HC Deb 17 November 1986 vol 105 cc293-5
3. Dr. Marek

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest unadjusted figures for unemployment in (a) Wrexham and (b) Wales; what were the equivalent figures in May 1979; and what has been the percentage increase in each case.

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

On 9 October 1986 the total numbers of unemployed claimants in the Wrexham travel-to-work area and Wales were 7,730 and 174,105 respectively. Unadjusted figures for 1979 are not available on a comparable basis.

Dr. Marek

Is the Secretary of State aware that many of the new jobs that have been created in Wales are low paid, attracting a rate of pay of perhaps only £50—£70 a week? Is the Secretary of State also aware that although these jobs are welcome they are generally regarded as slave labour and in no way a substitute for the well paid, headof-household jobs that Wales has lost? What analysis has the Secretary of State made, and is he proud of what his Department is doing?

Mr. Edwards

Faced with the fall in the number of unemployed people, I suppose that instead of welcoming that fact the hon. Gentleman is now trying to divert the issue by suggesting that these very welcome new jobs are somehow undesirable. Having looked at many of the very attractive industrial projects in his constituency, I do not believe that those who are employed in them regard their jobs as slave labour. The hon. Gentleman's suggestion is ludicrous in the extreme.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the proposal to privatise services, including those in the National Health Service, will not create further unemployment but that they will create more efficiency and better value for money? Will he condemn unreservedly the tactics that are being used by NUPE in Clwyd to black those employers who agree with the proposal to privatise the health services?

Mr. Edwards

Yes. It is quite disgraceful. We are seeking to concentrate the maximum possible resources on patient care and to obtain the best value for money. Any union that thinks it ought to go on strike against that objective is behaving disgracefully.

Mr. Foot

There are some areas in Wales where unemployment and the prospects for employment are as deep and chronic as ever. Those areas make a mockery of the suggestion that we sometimes get from the Treasury Bench that there have been six years of growth. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether some of those areas, which continue to face those serious problems, will have restored to them some of the cuts in regional aid which he approved? In the recent public expenditure discussions in Cabinet, did he fight for a restoration of those cuts, which have contributed to higher numbers of unemployed?

Mr. Edwards

They did not contribute to the numbers unemployed; they contributed to the significant fall in the numbers unemployed. One of the reasons for that is that in the months to October this year there have been Government owned factory allocations in Wales of some 2,233,000 sq ft. That is an all-time record, because it is more in the period to October than in any full year before. It is an indication of the success of selective regional policy in creating jobs where they are most needed.

Mr. Raffan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fall in unemployment in the borough of Delyn from 4,612 in September 1985 to 4,307 this year is a remarkable achievement in view of the massive job losses arising from the Courtaulds Greenfield closure? Does he also agree that this achievement is largely due to the Government's enterprise zone policy, a policy to which the Labour party was and is bitterly opposed?

Mr. Edwards

I agree with my hon. Friend that Delyn has had remarkable success in replacing the jobs lost after the Courtaulds closures. I congratulate the local authority on the vigour with which it has pursued its policy to make a success of the enterprise zone.

Mrs. Clwyd

Is the Secretary of State not aware that one in three families in Wales are now living below the poverty line? Is he further aware that 300,000 people are living on supplementary benefit? That is double the number six years ago. Is he not aware that south-east Wales, where there is very high unemployment, is the worst-off area? Has he no conscience about the suffering which he and his Government are inflicting on people in Wales?

Mr. Edwards

I am delighted that the policies that we have been pursuing have created a fall in unemployment over the last month of over 6,000 and a fall since October last year of 8,600. The seasonally adjusted unemployment figures for Wales have fallen in six out of the last seven months, the only exception being in May, when the figure rose by exactly 100.

Mr. Gwilym Jones

In view of last Thursday's announcement of a welcome fall in unemployment, may I urge my right hon. Friend to ignore the calls from the Opposition for higher unemployment and to continue to pursue policies for employment, which, plainly, the representatives of the Left-wing parties do not care about?

Mr. Edwards

I agree. It is quite extraordinary that when we at last begin to see a fall in unemployment, instead of that being welcomed by the Opposition they seem to be miserable about it.

Mr. Barry Jones

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that in little more than a year we have lost 5,000 coal jobs in the south Wales coalfield? The proposed closure of the Cwm pit has caused great bitterness. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that £500 million worth of coking coal was imported in the first nine months of this year? That is something like 5 million tonnes, much of it within 6 miles of the proposed new Margam mine. Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the new Margam mine is of strategic importance to the coalfield? In his complacent remarks to my right hon. and hon. Friends, does he forget the deteriorating social conditions in the mining communities? Is he forgetting the high rate of male unemployment, and does he not realise that there are declining prospects for school leavers? Over the last seven years he has shown disinterest in their fate.

Mr. Edwards

In response to the hon. Gentleman's varied questions, there are three points to be made. First, against the background of those coal closures, the achievement of a reduction of more than 8,600 in the number of unemployed in the same period is even more remarkable. Secondly, I, too, entirely understand the desire to get ahead with the Margam project, if that proves possible, but we still have not had formal proposals from the NCB. Discussions on that project continue. Thirdly, in the light of what the hon. Gentleman said about the coal areas, I hope that he will particularly welcome today's news that AB Electronics, a company which now employs more than 3,000 people in Wales, is to replace its two factories in the Rhondda with a new project at Williamstown, which will create about 200 additional jobs in the area.