HC Deb 02 March 1987 vol 111 cc571-2
1. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what assessment he has made of the consequences for the Welsh economy of the current level of unemployment in Wales.

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

On a seasonally adjusted basis, unemployment in Wales has fallen in nine out of the past 10 months. This is in some measure a reflection of the success of the action taken by the Government to promote investment and new jobs and to stimulate and encourage future growth in the Welsh economy.

Mr. Powell

That does not really answer my question. The Library's research department estimates that £1,131 million has been expended on the payment of unemployment benefit and other related matters in Wales, and this figure, over the past seven years of the Tory Government, means that £7 billion to £8 billion could have been spent in the economy of Wales — money that industrialists, commercialists and others would have welcomed. When will the Secretary of State stop this lunacy and do something to get people back to work?

Mr. Edwards

I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be pleased that we have provided benefit on a substantial scale to those who have suffered from unemployment. Equally, I am sure that he will welcome the reduction over the past 12 months in blynpunemployment in the travel-to-work area covering his constituency, from 18.3 to 16.4 per cent. In particular, I am sure that he will welcome the announcement today by Sony of a major £30 million-plus project at Bridgend, which will employ over 330 additional people, bringing the work force at Bridgend to about 1,600.

Sir Raymond Gower

Do not indications, reports and forecasts by the Welsh CBI and other bodies suggest that the prospects for the Welsh economy are probably better now than they have been for many years? Is investment by British Coal Enterprise Ltd. commensurate with the jobs lost in the coal mining areas of south Wales?

Mr. Edwards

I agree with my hon. Friend's assessment, and I shall have more to say on that subject in the debate later this afternoon. As my hon. Friend will be aware, over £40 million has been made available to British Coal Enterprise Ltd. and over £5 million has already been invested in projects in Wales. British Coal believes that that would create, in due course, some 4,000 jobs in the affected area of Wales. That is only one of the many contributory sources of new employment and new job creation in the Principality.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

How many jobs have been lost in Wales since the Government took office in 1979? Is it 150,000 or 170,000?

Mr. Edwards

The hon. Gentleman has to look at the small reduction—about 2 per cent.—in the total number in the work force, taking account of the self-employed, following the massive loss of jobs in coal and steel and the world recession in the early 1980s. What is of much greater significance is the scale on which investment is taking place, the fact that unemployment is falling faster in Wales than anywhere in the United Kingdom, and the almost universally confident forecasts by those involved in industry and in a position to assess its prospects.

Mr. Terlezki

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Welsh economy is in infinitely better shape and is healthier than it was in 1978–79 because more than 200 foreign companies have settled and invested in Wales, employing over 44,000 people? Does he also agree that we have had fewer strikes than for the past 30 years, and that our coal and steel industries are also doing infinitely better? If they had been left in the hands of the Labour party, we would have been suffering from stagnation, inflation and unemployment.

Mr. Edwards

I agree with all that. When the Labour party was in Government, industry was overmanned and uncompetitive. Great advances have been made in improving the competitive position of British, and especially of Welsh, industry since that time.

Mr. Barry Jones

Does not unemployment cost Wales almost £3 million a day and are we not squandering our most precious resource—our people? May I remind the Secretary of State that nearly 15,000 people in Wales have been out of work for more than five years—some 9 per cent. of the total number of unemployed? Will he ensure that the forthcoming Budget is a Budget for Welsh jobs in housing, health, education, law and order, social services and industrial development?

Mr. Edwards

As I have said, last year's Budget has produced a fall in unemployment for nine out of the last 10 months, and unemployment has fallen faster in Wales than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I am quite confident that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's Budget will accelerate that process in the months ahead.

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