HC Deb 25 February 2004 vol 418 cc265-8
1. Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of recent employment trends in Wales. [155768]

8. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab)

If he will make a statement on the level of employment in Wales. [155775]

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

I am sure that all hon. Members wish to join me in a tribute to John Charles, who was one of the greatest Welsh sportsmen of all time and an international football legend.

The labour market in Wales continues to perform well, and better than the average for all United Kingdom economic regions.

Dr. Francis

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. He will know of the recent TUC report, "Full Employment: The Next Steps". It identifies one of the key factors that contribute to economic inactivity in Britain as the inability of unpaid carers to access work opportunities. He will also know that there are 350,000 carers in Wales, of whom 22,000 are in his and my local authority area. Given that 80 per cent. are of working age and that 80 per cent. of those wish to work, will he consider meeting carers' organisations, especially Carers Wales, to explore strategies to assist carers, especially parent carers, to access learning, training and work opportunities?

Mr. Hain

I shall be happy to meet such a delegation and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work on behalf of carers. It is especially welcome in our part of south Wales because of its long tradition of industrial illness and injury, which means that the caring role in areas such as Neath Port Talbot is vital.

Paul Flynn

The Government's employment record has been a triumph and follows the great success of the relocation over the years of civil service jobs to my constituency. We want more jobs to relocate there. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a major concern about the future of call-centre jobs and the possibility that they could be siphoned from Wales to the Asian subcontinent? Is that the fire in the basement of the Welsh economy?

Mr. Hain

I acknowledge the danger of call-centre jobs going, for example, to India. However, they are being replaced by higher quality call-centre jobs and other jobs so that, as my hon. Friend said, Wales has the highest employment for decades and the lowest unemployment for 28 years. Unemployment in Wales soared to 168,000 under the Conservative Government; it is now only 41,000 and falling. The programmes that have helped to make unemployment fall will continue under our Labour Government.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con)

Yes, unemployment is down, but, as I am sure hon. Members know, manufacturing employment is also down. There is also a skills shortage. Will the Secretary of State do two things? First, will he ensure that those who lose their manufacturing jobs have the opportunity to retrain for jobs where there are skills shortages? Secondly, I have heard a rumour that the Government are considering allowing 14 to 18-year-olds to leave school and do vocational training for part of the week. Will he ensure that such a provision is rolled out to Wales so that our youngsters have the opportunity for proper vocational education?

Mr. Hain

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's conversion to examining the facts for a change. He acknowledges that unemployment is falling and employment is increasing. Economic inactivity is declining in Wales as a result of the excellent Labour policies that the Government and the Welsh Assembly Government are pursuing. However, the hon. Gentleman is right that a skills shortage persists and that it must be tackled. I would welcome any ideas that he has about that. Encouraging youngsters to spend at least part of their week in vocational work is a good idea, because it means that we will have more trained plumbers, tradesmen, bricklayers and electricians. That is part of the Government's programme. However, the £1 billion of cuts that the Tories are planning are not part of our programme. They would massacre tens of thousands of jobs in Wales.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC)

Is the Secretary of State familiar with the report, "Not gone but forgotten", produced by Sheffield Hallam university on real unemployment in rural and north-west Wales? It shows that the average claimant count in Wales is 2.6 per cent. and that the figure for real unemployment is 11 per cent. The claimant count in Gwynedd is 2.7 per cent. and the real unemployment rate is 7.6 per cent. Conwy has a real unemployment rate 9.7 per cent, while Anglesey has a whopping real unemployment rate of 12.1 per cent. When will the Government be honest about the statistics, and when will they do something about those shocking and disgraceful unemployment figures?

Mr. Hain

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to salute the fact that his constituency has experienced the tenth biggest fall in unemployment in Britain as a result of this Labour Government's excellent policies. He correctly identifies the still troubling amount of economic inactivity, which historically has been high in west Wales and the valleys. It is, however, starting to decrease for the first time in many years, and the programmes that we are introducing will continue that trend. I am sure that he wants to join us in driving that process forward.

Denzil Davies (Llanelli) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend may not have heard this yet, but in the past 24 hours a car component factory in my constituency, which is traditionally known as Camford Pressings, has announced about 90 redundancies. Many of those jobs will, in the vogue jargon, be "outsourced" to what have been described as low-cost economies in eastern Europe. Should the request be made, will he meet a small deputation from unions and management to see whether we can alleviate the consequences of that decision?

Mr. Hain

I would be happy to meet such a delegation. I know that my right hon. Friend fights very hard, and I will join him in fighting for every job in his constituency and, indeed, throughout Wales. The difference between the current situation and that of the 1980s and 1990s is that if people are unfortunate enough to face losing their jobs there are now more opportunities to find alternative employment. We can at least look forward to that prospect, but we shall seek to safeguard those jobs and any others that he brings to my attention.

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