Income Statistics

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th February 1997.

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Mr. Alan W. Williams:

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on income levels per head for (a) Carmarthenshire, (b) Wales and (c) the United Kingdom. [14445]

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

There are no official data on income per head in Carmarthenshire—[Interruption.] However—if the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) has stopped chuntering—in April 1996 the average gross weekly earnings of full-time employees in Carmarthenshire, Wales and the UK were £303.70, £313.00 and £350.20, respectively.

Mr. Williams:

Despite the picture that the Secretary of State likes to paint of the Welsh economy, is not the reality under-employment and low economic activity, with hundreds of thousands of well-paid full-time jobs lost and replaced by part-time low-paid jobs? Over the past 20 years, have we not suffered a double whammy, with Britain falling from 13th to 19th place in the world prosperity league and Wales falling to the bottom of the British regional league?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

The picture that I have always painted of the Welsh economy is of an economy that went through an extremely difficult time in the 1970s and 1980s in adjusting to different patterns of industry. Part of the picture that I painted is the fact that that adjustment is being successfully made, with many new 21st century industries coming into Wales, offering employment in aerospace, electronics, semiconductors, and so on. The latest Confederation of British Industry "Regional Trends" survey showed that business confidence in Wales rose faster than in any other region in the recent period surveyed. There is an extremely optimistic future for the Welsh economy, which is bringing more and more people into employment, including full-time and well-paid employment.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru

I am sorry to yap on, but low wages in Wales are a national scandal: there are people earning just £2 an hour. After the Conservative party has been in government for 18 years, how can the Secretary of State explain the fact that income per head in Wales has dropped from 92 per cent. of the UK average to 83 per cent. and what does he intend to do about it?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

We can bandy statistics for a long time, but the hon. Gentleman knows full well what I and the Government are doing to bring ever-increasing economic prosperity to Wales. I pointed out earlier that employment has risen by 95,000 over the past 10 years. The hon. Gentleman knows that I recently announced new initiatives to bring increased employment to those parts of Wales which have not yet significantly benefited from inward investment, including parts of his constituency. He knows that a great deal is under way, and I know that the introduction of policies involving a minimum wage and signing up to the social chapter would reverse that progress rather than help it.

Photo of Mr Jacques Arnold Mr Jacques Arnold , Gravesham

What does my right hon. Friend think the people of Wales would expect to be the income per head of the Welsh Liberal party, which has been conspicuous by its absence from Welsh Question Time today?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

The income per head must he considerable, as it always takes those hon. Members away from the House. However, I have little ministerial responsibility for that matter.

Photo of Mr Ron Davies Mr Ron Davies , Caerphilly

I do not understand why the Secretary of State constantly refuses to recognise the reality of the economy in Wales. Did not last year's Welsh Development Agency corporate plan confirm that after 18 years of Conservative government family incomes in Wales are at 77 per cent. of the UK average and at a record low level? Is not the most devastating impact of that to be seen in rural Wales, in counties such as Carmarthenshire, Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion? Given that the Government policy of cutting hill livestock compensatory allowances and the shambles over BSE have been major contributory factors to rural poverty, should the Minister not be doing something about those matters, which are his direct ministerial responsibility, rather than acting as an apologist for the dirty deals that are going on in Northern Ireland? Is it not a disgrace that whole counties have been blighted for decades but all that he is interested in is buying a few more weeks in office for an incompetent and disintegrating Government?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to talk about reality, he should look at what has really happened in the countryside. The Government's commitment to agriculture and to the rural economy is second to none. We changed the rules on inheritance tax so that family farms and businesses in rural areas could continue to operate. We are introducing rate relief for village shops and post offices, and we introduced the White Paper on rural Wales. The Government are spending £258 million this year in support of agriculture in Wales.

Photo of Mr Ron Davies Mr Ron Davies , Caerphilly

What about the cost of BSE?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

As usual, the hon. Gentleman is very badly informed. That expenditure is quite separate from any support for BSE, which is additional to that sum. By criticising the support for BSE, Opposition Members imply that they would not have given the same support to agriculture. As they spread scare stories about BSE in the first place, they bear a good share of the responsibility for that expenditure.