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Wales

Volume 82: debated on Monday 8 July 1985

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Unemployment And Health

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what studies are available to him of the relationship between unemployment and health; what consideration he has given to them; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend and I are aware that a number of studies have considered whether there might be any relationship between unemployment and health. All have shown how difficult it is to isolate the factors which contribute to the need for health care. We are committed to targeting health care resources in response to needs, no matter how those needs arise.

Is the Minister aware that at least 3,000 people have died because of unemployment, according to official data based on the 1971 census figures? Is he further aware that thousands more people have become chronically sick as a result of unemployment? How many more people have to die because of the Government's policies?

I repeat that there is no direct proven causal connection between unemployment and ill health. I remind the hon. Lady that when she last alleged that connection' in the Welsh Grand Committee in March, and I asked her for the material on which she based her view, she sent me an article from The Lancet, which simply reiterated what I have just said — that it is extremely difficult to prove any causal connection.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a close relationship between strike action, health and unemployment, in that many of the strikes that have been supported —

I was about to point out, Mr. Speaker, that strike action creates unemployment. Does not strike action in the Health Service lengthen the waiting lists for inpatients and outpatients? How did the strike action in 1981 affect those waiting lists?

There is no doubt, because the figures prove it, that the strike action in the Health Service to which my hon. Friend referred lengthened the waiting lists.

Do not all the reports on the valley towns show the deepening crisis and the social consequences — no doubt partly due to mass unemployment, but also to other factors? Rather than making such complacent replies, why do the Minister and his right hon. Friend not go to the Cabinet to try to obtain the additional resources needed to fight the consequences of their policies?

Of course there are reports from the valley towns, but, quite frankly, the reports to which the right hon. Gentleman referred and their conclusions are certainly not helped by, for example, strike action. There is a housing problem in the Cynon Valley, represented by the hon. Lady, but it was not improved by the coal strike.

Will the Minister tell us how many of those unemployed in the Health Service in Wales will be unemployed next year?

The hon. Gentleman knows that there has been a tremendous increase in staffing in the NHS in Wales.

I shall answer the hon. Gentleman. There was a 15·6 per cent. increase in front-line staff in the NHS in Wales between 1979 and 1984.

On current pay awards, it is very much to be hoped that they can be contained within the increased allocations given to health authorities in Wales, with, perhaps, a certain amount more being saved by authorities.

The Minister would do well to read today's Western Mail, in which Mr. Rodger Dobson's compelling and disturbing article relates the link between unemployment and bad health. Does the Minister understand that the Sneddon family, and tens of thousands like them throughout Wales, desperately need the hope of work? Was not the brutal message from Brecon that the people of Wales want more work and an end to unemployment?

One of the messages of Brecon and Radnor was that the Labour party has little to crow about today. Of course we all want a decline in unemployment.

Labour Statistics

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what information he has as to the percentage of workers in Wales employed in firms, industries, services or processes that have been established in Wales since 1965.

Comprehensive information is not available. However, new manufacturing units known to have opened in Wales since the end of 1965 and still in production directly provide some 72,000 manufacturing jobs, some 35 per cent. of the total number of employees in employment in manufacturing as at December 1984.

Is it not clear that those figures do not give the whole picture? Should not the Government concentrate greater resources on promoting the growth of new jobs and new industries and not on attempting to arrest the necessary decline of some traditional industries?

Although I agree that we should not attempt to arrest necessary decline, the introduction of new technology and the modernisation of existing industry is an important contribution to economic recovery. Some 400 manufacturing plants have opened since May 1979 and they already provide about 18,000 jobs. Many have only just started to take on employees and will provide considerably more jobs in due course.

I am aware that the Secretary of State and his Department have done much to attract new industries to south Wales, but will he devote the same attention to existing industries? When W. Ribbons in the Rhonnda wanted some help from the Department, the Secretary of State was swanning around Finland. What did he bring back from Finland?

The hon. Gentleman might be unaware that I went at the invitation of a company which directly employs 250 people in north Wales and which will provide 800 or 900 jobs in the forestry industry in Wales. I also visited a company which is the 50 per cent. shareholder of British Tissues, which employs many hundreds of people in south Wales. As the hon. Gentleman says, helping the development of existing industry is important. I hope that he will not belittle our efforts to ensure that those industries are strengthened and enlarged.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government have a creditable record in promoting new jobs since 1979, especially through overseas investment in Wales? Does he further agree that that record could be even better if it were not for the negative chorus from the Opposition, who revel in high unemployment and all things unattractive?

