HC Deb 20 January 1986 vol 90 cc3-5
3. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will give details of the most recent published figures of unemployment in Newport and Wales.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)

On 12 December 1985 the number of unemployed claimants in the Newport travel-to-work area and in Wales totalled 12,765 and 181,496 respectively.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that the recent rise in the base lending rate of the clearing banks to 12.5 per cent. is the highest this century and that unemployment in Gwent and in the whole of Wales now stands at 17 per cent.? Does he realise that, because of the Government's policies, it can be said that Wales is being murdered? Why does he not call for a change in these policies? If he cannot change them, he should get out.

Mr. Edwards

Of course I am concerned about the high levels of unemployment, but it is wrong to pretend that Wales is being murdered. In 1985 Wales obtained a very high proportion of the inward investment in this country. In fact, 48 overseas projects have been secured. If that is not of interest to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure he will be pleased to hear that well over 2 million sq ft of Government factory space has been allocated to Wales. Again, that is very near to the all-time record.

Mr. Grist

Will my right hon. Friend give a lecture to Opposition Members on the relationship between high pay rises, inflation and unemployment? Will he tell them that if we go on paying ourselves above the rate of inflation and more than our competitors we shall have higher interest rates and higher unemployment?

Mr. Edwards

For the first time for many decades we have had a prolonged period of substantial growth in the economy, combined with falling inflation. That offers by far the best prospect for future job creation and lower unemployment.

Mr. Rowlands

Does the Secretary of State recall the speech that he made when he mentioned the great gulf between City financing and industrial Britain? Was not the perfect illustration of that the behaviour of County bank with its ultimatum to withdraw money from the Berlei company? Has the right hon. Gentleman put any proposals to his colleagues to prevent such outrages recurring?

Mr. Edwards

As the hon. Gentleman knows, County bank responded to my request for further time to consider the matter. The hon. Gentleman knows that I do not answer for the conduct of County bank. It must be a matter for commercial judgment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman shares my pleasure in the fact that the company has now been bought from the receiver. As a subsidiary of the Courtaulds group, there are good prospects for its future business.

Sir Raymond Gower

Unemployment is a continuing cause of concern for all of us, but does not industry in Wales, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, now have an unparalleled opportunity to expand?

Mr. Edwards

Much industrial investment is taking place at the present time. The allocation of factory space is at, or near, record levels. We continue to secure a high proportion of inward investment from overseas. There is a greater diversity in the Welsh economy today than there has been for many decades—indeed, this century.

Mr. Williams

If the period of growth has been as impressive as the Secretary of State describes, how does he explain to those of us who do not see it that way that manufacturing output is still below the level at which it was when the Government came to office, and lower than it was 11 years ago at the time of the three-day week?

Mr. Edwards

My answer follows my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir Raymond Gower). For the greater part of this century Wales has been over-dependent upon steel and coal. Those industries have been substantially reduced, but I am glad to say that, as a result of massive investment in the British Steel Corporation and a startling improvement in performance and productivity, the future for the steel industry is better than it has been for many years.

Mr. Foot

As the right hon. Gentleman still believes that the Government's policy is a glowing success, will he tell us when it will be translated into helpful unemployment figures? When will the areas that have suffered 20 per cent. unemployment or more since the Government came to office see the product of the Government's policy?

Mr. Edwards

I have told the right hon. Gentleman on many occasions that I do not make forecasts of unemployment figures, any more than he did when he had responsibility for such matters.