HC Deb 17 November 1986 vol 105 cc296-7
5. Mr. Barry

Jones asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is the total of unemployed in Wales, including the number of school leavers, and the number of long-term unemployed; and what increases these represent, numerically and in percentage terms over October 1979.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

The seasonally adjusted number of unemployed claimants in Wales was 169,000 in October 1986 and 68,300 in October 1979, an increase of 100,700 or 147–4 per cent. Figures for the long-term unemployed and school leavers are not available on a comparable basis.

Mr. Jones

May I remind the Secretary of State that with 174,000 jobless Welsh people the cost to Britain is about £1,131 million a year, which is a weekly cost of £21 million? Does he realise that there are 45,000 people on special programmes and that work-test questions will massage downwards the unemployment figures by another 1,000? Has he taken into account as well that already in Wales 3,000 people are on supplementary benefit? Is not the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer an inadequate and late response to the challenge of mass unemployment in Wales, and will he accept that in reality it is an election ploy? We believe that over the past seven years the Secretary of State has shown a pitiless disinterest in our people.

Mr. Edwards

There are about 49,400 people under special measures, not 45,000. I take pride in the success and effectiveness of the special measures as a sign of the Government's concern and effective action. The measures that we have been pursuing—I speak of the past, not of measures recently announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—are one of the reasons why the seasonally adjusted unemployment figures, the subject of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, have fallen in six out of the past seven months.

Mr. Grist

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government's commitment and that of Conservative Members has been shown by the great success of the job clubs scheme and the Restart programme?

Mr. Edwards

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that we can continue to develop those schemes.

Mr. Foot

Would the Secretary of State like to reconsider what seemed to be a most ill-considered answer that he gave me a minute or two ago? He talked as if cutting regional aid had increased the number of jobs. Will he tell us what was the cut and what has been the increase in the number of jobs?

Mr. Edwards

I am saying that regional aid is now much more effectively directed, and that it is working well is shown by the fact that the Welsh share of total United Kingdom unemployment continues steadily to decline. I note that from January to October this year there have been 168 applications for selective financial assistance, compared with 135 in the same period last year, and that 113 of the offers have been accepted. I note also that £33 million of assistance has been directed selectively in the right direction to create more than 4,500 new jobs.

Mr. Wigley

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, unlike in England, the number of employees in employment in Wales is now fewer than in 1979? Does that not show the failure of Government policy for Wales?

Mr. Edwards

No. The latest employment figures extend only to about the spring for the self-employed and we wait to have more recent figures. The available figures show the scale of the inherited problems of the decline of the old basic industries. It is encouraging that, despite the scale of these problems and the recent pit closures, the relative position of Wales to the rest of the United Kingdom is improving and unemployment is falling. Surely the hon. Gentleman welcomes that fact.

Sir Raymond Gower

Apart from the welcome change in the unemployment figures, are we not entitled to some cautious and modest optimism, given the increase in the number of notified vacancies?

Mr. Edwards

There has been an increase in the number of vacancies. The number of vacancies at jobcentres is 14,618, which is 4,600 up on the same month last year. That is another sign of the improvement which I have been describing to the House, which Opposition Members do not wish to hear about.

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