HC Deb 08 July 1991 vol 194 cc636-8
9. Dr. Kim Howells

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement about a change in the level of unemployment during the last year (a) in Pontypridd and (b) Wales as a whole.

Mr. David Hunt

772 and 29,043 respectively.

Dr. Howells

In view of the Secretary of State's habit these days of claiming credit for just about every job created in Wales, including the appointment of a rat catcher in "Under Milk Wood", does he realise that there is a great deal of suspicion about today's announcement that 15 jobs are to be created in my constituency in a chlorofluorocarbon refrigeration recovery plant? There is a general suspicion that Wales is being regarded increasingly by other countries as a convenient place to which their poisons can be shipped and in which they can be treated and dumped.

Mr. Hunt

I am very surprised that the hon. Gentleman raised the matter in this context. I should have thought that he would welcome the £2.6 million investment in his area. It is an exciting development which will help to stem the escape into the environment of potentially damaging gases. The protection of our environment has never been as important as it is today and I am delighted that the project, for reclaiming packaging and distributing refrigerant gases, will create new jobs in the area.

Mr. Raffan

Does my right hon. Friend agree with the Fabian Society and with such leading trade unionists as Gavin Laird and Eric Hammond that the introduction of a national statutory minimum wage would be disastrous for employment in the United Kingdom, including the Principality? Does he further agree that the introduction of such a statutory minimum wage could destroy as many as 55,000 jobs in the Principality, including 1,400 in my constituency?

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important subject about which the Opposition have been distinctly silent. There is no doubt that there is a great deal of disquiet about Labour's proposals for the statutory minimum wage and there is evidence to show that it would bear unduly harshly on the Principality. My hon. Friend's figure of 55,000 jobs is probably an underestimate. I shall bring my estimate of the losses, which will probably be higher, before the House at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

The Secretary of State will be aware that this has been an extremely difficult year for young people in particular to obtain employment. In fact, if the evidence of local technical colleges and other colleges of further education is taken into account, it is the worst year for five years. Is not this, therefore, another opportunity for us to consider how we educate and train our young people? The Secretary of State knows that I have made strong representations to ensure that the whole responsibility for education and training is transferred to the Welsh Office. Will he consider that again?

Mr. Hunt

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is precisely the moment at which we should look carefully at our education and training policies to ensure that we give every possible job opportunity to people and especially to the younger members of the Principality. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give credit to the training and enterprise councils. The first network was set up in the Principality, ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom. It is addressing the matter in practical terms and I strongly support its efforts.

Mr. Rowlands

If the past 12 years have seen such an economic miracle in Wales, why are the Government still having to squeeze out inflation by destroying more and more jobs in our economy, especially as our communities could scarcely be said to be enjoying high wages or making high wage demands? We are the lowest wage economy. If low wages mean more jobs, we should have many more jobs than we have at present.

Mr. Hunt

I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are more people in employment now than there were in 1979. He sometimes forgets that statistic. We in the Principality cannot isolate ourselves from the recession elsewhere in the world. I have recently returned from north America. The United States is in its 10th successive month of recession and Canada has just completed a 14-month period in recession. The hon. Gentleman cannot say that the difficulties are unique to Wales or to the United Kingdom. We cannot isolate ourselves from the rest of the world.

Mr. Barry Jones

Those answers will not reassure Welsh business men who see the economy lurching downwards. Is not it time for an immediate cut in interest rates to stem what is becoming a frightening recession? Does the Secretary of State agree that Wales needs interest rate cuts, investment in our schools, investment in training and investment in industry so that we can have real jobs to face the challenge of the next century?

Mr. Hunt

Sometimes I wish that the hon. Gentleman would recognise that although we have serious difficulties in Wales with the recession, the medium to longer-term prospects for our Principality are still as good as ever. I am sorry that he did not welcome the package of £33 million of investment which I announced today. Fourteen separate industrial projects will create 300 new jobs and will safeguard many more. That is further good news for the Welsh economy and the sheer size of the investment demonstrates clearly that international and home-grown companies in Wales are confidently committing themselves to a better future.

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