HC Deb 22 October 1984 vol 65 cc417-8
1. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many construction workers have been unemployed in Wales during the years March 1979 to March 1984.

8. Mr. Gareth Wardell

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what was the number of unemployed workers in the construction industry in Wales in May 1979 and at the most recently available date.

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

As right hon. and hon. Members are aware, since 1982 the unemployment count has been based on claims held at unemployment benefit offices and these do not contain information about the previous industry or occupation of the claimant. I am therefore unable to give up-to-date information in reply to the hon. Gentlemen.

Mr. Powell

I expected such a reply, but is it not time that the Minister decided to which categories those unemployed people belong? Reading the National and Welsh Building Trades Federation statement about the catastrophic effect of the Government's action on the construction industry and its workers, I estimate that there are 50,000 unemployed construction workers in Wales. Is it not time that the right hon. Gentleman started thinking in terms of employing them in building the hospitals, houses, sheltered and other accommodation, sewers and roads that we desperately need in Wales?

Mr. Edwards

I do not know what basis the hon. Gentleman has for those figures. When we last had the categories of those registered there were about 28,400 unemployed construction workers. Since then those in employment in the construction industry, for which we have the figures, have varied pretty consistently between about 47,000 and 49,000. Construction output in Wales is 8.5 per cent. higher than in the previous year, which is an encouraging trend. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that massive road, factory and hospital building programmes and many other works are being undertaken in Wales by the Government.

Mr. Wardell

Since all around me I see signs of the deteriorating public infrastructure, does the Secretary of State accept that the Government's policy is failing to create sufficient new jobs? Will he give some lead in providing new work for the construction industry through which, I hope, we shall get the Welsh economy going?

Mr. Edwards

I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can talk about a declining infrastructure when the trunk road network past his constituency has been and is being dramatically improved, just as it is in north Wales and many other parts of Wales, when capital expenditure on major schemes by the Welsh water authority amounts to about £50 million a year, when there is a massive urban programme and when, as I have already pointed out, we are also undertaking large-scale hospital, factory and other building projects.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Can my right hon. Friend make any estimate of the effect on unemployment in the construction and other industries of the current miners' dispute, with the impact that that might have on future capital investment?

Mr. Edwards

It is clearly having some effect in depressing demand and delaying investment that would otherwise be taking place in the mining industry, quite apart from investment in steel and elsewhere. The effect must be to destroy jobs.

Mr. Barry Jones

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of a TUC estimate that there are more than 3,500 highly skilled construction workers languishing on the dole in Wales? Is it not true that in Cardiff, Swansea, parts of north-east Wales and in our valleys there are very severe housing problems? Would not an emergency housing drive help not only those who need homes but jobless construction workers? May we have some action for the construction industry?

Mr. Edwards

The hon. Gentleman mentioned both Cardiff and Swansea, but I should point out that the Government have launched massive initiatives through the urban programme, which includes house construction in both of those cities. They are notable examples of what can be and is being achieved.

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