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Volume 84: debated on Monday 21 October 1985

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Labour Statistics


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the unemployment figures for the Cynon Valley.

The number of unemployed in the hon. Lady's constituency was 4,483 in September 1985. Reductions in unemployment in the Cynon Valley, as elsewhere in Wales, must be tackled by policies for promoting sustained growth without inflation and attracting new industry and enterprise. As the hon. Lady may be aware, my office has written to the chief executive of the Cynon Valley borough council giving details of the substantial activities by my Department and Government agencies in support of these aims.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the recent evidence of massive incompetence at the highest levels in the Welsh Office and the Welsh Development Agency in relation to the Parrot Corporation will have massive implications for the attraction of jobs to Wales and the Cynon Valley, and will he please make a statement?

I have no evidence of massive incompetence of the kind described, but I know that very considerable effort was made by the agency and by the chairman of the company to put together a refinancing package, which I approved. I have every confidence that this will give the company the prospects of a very good future, which I hope will provide jobs and lead to a successful operation.

In view of the television programme one evening last week concerning the Parrot Corporation, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is incumbent on him to make a statement to the House so that the misunderstandings, perhaps, which arose from that programme can be cleared up?

There is a parliamentary question on the Order Paper for answer later today, and I am very happy to answer questions.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make a statement about the Parrot Corporation, as we wish to hear him. With regard to the valley communities, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all the valleys of south-east Wales are now very much at risk both socially and economically? May I tell him that on a recent visit to the Cynon Valley I was shown by an able and determined council some of the mountainous problems faced there, especially in housing? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that by investing in more housing repair activities in the Cynon Valley he could most quickly create many new jobs? Will he give the money to the council for that type of campaign?

I am glad to say that the local authority is just undertaking its first enveloping scheme, which we have been encouraging it to undertake in the valley. That is part of a very large package of measures which I listed in my letter to the Cynon Valley borough council. The chief executive acknowledges in his reply that he is aware of many of the encouraging points that I made in my letter and, indeed, associates his authority with the efforts that are being made.


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

On 12 September 1985 the numbers of unemployed claimants were 13,587, 30,637 and 187,563 respectively. The estimated equivalent figure for Wales in May 1979 is 77,200. On that basis, the increase to date for Wales is 143 per cent. Comparable figures for May 1979 for the Newport travel-to-work area and Gwent are not available because of the move to claimant-based figures and changes to travel-to-work-area boundaries.

Bearing in mind those deplorable figures, does the Secretary of State appreciate the fresh consternation that has been caused in Wales over the Parrot Corporation affair, which is hardly likely to encourage new investment? When will the right hon. Gentleman face up to his departmental responsibilities and make a full public statement?

It is a matter for encouragement that, faced by difficulties as a result of police investigations, it has been possible for the public and private sectors to put together a substantial package of refinancing. Through that package, they will go forward together to secure the future of a company that has been attracted to south Wales if every effort is not made by the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) and his hon. Friends to denigrate and cast doubt on it.

Assuming that the figures given by the Secretary of State are correct — I am not disputing them — another 20,000 people will be made redundant in south Wales during the next 12 months. What advice has the right hon. Gentleman given the Prime Minister to the effect that she must change her policies if unemployment is to be reduced in the next five years?

Without understating the seriousness of the problem, when the hon. Gentleman talks about redundancies he should talk also about the substantial series of announcements made during the recess about new investment in the steel industry, and in companies that were previously threatened, such as Borg-Warner, in some of the new technology companies, in the massive redevelopment of south Cardiff, in the new package for Courtaulds in Deeside, and in many more projects. New jobs are being created and New industries and activities are being brought into existence.

The Secretary of State explained to my hon. Friends the Members for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), both of whom asked about the Parrot Corporation, that he has been picking up the pieces in an endeavour to help my constituency, but why did he not answer the question that they both asked him? Why does he not make a statement, as the matter is not sub judice and the right hon. Gentleman replies to me by saying that there are police inquiries? Why does he permit the Welsh Development Agency to make as many statements as it wishes to the press and television, while he remains silent? Why does he not acknowledge the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, come to the House and tell us what his guilt is?

