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Unemployment

Volume 975: debated on Monday 3 December 1979

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16.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what estimate he has made of unemployment levels in Wales in 1980 based on the Treasury forecasts of minus 2 per cent. rate of growth in 1980.

It is not possible to forecast the effect on unemployment generally or in individual regions, but the underlying trend would be for increasing unemployment in Wales, as elsewhere.

Is the Minister aware that, in addition to the underlying trend, there are BSC proposals suggesting 3,500 redundancies at Port Talbot and 6,500 at Llanwern, and a subsequent loss of 6,000 jobs in the pits associated with the steel industry? Will the Minister say whether he has seen those suggestions, and does he plan to stand idly by and wash his hands of the affair, as he has previously said, or will he intervene this time on behalf of the Welsh people?

As I indicated in answer to an earlier question, the Government were informed only last Wednesday of the latest scale of the marketing problem confronting BSC. The board has made no firm plans but is considering the situation that it faces. In those circumstances, it would be wrong for me to make specific commitments about remedial measures or other action.

The Secretary of State knows of the 2,000 redundancies planned at the pump storage scheme at Dinorwic, Gwynedd. Will he ensure that there is a public investment programme to provide jobs to avoid the Government having to support these people when they are out of work?

As I have indicated, we are prepared to look at the situation as it develops. The hon. Gentleman should not always make the assumption that the people working at Dinorwic will fail to find jobs. In my constituency in West Wales over the years we faced similar problems with far bigger construction projects. The hon. Gentleman should not exaggerate the scale of the problem in his constituency.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it should not lie in the mouths of Labour Members to ask questions about unemployment, when seemingly amnesia enables them to forget that under every Labour Government since the war unemployment has risen?

My hon. Friend is right. The Labour Government came into power when unemployment in Wales stood at 38,000, and they took it up to well over 100,000.

Wales is due to lose 15,000 jobs as a result of its share of unemployment generated by the Treasury, it stands to lose the same number again through closures at Shotton, Llanwern and Margam, and half as many again in the coal industry, so how does the Minister justify cutting back regional aid and assistance to Wales?

I have never accepted the right hon. Gentleman's forecasts, and I do not accept the figures that he has given to the House now. Previous experience suggests that his forecasts are unreliable. I remember what he said about the regional employment premium before the Labour Government abolished it. If we are faced with new and grave difficulties, as indeed we are, we shall concentrate assistance where it is most needed, and that is precisely what the Government are doing.

If the right hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with the forecasts from this side of the House, will he give his forecast of how he sees unemployment developing in Wales? If the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) are true and the Government believe that unemployment might reach that figure, the right hon. Gentleman has a duty to make a statement to the House on the steel industry in Wales.

As I told the House in my first speech from this Dispatch Box after the election, we face an underlying rise in unemployment trends. Quite clearly if we face a world recession, unemployment is also likely to rise, for that reason. But I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's confidence, faith or belief in firm forecasts of this kind. They tend to be extremely unreliable.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.