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Volume 536: debated on Wednesday 23 November 2011

The latest unemployment figures in Wales are disappointing and show that there is still much for both the UK Government and the Welsh Government to do. We have made it clear that while tackling the deficit remains our top priority, we are committed to creating the right conditions for the private sector to expand and grow in Wales, in order to create much-needed jobs.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the Labour Welsh Government on the launch of Jobs Growth Wales, which I am told will create 4,000 jobs per year, and will she encourage her Cabinet colleagues to establish a similar scheme in this country, because our constituents are desperate for jobs?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I would congratulate any Government who tried to reduce unemployment, which blights so many families, particularly in Wales—and never more so than under the last Labour Government. However, I must say to him that the jury will be out until we see the results from that scheme.

As the Secretary of State will be aware, in my constituency hundreds of people cross the border both ways for employment. Constituents of mine work in Broughton, and people from Welsh constituencies travel the other way to Vauxhall, Essar and other major employers. Does the Secretary of State agree that there needs to be some joined-up thinking with her colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, in order to address the challenge my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) has just raised? There is a good scheme in Wales; why not replicate it in England?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong; this is a new scheme in Wales, being introduced by the Welsh Government. I agree that the £400 million investment in the Airbus factory will secure 6,000 Welsh jobs and many jobs in the supply chain to that factory. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently opened the new North factory, which will secure employment and development in that area for a long time to come.

Does the Secretary of State agree with me that the inaction of the Labour Government on enterprise zones is a real concern to the business community in Wales?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of the fact that we started the enterprise zones in England at a much earlier stage than the Welsh Government, but I am pleased to welcome the fact that the Welsh Government have designated some areas in Wales as enterprise zones. I know, however, from my discussions with business and industry that they are keenly awaiting some more details on the enterprise zones, which have been very slow in coming forward.

Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the announcement by the BSW Timber sawmill in Newbridge-on-Wye in my constituency that it is about to create another 20 jobs, bringing Christmas cheer to those families who will benefit from that employment?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and I know how hard he works in his constituency to secure jobs. I offer my congratulations and hope that the business goes from strength to strength. I think we forget in this day and age when unemployment figures are going in the wrong direction that plenty of companies are creating jobs and plenty of enterprising—

Order. May I ask the Secretary of State to face the House so that we can all hear her dulcet tones, from which we will greatly benefit? I think she has finished and we are grateful to her.

Does the Secretary of State not realise how out of touch she is? The unemployment figures in Wales are not “disappointing”, they are shocking. We have had a 20% rise in the number of women claiming jobseeker’s allowance since she came to power in May 2010, including an increase of a fifth in the number out of work for more than 12 months. Why, according to her parliamentary answers to me, has her Wales Office business advisory council not yet discussed the plight of jobless women in Wales?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to commiserate with those people who are looking for employment, but I am not going to take any lessons from him—he was part of a Labour Government under whom youth unemployment rose by more than 40% and female unemployment rose by more than 30%.

What world is she living in? We created a record number of jobs in Wales. There are 10 men on her business advisory council—why does she not appoint at least one woman to it? With the deficit rising and growth stalling, is it not also time that her Government adopted Labour’s five-point plan for growth and jobs in Wales, including a cut in VAT on home improvements to 5%, a tax break for every small firm that takes on extra workers and a £2 billion tax on bankers’ bonuses to create 100,000 new jobs? Unless she acts now, she will condemn tens of thousands of men and women in Wales to misery.

In Wales, there is an acid test of Labour’s policies. The fact is that a Labour Government are in power in Wales and, as the First Minister in Scotland said the other day:

“If Labour has the answer to economic problems and unemployment, why are unemployment and youth unemployment in Wales higher than they are in Scotland? If Labour has the magic solutions, why is it not implementing them in the one place in these islands where it is still in government?”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 17 November 2011; c. 3582.]