The Minister of State has been going around Wales proclaiming some sort of El Dorado, which exists only in his own imagination. When will he come down to earth and recognise that about 30,000 men have been out of work for more than five years, almost 80,000 for longer than two years and that some 5,000 have given up looking for a job altogether out of sheer despair? Is not this the reality of eight and a half years of Thatcherism in Wales and not the starry-eyed image that he is trying to portray?
I thought that the hon. Gentleman might have spared at least a word of welcome for the fall in unemployment. It has been falling for 17 consecutive months. It is now 26,055 down on October 1986, which is a 1·9 per cent. decrease, and in Gwent it is down by 5,142, which is a 3·1 per cent. decrease on October of last year and one of the biggest declines in any county in Wales. Furthermore, there has been a decline of 2,247 in the Newport travel-to-work area. Surely the hon. Gentleman welcomes that, and surely he knows that we are doing our very best for the long-term unemployed, through the special employment measures.
It is about time that the Minister stopped complaining and came to the Dispatch Box to explain why Opposition Members spread doom and gloom. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) said, the doom and gloom have been spread by the Government since 1979. Can the Minister understand why we are not all that overjoyed that there is a drop in unemployment? His Government have created the unemployment in Wales since 1979. Is it not time that he looked at the true figures for 1979 and tried to get back to that level, from which he could develop his employment measures? In Ogmore unemployment was 3·5 per cent. in 1979. It is now 18·7 per cent. When the Minister can reduce unemployment to the 1979 level, there will not be so much doom and gloom among Labour Members.
I can never forget 1979 and the hidden unemployment of which we were aware of then and of which the people of England and Wales were very much aware. That is why they elected a Conservative Government to put things right. Our only prospect at that time was deepening unemployment. The United Kingdom economy is fundamentally strong, as was reaffirmed in the Autumn Statement. The provisional figures for industrial output in Wales are up 2 per cent. in the second quarter and 5 per cent. over the year. We are in our seventh year of successive growth and all the indicators show further improvements to come.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the dramatic reduction in unemployment in Wales in the last year, amounting to nearly 23 per cent. in my constituency, was in no small part due to the Government's tremendous success in attracting inward investment, which has increased by 25 per cent. in the past year and now amounts to 20 per cent. of the United Kingdom total? Does he agree that if we are to keep up and improve on that fine record it is essential that the Secretary of State for Wales leads inward investment missions abroad, as he is now doing in Japan?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Unemployment in Clwyd has come down by 4,070 in the course of the last year, and that is in no small part due to the existence of five expanding Japanese companies in the area.
My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the importance of inward investment to Wales, and, indeed, the importance of my right hon. Friend's mission to Japan. Already we have 88 projects this year, involving 6,000 jobs, as a result of inward investment, and that number is up on the numbers applying to the same period last year and in 1985.
Is the Minister aware that that so-called dramatic improvement has led to male unemployment in my constituency more than doubling? Yet the Welsh Office, in a typical piece of job destruction, has stopped the Nan Tong cotton mill project, which we had hoped would be launched in my constituency, by refusing adequate money. Will the Minister tell us whether, even at this stage, he is prepared to re-examine that project, which would have brought more than 300 extra jobs to an area that needs them desperately? What is the latest position?
The position relating to the Nan Tong project, which involved expenditure of £25 million for the creation of 300 jobs, was explained by my right hon. Friend on 26 October. Of course we are not complacent about the position in Wales. However, unemployment has been falling for the past 17 months, and in the hon. Gentleman's county of West Glamorgan there has been a fall of 2·4 per cent. over the past year.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a large part of unemployment in Wales has been structural unemployment, caused by the decline in the old manufacturing industries, and that we should welcome the new industries which have come to Wales and which are producing many new jobs?
My hon. Friend is quite right. When I referred to the position in 1979, the change in our structure had just begun. The Labour Government had had the experience of closing down the steel mills at Ebbw Vale and Cardiff, but there was far more to come, and that is what the present Government have had to endure. What we have also done, however, is to secure new jobs through inward investment and by encouraging the expansion of businesses that are already in Wales.
It was because people were leaving mid-Wales, in particular, that we have encouraged Mid Wales Development in all the efforts that it has made to provide work opportunities there—and, indeed, in rural Wales generally. We have also encouraged the Welsh Development Agency to move into the rural areas, and we look forward to the promotion of businesses in such areas so that we can keep our young people there.