Inward investment from overseas is undoubtedly an important contributory factor to the modernisation of Welsh industry, but we should not exaggerate. Of the 1,000 or so manufacturing units which still exist and have come into being during the past 20 years, only about 65 represent direct inward investment, whereas nearly half represent small companies starting up new businesses. That type of indigenous development is important for the future.

The right hon. Gentleman is far too complacent. He has not told us, for example, about Inmos today. Does he realise that under his regime 103,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared in Wales since he took office? Did not the Brecon electorate brutally dismiss his policies as wretched failures? Is it not the case that the policies must be changed or the endangered species behind him will lose their seats?

I do not believe that anything that I said to the House about the changes necessary in industry showed complacency. What is undoubtedly a matter of congratulation is that we are attracting new jobs. Since last Question Time there has been the announcement from Control Data at Brynmawr of 100 new jobs, from Shopco (U.K.) Ltd of 100 new jobs and that NDN Aircraft is to manufacture new aircraft in Cardiff creating 100 new jobs. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the announcement by Seddons in the Delyn enterprise zone that it will take on about 250 people. I am not for one moment suggesting that we do not need a great deal more, but to suggest that that record of attracting new business and new industry smacks of complacency is absurd.

Secondary Schools (Expenditure)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how much was spent per pupil in secondary schools in Wales in the most recent year for which figures are available; and how this compares with the figure for 1978–79, at constant prices.

At 1983–84 prices, spending per secondary school pupil in Wales was £905 in 1978–79 and £1,006 in 1983–84. That is an increase of 11 per cent.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures show satisfactory improvements since 1978–79? Do the Government intend to make more resources available for Welsh language education?

The figures are satisfactory, yes, but I am never satisfied. The charge of complacency levelled against us on any issue is a parrot cry. The figures are a refutation of the parrot cry about cuts. There has been no cut. There has been an 11 per cent. increase. In reply to the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I have been giving careful consideration to calls for the establishment of a Welsh language education development body. When I met a deputation of six different Welsh language groups on that issue on 25 June—

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) has a genius for interruption, but makes little constructive contribution. At that meeting I made it clear that I would not hold out any false hopes, because I must consider resources for Welsh language education alongside all other competing calls, and reconcile my final decision within the overriding public expenditure constraints, which are essential if we are to maintain the economy on the right lines.

Will the hon. Gentleman give similar figures in relation to school books and school library expenditure? I do not know whether he has children attending Welsh secondary schools. We have, and we notice the dog-eared books that they are bringing home, the lack of books and the shared books. Will we return to the slate and the chalk under this Government?

Capitation and the management of their resources is entirely a matter for the local authorities and not for central Government.

Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the other changes in secondary schools in Wales since 1979, as elsewhere in the United Kingdom, has been the sharp fall in the number of pupils, and that resources for pupils might be better employed were some authorities to consider school amalgamations.

Yes, of course, Mr. Speaker. I accept that local education authorities have a difficult task to perform against a background of falling rolls. I have asked them to come to see me so that we may discuss that matter constructively to see how best it can be resolved.

Does the Minister appreciate that the rosy picture that he is trying to paint is not borne out by the facts? For example, the teachers' dispute drags on, and without a contented labour force to take charge of the schools our children will be at a disadvantage. When will the Government provide the means to bring about a just settlement for the teachers?

As the House will be aware, the Government's position has been made clear all along. There is no question of more money to fund an excessive public sector wages settlement. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that responsibility for the teachers' pay negotiations does not rest with me.

Labour Statistics

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the latest level of unemployment in North Wales.

Current levels of unemployment remain high, but considerable progress continues to be made in developing the area and attracting new investment.

Is the Minister aware that, under this Government, unemployment in north Wales has nearly doubled? Is that not a disgrace? Does the Secretary of State accept that job losses in the steel and textile industries, particularly in the Flint area, affect regions such as Merseyside, which, over the weekend, saw another 700 jobs lost at the Plessey factory at Huyton? When does the Secretary of State expect the economy to upturn so that we can provide more jobs in north Wales and Merseyside?

I am aware of the problems in north Wales and Merseyside. That is one of the reasons why the Government have spent some £350 million on roads and industrial infrastructure and enterprise zones in Clwyd since we came into office in 1979.

