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Employment in Wales is at a record level with more people in work than ever before. According to the latest figures, employment in Wales rose by a massive 15,000 compared with a year ago.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, for the first time since figures have been produced in this country, unemployment in Clwyd, South is less than 2 per cent., which is considered full employment? Is he further aware that under the Tories, when I was elected to Parliament in 1987, the figure was 16 per cent? There are not a lot of Conservative Members here today—[Hon. Members: "Three."] The Conservatives could do nothing about that.
Indeed, and that is why Tory MPs lost their jobs at successive elections. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the incredibly strong employment situation in his constituency and right across north Wales. Under the Conservatives, 39,000 people in north Wales were unemployed. Under Labour, that figure has fallen right down to 7,600, and there are more than enough vacancies in the employment market to match that. So, the message is to continue with economic stability, low interest rates, job creation and public investment—all of it creating the most dynamic economy in north Wales for generations.
An Institute of Welsh Affairs report says:
"On the surface . . . unemployment appears to have reached tolerably low levels, but when combined with sickness and disability claimants, the proportions not working are higher than almost anywhere else in the UK."
When will the Secretary of State realise that decreasing unemployment rates are nothing to brag about when the long-term unemployment rate has increased by 21.8 per cent. in the past year? Economic activity stands at 75.6 per cent. compared with 78.7 per cent. for the UK. The rate has continued to fall over the past year, so what has he got to boast about?
I am not boasting; I am telling the facts as we know them in Wales. The economy is more buoyant than it has been for generations and is light years away from the misery and devastation of the Conservative years. Even today in south Wales, the Ministry of Defence has announced that the Atlas consortium, which includes world-class companies such as Cogent, Logica and General Dynamics, has been awarded preferred bidder status for a £4 billion contract for high-tech security communications. Hundreds of new jobs are coming to south Wales, and it was recently announced that the contract for the AirTanker project has gone to Airbus in Broughton. There has been very good news about jobs for both north and south Wales over the past few days.
As my right hon. Friend has said, the AirTanker project is excellent news for north Wales. It will secure many thousands of jobs, including thousands of jobs throughout the United Kingdom and in the aerospace industry as a whole. Does it not also demonstrate the Government's commitment to British industry?
It does indeed. I am delighted for Airbus, which is now one of the leading world-class companies. It is doing better each year, with more jobs, more high-quality investment and the support of a Government who provide economic stability, lower interest rates and investment in skills, allowing it to flourish and win contracts like this.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the big disincentives that prevent small businesses from increasing the number of jobs is the huge burden of statistical surveys that they are required to undertake? Will he go with me to visit the Radnor Hills mineral water company, which is required to fill in eight forms at any one time and may have to fill in more than 30 in a year? Representations have been made to the Treasury, but it says that the company must continue that work.
I should be happy to look into the matter for the hon. Gentleman, but I am sure that he will acknowledge that the business climate in his constituency is better than it has been in living memory. More jobs are being created, unemployment has fallen and there are business start-ups right across Wales, including in his constituency. I hope that he is backing those, rather than talking the economy down as the Conservatives always try to do.
It would have a disastrous impact. It is incredibly irresponsible of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives to advocate the abolition of the new deal. That would take us back to the days when young people in Wales had no hope and no opportunities, and people with disabilities and lone parents were left at home and ignored. We have supported them, more and more are starting work, and the new deal has been a fantastic success.