HC Deb 22 April 1985 vol 77 cc609-13
8. Sir Raymond Gower

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many new jobs have been created since 1979; and what are the job prospects for the next year (a) in Wales and (b) in the area of the Vale of Glamorgan.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Comprehensive information on the number of jobs created is not available. Since May 1979 projects for which offers of selective financial assistance were accepted, or which were allocated Government-financed factories, promised to provide over 72,000 jobs; but that figure takes no account of the substantial number of new jobs not involving SFA not taking place in Government advance factories. The latest published figures show that between March and September 1984 there was an increase of 12,000 in the number of people in employment in Wales and between June 1983 and June 1984 there was an increase of about 24,000 in the number of self-employed in Wales. The recent announcements by BP and Courtaulds represent a very severe blow, but that has to be seen in the context of rising investment throughout Wales. In Clwyd alone SFA offers made since the beginning of 1983 promise over 4,800 new jobs and in Wrexham projects involving over 1,500 new jobs have been announced in the past year. Only last week I opened the latest in a string of new high technology companies which will provide an increasing number of new jobs in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Sir Raymond Gower

I thank my right hon. Friend for that information, but is he satisfied that the Vale of Glamorgan area is receiving a fair proportion of the grants which have gone into the Principality, particularly those from the EC, of which the Vale of Glamorgan area does not seem to have received a fair share?

Mr. Edwards

That really is not true. There is no doubt that the number of new companies coming into the Vale of Glamorgan area or sites immediately around it is considerable. There have been a large number of recent announcements and new openings. As I said, I opened one such factory only last week and I know a number of other cases which are under negotiation.

Dr. Marek

Is the Secretary of State aware that the total amount of dicell acetate yarn production in the United Kingdom is about 14,000 tonnes per annum and that the Courtauld plant at Wrexham produces approximately half of that? Is he further aware that if that plant closes the company proposes to increase production by 33 per cent. in its remaining factories in England? How much longer will the right hon. Gentleman allow the dismemberment of our industry and infrastructure in Wales? What will he do to try to help keep acetate yarn production in Wrexham?


Mr. Edwards

When the hon. Gentleman talks about dismembering industry in Wales, he must also take account of the 1,500 new jobs in Wrexham from projects announced within the past 12 months. The loss of the Courtauld plant in Wrexham is a sad blow, but a large number of new factories are opening. I have discussed with the chairman of Courtauld the measures which the company can take to help. In particular, I have expressed the view that the company should support the local enterprise trusts and the enterprise zone with senior personnel, in the way that the Thomson group did so successfully in Neath. We shall also be discussing with local authorities any further special measures that are needed.

Mr. Harvey

I entirely reject the Opposition's approach of throwing money at jobs, but is my right hon. Friend aware that there is concern on the Conservative Benches, too, about the level of unemployment in Wales? Will he consider making representaiions to Courtauld to see whether the decision on the Wrexham plant can be reconsidered?

Mr. Edwards

I have already discussed the matter with the chairman, and I cannot hold out any prospect that the company will change its decision. We have given substantial financial support to previous investment by the company. Again I must emphasise that we have only recently given substantial financial support to companies such as Sharp, Laura Ashley, Metal Box and F. W. Bender, all of which are setting up in the area and taking on people, and all of which will make a positive job contribution in the months and years ahead.

Mr. John Morris

Since the Government took office, has not the number of jobs created or projected for west Glamorgan been dwarfed by the job losses? Did not the Government, like Pontius Pilate, wash their hands of the proposed closure of BP Oil at Llandarcy? Will he now give an assurance that BP Chemicals at Baglan Bay is not in jeopardy? How far are those plans affected by the Government's change of philosophy about regional assistance for capital expenditure?

Mr. Edwards

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that the area benefits from the highest levels of support under the present regional policy. I am told by the company that the works at Baglan are not immediately affected by those measures.

Mr. Morris


Mr. Edwards

I cannot make forecasts about industrial changes that may take place many years ahead. We are talking about the immediate consequences of that decision. I questioned the company's senior management on that point. We have recently made substantial investment to assist the plant, which is doing good business at present. I have no reason to believe that the decision at Llandarcy will affect the position at Baglan at present.

Mr. Best

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the prospect for further jobs in Wales is inextricably linked with small businesses' prospects of prosperity? Is he further aware that those businesses want access to venture capital more than anything else? Will he report on the development of the welcome addition to that access of the Welsh Development Agency's institutional and venture capital unit?

Mr. Edwards

We must certainly encourage the development of new small businesses. We recently had a successful venture capital conference in Cardiff, which was attended not just by the Welsh Development Agency, which has launched its own fund, but by a number of other major venture capital organisations. I am glad to say that there is a great and rising level of interest by the growing venture capital market in what is going on in Wales.