I joined my right hon. Friend in welcoming last week's announcement that the garment manufacturer Seddons is to set up a new plant in Delyn enterprise zone, employing initially 140 people. Is he aware that Delyn borough council expects to make a further significant job announcement within the next month?

I noticed Mr. Sharps doing a television broadcast recently in which he was optimistic about the prospects for that enterprise trust. I congratulate the local authority on the drive and energy that it has been putting behind the zone.

When will the Secretary of State be in a position to make an announcement about the availability of EC aid in areas of rural north Wales which are not at the moment within assisted area zones?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are still considering that matter. I cannot gibe him a firm date.

The right hon. Gentleman is too serene in his ignorance. Is it not the case that in Clwyd and Gwynedd there are 37,000 jobless people and some 2,000 vacancies? Has he the guts to tell the Prime Minister to change her economic policy, or does he remain her lackey?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware, if he visits his constituency, of the considerable new investment there, and the fact that it is one of the most attractive areas in the whole of the United Kingdom for foreign investment and for new companies setting up. That should be a matter for pleasure and congratulation.

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest unemployment figures available for the Wrexham area and for Wales.

The Secretary of State knows that he was unable to do anything about the Courtaulds closure. Dunlop is now proposing to close, and the Secretary of State, in an answer to me on Friday, was able to say only that he could take into account Clwyd's detailed proposals for allocation of planned resources. Will the Secretary of State do something to avert the closure at Dunlop? If he cannot, how long will he stay as Secretary of State, with the appalling level of unemployment in the Principality? The right hon. Gentleman should either do something about it or resign.

The hon. Gentleman should remember that in the past 12 months, in the Wrexham area, Laura Ashley, Metal Box, F.W. Bender, TetraPak and Sharp Corporation have announced new or major expansion projects. I have already pointed out that the Government have spent at least £350 million on industrial measures in Clwyd, and we shall continue to use every means at our disposal to attract new investment to the area.

Given the fruitless hard work that the Secretary of State for Wales recently put into the Brecon and Radnor by-election, and as unemployment was one of the main issues at Brecon, what statement will the right hon. Gentleman make on the by-election result? Does he not think that he owes to Wales, now that it has given its verdict on his employment policy, a full statement as to what new steps are to be taken? Will he merely repeat the old lessons and tell Wales that under this Government it must endure the same sort of unemployment as we have seen in the past few years? Has the Minister no comment to make on the Brecon and Radnor result?

All political parties should consider carefully the results of by-elections. I shall do so. The Labour party will no doubt also consider the complete panic of the electorate when it suddenly realised that might elect a Labour Member of Parliament. When one watches and listens to the performance of the hon. Gentleman, who can blame it?

Just which of the policies being advanced by the Opposition does my right hon. Friend consider would be most productive in bringing fresh jobs into Wales?

One feature of the Brecon and Radnor by-election was that the Opposition parties did not advance any policies, and that they were careful not to do so. The only close ally and supporter of the Labour party who advanced any policies was Mr. Scargill. He was the gentleman whom everybody on the Opposition Benches supported throughout the strike but who was so destructive of Welsh industry and Welsh employment.

How would the Secretary of State explain to the man on the top deck of the Brecon omnibus the logic of falling regional aid at a time of rising unemployment? Does the new "middle way" include a rethink of regional policy?

I know enough about Brecon and Radnor to know that they do not have double-decker buses there.

Despite the arrogance of the Secretary of State in his replies to some of the questions, particularly about unemployment in Wales and the Brecon and Radnor by-election, is he prepared to offer the House and the country an apology for his statement regarding disabled people when he referred to the Brecon and Radnor by-election?

Order. That is very wide of this question, which deals with unemployment.

None the less, Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to say that I have already written to a number of people expressing my regret and apologies for a carelessly phrased off-the-cuff remark that I should not have made. As someone who has introduced a major measure for the improvement of the care of the mentally handicapped and who has a close relative who is mentally handicapped, the last thing that I should wish to do would be to cause offence. Of course I apologise.

Vale Of Glamorgan (Road Traffic)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what recent complaints and reports he has received of excessive traffic of heavy vehicles on roads for which he is responsible within the area of the Vale of Glamorgan; what discussions he has had with the highway authority on the matter; and what steps are contemplated to reduce or divert such traffic.

