HC Deb 20 May 1985 vol 79 cc724-7
13. Dr. Marek

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what new measures he proposes to take as a result of the continuing rise in unemployment in Wales.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Our policies for promoting industrial investment are creating significant numbers of new jobs in Wales. For example, as I reported to the Welsh Grand Committee last week, over the previous 12 months, investment decisions have been announced for Wrexham which are likely to produce some 1,500 new jobs, including the Sharp project, which was announced after the news of the Courtaulds closure.

Dr. Marek

I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that unemployment keeps rising. In view of the staggering job losses that Wales has had to endure in the past few weeks and the fact that local authorities have great difficulty in attracting industries to Wales and in partaking in industrial development, will the right hon. Gentleman consider seriously whether he can disregard, for target expenditure purposes, money spent by local authorities for bona fide industrial development ?

Mr. Edwards

I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the role of local authorities. They have an important role, though he was wrong to claim that the Sharp investment was the result of an initiative by his local council, which visited Japan after I discussed the subject in October last year. I cannot hold out any prospect of a special exemption, but local authorities have a good deal of scope for investing in the new industrial estates and new building as part of their general ordering of priorities.

Mr. Foot

As the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues are always boasting about the housing programme, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many building workers in Wales are unemployed ?

Mr. Edwards

If the hon. Gentleman will put down a question on that subject, I will answer it. I does not arise directly from the question on the Order Paper.

Sir Raymond Gower

Is it not a fact that the record of the Welsh Development Agency in this area has been extremely good ? Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to assist the agency and similar bodies ?

Mr. Edwards

As I have already pointed out, the agency has carried out a massive factory building programme. Its emphasis is now switching to purpose-built factories, which are more and more in demand, rather than advance factories, and to stimulating private sector investment. But yes, there are a large number of vacant WDA factories and our task is to get them fully occupied.

Mr. Ray Powell

Will the Secretary of State admit that his policies are creating more and more unemployment in Wales ? Does he not realise that there are now 250,000 people out of work in Wales ? Does he know that today the House received a deputation from St. John's colliery in Maesteg, where 830 jobs may be lost ? We are already suffering from a male unemployment rate of 25 per cent. How can those people find jobs, given the policies that the Secretary of State is pursuing ? Last weekend my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) presented a document on jobs and industry to the Wales TUC meeting in Llandudno. The right hon. Gentleman would be wise to read it and to take a leaf out of my hon. Friend's book.

Mr. Edwards

The hon. Gentleman is wrong, because there are not 250,000 people unemployed. Thankfully, I can say that the figure is 180,031. However, unemployment is, of course, a serious problem and that is why we are making so much effort to encourage new investment. I am glad to say that a very considerable part of that new investment is going to the Bridgend area and that the hon. Gentleman's constituents are benefiting from it.

Mr. Raffan

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the WDA's current building resources are fully committed ? Will he seriously consider allocating extra funds so that it can erect more purpose-built factories and so that it can implement the plan to provide six business counsellors in different parts of the Principality ?

Mr. Edwards

I have already announced that we will carefully consider the WDA's plans in the light of the Courtaulds closure. However, my hon. Friend will know that 58 units totalling 321,000 sq ft are vacant and available for letting in WDA factories in the county, and that its advance factory programme for 1985–86 includes several factory projects in the county.

Mr. Alex Carlile

If the Secretary of State believes so strongly — as he said earlier — that the A55 road improvements will have the effect of reducing unemployment in north and north-west Wales, when will he announce a north-south road route in Wales as well as an east-west route through central Wales, as that would presumably have a significant effect on reducing unemployment throughout the Principality ?

Mr. Edwards

The hon. and learned Gentleman must use the route frequently, and he will agree that the new road link across to Telford represents a notable improvement in the links with the motorway network. As he knows, there are further plans to link mid-Wales into that motorway network. That must have a higher priority than the north-south road.

Mr. Rowlands

When the Secretary of State last attended the Welsh Grand Committee he said that several thousand jobs would be lost in the mining industry in the next year or two. Will he tell us what the figure is ? After all, there are only about 20,000 jobs left in the industry. Does that anonymous and invisible body, NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. intend to create several thousand jobs as well during the same time scale ? I should like to know what progress that organisation is making in creating jobs in our mining community.

Mr. Edwards

The hon. Gentleman knows that that organisation has already started work. I understand that one new industrial concern has already been committed as a result of its operations in Blaenau Gwent, and that a significant number of first applications under the scheme have been made in Wales. Instead of criticising such a welcome initiative, I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would be praising it and would be glad that it has been established.

Mr. Wigley

For several years the M4 has run through Glamorgan, yet the adjacent valleys suffer from high and increasing unemployment. Furthermore, the A55 has been modernised in many parts of Clywd, yet that area too suffers from chronic unemployment. What possible basis can there be, therefore, for assuming that the A55 alone will solve the unemployment problems of Gwynedd ? Is it not a fact that this policy is the only one that the right hon. Gentleman has, and that he is using it to camouflage his lack of a solution to the problem of unemployment ?

Mr. Edwards

I am not for a moment suggesting that that road is the only factor in encouraging industrial development. However, if the hon. Gentleman took the trouble to make the slightest study of what has happened along the M4 he would know that many new, modern, high-tech industries are establishing themselves along that link. Everyone who has looked at the problem seriously recognises that the construction of modern roads can make a major contribution. The hon. Gentleman is apparently the only person to think otherwise.

Mr. Best

Will my right hon. Friend mention to the Chancellor of the Exchequer two further measures which would help to stimulate employment in Wales ? The first is to give greater access to finance to the smallest of businesses, and the second is to build on the welcome cut made in the Budget of the cost of employing people in unemployment black spots such as Holyhead.

Mr. Edwards

I shall draw those remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention. I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the measures announced in the Budget, although we have not yet seen the benefit of them. I share my hon. Friend's view.

Mr. Anderson

Earlier, the Secretary of State commended BP for its local employment initiatives in the Llandarcy area. Will he consider those initiatives in the context of the record quarterly profit figures announced last week by BP ? Does he agree that those profits were made at the expense of jobs in the area ? Does he further agree that the sums involved at Llandarcy are peanuts and an insult to the local community ?

Mr. Edwards

A successful company that makes profits does not do so at the expense of jobs. If companies are to continue to provide jobs they must succeed in making profits, because that permits investment. The measures already announced by BP are welcome. They are exceptional and I hope that Courtaulds and other companies will follow its example.

Mr. Barry Jones

The Courtaulds and BP closures and the colliery redundancies are a grave development for the Welsh economy. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it was foolish of him to agree to cuts in regional aid for Wales ? Will he reconsider that policy ? Does he recognise that his policies are now in ruins and that he should come to the House with plans to help the Welsh economy ?

Mr. Edwards

Our changes in regional policy concentrate help where it is most needed. The hon. Gentleman must explain how his policy document, which calls for greater selectivity and yet makes the whole of Wales a development area, can be reconciled with the needs of other areas in England and how it can avoid severe knock-on consequences which will blow his policies out of the water.