HC Deb 20 May 1998 vol 312 cc943-4
8. Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

If he will make a statement on the level of unemployment in Wales. [41420]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain)

According to the labour force survey, in the period January to March 1998 unadjusted unemployment in Wales was 97,000, a rate of 7.5 per cent.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Minister accept that there is still a wide divide between the unemployment levels in the eastern part of Wales and in the western part and the old coalfield areas? Does not that underline the need for that area to be accepted as a NUTS 2 area for regional planning, particularly in the European context? That being so, why was it possible for the Office for National Statistics to have a map for Cornwall out in Eurostat on 30 June last year, but no map for Wales? Who in London is standing between Wales and Europe to stop us getting that map in?

Mr. Hain

The right hon. Gentleman's point about the plight of west Wales in terms of joblessness, low gross domestic product and many other economic indicators is well understood by the entire Government. That is why the case put forward by the Welsh Office for west Wales and the valleys to be a NUTS 2 classified area is being pressed vigorously. I ask him and all other Welsh Members to support us in that endeavour.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Since the glorious 1 May last year, Welsh Office Ministers have made welcome promises about reducing the imbalance between south-east Wales and south-west Wales. May I gently remind my hon. Friend that we are still waiting for a change in practice?

Mr. Hain

My hon. Friend makes a strong point and, as a fellow south-west Wales Member, I understand it very well. That is why we are pressing hard to get the maximum amount of investment, inward and otherwise, into west Wales. We shall continue to do that, but we cannot turn around immediately the dreadful legacy of neglect of west Wales that the Conservatives bequeathed us. We are doing our best to tackle that appalling legacy.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Does the Minister agree that European Union structural funds have a role to play in reducing unemployment in Wales? Does he therefore share my regret that there are serious delays in those European Union funds being released and spent in Wales?

Mr. Hain

The situation is far more complicated than that, and, if the hon. Lady were a Welsh Member of Parliament, she would recognise that fact.