HC Deb 10 February 1986 vol 91 cc625-7
4. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Wales by how much unemployment has increased in Clwyd and in Wales since 1979, expressed as a total and as a percentage.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

On 9 January 1986 there were 25,786 unemployed claimants in Clwyd. A comparable claimant-based figure for January 1979 is not available. For Wales as a whole, for the same dates, the seasonally adjusted claimant-based figures were 176,500 and 75,100 respectively, an increase of 135 per cent.

Mr. Jones

Those figures invalidate the remarks of the Secretary of State in answer to a previous question. When will this waste of human resources in Wales end? When can measurable numbers of our people look to work that will get rid of the distressing dole queues?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the labour market report by the Manpower Services Commission stated that three quarters of all job losses in Wales were in the manufacturing sector? The deindustrialisation of Wales under this Government continues apace. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that we are losing blue chip companies such as Courtaulds, Metal Box, Lucas, BP, and we now are losing the Milk Marketing Board? We ask the right hon. Gentleman to ensure in Cabinet a change of economic policy, to help the people of Wales get more work.

Mr. Edwards

The hon. Gentleman must remember that during the lifetime of this Government the number of people eligible to work has increased by about 35,000. An increasing number of people are coming on to the labour market.

This Government have had to deal with what I believe may be the final stage of the decline of the old basic industries in Wales — a process that has been taking place for many generations. We must build on the substantial number of new companies that we have succeeded in attracting to Wales during the past few years.

Only last Friday I visited a factory in Clwyd—Ega Limited—which is undergoing massive investment, has taken on 100 people during the past 12 months and is absolutely confident that its expanison will continue. It is the sort of company that offers prospects for young people, including the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

Mr. Geraint Howells

The right hon. Gentleman has held the high office of Secretary of State for Wales for almost seven years, during which time there has been the highest ever unemployment percentage in Cardigan. As nothing was done during those years to alleviate the problem, what advice will he give today to the unemployed young people in that area?

Mr. Edwards

To say that nothing has been done is to deny the facts. The hon. Gentleman knows well of the considerable efforts, some of them very successful, of Mid-Wales Development. He also knows of the measures taken in his constituency. I think, for example, of Aberystwyth, where there have been new projects and where a number of new factory units have been built.

The hon. Gentleman knows well of the considerable efforts in mid-Wales—for example, the grant scheme—to create new jobs in rural areas. To say that nothing is being done is simply untrue, as he knows.

Mr. Grist

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) has recently been going around Wales making promises which, if allied to the remainder of the Opposition's policies, would set off a rate of inflation that would undermine any hope of investment in this country—the very investment that is the hope for the future?

Mr. Edwards

Yes, I have noted that, and the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) has been doing that at a time when his right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has been pointing to the castasrophic dangers of inflation again being let loose and suggesting that it was time that the Opposition worked out a policy to deal with that priority.

5. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest figures for unemployment in (a) Newport, (b) Gwent and (c) Wales; what were the equivalent figures in May 1979; and what was the percentage increase in each case.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

On 9 January 1986 unemployed claimants totalled 13,300 in the Newport travel-to-work area and 30,718 in Gwent. Comparable claimant-based figures for May 1979 are not available. For Wales as a whole, for the same dates, the seasonally adjusted claimant-based figures were 176,500 and 74,200 respectively, an increase of 137.9 per cent.

Mr. Hughes

Do not those outrageous figures reveal the complete collapse of the crackpot economic strategy with which the Secretary of State has been so closely associated? What guarantee can he give the House today that the figures will not shortly reach 200,000? If he cannot give that guarantee, when they reach that level will he resign?

Mr. Edwards

The figures are rather more representative of the position that we found at the Llanwern steelworks in the hon. Gentleman's constituency when we came into government. It was grossly overmanned, inefficient and had no prospects for any future. It has now become one of the most efficient and competitive steel plants in the world and is actually taking on labour.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

I do not want to accuse the Secretary of State of being an economic illiterate, but does he not accept that Opposition Members have asked macroeconomic questions, while he has taken us on a macroeconomic tour of some of the plants in Wales with which he has been involved during the past couple of months? That is not the answer that we need. We need a strategic answer, and he is not giving one.

Mr. Edwards

If the hon. Gentleman, of all people, having studied the history of Wales, does not understand that the decline of old basic industries and the attraction into Wales of new industries that will form a foundation for the future is the key economic issue confronting the Principality, I can only say that I am astonished and that he jolly well ought to know.

Mr. Harvey

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the insensitive way in which the Muntz Plastics factory in my constituency is laying off 130 workers? Will he guarantee to provide the support necessary to ease those lay-offs?

Mr. Edwards

The commercial decision must be taken by the company, but my hon. Friend knows that the Government have provided massive assistance to Clwyd to help deal with redundancies there, especially during the past 12 months. The Government have made a substantial allocation of urban aid, and we shall continue to provide that part of port-east Wales with support at the highest level. Such assistance makes that part of the country especially successful in attracting new industry and investment.

Mr. Rogers

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that circumstances in Wales are disastrous and that the inward investment of which he speaks is not on a sufficient scale to solve the deep problems of Wales? Will he ask the National Coal Board to stop importing foreign coal which is destroying our mining industry? If the right hon. Gentleman really wants to do something about jobs, why does he not protect our fragile industrial structure rather than destroy it by his weak-kneed and pathetic subservience to the Prime Minister?

Mr. Edwards

The National Coal Board has imported coal for two reasons. It has imported special coals, which are not readily available in Britain, and coal required by the British Steel Corporation, which has to survive in an internationally competitive market. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the BSC should operate with one hand tied behind its back to help his miners.