Skip to main content


Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 4 June 2003

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


What recent discussions he has had with the First Secretary about the number of unemployed people in Wales in (a) May 1997 and (b) May 2003. [116421]

Unemployment in Wales is down 45 per cent. since April 1997 and down at least 33 per cent. in every Welsh constituency. Youth unemployment in Wales is down 79 per cent. during the same period and long-term unemployment is down 84 per cent. The Welsh economy is on track for long-term sustainability and prosperity.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. In Preseli Pembrokeshire, we exceed that figure, with a 46 per cent. fall in unemployment. Despite that, 75 jobs have recently been lost in Milford Haven in my constituency, primarily because of a lack of broadband facilities. Will he please hold discussions with BT and particularly the regulator, which seems to be the stumbling block in this instance, to see whether moves can be made to roll out broadband in Wales to avoid such unnecessary loss of jobs in future?

I shall certainly do that. My hon. Friend makes a good point. Broadband is being rolled out extensively across Wales, but more needs to be done, particularly for rural areas, including Pembrokeshire, and she makes her case very well.

Will the Secretary of State please tell the House what is being done in Wales to increase employment opportunities for those between the ages of 50 and 65? When he replies, will he also tell the House what is happening with regard to the under-employed in the Wales Office?

I shall answer the serious part of the hon. Gentleman's question first. He asked what is being done for older workers. The Government have a strategy in place to assist older workers, including, in particular, those in valley communities who lost their jobs in the days of heavy industry and have found it difficult to get back into work. To that extent, I am delighted that levels of economic inactivity are falling and that there was a 54,000 cut in economic inactivity last year. That is the first time that that has happened for a very long time.

In respect of the Wales Office, I say to the hon. Gentleman that he either wants a strong Wales Office or he does not. Of course, Plaid Cymru wants to abolish the Wales Office as it wants independence for Wales and does not want anybody representing it in the United Kingdom Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that jobs in the manufacturing industry in Wales are crucial to the economy? I am sure that he is aware that a joint report by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Office of Fair Trading about the UK insurance market is about to be announced. Does he agree that some manufacturing companies in Wales will look keenly at the findings of that investigation, because their survival will be decided in relation to the heavy burden of insurance policies on such companies?

The Government are addressing the issue, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to join me in welcoming the 25,000 new manufacturing jobs that have been created in Wales in the past year and, in particular, the reports in recent days that new optimism and opportunity are opening up for Welsh exporters as a result of the strengthening of the euro against the pound. That has provided a big window for Wales, especially in Europe.

On behalf of the Opposition, may I wish the Secretary of State best wishes for his happy event on 14 June?

Since the Secretary of State came to his post, we have seen a massive decline in the manufacturing industry. The latest big name closure is that of LG in Newport, with the loss almost 1,000 jobs. Does he put that miserable record down to the fact that he has not been paying enough attention to Wales?

We have created 68,000 new jobs in Wales in the past year. Employment has increased to record levels from the miserable level under the Tories. Some 25,000 new manufacturing jobs have been created. Yes, the LG closure is a disappointment. The project involved about £247 million of public money and was supported by one of the hon. Gentleman's predecessors, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), then Secretary of State for Wales. It has shown that what we should do is disperse our investment support across a much wider base of economic activity rather than concentrate it in one prestige project, which found that it could not continue its activity because of world demand.

The Minister is not dispersing support, but dispersing manufacturing jobs in Wales—that is the problem. Order books have contracted for the past six months and exports are down for the past four months. Instead of swanning around Europe selling out British interests on the European Convention, should he not be spending more time listening to the voices of manufacturers talking about matters such as the climate change levy and the extra burdens of red tape and offer an apology for the 1 per cent. jobs tax that his Government introduced last April? Manufacturing is in meltdown in Wales, and the Government must act before more thousands of jobs are exported to his beloved Europe.

The hon. Gentleman obviously swotted very hard for that question, but we should stick to the facts. The reality is that for the seventh consecutive month business activity in Wales remains above the British average, that the latest export figures for Wales show a rise of 9 per cent. on the fourth quarter of last year compared with the same period a year ago, and that Welsh companies are doing better than other British companies. The hon. Gentleman wants to run down manufacturing in Wales. I recently visited the finest and largest manufacturing centre in Britain—Airbus in Broughton, which is an example of more manufacturing jobs being created in Wales. Some 25,000 new manufacturing jobs were created last year, compared with the dreadful record of the Tories, who massacred our manufacturing sector.