HC Deb 23 March 1987 vol 113 cc1-3
2. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest unadjusted figures for unemployment in (a) Newport, (b) Gwent and (c) Wales; and if he will give the equivalent figures for 1979 on the most nearly comparable basis.

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

On 12 February 1987 the total numbers of unemployed claimants in Newport district, Gwent and Wales were 9,758, 27,708 and 171,393 respectively. Unadjusted figures for 1979 are not available on a basis which enables a valid comparison to be made.

Mr. Hughes

Are these figures not critically high, despite the 19 changes in the method by which they are compiled? Is not the claim that unemployment is coming down a bit of a fantasy? Will the Secretary of State confirm that manufacturing output and investment are down on 1979 levels? Is this not a tragic legacy to leave after eight continuous years of office?

Mr. Edwards

It is not a fantasy that unemployment is coming down. The legacy is that unemployment, seasonally adjusted, is down by 15,000 from its peak in March 1986. It has fallen for nine consecutive months and for 10 out of the last 11 months. The fall over the last 12 months of 1.1 per cent. is the largest drop of all the regions of the United Kingdom, as was the fall this month. This is good news for Wales, as I hope that the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) will agree.

Sir Raymond Gower

As notified vacancies are sometimes a better guide to the progress of the economy, will my right hon. Friend tell us about the changes in the number of notified vacancies for each of those months?

Mr. Edwards

Not only are the unemployment figures down, but vacancies are up 2,390 on February 1986. Indeed, all the indicators point in the same direction—the number of regional selective assistance applications in the first two months of 1987, and the sharp reduction in redundancies over the last 12 months. Almost any set of indicators shows a strong recovery of economic activity in Wales and a great improvement in unemployment.

Mr. Foot

Everyone welcomes any fall in the unemployment figures, but will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how long, at this pace of reduction, it would be before the unemployment total was back to the still serious level of 1979?

Mr. Edwards

If we go on at this pace of reduction, on the policies that we are pursuing, we will meet the Labour party's stated objective of reducing unemployment over the next two years. We have a policy that is working. The results show that it works. The Labour party does not have a policy, except to increase inflation and increase costs on employment generally, and almost certainly, therefore, to destroy the prospects that it seeks to create.

Mr. Raffan

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the collaboration agreement that was signed this morning between British Coal and Ruhrkohle Oil and Gas which brings Ruhrkohle into the Point of Ayr coal-to-oil liquefaction project? Will he also welcome the simultaneous announcement by the Department of Energy that the £2.5 million worth of support for the project, which was conditional on acceptable private sector participation, will now be made available?

Mr. Edwards

That project is relevant and will create jobs in north Wales. I can confirm that my right hon. Friend has made £2.5 million worth of support available, and that will cover the period of construction, commissioning and operation of the plant.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Does the Secretary of State have any further plans to reduce unemployment in mid-Wales, and in Teifi valley in particular?

Mr. Edwards

There has been an improvement in the unemployment figures over the last 12 months in all Welsh travel-to-work areas. We recently announced a package of measures for the rural areas, including a series of special encouragements and incentives for the creation of new firms. I am sure that that will make a strong contribution to job creation in areas such as the hon. Gentleman represents.

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