Here I am, on the first day back, answering freely questions put to me in the House of Commons, which is appropriate. I have answered, first, questions about refinancing. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman inferred that one of my priorities, perhaps the first, was to secure the future of the company and the jobs at stake. My other priority was to ensure that the police undertook the appropriate action in this case and that their investigation was not hampered. I have decided that there should also be an internal investigation to be carried out by an independent person into the handling of the original investment by the WDA, and its subsequent monitoring of that investment. I shall report further to the House on the details of this inquiry as soon as possible. I cannot report to the House on matters that are still the subject of a police inquiry, nor on matters which, because of that inquiry, I have not been able to investigate fully.

Does my right hon. Friend believe that the Labour party's proposal for a national investment bank will do anything to ease long-term unemployment in Wales?

No, I do not, but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right to talk about investment, whether undertaken by public or private bodies, and to say that no system of supervision can be proof against deliberate fraud. Therefore, we must ensure that where there is fraud it is uncovered in a timely fashion and that evidence is acted on expeditiously.

If the possibility existed, I am sure that we were right to ensure that the police carried out investigations and that we did not interfere with those investigations. I am equally sure that it was absolutely right for the agency, the Welsh Office and the substantial private sector investors involved in this case to put together a package, as that proved possible, to secure the future of the company.

By how much will the unemployment figures increase if the new cuts at the Welsh plant breeding station take place and if the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food cuts at Cardiff and Bangor take place?

I am not prepared to give estimates of future unemployment, but I am certain that the Welsh plant breeding station will continue to play a very important role in agricultural research programmes. It has a vital role to play in the research programmes on the western grasslands and uplands generally, not just those in Wales

Will my right hon. Friend remind the Opposition that last year Wales obtained nearly one-quarter of the jobs created by inward investment into the United Kingdom — four times as many jobs as the Opposition achieved during their last year in office?

I am very glad to be able to tell my hon. Friend that the Winvest record is 150 new and expansion projects, which will create 1,100 new jobs and safeguard about 5,600 existing jobs. The Government have a very good record in this respect.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us more about the inquiry that he is initiating and who might head it? At the appropriate time, does he think that the issue should go before the Public Accounts Committee?

I am quite certain that the issue will go before the Public Accounts Committee and that the Committee will wish to look at it. That has never been in question. As soon as details of the inquiry have been decided, including the name of the person who is to conduct it, I shall inform the House. We are still discussing with the Treasury the precise details of the inquiry. I am therefore not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman that information this afternoon.

Nhs Staff (Pay)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has had during the summer Adjournment with the chairmen of Welsh health authorities regarding the funding of pay increases for National Health Service staff in Wales.

My right hon. Friend met chairmen to discuss this and other matters on 26 July, the day on which the House adjourned.

May I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on his very well-merited appointment?

Is he aware that if local health authorities are obliged to fund nationally-agreed pay increases out of budgets which were not prepared in expectation of those increases. their ability to maintain their level of services may be impaired, including the provision of matching finance for projects for which large sums of money have been raised by local effort?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales discussed this when he met the chairmen of health authorities on 26 July. It was agreed that health authorities could manage for the year 1985–86 within the resources available to them. Of course we recognise the difficulties when health authorities have to accept pay rises that are higher than those for which they budgeted. My right hon. Friend will continue to keep the matter under review, especially during the current public expenditure round. It would be wrong of me to look forward to 1986–87 while those discussions are taking place.

I too, welcome the Under-Secretary of State to his new and onerous responsibilities. I hope that he will have an enjoyable, though brief, spell in the Welsh Office.

Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the meetings that had to be cancelled because of the change in ministerial responsibility, which had been arranged by his hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mr. Roberts), will be reconvened as rapidly as possible, in particular the meeting with the Gwynedd health authority to discuss the financial position in Gwynedd arising from the impact of wage increases not being fully funded? Will he ensure that no decisions are taken in Gwynedd until that meeting has taken place and an opportunity has arisen for him to appreciate the full impact of the situation in Gwynedd?

I thank the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend for their kind remarks in prefacing their questions. In response to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, I am conscious that my hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mr. Roberts) was due to have a series of meetings with the health authorities. We plan to go ahead with those meetings. As for any changes that may be made to the services in Gwynedd, this is a matter for that health authority to decide. I am prepared at that meeting to discuss with it any issues that may arise.

May I also congratulate my hon. Friend and wish him success in his new job? He will receive much personal support from his right hon. and hon. Friends.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the National Health Service staff pay problem has put particular strain on the new hospital at Ysbyty, Gwynedd? Although that hospital provides facilities in excess of those provided previously. does he accept that when facilities are provided the public do not understand why they cannot be used to their full potential?

