Government Economic Policies

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 8:59 pm on 20th January 1987.

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Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers , Rhondda 8:59 pm, 20th January 1987

Other hon. Members have dealt with the broader aspects of this issue, but time demands that I should concentrate on regional and constituency issues. But some of the matters that have come up during the course of this debate have to be dealt with before I move on to talk about my region and constituency.

I agree with many Members that we are not necessarily talking about a north-south divide in the debate this evening. What we are talking about is a divide in this country between those who have and those who have not. Since the Government have been in power, that divide has grown even wider. In the majority of cases it is a north-south divide—although there is a substantial area to the west—but it would be wrong of us to polarise the issue into those geographical areas when there are high pockets of unemployment in areas such as Margate and Ramsgate in the south-east of England. There are areas of poverty in the south-west and other parts of the southern half of this country. The argument is not about the north versus the south. It is about the rich versus the poor and the haves versus the have-nots.

No one can argue that there are not difficulties in the regions, because manifestly there are big differences whatever parameter or socio-economic indicator is used. These are problems of the past, as the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said, but they are not only the problems of the past, or the decline of the smokestack industries. If we look quickly at one statistic in regard to Wales, for example, the coal industry has had a job loss of about 13,000 people since 1979. But the number of unemployed in Wales has risen by over 100,000. One cannot blame the decline of the coal industry for the enormous increase in unemployment in Wales. Unemployment is a difficult problem that will not be solved by one simple action. It will take all the resources of Government, private industry and the public sector working together in an effective partnership to solve the problem. But it can be solved and I shall not get involved with the prophets of despair who are writing off areas such as the area that I represent.

The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) talked about these regional differences. In one part of his speech he seemed to accept that they existed, but in the other part he did not want to accept them. Part of his panacea for the problems that are arising—I think I quote him rightly—was that "there should be regional pay bargaining." I should like to point out to the right hon. and learned Membe—at least, I would if he were present—that those regional pay differences presently exist. We do not need regional pay bargaining, and it is wrong of Conservative Members to say that workers price themselves out of jobs; that is manifestly not so. The difference in average wages between areas such as Wales and the south-east at the present time is £42·32. One can hardly accuse the Welsh of pricing themselves out of jobs.

I represent an area that is one of the most socially and economically deprived areas in the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) helped me by providing some statistics, and I shall catalogue them in the hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Paymaster General will pay attention to the problems within my constituency. In my area we have the highest number of houses without indoor toilet facilities; the highest number of houses without a bath or shower; the highest number of pensioners lacking the same facilities; a perinatal mortality rate that is the highest in Wales; an unemployment rate of over 20 per cent.; an extraordinarily high level of youth unemployment; more likelihood of children suffering from measles and whooping cough; and, not surprisingly, the highest percentage of permanently sick people in the United Kingdom. That is a catalogue of deprivation.

But the statistics do not adequately demonstrate the misery and poverty in which some individuals live in my constituency and in areas in the north and in the south that are suffering from unemployment. They do not illustrate the struggles and difficulties of pensioners to achieve a reasonable quality of life. They do not adequately demonstrate the tragedy and disappointment of the young mother who loses a baby in the early days of the baby's life because of a lack of facilities. They do not demonstrate the despair and disillusionment of a young man who has never had a job and has no likelihood of getting one in the foreseeable future. [Interruption.] I wish that hon. Members who have just come into the Chamber would listen quietly.

The Government amendment talks about the success of their economic policies and of healthy, balanced economic growth. We are entitled to ask the Paymaster General to tell us when he replies where that growth and success is and when we in Wales will have some share of it. We would certainly like to have some of it in my county and in my constituency.

The Chancellor, the Paymaster General, the Secretary of State for Wales and the Prime Minister constantly reiterate their excuses for unemployment. As I said earlier, they blame the decline of the coal industry for the problems that we face in south Wales, but our problems are much deeper seated than a simple decline in one industry. If we look across the job spectrum, we see that in manufacturing we have lost 113,000 jobs. In metal goods engineering and vehicles 52,000 jobs have been lost. Across the whole spectrum of industry we see that jobs have been lost. It is not simply the coal industry that is in decline; it is a region in decline and that region badly needs help. We are not pricing ourselves out of work. If the Government attach any importance at all to jobs in the engineering sector, they should help areas such as south Wales.

Earlier, I spoke about the statistics of my constituency which reflect the position in Mid-Glamorgan and Wales as a whole. I described what they meant for the pensioner, the young mother and the unemployed youngster. They mean despair, disappointment, disillusion, struggle, difficulty, and, in many cases, tragedy. That is mirrored elsewhere in the United Kingdom. That is the true meaning of Thatcherism. That is the true reality of Thatcher's Britain today. It is a divided Britain, governed by an uncaring Government.