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Labour Statistics

Volume 84: debated on Monday 21 October 1985

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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.