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Labour Statistics

Volume 79: debated on Monday 20 May 1985

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9.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is the present level of unemployment in Newport, Gwent at the latest available date; and how this compares with the figure in May 1979.

On 11 April 1985 the number of unemployed claimants in the Newport travel-to-work area was 12,838. Comparable figures for May 1979 are not available because of changes to travel-to-work area boundaries and the move to claimant-based figures.

Bearing in mind those horrific figures, will the Secretary of State say whether there is any truth in the reports this week that the Secretary of State for Transport proposes to increase tolls on the Severn bridge by 150 per cent.? Would that not be another serious blow to the economy of Wales, and would it not be especially riduculous, since the bridge is still afflicted by all manner of delays and restrictions ?

The hon. Gentleman is aware that there has just been a public inquiry and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will announce his decision soon. It is ludicrous to suggest that the proposals put to that public inquiry would have the economic effect that has just been described. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman shares my view about the importance of the crossing, and does not agree with Plaid Cymru, which believes that it is yet another communication in Wales that should be destroyed in order to isolate the Welsh people.

Is it yet possible to estimate the number of jobs that were lost, or potential jobs that were forfeited, as a result of the miners' strike, which was so enthusiastically supported by the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) ?

I can give no estimate. It clearly caused great damage to the Welsh economy. It cost the British Steel Corporation a large sum of money and, therefore, held up decisions on the investment for which the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) keeps asking. In economic terms, there is no comparison between a small increase in the toll charge for the Severn bridge, which has not been increased since 1979, and the sort of damage encouraged by the hon. Gentleman during the miners' strike.

The Severn crossing is Wales's most important industrial artery. Has the Secretary of State fought against the proposed increase in tolls ?

I have not fought the policy. A reasonable increase in tolls for the first time since 1979 is a sensible proposal. I am pressing on—[Interruption.]

This is a Government proposal, and I do not apologise for it in any way. I am ensuring that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Transport, with me, press on speedily with the study into a possible second crossing and improvements in road communications generally in Wales, which remain a high priority.

Although, as my hon. Friend must recognise, no one in Wales will be pleased if there is any increase in tolls, does he agree that it is much more important to complete the feasibility study quickly and to provide an adequate crossing to ensure good communica-tions across the Severn ?

I assure my hon. Friend that the consultants are getting on well with the feasibility study. They have announced the first stage, and are now investigating the detailed options. It is absurd to suggest that the increases proposed for charges on the Severn bridge will have a significant effect on transport costs along the M4.