Between 1984 and 1989 the rate of unemployment, unadjusted, for the Worcester travel-to-work area fell from 11·2 per cent. to 4·5 per cent. Worcester travel-to-work area, as currently defined, did not exist in 1979.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Will he confirm that that decline is greater than the reduction in unemployment achieved in Wales during the comparable period? Are the employment policies pursued by the Welsh Office and by his Department identical? If the Secretary of State for Employment was to succeed the Secretary of State for Wales, would those policies continue?
The hon. Gentleman has a close personal interest in the future of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales in relation to both their voting records. From January 1989 to January 1990, unemployment fell by 22·4 per cent. in Wales whereas in the United Kingdom as a whole it has fallen by 18·7 per cent. Wales has done considerably better than the United Kingdom over that period.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that unemployment in Wales has fallen by 150,000 as a result of inward investment and that that achievement is due in great part to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales? I am sure that the people of Worcester, too, would like to thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales for his efforts.
I agree completely with my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) also agrees, because he described my right hon. Friend as the best Secretary of State that Wales has ever had. In response to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), more people are employed in Wales than ever before.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that at the previous general election the Labour party promised to reduce unemployment by 1 million inside two years? Does he recognise that we have achieved that and more inside a shorter period? Does he agree that the best hope for the north-west, whose economy is booming, is a continuation of this Conservative Government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We made no such specific pledges at the election, but we beat the Labour party's promise by two months. Unemployment has continued to decline since, and my hon. Friend correctly attributed that to the success of the Government's policies.
Is the Minister aware that in January there were 7,500 unemployed men and women in Oldham, that the number has increased since and that it is likely to increase even more unless his Department puts pressure on his colleagues to ensure that the multi-fibre arrangement is renewed and textiles are protected?
The hon. Gentleman knows very well the attitude of my right hon. and hon. Friends to that matter. We must look at the whole employment picture in the north-west, which, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg), is a very bright one.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the fall in unemployment of 179,000 in the north-west is due in no small way to the vigorous policy of inward investment operated by the Department of Trade and Industry and to his Department's strong small business policy which have created thousands of new businesses and brought in much new investment from overseas?
I am always happy to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's observations. It is easy to overlook the important contribution that inward investment makes to sustaining our excellent employment record.
As he surveys the background to the Budget next week—we have the highest real interest rates of any of our main competitors, the worst inflation record, the worst balance of payments deficit, and training gaps and skills shortages—can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us when unemployment will get back down to the level that the Government inherited in 1979?
The hon. Gentleman should be aware, but perhaps is not, that there are 1·5 million more people in work now than in 1979. That is the answer to his grossly extravagant claims, and that excellent record is the result of this Government's policies.
In September 1989 the work force in employment in the United Kingdom was 26,955,000—the highest level ever. This represents an increase of 3,391,000 since March 1983.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for those figures. As he said, it proves that 1·5 million more people are in work now than in 1979. Will my right hon. and learned Friend point out our job creation record to our European partners who would foist upon us a social charter?
My hon. Friend makes a most important point. We are determined not to have inflicted upon us policies that would undo our achievements since 1979. Those achievements are due to our policy of lower regulation and the freeing of enterprise. Many of our European colleagues have much to learn from that.
It is not difficult for the Secretary of State to comfort one of his hon. Friends from the south-east on a question such as this, although I note that he did not point out that two thirds of the increase in jobs last year was represented by part-time jobs. What does the Secretary of State say to an hon. Member from the north of England—from, say, the Sheffield travel-to-work area—where the number of registered claimants in January rose for the second month running?
Unlike Opposition Members, Conservative Members do not denigrate part-time work, which we believe has an important part to play in improving prospects for employment. The hon. Gentleman is aware that during the past few years unemployment has been falling in the north at least as fast as in other parts of the country, if not faster. Prosperity is spreading to all parts of the country.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one reason for the high number of people in work is the bonfire of controls over industry and the enormous benefits from reducing corporation tax levels, especially for smaller firms? Will he try to explain that to the Opposition, some of whose emergent policies would throttle British business and increase unemployment?
Notwithstanding the welcome improvement in unemployment figures, does the Secretary of State accept that the numbers of long-term unemployed people in some parts of the country, including the pockets of unemployment in Liverpool, remain stubbornly high? Does he further accept that when chambers of commerce make representations about the impact of the Channel tunnel on the more disparate regions of England, it could have a detrimental effect on employment patterns? What consideration is the right hon. and learned Gentleman giving to that?
The hon. Gentleman is right that there are still pockets where long-term unemployment is too high, although long-term unemployment has been falling faster than unemployment generally. The Channel tunnel will benefit all parts of the country. I hope that when the hon. Gentleman talks about the effects of Government policies on unemployment, particularly in Liverpool, he will pay full tribute to the uniform business rate, which will go a long way to improving employment prospects in his area.