§ 9. Mr. Rowlands
asked the Secretary of State for Wales what was the level of unemployment in both numerical and percentage terms in Merthyr Tydfil in 1979; what is the current percentage; and what are the similar figures for Wales.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
On 6 February 1986 there were 11,279 unemployed claimants in the Merthyr and Rhymney travel-to-work area, a rate of 21.4 per cent. A comparable claimant-based figure for February 1979 is not available. For Wales as a whole, for the same dates, the seasonally adjusted claimant-based figures were 176,000 and 76,400, or 16.6 per cent. and 6.9 per cent. respectively.
§ Mr. Rowlands
In the face of those terrifying figures, should not the Secretary of State's complacency have been shattered by the past two month's unemployment records, and the trends that are accompanying them? Does he agree that we are not seeing the light at the end of any tunnel and that unemployment is rising? In addition to the genuine problems of the young unemployed, is the Secretary of State aware of the growing anxiety that hon. Members have witnessed over the 50-year-old unemployed, who now believe that they will never work again unless the Government change their direction and policy?
§ Mr. Edwards
Of course, I share the hon. Gentleman's concern that the recent, more encouraging, trend in unemployment figures has come to an end and that we have had two or three poor months. That is one reason why we are continuing to extend, enlarge and improve the wide range of employment and training measures generally, and those for the category of people to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
§ Mr. Foot
As the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned improvements in training measures, can he tell us whether he has sorted out the problem of the heavy extra burden which he and the Government are imposing on local authorities in carrying out the second part of the two-year programme? All of us want to assist the young through the YTS programme, but it is unfair that such a heavy, increased burden should be put on local authorities.
§ Mr. Edwards
The Government are providing substantial resources for this important new major extension of training provision. Local authorities are also playing their part, and I am glad that all Welsh local authorities, including Mid Glamorgan, which has had difficulties in the past, will participate fully in the next phase of the programme.
§ Mr. Barry Jones
The right hon. Gentleman has not told us how he proposes to make major inroads into the terrifying unemployment in Wales. Can he throw some light upon the firm Biomass International in my constituency? Does he know that £1.1 million of county council, Development Agency and Government money was on offer to create only 76 jobs on Deeside? Before Biomass International ceased activities, only nine jobs had been created. Has the Welsh Development Agency's £416,000 investment been lost? What moneys can be rescued? I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Biomass follows the problems with the Parrot Corporation. Does he plan to review investment policy in his Department?
§ Mr. Edwards
The hon. Gentleman identifies the great difficulty that all venture capital organisations, in the public and private sectors, have in always backing successful projects. If he wishes to encourage the support of the new high technology industries, especially in areas such as biotechnology, there will always be risks and failures. I hope that in developing the Labour party's general policies for investing vast sums of public money into such ventures and directing them centrally, he will realise that they are hazardous and risky choices. It is unlikely that public funds will be recovered in this case, except on a very small scale.