HC Deb 17 February 1997 vol 290 cc603-5
1. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement about unemployment in Wales. [14440]

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

Unemployment is falling fast in Wales. It has fallen by 9,200 in the past three months.

Mr. Marshall

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that one reason for unemployment in Wales falling, while it is rising in Germany, is the export of jobs from Germany to Wales? Does he remember the forecast by Commissioner Delors that our opt-out from the social chapter would act as a magnet for inward investment into Britain? Does he believe that unemployment in Wales would continue to fall if we adopted the social chapter and a national minimum wage?

Mr. Hague

My hon. Friend, as ever, makes some very good points. At least 50 German companies operate in Wales, and some of those have moved operations from Germany to Wales. Unemployment in Wales is now lower than it is in Germany; no Labour Secretary of State for Wales has ever been able to say that.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the social chapter. Some other countries in Europe have restrictions on overtime and other excessive regulations about how people work, which inhibit job creation. It defies belief that Opposition Members want those countries to decide our labour laws by majority vote instead of our deciding them ourselves.

Mr. Rogers

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that if new industries are to come to Wales we must create the right environment? What does he intend to do about the Environment Agency, which is not responding to the people of the Rhondda in relation to the disposal of waste at the Nant-y-gwyddion tip? If we are to attract industry to the valleys, we must have a proper environment. Throughout south Wales, companies are looking critically at the environment in which they are investing.

Mr. Hague

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the environment; that is why environmental policies have been among my priorities since I have held office as Secretary of State. I recognise the concerns expressed by the local community in the hon. Gentleman's constituency about a matter on which he has corresponded with my Department. It is for the Environment Agency to consider what action is appropriate, and it is difficult for me to comment further in view of my appellate role under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make further representations, we shall be happy to consider them.

Sir Wyn Roberts

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the high priority that he gave in his speech on Friday to continuing job creation under the next Conservative Government has been very warmly welcomed in Wales? Is it not clear that the choice facing the electorate is between a Conservative Government giving that high priority to job creation and a Labour Government who, judging by experience, will end their term with more unemployed than when it began?

Mr. Hague

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have made the British economy the best job creation machine in Europe by a very long way. Employment in Wales has gone up by 95,000 in the past 10 years. That is a tremendous record. My right hon. Friend understandably refers to the Labour party, because every Labour Government have left office with unemployment higher than when they entered it.

Mr. Llwyd

Is the Minister aware of the level of youth unemployment in some areas of Wales? For example, in some parts of Gwynedd it is more than 33 per cent. among under-25s. What initiatives are his Department pursuing to deal with that terrible problem?

Mr. Hague

I am pleased that youth unemployment has been falling with overall unemployment. We all want that trend to continue. The key to removing youth unemployment is improving standards of education and training. That is why in the past two weeks I have launched updates to the Welsh Office's policies on education and training, the bright future initiative and the people and prosperity programme. It is also why I have moved so much of the training budget into youth training, especially the expansion of modern apprenticeships. Many thousands of young people will benefit from that later this year.

Mr. Richards

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the French enjoyed the rub of the green at the Parc des Princes on Saturday, they suffer from the green rub of European employment policies? Will he confirm that the average rate of unemployment in France is much higher than that in Wales and that every constituency in Wales has a lower rate of unemployment than Germany? Does he agree that no Welsh rugby supporter would exchange his job for being unemployed in France?

Mr. Hague

We do not have quite so much to celebrate on the rugby field as we did at the previous Welsh Question Time, but my hon. Friend is right to mention the unemployment rate in France. On the entirely comparable International Labour Organisation unadjusted basis, unemployment in the autumn of last year was 8.2 per cent. in Wales and 12.8 per cent. in France. Since then, unemployment has been falling in Wales. That shows what happens when policies favourable to job creation are pursued, as they are in this country, and when policies that are not favourable to job creation are pursued, as happens in many parts of continental Europe.

Mr. Ron Davies

The Secretary of State may deceive himself, but he does not deceive Opposition Members with those figures. Will he confirm that we still have 200,000 fewer people in employment than when the present Prime Minister took office and that the claimant count includes some 30,000 young people under the age of 25? Does he not realise that we can never have a prosperous economy or secure society when so many young people are denied the opportunity to work? Is he aware that the Government's greatest failure has been their refusal to prepare for the future? That is why at the forthcoming general election, there will be so much popular support for Labour's programme for a windfall levy to fund an imaginative programme of work for the young.

Mr. Hague

Whatever figures the hon. Gentleman chooses to consider, unemployment in Wales is falling—and falling rapidly. It does not matter what definition of unemployment is taken, internationally comparable or not, unemployment is falling rapidly in the United Kingdom, and there is a reason for that—the policies that we have pursued in recent years. Employment is up in Wales by 95,000 over the past 10 years and we are doing an immense amount in Wales to ensure that young people are prepared for the future—the very point that I made in answer to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). Standards of educational qualifications are increasing, the number of young people in high quality training is rising steadily, and so is the number of jobs available for them to go to when they finish it.

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