I am responsible only for trunk roads within the Vale of Glamorgan area, but I am aware of the problems that have arisen on county roads and have received representations from my hon. Friend and others about the heavy lorries travelling through Dinas Powys, Llysworney and Colwinston. I hope that the matter can be resolved in the very near future.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the excessive traffic of heavy vehicles on some of these roads has underlined the need for bypasses of Dinas Powys, Aberthin Llysworney and Colwinston? The county council asserts that the lack of capital funds limits its ability to carry out these projects. Will my hon. Friend discuss these matters with the county council?

My officials are in touch with the county council and I know that it has traffic management proposals in mind for the immediate future. It has in mind proposals for a bypass of Dinas Powys and in addition is considering the possibility of traffic management measures. I am also informed that the county council is considering whether to include in its programme the proposed bypass of Llysworney. However, I must remind the House that the priority given to any of these road improvement schemes and to any scheme at Colwinston is a matter for the county council.

Labour Statistics

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many people in Wales are jobless; how many were jobless in May 1979; by how much the total has increased as a figure and as a percentage; and what is the current figure of long-term unemployed.

On 13 June 1985 there were 173,422 unemployed claimants in Wales. The increase over the estimated equivalent figure of 77,200 in May 1979 is 96,222 or 124·6 per cent. The latest figure for the long-term unemployed relates to April 1985, when 75,573 had been unemloyed in Wales for over one year.

Given those frightening figures, why cannot Wales benefit from a major change in economic policy? Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that the Welsh people want their welfare state strengthened and unemployment tackled with urgency? Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that the rejection at Brecon and Radnor of his personal nominee, Mr. Butler, who was an adviser of the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman, represents a crushing vote of no confidence in Welsh Office Ministers?

I agree that the Brecon and Radnor electorate want the welfare state to be strengthened. That aim will continue to be the Government's policy. The economic growth that is taking place provides the best guarantee for future employment. I very much welcome the recent statements by the CBI Welsh Council, which show the growing optimism of those in industry for economic activity in Wales.

Is there not much evidence throughout the Western world that politicians and other people are most anxious that economic recovery should lead to a reduction in unemployment? Is it not nonsense to pretend that there are people in this country who want high unemployment?

Whatever is happening in the rest of the Western world, can the right hon. Gentleman give my constitutuents any reassurance about the proposed closure of the Cardiff veterinary investigation centre, with the halving of staff numbers, and the possible loss of 200 staff in the Export Credits Guarantee Department? This morning I received representations from two constituents who are worried about their future employment.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food put forward a consultative paper on the future of the veterinary service. We are considering representations on that matter. On the ECGD, I understand that the management has put forward some proposals for future re-organisation within the ECGD. At present, no details of the manpower consequences are available. This matter is at an early stage of consultation.

Will my right hon. Friend remind the Labour party that last year Wales obtained nearly a quarter of the total jobs created by inward investment in the United Kingdom — four times as many as Labour's feeble Welsh Office team created during the Labour Government's last year of office?

That is true. We have had that remarkable record for a part of the United Kingdom that represents 5 per cent. of the population. I am glad to say that, of the 1,000 or so manufacturing units in Wales that are known to have opened during the past 20 years, about 400–40 per cent.— have opened since May 1979.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the unemployment percentages that he cited in answer to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) will he further increased by redundancies at BP Llandarcy and Star Wrought Products at Briton Ferry? One thousand jobs have been lost during the past three months in the borough of Neath. When will the right hon. Gentleman change his regional policies? Does he not realise that, because of the policies pursued by the Labour Government, when he came to office unemployment in Neath was much lower than it is now? When will the right hon. Gentleman do something about this? Why does he not get out?

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would at least welcome the decrease of about 5,000 in unemployment in Wales compared with last month and the considerable relative improvement in Neath's position. That improvement was introduced during the last regional policy review.

M4 (Coryton Junction)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales when he now expects to carry out repairs to the area of badly pitted road surface on the westbound carriageway of the M4 at a point about three and a half miles east of the Coryton junction.

I am pleased to say that repair work was completed on 24 June.

On 14 February the Minister told me that remedial work would take place as soon as weather conditions improved. As it has taken a considerable time to remedy the position, will the hon. Gentleman look seriously at the possibility of lighting the whole of the M4 in Wales? When repairs are needed, potential accident spots occur. Better lighting would reduce risks and the danger to lives when people are travelling on the motorway.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right that I advised him on 14 February last that remedial works would take place as soon as weather conditions permitted, because repairs of this nature are best carried out in favourable weather. The point about lighting is quite outwith the terms of the question, but I shall consider the matter. I give no undertaking.

