HC Deb 22 November 1982 vol 32 cc567-9
7. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest figures of the number of people who are unemployed in Wales, Mid-Glamorgan and Aberdare; what percentage this represents of the working population; and how these figures compare with May 1979.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

On 14 October 1982 unemployment totalled 185,086, 35,698 and 4,212 respectively, representing unemployment rates of 17.4, 18.2 and 19.3 per cent. The corresponding figures and percentages for May 1979 were 83,024—7.5 per cent., 15,471—8.5 per cent. and 1,961—9.0 per cent.

Mr. Evans

When the Government say that the reason for unemployment is lack of competitiveness, what does the Secretary of State have to say about the Government's record, as British competitiveness has fallen by 38 per cent. since they came to office? With regard to the South Wales pits, will the Secretary of State read the evidence submitted by the South Wales miners to the Select Committee last week, in which it was shown that investment in the South Wales pits has not come from the Coal Board? What is the right hon. Gentleman doing as Secretary of State?

Mr. Edwards

I shall answer only one of those questions—the first. I must point out that there has been a substantial recovery of competitiveness in the past two years and that the measures taken by the Government, the seven points reduction in interest rates, which is worth about £1½ billion to £2 billion in reducing industry's costs, the reduction in Labour's wicked job tax, which will save industry probably £1 billion this year and £1½ billion next year, and the doing away with deferment on regional development grants, which is worth about £30 million to Welsh industry alone, are all considerable measures to improve the competitiveness of British industry.

Sir Raymond Gower

Will my right hon. Friend take account of the great potential of the building and construction industries? Will he examine carefully the proposals that have been put to him by the official organisation of builders in Wales, which believes that it can make a useful contribution?

Mr. Edwards

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The Government have a massive road building and hospital building programme. If only the local authorities, which are predominantly Labour-controlled, would spend the £90 million or so which they look like underspending this year, the construction industry would be greatly helped.

Mr. Rowlands

Given all these tremendous incentives, when will a new firm come to Merthyr borough? Is the Secretary of State aware that there has not been one since May 1979?

Mr. Edwards

I entirely agree that we would like to see more jobs coming into Merthyr borough, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the upturn in the retail trade, which is benefiting the Hoover firm in his constituency. I noted that he laughed at my suggestion at a previous Welsh Question Time that it was now enjoying a mini-boom, but that was exactly the phrase the company used when it issued its quarterly results.

Mr. Barry Jones

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the unemployment figures have now reached emergency levels?

Mr. Edwards

I agree that they are extremely serious. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who has repeatedly raised the specific issue of unemployment in the town of Flint, will welcome the decision to set up an enterprise zone there and will now do everything to encourage the local authority to make a success of it. I found it very surprising that the hon. Gentleman did not come to the House this afternoon to thank me for that announcement.