We are aware of the difficulties caused by the pay settlement. However, the issue must be seen against the background of increases in resources for the health authorities. The real growth in resources for Gwynedd between 1978–79 and 1984–85 was about 30 percent.

May I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment?

Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that pay increases for nurses in south Wales can be achieved only if major cuts are made in the Health Service and in facilities for patients? Is it not hypocritical of the Government to suggest that they are making extra money available when they are not even funding the full pay review award originally granted to nurses?

Following the meeting with the chairmen of the health authorities it was made clear that the increases could be absorbed in the current year without making the changes to which the hon. Gentleman refers

Council House Sales


asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many council houses have been sold to sitting tenants in Wales since May 1979.

About 43,568 council dwellings were sold to sitting tenants in Wales between May 1979 and 30 June 1985. In addition, 2,538 dwellings were sold by the Cwmbran development corporation and Mid-Wales Development.

How many complaints about delays in dealing with applications to buy have been made by tenants in the past 12 months?

Only eight complaints about delay have been received in the past 12 months. Instances of delay are far fewer now than in the initial period following the introduction of the right-to-buy scheme. We look into each individual case that is brought to our attention. We believe that the system is working satisfactorily and we are pleased with the way in which local authorities are operating it.

Is the Minister aware of the report by the chief housing officer for Wales in which he says that we need to spend £3,000 million in the next 15 years if existing council stock is not to slip into slumdom? Would that not be a better priority for the Government than their obsession with the sale of council houses?

I have seen the chief housing officer's report and newspaper reports on the subject. Between 1979 and 1984 the Government spent £34 million annually on repairs to public sector housing compared with £17 million during the period in which the last Labour Government were in power. In the private sector we spent £46 million compared with £12 million spent when the Labour party was in office.

Does my hon. Friend accept that receipts from council house sales should be used to fund further building and urgent repairs?

As my hon. Friend knows, the receipts can be applied to many purposes. The Government are restricting the amount that can be used in the current year to 15 per cent. Local authorities are, however, able to make use of other receipts in terms of their borrowing requirement. That is also important.

I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Robinson), but remind him that after the next general election he is likely to be looking for greener pastures.

May I take this opportunity to remind the hon. Gentleman of the terrible housing crisis that is developing in Wales? This is happening at a time when thousands of our building and construction workers are standing in the dole queues and when building materials are stacked in builders yards. Selling council houses is no substitute for building houses.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks about my appointment. I remind him that there is another marginal seat in Newport, and we are looking forward to an exciting battle there.

On his point about housing stock, I must tell him that the sale of council houses in no way diminishes housing stock.

Secondary Schoolchildren


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will give the numbers of 15-year-olds attending state secondary schools in Wales in 1981 to 1985. and the estimate for 1989, respectively.

With permission, I shall publish the figures for each year from 1981 to 1985 in the Official Report.

In January 1981 there were 44,659 pupils aged 15 in maintained secondary schools in Wales, and at January 1985, 42,836. The estimate for 1989 is about 36,000.

Does my hon. Friend agree that as those figures are no secret and have been known for a long time, quite a number of local authorities—including my local authority of South Glamorgan—have seriously failed to consider the merging of schools to enable the provision of a more varied range of subjects and more funding to be spent on teaching and less on mortar and bricks?

My hon. Friend is quite right. It is, of course, the responsibility of each local education authority to secure the best educational provision for children in the most cost-effective way. In 1981 we advised local education authorities to take account in their planning of the declining trend in pupil numbers, when we recommended that two out of every five surplus school places should be taken out of use by 1986.

Is the Minister aware of the very poor level of funding available for the education of 15-year-olds in Wales, especially in a sparse county like Powys, where in many of the high schools the heads of spending departments such as physics, chemistry and French have no more than £1 per pupil per year to spend on materials? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is disgraceful?

I cannot agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. In Wales in general, spending per head has increased from £767 in 1978–79 to;£877 in 1983–84—and that is at 1983–84 prices. There has been a similar increase in Powys from £879 to £953 per pupil. The hon. and learned Gentleman is incorrect in what he claims.

Has the Minister studied the report, published a few days ago, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, which concludes that the overall picture is of an alarming deterioration in our schools and that no amount of statistical juggling can disguise that? Certainly our teachers and local education authorities concur with that. When will the hon. Gentleman's Department ensure that our educational services in Wales are properly funded?

