HC Deb 22 January 1996 vol 270 cc2-4
2. Mr. Ainger

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on his plans to tackle unemployment in Wales. [8830]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. William Hague)

Between spring 1985 and spring 1995, employment in Wales grew by 10.5 per cent., which is well ahead of the Great Britain average of 6.3 per cent. Unemployment continues to fall. The Government will pursue their key economic objectives of permanently low inflation, sound public finances and improving the supply side performance of the economy. That policy has brought about a stronger recovery in the UK than in any other major European country.

Mr. Ainger

Is the Secretary of State aware that, in some parts of Wales, unemployment is getting worse, particularly in my constituency, where the December figures showed that we have 25 per cent. male unemployment? Year on year, it is getting worse, not better. May I take issue with the letter that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) wrote to me, in which, describing the situation in south Pembrokeshire, he said that current progress is extremely encouraging", when unemployment is getting worse? Why will the Secretary of State not address the issue of structural change—something that is particularly needed in peripheral areas and areas of high unemployment? Why will he not restore the cuts, which amount to some £23 million, that were imposed on the Welsh Development Agency by his predecessor last year and that have been compounded by his refusal to restore the cuts next year? That is the only way in which we shall be able to tackle our long-term unemployment, particularly in the peripheral areas of Wales.

Mr. Hague

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary recognise that unemployment in certain parts of Wales, including his constituency, is higher than the average figures in certain parts of Wales. Part of the answer to that is the overall economic framework, which I have explained. In addition, since the west Wales task force was formed in 1992, more than £17 million has been allocated to local authorities for specific projects and strategies in the area. We have allocated a further £2.5 million for next year. Further support is available for projects such as Pembroke dock, if a good-quality strategy is submitted by the local authority—something that has not been done to date.

Our overall economic policies, backed by such measures, are the right measures to take, and not the imposition of a social chapter or minimum wage on this country and on the hon. Gentleman's constituents, which would cost them their jobs instead of creating them.

Sir Wyn Roberts

I compliment my right hon. Friend on the progress made in increasing the number of jobs available in the Principality. Will he confirm that, in terms of inward investment alone, the Welsh Development Agency aims to create or safeguard some 10,000 jobs this year? Does he agree that the WDA has a very good chance of achieving that target, given that some 7,300 jobs were created or safeguarded in 1994–95? Would not the only threat to such progress be posed by the remote possibility of a Labour Government?

Mr. Hague

My right hon. Friend is right in every respect. He is right, for instance, about the WDA's target. As the whole House knows, inward investment has brought tens of thousands of jobs to Wales over the years. The WDA's target for the current year is 10,000, and it is working hard to achieve that. It is working on a number of projects at present.

As my hon. Friend says, the only threat to the job prospects that have been created would be posed by a Labour Government, who would introduce a Welsh Assembly, the social chapter and a minimum wage.

Mr. Llew Smith

Does the Secretary of State accept that the problem relates not just to unemployment, but to the kind of jobs that are attracted to Wales? The vast majority are part-time, low-paid, soul-destroying, non-union jobs. Is he aware that a survey carried out with the Department of Employment in my constituency shows that the hourly rate for jobs advertised worked out at just over £3 an hour? Would he work for that kind of money?

Mr. Hague

Of course we want skill levels and wages in the Welsh economy to rise over the years. Wages have risen in recent years, and I very much want that to continue. We are also working hard to achieve an improvement in skill levels, particularly in the manufacturing sector. Last week, I emphasised that to the chairmen of the training and enterprise councils. Over time, such improvements help to raise wage levels.

Mr. Ron Davies

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, if either of the two sites proposed for a Euro freight depot in Wales—Magor or Wentloog—is used, the Welsh economy and Welsh prestige will receive a massive boost, thousands of jobs will be created and there will be a much wider impact on existing and potential investors in Wales?

If the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that, will he explain why, during his six months in office, he has done nothing to support either application, thus allowing a massive 1,000-acre competitor north of Bristol to steal a march? Only one of the sites can be viable: if the Bristol scheme proceeds, the Welsh projects will fail. Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that, if that happens, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that Wales will have lost out because of the incompetence and indecision that are the hallmarks of the right hon. Gentleman's administration of the Welsh Office?

Mr. Hague

As usual, the hon. Gentleman's question hears little resemblance to reality. There are projects to create rail freight terminals in South Wales, both of which involve applications for grants. Those applications—some for European grants, others for freight facilities grants—are being assessed, but in many instances more information is required. There has been no delay on the part of my officials in the assessment of those projects, and there would be nothing to stop the projects proceeding if they were not dependent on public funds. Before we commit public funds, it is important for Ministers to be satisfied that there is a strong case for doing so.