As the road in question is located in my constituency, may I urge my hon. Friend to squash flat any notion that the M4 is a disincentive in attracting people to come to Cardiff, as has happened with the way in which the Severn bridge has been hyped up out of all proportion by the media and by Opposition Members?

I am in complete sympathy with the point of view of my hon. Friend. I believe that a disservice has been done by exaggerating any difficulties that may have occurred at the Severn bridge or anywhere else on the M4.

Is it not time that the Welsh Office took more interest in what is happening on the M4? For instance, can the hon. Gentle man tell the House what steps have been taken by his Department to notify the disabled of their right to travel free over the Severn bridge, particularly bearing in mind the exorbitant increases that are in operation?

I will, of course, look into the matter to see exactly what steps have been taken, and will let the hon. Gentleman know. I totally reject any suggestion that my Department has not been very closely involved in anything to do with the M4 in relation to its importance to the south Wales economy.

Sheepmeat Regime

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he is satisfied with the operation of the European Economic Community's sheepmeat regime in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

Yes, Sir. The sheepmeat regime has brought substantial benefits to Welsh sheep producers, who have a guaranteed price for fat lambs under the sheep variable premium scheme. Breeders also benefit from an annual premium on ewes and the breeding flock has been increasing by 2 to 3 per cent. a year. In the last full marketing year, 1983–84, the regime resulted in payments of £56·8 million to Welsh sheep producers.

How can the Secretary of State be satisfied with the operation of a regime which is now being used to penalise sheepmeat producers in the United Kingdom, and in Wales in particular? Is he satisfied with the present gap operating in the premia and what is his view of the future of the premium? Will it be phased out by the Community?

We have fought resolutely for the sheepmeat regime, which this Government introduced, and which has led to the substantial increase in the flock in Wales. I believe that is has made an enormous contribution to the rural economy. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it was not possible to secure entirely satisfactory modifications to the clawback arrangements, to which I think he was referring. However, we shall continue to press for changes to alleviate the difficulties caused by clawback. The exemption from clawback for our exports outside the Community has been renewed to the end of 1987.

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the industry wants him to make a better fight for the sheep farmer than he did for the small dairy farmer?

As I pointed out, we are talking about the sheepmeat regime, which was introduced by this Government in 1980 and which has been the biggest boost to the sheep industry in Wales that there has ever been.

Labour Statistics

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest figures for unemployment in (a) Ogmore, (b) Mid-Glamorgan and (c) Wales; what were the equivalent figures in May 1979; and what is the percentage increase in each case.

On 13 June 1985 the number of unemployed claimants were 4,545, 34,657 and 173,422 respectively. In Wales the comparable figure is 77,200 in May 1979, representing an increase of 124·6 per cent. A comparable claimant-based figure for 1979 in Ogmore and Mid-Glamorgan is not available.

Does the Secretary of State realise that the 124 per cent. increase since 1979 about which he talks means, so far as Ogmore is concerned, that, with the closure of St. John's colliery, as a result of which 830 miners have lost their jobs, the percentage increase could rise to such an extent that 45 per cent. of male people in Maesteg will be seeking employment? Does he not think it is time that the Government, as a result of their defeat in the Brecon and Radnor by-election, changed their economic and social policies, and looked seriously at communities such as Maesteg, which suffer so badly when a colliery is closed?

I understand the problems of communities such as Maesteg, but during the past year projects from Invacare, Acrian, Align Rite, Biomet and the Chronar Corporation have been announced in the Bridgend area and promise about 1,200 new jobs. There are problems among the older industries, but we are succeeding in attracting many of the new technologies and new industries to the area.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the statements of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) would sound rather more convincing if he had not supported the miners' strike, despite the fact that 70 per cent. of the miners in his constituency voted against it? However, we are all concerned about unemployment and I should like to know whether my right hon. Friend has any news about future employment prospects at Borg Warner at Kenvig Hill, which are extremely important to my constituency?

My hon. Friend will know that about 600 jobs at Borg Warner have been under threat for a considerable time. It was with a good deal of pleasure that we heard that the company is proposing a new use for the factory and has applied for selective financial assistance, which is being considered by the Welsh Industrial Development Advisory Board. I am deeply concerned that the proposals that the Borg Warner management has put to the work force appear to have been rejected. I hope that the members of the work force will consider carefully the future of the plant. It would be tragic if the prospect of 600 secure jobs were put at risk by a careless and irresponsible approach to a serious proposition from the management.