HC Deb 20 January 1997 vol 288 cc612-3
9. Mr. Simon Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the current level of unemployment in Wales, relative to that in (a) the United Kingdom as a whole and (b) the European Union; and if he will make a statement. [9915]

Mr. Gwilym Jones

For like-for-like comparison purposes, the labour force survey in autumn 1996 found that the unemployment rate in Wales was 8.2 per cent. compared with 7.9 per cent. in the United Kingdom. The European Union average rate in October 1996 was 10.9 per cent.

Mr. Coombs

Is not unemployment now far higher in Germany than in Wales? Is that not a consequence of the fact that more and more German firms are relocating their investment to Wales because they recognise the advantages of doing so? Is it not also a fact that, for every German who will lose his job as a consequence, there is another who is beginning to wish that Germany had never signed up to the social chapter and the other high social costs with which the German economy is now burdened?

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) will explain in the Adjournment debate that you have offered him, Madam Speaker, Bosch is achieving far greater productivity in the manufacture of alternators in Vale of Glamorgan than in its plants in Germany. The labour force survey is but a snapshot: the official figures, which were announced last week, show that Wales is doing better still. Unemployment is falling fast in Wales and elsewhere in the United Kingdom and is down to 7.4 per cent. and 6.7 per cent. respectively. That compares with the expanding European figure, which increased by another 0.3 per cent. in the last quarter.

Mr. Hain

Nobody believes the Government's unemployment figures, because they are fiddled. Britain's unemployment situation looks as good as it does in comparison with that of European countries because the figures have been fiddled downwards. Why does the Minister not recognise other figures that reflect the economic inactivity rate? They show that economic inactivity among men of working age is higher in Wales than anywhere else in mainland Britain. What will he do about the hidden joblessness rate in Wales?

Mr. Jones

It is plain that the hon. Gentleman and his party are bereft of arguments when all that they can trot out is the lame claim that the unemployment figures are fiddled. On any comparison, two facts are self-evident: unemployment in Wales and the United Kingdom generally is falling fast, although it remains too high. That is why I cannot understand Labour's slavish devotion to the minimum wage, the social chapter and—to the particular disadvantage of Wales—the imposition of a Welsh Assembly, with all that that would do to deter the inward investment that we have won until now.