Indeed, I have a copy of the very slim document to which the hon. Gentleman referred. My description of it, quite frankly, is that it flies in the face of facts. Furthermore, it acknowledges that in its conclusions. I have no further comment on a document that states that.

I agree with my hon. Friend and disagree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), but do not local education authorities have a problem of resource management? Talk of cuts is political nonsense. The figures speak for themselves. They are figures put out, not by the Welsh Office, but by the LEAs. Will my hon. Friend give the assurance for which I very much hope, that he will continue to discuss with the LEAs the very' difficult problem of resource management against the background of falling rolls, which is at the heart of the problem faced by LEAs in Wales?

My hon. Friend, whom I am glad to hear, particularly as he is so conversant with this subject, had started on these very discussions with local authorities and had met the Gwent and Clwyd local authorities. I fully intend to carry on the good work that he began and to meet the remaining local education authorities.

Following are the figures

The number of pupils at maintained secondary schools in Wales in January of each year who were aged 15 at 31 August in the previous year was as follows:


From mid-year home population projections it is estimated that the corresponding figure for 1989 will be about 36,000.

Labour Statistics


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will state the number of school leavers registered as job seekers in Rhymney Valley, Mid-Glamorgan and Wales at the latest date for which figures are available.

On 12 September 1985 the number of school leavers under 18 years of age in Rhymney Valley, Mid-Glamorgan and Wales who had not entered employment since completing full-time education were 624, 2,712 and 11,327 respectively. Many will find employment or return to full-time education. For the remainder, there is a guarantee of the offer by Christmas of a place on the youth training scheme.

Does the Minister accept that, according to the October figures, 1,500 young people are registered as job seekers in Rhymney Valley and that in Mid-Glamorgan as a whole there are about 7,000? Is he aware that for those 1,500 in Rhymney Valley there is one vacancy at the careers office and that for the 7,000 in Mid-Glamorgan only 17 vacancies are registered with the careers service? In the light of those figures, will the Minister dissociate himself entirely from the view of the vice-chairman of the Conservative party, Mr. Jeffrey Archer, that the problem with young people is that they will not do a day's work and that they should get off their backsides and find a job?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are very concerned about the high number of unemployed school leavers that appear at this time of year on the register and account for a considerable part of the increase. Indeed, they are responsible for about 5,530 of those registered in Wales. However, I am glad to say that that number is 701 fewer than last September's figure. There are consolations for these young people, because I am glad to say that vacancies are up, being 1,500 higher this September than in September 1984. While we still regard the figures as being too high, there is hope for every youngster who has left school and is now without a job.

Will the Minister now answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and say whether he dissociates himself entirely from the insulting remarks of the vice-chairman of the Tory party, Mr. Jeffrey Archer, which caused a great deal of anger and bitterness among the young people in our community?

I did not hear the vice-chairman's remarks. I have only seen them reported and, as often as not, I am sure, reported totally out of context. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I have my own views, which I have declared, about young people who are unemployed in any part of Wales. While we are deeply concerned about their predicament, their prospects are somewhat better now than they were a year ago.

Wages Councils


asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he has received any representations on the effect upon Welsh workers of the Government's proposed abolition of wages councils; and if he will make a statement.

My Department has received eight letters direct and a further 19 have been passed on by hon. Members. I have also received a petition with 96 signatures. In the light of the views expressed during the consultation exercise about wages councils, the Government announced on 17 July that they were to be retained but reformed. Legislation will shortly be brought before the House.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for being good enough to write to me on this matter. Does he think that the people of Wales will swallow his explanation and accept that new jobs will be created if we remove the minimal protection that is enjoyed by low-paid workers? Does this mean that the Welsh unemployed can look forward to jobs that are low paid without regulated protection?

No. There is clear evidence from this and many other countries that high initial rates of pay as employees enter industry without skills result in more unemployed youngsters. Labour Members have expressed concern in previous supplementary questions about unemployed youngsters. They should take serious note of the fact that these youngsters are more likely to get jobs if they start at lower rates. They will then have better prospects for the future. To discount the overwhelming evidence of that fact is not to do any service for those of whom Labour Members speak.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Germany young workers start at rates between 20 per cent. and 25 per cent. of an adult wage and ultimately secure far higher paid jobs than British workers?

That is true. There is no doubt that high basic rates for youngsters in relation to rates for adults are a key factor in deciding whether firms take on young people. There is no doubt also that the rates that have been paid to youngsters have been a factor in discouraging their employment. We should do everything that we can to bring them into work where they can be trained and where they can earn much higher rates in future.

