HC Deb 22 October 1984 vol 65 cc423-4
6. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many people are unemployed in Wales compared with 1979 as a total and as a percentage; and, of the total unemployed, how many are long-term unemployed.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

On 13 September 1984 unemployed claimants totalled 181,927 compared with 79,604 in September 1979, an increase of 102,323, or 128.5 per cent. Of the September 1984 total, 72,720 had been unemployed for over a year. Comparable figures for 1979 are not available.

Mr. Jones

In Wales, male unemployment now runs at 20 per cent. and the long-term unemployment figures are a hideous scar on our beleaguered communities. We hold the right hon. Gentleman to be in many ways responsible for those figures. Does he understand that the Welsh people are desperately worried about unabated unemployment? What are the Government's plans for a controlled expansion of the economy and an expansion of the budgets of, say, housing and the development agency in Wales? Is not the unadjusted jobless figure of 181,000 demoralising not only to all the Welsh people but to the right hon. Gentleman's Department?

Mr. Edwards

I understand and share the worry of the Welsh people. It is absolutely justified. The economy is steadily expanding and, what is more, the industrial structure of Wales is being steadily transformed—in the way in which the hon. Gentleman has been arguing recently — in the direction of the new technologies. I believe that that is the right way in which to proceed and that it offers the best hope for the future.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Does the right hon. Gentleman hope to be able to give some good news to the long-term unemployed of mid-Wales by an announcement that the British Government will meet the offer of the Dutch Government to Laura Ashley Ltd. so that Laura Ashley can expand in Newtown as it wishes?

Mr. Edwards

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the European Community rules on regional assistance impose certain constraints on the offers that can be made. The constraints differ between development and non-development areas. Negotiations with the company are continuing between the Department of Trade and Industry, my Department and Mid-Wales Development. I hope that they will lead to a substantial investment by the company. I cannot, however, give any firm information at the present time.

Mr. Best

Why do the Jeremiahs and miserable Opposition Members always slosh around in the despairs of the unemployment figures? Should they not concentrite more on another statistic—the fact that in Europe as a whole this country has employed a higher percentage of the total work force available for work than has any other EEC country except Denmark?

Mr. Edwards

I do not blame the Opposition for expressing a concern that we all share, but I think that everyone in Europe should ask himself why the uneployment figures in Britain are higher than those in the United States. The United States has been much more successful in responding to change, in adjusting wage levels to output demands and in encouraging the development of new industries and service sectors. There are lessons to be learnt from the experience in the United States, and we in this country and people in the rest of Europe should learn them.

Mrs. Clwyd

If the Secretary of State has looked closely at the unemployment figures, as I hope he has, he will have seen that my constituency, Cynon Valley, has the highest male unemployment in the whole of Wales. Will he consider giving Cynon Valley the special development area status for which we have asked for many years? So far he has turned a deaf ear to those requests. When are we to see the results of the Secretary of State's frequent overseas jaunts?

Mr. Edwards

Decisions about regional policy have not yet been taken but should be announced very shortly.

The hon. Lady asks about the results of my overseas visits to encourage inward investment. Almost all the Japanese companies that I visited recently and which have established plants in Britain are so pleased with the performance of their plants that they are planning substantial further investment to take on more people. I cannot imagine why the hon. Lady should think that that is a matter for some kind of ridicule. It is of the highest importance that we should attract inward investment of that kind, but the policy of getting out of Europe which the hon. Lady supports would have precisely the opposite effect.