Mr. Abse

The Secretary of State for Wales talks about incoming investment. Will he explain why the LSI Logic factory, which was due to come into my constituency, has been whipped away to Germany, with the loss of 1,000 jobs, because of his incompetence and failure to deal with the Treasury and obtain sufficient funds to allow the company to make a commercial judgment? How dare he tell us that he is looking after inward investment when, in the light of the blows now descending upon Wales, he lacks the confidence to stand up to the Germans and to obtain for us a factory which had almost reached the point of coming into Cwmbran?

Mr. Edwards

I shall give the company chairman's answer to the hon. Gentleman's question. The chairman wrote to me: Our conclusion, to site this first European plant elsewhere in Europe, was arrived at, after much debate, as the Welsh site and proposal were very attractive. The final decision was based on a combination of market, commercial and financial considerations. I wish to emphasise that for our company, this is only the first of several plants in Europe; and Wales will rank very high in our future plans when we are ready to decide on the next European location. In particular, I appreciate your personal involvement and commitment to bringing high technology industry to Wales. You are clearly on the right path, and I anticipate a similar revival to what we have seen here in the State of Massachusetts in the past ten years.

Mr. Raffan

Following the devastating announcement of a further 595 redundancies at Courtaulds Greenfield in my constituency, in addition to the 202 announced last autumn, will my right hon. Friend do his utmost to impress upon Courtauld that it cannot just up and walk away from a community and a work force which it has described as first class and which has served it so well over 50 years? If the company will not reverse the decision, will my right hon. Friend impress upon it the need to phase in the redundancies to lessen the devastating impact on the local community? Will he consider the possibility of a joint venture with the company to generate local employment? Will he accelerate the urban aid programme to clear derelict land and accelerate SFA applications from companies thinking of coming into the area? Will he impress upon the WDA the distinctive needs of my constituency and urgently consider the designation of Delyn as an EC textile closure area?

Mr. Edwards

My hon. Friend has, I know, fought gallantly for the plant for a considerable period. We are dealing here with a capital reduction by Courtaulds which goes back to 1977 and has taken place stage by stage. I have already made representations of the kind for which my hon. Friend asked to Sir Christopher Hogg and have pressed on him the responsibility that the company owes to the area. I particularly hope, as I have already mentioned, that it will appoint senior personnel to assist in the development, and that the company will play its part in making land available in the enterprise zone. When we examine the urban programme, SFA applications and the other matters raised by my hon. Friend, the needs of the area will be very much in our minds.

Mr. Ray Powell

How can this industrial and commercial rapist of Wales come to this House and say that he is on the right lines when, at the weekend, he announced that 700 jobs are to go at Courtauld, and 830 jobs in Maesteg will be lost by the closure of St. John's colliery? He talks about the Laura Ashley company coming into the area, which will mean about 500 jobs in the pipeline in a few years, but on the same day he announces the closure of Borg Warner in Kenbig Hill. Yet he can come here with his usual incompetence and talk to us about new jobs coming into Wales. An investigation needs to be conducted into the closure of factories and units throughout Wales, and particularly at Maesteg in my constituency.

Mr. Edwards

The new overseas investments attracted to the hon. Gentleman's constituency in the Bridgend area in general last year include Invacare, Acrian, Align-Rite, Biomet—and the Chronar corporation, which I opened last week. Between them they promise about 1,200 jobs. Those people will owe nothing to the hon. Gentleman's assistance and encouragement. Indeed, he encouraged a coal strike that did great damage to employment prospects in Wales.

Mr. Barry Jones

Do not the losses of Clwyd textile jobs, west Glamorgan petrochemical jobs, Ciwent microchip jobs and south Wales coal jobs—2,300 job losses in nine days, according to a BBC commentator—point to an urgently needed change in Cabinet economic policies?

With regard to Courtauld, why did the right hon. Gentleman not protest strongly at such sudden closures, with their distressing social consequences for Wrexham and Deeside? What is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to do to secure a change of mind by Courtauld, which seems to have acted without any regard for the generations of loyalty by the people of north-east Wales? We feel let down. Our workers, who have responded magnificently on both productivity and demanning, have been betrayed. We look to the right hon. Gentleman to fight to help the people of north-east Wales on the Courtauld redundancies. He should show more care for rising unemployment throughout Wales.

Mr. Edwards

I would have been rather more impressed by the hon. Gentleman if he had reminded the House that in 1977, at the time when he was a Minister in the Welsh Office, the Castle works at Flint closed with the loss of 1,500 jobs, and almost simultaneously Courtauld closed another plant at Dowlais, Merthyr, with the loss of 400 jobs. The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that the decisions are taken by companies which have to deal in an internationally competitive world. They are not taken by Governments.

I protested to the chairman of Courtauld about the way in which the announcement was made. In fairness to him, I have to say that he had warned me over several years that the future of the Courtauld plant was at risk. Indeed, the hon. Member must have known that perfectly well if he was doing any sort of job as a Member of Parliament. About a year ago, the chairman of Courtauld, when lunching with me, told me that the future of the plant was hanging by a thread. None the less, Courtauld made a massive investment in the plant over the past two or three years. Unfortunately, that investment was not enough to save the plant in a fast changing world market.