Does the Secretary of State realise that the wages councils protect about 500,000 employees and that one out of five of those who are protected are young people? Does he understand that they have suffered enough under this Government and that they do not want to return to sweatshops? I ask the right hon. Gentleman and the Government to reconsider their decision to recommend the abolition of the wages councils.

If the hon. Gentleman had listened he would have heard me say that we shall not abolish the wages councils. If he wishes to talk about the protection of young people, I must put it to him that those who do not have jobs are not being protected by the wages councils. Indeed, their prospects of employment are being threatened by many of the actions of the councils. That is what we are seeking to change.

Nhs Expenditure


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will list the expenditure on the National Health Service in Wales for each fiscal year since 1978 in 1985 prices.

As the answer contains a number of figures I shall, with permission, circulate it in the Official Report. But, taking account of general inflation, as measured by the GDP market price deflator, expenditure on the National Health Service in Wales at 1984–85 prices rose from £710·8 million in 1978–79 to £862·0 million in 1984–85.

How does the Minister equate the propaganda from his Department and the Department of Health and Social Security about maintaining the level of expenditure in the NHS with the real experience of those of us who during the recess have visited hospitals, spoken to Health Service workers and had the privilege of attending massive public meetings in our constituencies and elsewhere at which objections have been raised to proposals for hospital closures and changes in the ambulance service? Why are health authorities in Wales going through these consultation exercises on closure proposals if there is not a real financial crisis in the NHS?

The consultations to which the hon. Gentleman refers are part of the management process of health authorities in organising their priorities. He should know that five major hospital schemes have been completed since 1979, which is evidence of the Government's commitment and that of my right hon. Friend to the NHS in Wales.

Will my hon. Friend accept that there is a warm welcome for the expansion of the NHS, especially the significant increase in bone marrow transplant operations at the University hospital of Wales in my constituency?

The answer to my hon. Friend's question is yes. My right hon. Friend made an announcement on 17 October confirming the plan to set up a bone marrow transplant unit at the University hospital of Wales. This is an enormously important activity and we shall be monitoring the initiative closely.

I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State on his appointment, and I thank his predecessor for his courtesy. Will the Under-Secretary of State heed the SOS from Mid-Glamorgan, Gwynedd and South Glamorgan? Are not patient services at risk? Should not more cash be made available to the health authorities in Wales?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. He has referred to the shortage of resources for health authorities in Wales. I said earlier that Gwynedd's resources had increased by 30 per cent. Mid-Glamorgan's resources have increased by 19 per cent. The first phase of the Deloitte report has been completed and the Mid-Glamorgan health authority will have to consider it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will monitor the position closely.

Following are the figures

The expenditure on the NHS in Wales at 1984–85 prices is as follows:


Expenditure (£m)

Actual expenditure has been adjusted to take account of general inflation as measured by the GDP market price deflator.

Courtaulds Plant, Greenfield


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the progress of discussions between his Department and Delyn borough council on Government measures to alleviate the effects of the closure of the Courtaulds plant at Greenfield.

Full agreement has been reached between the Delyn borough council, the Welsh Development Agency and the Welsh Office about the detailed implementation of the package of assistance which I announced in June this year. With the very welcome recent announcement by Courtaulds of its contribution to the total effort in the area I look forward to rapid progress on the agreed programme.

I am pleased to announce that a further £200,000 urban programme capital allocation is to be made available to Delwyn borough council for the further development of the Greenfield site for a major European company, subject to that company locating at the site. For reasons of confidentiality, I cannot say more at this stage.

I thank my right hon. Friend, and through him the Prime Minister, for the pressure that they brought to bear on Courtaulds to produce its comprehensive regeneration package for Greenfield. I thank my right hon. Friend also for today's announcement, which will be welcomed in my constituency, and for the Government's contribution to the regeneration of the Greenfield site. This will create a healthy private and public sector partnership. Can my right hon. Friend give a commitment with respect to the necessary continued urban aid and capital allocation support in the longer term so that we can speedily build on the foundations that have been so successfully laid?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments on the intervention by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself. I am grateful to the chairman of Courtaulds for having listened to what we said and for responding in a way that has earned the congratulations and thanks of the local authorities involved. I think that my hon. Friend can be assured by what we have done so far and our announcement this afternoon that in reaching our decisions we shall continue to take full account of the changing situation in the area.