Welsh Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:20 pm on 2nd March 1987.

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Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Newport East 9:20 pm, 2nd March 1987

The hon. Gentleman is even more naive than I imagined. Is he unaware that 2 million more people are now out of work in Britain than in 1979? More than 100,000 more people are unemployed in Wales. That is why I am calling for the concession.

Unemployment has undoubtedly been the kernel of the debate. It is beyond dispute that 100,000 more people are out of work in Wales than when the Government came to office. The seasonally adjusted figure for January shows an increase from 5·9 per cent. to 13·4 per cent. That is an indictment of the Government, who campaigned and were elected on the slogan, "Labour isn't working." The Government have no major plan to reverse the catastrophe. In their recent evidence to the EEC, as revealed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), the Government were clearly reconciled to the fact that mass unemployment in Wales would continue for years. So little has been done to remedy the problems. During the Government's term of office, there has been a 24 per cent. drop in manufacturing investment from £643 million to £486 million.

Another Government move hardly likely to regenerate the Welsh economy was the decision to halve regional development assistance from £137·5 million in 1979 to £85·9 million last year. In fairness, at least the Government seem conscious of the damage that their policies have caused, but instead of tackling those problems they admit to fiddling the unemployment figures. We have had no fewer than 19 changes in the method of calculating the figures. Many thousands have been taken off the register in Wales alone. Perhaps even more difficult to justify is the Government's decision to include the self-employed. That is a novel introduction, as is the inclusion of the armed forces. Will it be the inmates of Her Majesty's prisons next? Part-time jobs are counted as full-time jobs. Two part-time jobs done by the same person are classed as though two jobs are done by different people. All the fiddling is the work of Lord Young's shrink tank. Even locally, in Newport, the employment figures are in constant dispute. The South Wales Argus said, on 13 February, under the headline: Gwent Job Losses Highest In Wales. Employment in Gwent has suffered the worst setback in Wales according to the latest set of jobless statistics.

It is not only unemployment. There is deprivation in so many sectors. This deprivation simply stunts the life of Wales as a whole, as it does that of so many communities, families and individuals. The Prime Minister has told us that the National Health Service is safe in her hands, but no one in Wales believes that.

"Heartbeat Wales", referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas), in its press report on 19 February said: there are large social inequalities in health. Those in manual groups and the unemployed are much worse off.

The breakdown in law and order and the soaring crime statistics were referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth. The Government have invested heavily in law and order, but with puny results. In education, we have had chaos in the classrooms—much of it the direct result of underfunding, when the drop in the number of pupils could have brought real progress with a major reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio. The Government's latest move is to take away negotiating rights from teachers' trade unions. What a travesty that is.

My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside gave the facts and figures about the housing crisis. My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) referred to the perceptive article by Mary Evans of the Western Mail on 26 February, when she spoke of the chief environmental health officer's searing indictment of the failure to provide the people of Wales with adequate homes.