HC Deb 21 October 1991 vol 196 cc619-21
1. Mr. Rowlands

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many people are currently unemployed in Merthyr and Rhymney; and what estimate he has of the number of job vacancies available.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt)

Before I answer that question and with your leave, Mr. Speaker, I wish to say that our thoughts are very much with the people of Aberfan. In saying that, I know that I speak not only for the House, the people of Wales and the people of the rest of the United Kingdom, but for people across the world.

The figures are 7,394 and 519.

Mr. Rowlands

May I thank the Secretary of State for those kind and sympathetic words which will be greatly appreciated in Aberfan? It has been my privilege to represent Aberfan in this House for the best part of 20 of those 25 years. I have witnessed the determination, courage and commitment of the community to rebuild itself. Our thoughts are certainly with the many personal friends and families who have to live with those terrible memories and grievous loss.

May I remind the Secretary of State that the pit was closed two years ago and that in March the deep navigation pit next door at Treharris was closed? Next month Penallta is to close, thus leaving the south-east Wales coalfield with only two pits, Taff Merthyr and Tower. Will the Secretary of State give us his personal assurance that he will not be party to any coal board privatisation which, according to the Rothschild report, would mean the complete closure of all pits in south-east Wales, thus destroying the true great mining tradition?

Mr. Hunt

I very much join with the remarks of the hon. Gentleman at the outset of his supplementary question.

Only this morning I was reflecting that in 1947, at the time of nationalisation, we had 229 pits in Wales whereas now we have five and that in 1947 we had 124,000 people employed whereas now we have just over 1,000. From those statistics people can see the tremendous transformation that has take place in Wales. Equally, it imposes an obligation on the Government not only to sustain the coal industry—

Mr. Rowlands

The Welsh coal industry.

Mr. Hunt

Yes, the Welsh coal industry. The first pit where I went underground was Point of Air in north Wales —which sometimes we forget is one of the Welsh coal mines. We must also provide the job opportunities that will be needed in the Wales of the future.

Mr. Barry Jones

I thank the Secretary of State for his remarks about the community of Aberfan and for associating all of his Department and the people of Wales with what he said.

I welcome the Dow Corning investment in the Vale of Glamorgan, which is a credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) and all concerned. Has not the Secretary of State failed to appreciate the seriousness of the situation over which he presides? I am talking about the 12 successive monthly increases in unemployment in Wales, the 40 per cent. rise in unemployment in Wales this year and now a spate of redundancies that are causing grave concern. Will he admit that in communities such as Aberdare, Merthyr, Bridgend, Rhondda, Pontypridd and Swansea the situation is a national disgrace? Will he tell us now what is his strategy to make Wales the best and most successful economy in Europe?

Mr. Hunt

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks.

I take this opportunity to say that I am delighted today to be able to announce a major investment package of more than £14 million, involving the creation of 470 jobs. Each of the projects is backed with regional selective assistance from the Welsh Office. I hope that that communicates to the hon. Gentleman that not only are we determined to provide more job opportunities, but we are putting our money where our mouth is.

2. Mr. Ron Davies

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what proposals he has to alleviate the current levels of unemployment in (a) Rhymney Valley, (b) Mid Glamorgan and (c) Wales.

Mr. David Hunt

The range of measures operated by the Welsh Office, the Welsh Development Agency and all Government agencies are aimed at combating unemployment. We shall continue to look for and respond swiftly to opportunities that have the potential to reduce unemployment.

Mr. Davies

Many of my hon. Friends will join me in my constituency at Ystrad Mynach to commemorate the closure of Penallta colliery which means the loss of 300 jobs and the end of the coal industry in the Rhymney valley. Since even the former Prime Minister has now acknowledged that she is "painfully aware" of the destructive nature of the Government, will the Secretary of State, as an act of contrition and a public apology to the people of Wales for the past 12 years, care to join us at that commemoration next week?

Mr. Hunt

I have nothing to apologise for. It is most discourteous of the hon. Gentleman to try to lay at the door of a Conservative Government what has happened in the coal industry. I have already given the figures on that industry and he will know from them that far more pits were closed under Labour Governments than under Conservative ones. During the 1980s a series of Conservative Governments brought new jobs to different parts of Wales. They have transformed Wales with the biggest land clearance programme in Europe. It is about time that the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that, just as the 1980s were the decade in which Wales was transformed, the 1990s will be the decade of opportunity.

Mr. Gwilym Jones

Is not the best way in which to continue to expand the soundness of the Welsh economy not to follow the moans and groans of the Opposition, but to continue the pragmatic and enlightened approach that my right hon. Friend and his predecessor have followed? Those are not my comments, but those of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) as reported on "Wales on Sunday".

Mr. Hunt

I take the opportunity to thank the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) for his kind remarks about the enlightened policies of myself and my predecessor.

Mr. Foot

These shameful unemployment figures are far higher than those at any time in the post-war period when a Labour Government were in power. How much is the latest increase in unemployment due to the abandonment of effective regional policies by the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors which has meant that, for Wales, the slump goes deeper and it will take us longer to get out of it? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the abandonment of those regional policies was done in defiance of recommendations from the Opposition?

Mr. Hunt

Among the package of announcements that I am delighted to be making today is one of a joint venture between Germany and Sweden in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency for the manufacture of automotive exhaust downpipes and silencers at Tredegar. There is another project relating to the tie and neckwear factory at Nantyglo. Those two projects alone will create nearly 100 jobs. I hope that that will demonstrate to the right hon. Gentleman our determination to continue to bring job opportunities to Wales and his constituency.

Mr. Raffan

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming today's announcement by Knitmesh in my constituency that it is to create 67 new full-time jobs and 58 part-time ones? Will he also join me in congratulating British Aerospace at Broughton on securing the Japanese air self-defence contract with 27 British Aerospace jets? Does my right hon. Friend agree that those announcements bode extremely well for jobs in north-east Wales?

Mr. Hunt

I am glad to respond to my hon. Friend's invitation to welcome the investment by Knitmesh of nearly £2 million, about which I am delighted. I was also extremely pleased to be present, with the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), at the opening of the new wing factory at British Aerospace and I was delighted to hear of the good news since. All that represents good prospects for the future.

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