure that that interest is translated into firm projects.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the policies of the Labour Party for regenerating Welsh industry consist of leaving the EEC, to which two-fifths of our exports presently go, and import controls, which would dry up the flow of investment funds that come to Wales from abroad?

Mr. Edwards

That is absolutely right. We identified more than 50 United States companies with a real interest in inward investment in Wales. I think that perhaps between a dozen and two dozen of those represent a 50-50 chance of landing firm projects in the next 12 or 18 months. I do not believe that any of them would be interested in setting up plant in Wales if it were not for our membership of the EEC.

Mr. Alan Williams

Is the Secretary of State aware that not since the days of Hitler has so much industry been destroyed in Wales? As he looks at the daily and growing casualty list of bankruptcies and redundancies, at a time when the rest of the Government are beginning to waver and preparing the way for a U-turn, does he feel no guilt, as one of the keenest monetarists in the Cabinet, that all this suffering and destruction has proved to be in vain?

Mr. Edwards

I have never been a great observer and follower of any specific, extreme economic theory. [Hon. Members: "Oh"] But I have always observed one basic economic fact which applies just as much to countries as it does to individuals. That is that if one lives beyond one's means and tries to spend more than one creates in wealth one lands in a mess. The fact is that at present we are facing the problems that confront us because we have grossly overspent and paid ourselves more than we have earned. If the right hon. Gentleman encouraged people to lower their wage claims, and not to claim more than they produce, he would make the greatest contribution that he could towards restoring the economic position in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Alan Williams

The right hon. Gentleman seems to be about the only person in the country who does not realise that the Government's contrived high interest rates and the high value of sterling have destroyed more jobs than have high wages.

Mr. Edwards

It is the continual and irresponsible encouragement of high wage settlements by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that is not only destroying jobs but companies and public services as well.