Latest figures for Wales show average weekly earnings of £454.40 in 2005, which is 87.9 per cent of the average for the UK as a whole.
I thank the Under-Secretary for that reply. Average wages in Preseli Pembrokeshire increased only modestly in the past five years and remain well below the UK and Welsh averages. In contrast, house prices have soared by more than 170 per cent. in that period. What is he doing specifically to tackle the growing crisis of housing affordability, which affects families and young people throughout Wales? What steps are his Labour colleagues in the Assembly taking to deal with that problem? Why do they not deliver the social housing that is required in Wales?
In fact, in the past year, the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and mine have experienced the fastest rise in average earnings in Wales. In the past four years, average earnings in Wales have risen faster than in England. We are closing the gap, especially in the objective 1 area, where there have been increases of 21 per cent. in average earnings in the past four years.
The problem of the affordability of housing is not unique to west Wales—it applies throughout Wales and the rest of the country. The Government are investing significant sums in tackling that problem. We are ensuring that social housing funds are available, working with housing associations to develop new schemes and considering innovative schemes such as community land trusts. I expect Pembrokeshire housing association and Pembrokeshire county council to examine those radical and innovative ways of providing affordable social housing in his and my communities.
Given the importance of Airbus to the Welsh economy and to the earnings of 6,500 people in Wales, and now that there is a shift from the use of metallic materials to composites in new aircraft design and manufacture, does the Minister share my alarm at the reports that the Spanish Government are targeting our wing business in Wales? Will he guarantee that he will do everything in his power to ensure his Cabinet colleagues’ support for the new A350 aircraft?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently met Airbus senior management because of the latest concerns about EADS and its share price. He was assured that Airbus has a long-term commitment to both Broughton and Filton. They are world leaders in wing production and have a skills base that is almost unique—the only other is in Seattle, in the United States. My right hon. Friend was assured of the long-term future of Airbus investment in Broughton and Filton.
Of course we have done that, and we have put significant launch project funding into all the schemes that Airbus has promoted—about £21 billion over the years. There is no question but that the Government are fully backing the Airbus project. Bearing in mind that investment and the jobs in Broughton that are dependent on it, I am concerned that the hon. Lady is now raising these issues—they do not exist.
Airbus employs more than 7,000 people at Broughton, and that has been possible due to the support of this Government, investing in successful manufacturing. Airbus is European co-operation; does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservative party’s attitude to Europe could well threaten the future of such co-operation?
I totally agree. My hon. Friend emphasises the importance of Airbus not just to the local economy but to the economy of north Wales and north-west England. It provides more than 7,000 extremely well-paid jobs, and it is there because the Government have regularly invested substantial sums to support the development of new technology at that plant and in Filton. As my hon. Friend says, the anti-European attitude that still runs through the Conservative party threatens that co-operation.
One of the main reasons Wales is languishing at the bottom of the wages league under this Government is the loss of high-wage manufacturing jobs. The Labour candidate in Blaenau Gwent said that existing Government policy had failed and there was a desperate need for a new manufacturing strategy. Does the Minister, or indeed the Chancellor, agree?
Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that just recently, although there have been problems in certain companies, International Rectifier, which makes semiconductors, has brought 250 well-paid jobs to Newport; Ford, developing the new Volvo engine in Bridgend, has created 250 new jobs; LogicaCMG has created 765 well-paid jobs with a high-tech MOD contract; and other jobs are being created in the finance and service sectors. Although there may well be problems in certain sectors, the economy in Wales is diverse. We are seeing expansion upon expansion, and new jobs are being created where other, older jobs are being lost. It is a dynamic economy and we are moving forward. Wales is doing extremely well.