HC Deb 10 November 1980 vol 992 cc1-4
1. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Wales by how much unemployment has risen in Wales since May 1979.

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

Between May 1979 and October 1980 the number of people registered as unemployed in Wales, seasonally adjusted and excluding school leavers, increased by about 35,900.

Mr. Jones

Will the right hon. Gentleman say why he has failed to pro- tect the Welsh textile industry against redundancies and damaging imports? Why has he not safeguarded the interests of the paper making industry in North-East Wales and at Bowaters where my constituents work? Will he undertake to fight in the Cabinet for energy subsidies for the textile and paper making industries?

Mr. Edwards

On textiles, it is the Government's policy to enforce the multi-fibre arrangement as tightly as possible and to take action through the EEC, GATT, and other agreements, to ensure that every measure is taken under these international agreements. The Government offered substantial financial assistance for the modernisation of the Bowater plant with the object of putting it into a condition where it could compete effectively. I regret to say that those proposals were not acceptable to Bowater.

Sir Raymond Gower

Will my right hon. Friend emphasise to his Cabinet colleagues, when the Government are considering new methods of promoting industrial development in the United Kingdom, the degree to which Wales as a whole, and the industrial parts of Wales in particular, have suffered from the contraction and the closing down of so many units in the old traditional industries? Will he make this a case for promoting a lot of new industry to take its place?

Mr. Edwards

I have done so repeatedly. That is why the Government have announced a major package of measures to improve the infrastructure and to assist the arrival of the new industries that my hon. Friend seeks. My hon. Friend will know that, in connection with the Inmos project, for example, I intend to seek to launch a significant new initiative in training for the new skills that will be required. If we are to exploit the opportunity that Inmos provides, and attract similar industries to the area, we have to make sure that we can provide the services and the skills that those people will be seeking.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is a substantial additional cost to the Government when people become unemployed? For an average industrial employee with a wife and two children, this amounts to £5,920 in the first year of unemployment. Does not the right hon. Gentleman believe that it is crazy in these circumstances to be making people unemployed and that Government policy should be to maintain people in employment?

Mr. Edwards

There is an expense that arises due to the reason that the hon. Gentleman has set out, although I do not necessarily accept the specific figure that he mentions. The Government have to take a balance between the desire to ease the burdens on industry generally by reducing public expenditure and the specific benefits that are payable to those who lose their jobs. If one seeks artificially to create jobs that are not producing goods that can be sold, one is placing additional burdens on other parts of industry and destroying jobs elsewhere.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, at a time when unemployment is mounting alarmingly in every industrialised country, Wales' best chance of keeping and attracting new jobs is to establish and maintain a good reputation for labour relations? Has my right hon. Friend received any encouragement from the Labour Party to suggest that it will consult trade unions in an endeavour to maintain that good reputation in Wales?

Mr. Edwards

During my American visit I discovered that many American companies operating in Wales had a very high opinion of the labour relations in their operating plants, I welcomed the presence of the chairman of the Wales TUC, John Griffiths, on that mission. He is playing his part in telling the right story. On the bad side of the equation, our record on big construction projects is doing us some harm. I emphasise how important it is that we improve that one aspect, which spoils our reputation in Wales today.

Mr. Alec Jones

We understand why the right hon. Gentleman chose to use the seasonally adjusted figures; it was because the actual increase is about 46,000. The increase in unemployment of 55 per cent. is the end product of the right hon. Gentleman's achievements in Wales. Can he confirm the report in today's issue of the Western Mail that he has said that there is no alternative? If he believes that there is no alternative to the Government's policies, he must be the only person in Wales who does. Even his friends in the CBI are now deserting him. At a recent conference in Cardiff they called for a number of things, including a massive reduction in interest rates. What does the right hon. Gentleman think is the effect in Wales of high interest rates?

Mr. Edwards

The right hon. Gentleman has asked his usual series of questions. Our decision to give the answer in the form in which it was given—seasonally adjusted—follows the practice followed by successive Governments, including the right hon. Gentleman's own. It was always the practice of his Government to give the figures in that way. Apparently only two choices are being offered by the Opposition. One is to pursue the policies that they pursued in government, which failed and which caused unemployment in Wales more than to double. The other is a protectionist, State-directed, Socialist economy of the kind that we see in Eastern Europe. I do not think that that provides a very attractive alternative to the Welsh people.

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