HC Deb 20 March 1989 vol 149 cc719-21
9. Mr. Roy Hughes

To ask 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.

Mr. Peter Walker

On 9 February 1989 the numbers of unemployed claimants in Newport district, in Gwent, and in Wales, were 5,953, 18,099 and 112,044 respectively. Unadjusted figures for 1979 are not available on a basis which enables a valid comparison to be made.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that Newport, with all its advantages, has 12 per cent. male unemployment? The figure in the county of Gwent is 13.8 per cent. Are not those figures horrific? There is much hidden unemployment besides. Does the Secretary of State accept that such great problems cannot be concealed by figures relating to part-time, low-paid jobs for women?

Mr. Walker

First, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that question down for every Welsh Question Time. I hope that he will continue to do so for the rest of this Parliament.

Unemployment in Wales has fallen by well over 50,000 in the past two years. Regional assistance offers in 1988, most of which are still to be put into operation, will provide 32,000 new jobs. Inward investment in 1988 reached all-time records of more than £1 billion, with 13,700 jobs. The Welsh Development Agency's factory-building programme also reached an all-time record level. I am delighted at the Government's record in bringing down unemployment.

Mr. Raffan

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that unemployment in Delyn has been halved during the last two years and that, with the most recent job announcements, it is set to be halved again, thanks in large part to the Government's designation of the Delyn enterprise zone, which the Opposition opposed?

Mr. Walker

Yes. The position is exactly the same in north Wales, mid-Wales and south Wales. I am glad to say that in recent months the decline in unemployment in the valleys has been faster than anywhere else.

Mrs. Clywd

Can the Minister explain why the profit-making utility services department of the Welsh Development Agency at Hirwaun is to be shut and why its functions are expensively to be transferred to statutory authorities, making 70 people redundant in one of the worst unemployment black spots in Britain?

Mr. Walker

Yes—because, in the interests of the hon. Lady's constituents, it is right that all the substantial resources of the WDA, which is spending £130 million this year, should be efficiently and well administered. I much prefer money to go into new factories and new factory building rather than that an inefficient administrative set-up should be allowed to continue.

Sir Anthony Meyer

What is the position on unfilled vacancies?

Mr. Walker

Surveys have shown that the number of unfilled vacancies is three times the number registered at jobcentres. At the moment there are 38,000 unfilled vacancies in Wales. I hope that urgent action will be taken to fill those vacancies.

Mr. Rowlands

Despite what the Secretary of State has said, are there not some worrying signs? For example, Rover has laid off people and Hotpoint employees are on a shorter working week. Both are attributed to the rise in interest rates. Does it not mean that for the Chancellor's policy to work, workers in Wales will have to be put out of work again?

Mr. Walker

During the last month there has been a drop of 2,600 in the unemployment figures, despite problems of the type described by the hon. Gentleman. If those problems had not existed, the fall in unemployment would have been very much greater. The fall is substantial. The hon. Gentleman's remarks about training were designed to put off the Japanese and the Germans. Four administrative jobs were to go to Bristol. I am glad to say, however, that inward investment will continue to come to Wales on a considerable scale.

Mr. Barry Jones

On the issue of interest rates, the right hon. Gentleman again is wriggling. I commend to him the excellent report by the 15 boroughs and district councils of the valleys in south Wales on unemployment and economic development. It is a superb document. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to meet the valley councils. He will find that his initiative will be subjected to informed and reasonable criticism. I challenge him to meet the valley councils. Does he recollect that, according to his valleys initiative document, during the three years that it may be in operation 25,000 to 30,000 jobs will be created in the valley communities? Will he give me the basis for that large figure?

Mr. Walker

I shall send the hon. Gentleman the details of that analysis. It is a minor factor when compared with the whole range of valley initiatives. As for meeting the valley councils, they have seen more of me as Secretary of State for Wales on a whole range of individual negotiations than they saw of most other Secretaries of State for Wales when there was a Labour Government. I have arranged for the Welsh Office and each valley local authority to have discussions at regular intervals on the valleys initiative.