Welsh Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 4th February 1980.

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Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry 5:17 pm, 4th February 1980

It is only natural in present circumstances, as the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) has intimated, that this general debate on Welsh affairs should tend to turn largely on economic and industrial issues. This is not because we see no importance in agriculture, tourism or environmental matters but because the bulk of our population is, unfortunately, concentrated in the industrial areas of South and North-East Wales. This is the kernel of our problems and has been for many years.

Nor do I complain that the right hon. Member for Rhondda seemed unduly pessimistic about the state of the Welsh economy. After all, pessimism is a kind of seed corn for the Opposition, with exaggeration as its handmaiden. I noted with some amusement the readiness of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to march about these issues. Too little marching was done when the Labour Government had such an appalling record. After all, since the oil crisis in 1973 we have had to live in a world economy full of difficulties for exporting countries. Several of Britain's industrial rivals have coped better by methods that are quite different from those favoured by the last Labour Government.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues at the Welsh Office took over a bed of nails. We have heard much from the Opposition about the misfortunes that have befallen us in a relatively short time. But during the term of the last Labour Government Welsh unemployment rose from 38,000 in 1972 to 91,000 in February 1979. At one stage, in August 1978, it reached more than 101,000. Some of this increase, we were constantly reminded, was due to world causes. Some was not. Last month, the figure of Welsh unemployed, I confess, was at the high level of 90,864, yet this was fewer than in January in the previous two years. I wonder why the right hon. Member for Rhondda did not comment on that. After all the so-called dreadful deeds, Welsh unemployment last month was less than in either of the previous two Januaries under the Labour Government.