HC Deb 03 March 1986 vol 93 cc4-6
3. Mr. Ron Davies

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he intends to take steps to provide further employment opportunities in the light of continuing colliery closures.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Following the closure of several consistently uneconomic collieries, the NCB has no current plans for further closures in south Wales, and the industry can look forward to much greater stability and renewed development. Efforts to provide other employment opportunities are continuing, using the instruments of regional industrial policy, the urban programme, and the Welsh Development Agency and drawing on the support of NCB (Enterprise) Ltd.

Mr. Davies

It is not surprising that we have heard nothing new yet again from the Secretary of State. When will he show some sign of understanding, let alone compassion or concern, of the effect of the Government's policies on the south Wales valleys? Is he aware that in the lower Rhymney valley 500 jobs will be lost as a result of the closure of the Bedwas colliery? The Government, the Welsh Office and NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. have nothing to offer.

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the report which was published today by the Department of Trade and Industry which suggests that regional policy is effective and has created over 600,000 jobs in Britain over the past 20 years? If he accepts the findings in the report, which was sponsored by the Government, why does he not ensure that the logical conclusion of the report is accepted and that Wales has a proper regional investment policy to provide the jobs and infrastructure that it needs to replace the jobs that it is losing?

Mr. Edwards

I agree that regional policy has an important role to play. The hon. Gentleman knows that his constituency has the maximum level of assistance that is available under regional policy. The fact that assistance differs in various areas gives the policy its impact. NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. has made a good start by supporting projects in Wales. The cost of the investment has been over £11 million and about 1,400 jobs have been provided. I am taking other initiatives for the valleys, of which I have sent the hon. Gentleman details and to which I shall refer in the debate that is to follow.

Mr. Harvey

Can my right hon. Friend estimate the number of jobs lost in Wales as a result of the miners' strike last year?

Mr. Edwards

I cannot. We know that more than 6,000 jobs have been lost in the pits that have been closed. We cannot tell what the total effect of that strike has been. It affected many other industries and many small firms.

Mr. Gareth Wardell

Does the right hon. Gentleman have any plans to increase the proportion of the working population living in parts of Wales eligible for regional development grant?

Mr. Edwards

We carried out a major review of regional policy comparatively recently. I do not believe that it would be sensible, so soon after the last review, to recast the present distribution of coverage. There is no doubt that if we extended coverage in Wales there would have to be a major extension of coverage in other parts of the United Kingdom. It is therefore by no means clear that Wales would benefit from such a change.

Sir Raymond Gower

Although it is true that in recent years there have been pit closures in south Wales, did not the most marked decline in employment in the coal industry in Wales occur during the period of the Labour Government?

Mr. Edwards

That is true. That decline continued for many decades. We can be thankful that we have probably reached the end of that long historic process.

Mr. Ray Powell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that since the end of the miners' strike, which the Prime Minister, MacGregor and others conspired to ensure took place, every colliery in Ogmore has been closed? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that 1,500 of the 6,000 people whose jobs were lost were living and working in Ogmore before the strike? What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do to replace the jobs which he and his Government have ended during the past 18 months?

Mr. Edwards

There is no truth whatsoever in the allegation about a conspiracy. It has been denied by the Prime Minister's Office and by Mr. MacGregor. The hon. Gentleman knows that the allegation is nonsense.

Mr. Raffan

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate the NCB on progress with the coal to oil liquefaction plant at Point of Ayr, on which construction has now started and which is expected to be completed by December 1987, providing 80 new jobs?

Mr. Edwards

That is part of the major investment programme which the NCB is undertaking in the Welsh coalfields. There has been substantial investment in the south Wales coalfield as well, much of it in new equipment at the faces. That holds out a much better prospect for the future.

Mr. Anderson

Does the review of regional development grant, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, take account of the sudden avalanche of job losses in the colliery areas?

Mr. Edwards

Most of the colliery areas are substantially covered under the existing provisions, giving maximum levels of assistance. I do not believe that there would be any sense in having a major extension of coverage. That would be bound to cover a large part of the English and the Scottish regions as well. Instead of increased incentives to encourage people to come to Wales, there would probably be greater competition. An extension of coverage would not benefit Wales.