HC Deb 25 March 1985 vol 76 cc4-6
4. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is the number of people currently unemployed in Wales; how many were unemployed in May 1979; and what is the percentage increase in unemployment in Wales since May 1979.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

On 14 February 1985 there were 183,806 unemployed claimants in Wales. In May 1979 the estimated equivalent figure was 77,200, an increase of 138.1 per cent.

Mr. Jones

After six years the right hon. Gentleman can only tell us these unpleasant figures. Does he agree that the Budget offers few hopes of new jobs? What has he done to safeguard the future of Llanwern as a viable, integrated steelworks against a background of laggardly continental reorganisation? Does he agree that the Shotton works is also a miracle of efficiency and productivity, but that thousands of ex-steelworkers on Deeside still beg for work in a place where vacancies total only 300 and the jobless 13,000? When will the Sharp factory open, and when will the Shotton paper mill be on stream?

Mr. Edwards

Both those major new job-creating projects in the hon. Gentleman's area of Wales will be starting on time. They are a sign of the scale of the new investment that is taking place. I agree that the Shotton steelworks is doing extremely well and I believe that Llanwern has guaranteed its future by its performance.

Mr. Gwilym Jones

Would it not be refreshing, and even fantastic, if there were a positive approach from the Opposition Benches on this matter? Does my right hon. Friend welcome the coming together of HTV and the Western Mail for the Welsh national business awards scheme? Did my right hon. Friend welcome the comment by the assistant controller of HTV about the need to inform the people of the many real achievements by industry in Wales?

Mr. Edwards

What the controller said is undoubtedly true. I am sure that everyone with an interest in the industrial future of Wales will take every opportunity to congratulate industry on its good performance and will take pleasure in the announcement of the large-scale new investment that we are securing.

Mr. John

How many of the 183,000 have been unemployed for over a year?

Mr. Edwards

If the hon. Gentleman tables a question, I shall give him an immediate answer.

Mr. Raffan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) is to be taken seriously he must have the Welsh economic plan which he pulled out of a hat on 21 October last year independently costed and tell us where on Welsh earth he will find the money to pay for it?

Mr. Edwards

I apologise to the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) for not having immediately in front of me the figure he seeks. I accept that it is too high, and I am willing to answer a question about it. One of the most significant facts about the economic plan presented by the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) is that much of it has already been implemented by the Government.

Mr. Anderson

Does the Secretary of State recall that each year since 1979, as he has initiated deflationary policies and refused capital investment, he has claimed that we were turning corners, that things were getting better and that the academics at Bangor and elsewhere were alarmist? As the jobless figures continue to climb, why should we have any faith in his pronouncements?

Mr. Edwards

It is nonsense to talk of deflationary policies when clearly there is an increase in demand. My Department has carried out massive investment progammes on roads, factories and hospitals, and on infrastructure generally.

Mr. Terlezki

Does the Secretary of State agree that because of the Budget the WDA, WINvest and overseas companies are bound to expand, and to encourage and create more employment in Wales?

Mr. Edwards

One of the most important aspects of the Budget is the announcement of the dramatic expansion of the youth training scheme and the investment that that involves for the future of training provision. That is only one of our many measures to deal with the current problems.

Mr. Gareth Wardell

In response to the appalling record of increasing unemployment, will the Secretary of State give an assurance that he will resist any attempt by the Government, by the abolition of the wages councils, to cut the wages of the poorest who are employed? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that instead of tinkering with the unemployment problem in that way he will accept that the real need is for a massive redistribution of wealth and income, and will he implement that policy in the near future?

Mr. Edwards

We have issued a consultative paper on the wages councils in which the arguments are set out fully. We should now proceed with the consultation process. I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the measures that were announced in the Budget to lower the cost of employing those on lower wages, because that will help in providing jobs for them.

Mrs. Clwyd

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Cynon Valley is again top of the league table for male unemployment? Is he further aware that five men lost their jobs there last week, on the say-so of one man — Mr. Ian MacGregor? Two of those men were not even present when the so-called incident occurred. Will he intervene to reinstate those five men?

Mr. Edwards

I shall not intervene in what must be management decisions for the National Coal Board.