HC Deb 26 March 1984 vol 57 cc7-8
7. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is the number of unemployed in Wales at the last available date; and if he will give details of the number of males, females and the number of long-term unemployed together with the corresponding figures for May 1979.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

On 9 February 1984, unemployed claimants in Wales, seasonally adjusted and excluding school leavers, totalled 163,500, or 117,600 males and 45,900 females. In May 1979, the estimated figures were 78,200, 56,700 and 21,500, respectively. In January 1984 the number of claimants unemployed for over 52 weeks totalled 67,719. Comparable figures for May 1979 are not available.

Mr. Powell

I should not like to call the Secretary of State a hypocrite as that would not be allowed in the Chamber, but I can think what I like. I have listened for five years during every Welsh Question Time to the Secretary of State telling us of increases in unemployment. Is he aware that it is high time that he stood up in the Cabinet and demanded action from the Government to safeguard some of the jobs in Wales? Is he further aware that, if the St. John's colliery at Maesteg is closed, unemployment in the Maesteg area will be 43 per cent.? What action will he take to remedy that?

Mr. Edwards

What I know is hypocrisy are the actions of the Labour Government who bewailed unemployment but put a wicked tax on jobs and thereby increased unemployment. We have abolished that tax, thus making about £45 million more available to Welsh industry this year.

Mr. Raffan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the unemployment figures would be much worse if the nightmare occurred and the Labour party had the chance to implement its alternative economic strategy — a strategy than many economists agree would achieve what had hitherto been thought impossible: soaring interest rates, soaring unemployment, soaring inflation and soaring inflation at one and the same time?

Mr. Edwards

That would produce the same kind of disasters that the Labour Government produced—driving away investment and forcing up inflation and unemployment again.

Mr. Foot

Do the shameful figures that the Secretary of State has been forced to announce to the House show that unemployment is worse now than it was in 1979, and that under him the figures for Wales are far worse than any that Wales has had to contend with since the end of the war? Will he take the first immediate step to deal with the problem by increasing the amount that the Welsh Development Agency can have at its disposal to afford extra industrial development as well as extra expenditure on derelict land clearance? If he wishes to do something concrete immediately to deal with these figures, that is the answer.

Mr. Edwards

More shameful is that the right hon. Gentleman was a member of the Government who imposed this wicked tax on jobs—[Interruption.]—and helped to force up unemployment to its present level. By the removal of that tax this year, we have injected probably £45 million back into Welsh industry for the creation of new jobs.

Mr. Grist

Would my right hon. Friend care to estimate how many jobs will be saved, created or destroyed by those Labour Members who are supporting the coalminers' strike?

Mr. Edwards

The strike will be gravely damaging to the industry and must have its effect on the number of jobs that it can provide in future.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition are getting sick and tired of him coming to the House and either putting the blame on the previous Labour Government or saying that things will work out in future? Does he not realise that other small countries have succeeded in keeping unemployment down but that this Government have refused to take the necessary steps, because they prefer to cut expenditure on housing in order to give money to the rich taxpayers of south-east England?

Mr. Edwards

We have built a record number of factories in Wales, got a record number of factory allocations and attracted a record amount of new inward investment from overseas.

Mr. Barry Jones

These evasive replies will not do. Is not the Secretary of State ashamed that, in a recent Common Market study, industrial south-east Wales is classified in the least prosperous group of Europe's 131 regions? In the five years of the Conservative Government, Wales has been on the receiving end of a social and economic battering not experienced since the 1930s. When can the people of Wales expect the right hon. Gentleman to introduce some decent, honourable policies to end the mass unemployment for which he personally is responsible?

Mr. Edwards

The survey to which the hon. Gentleman refers covered the period during which he was in office and the Labour party was in power.

Mr. Speaker

Order. One of the features of Welsh questions has always been the good-natured exchanges across the Chamber. I hope that we can keep it that way. I remind the House that only one supplementary question should be asked at a time.