Skip to main content


Volume 459: debated on Wednesday 2 May 2007

The Secretary of State was asked—

Military Bases

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on the future of military bases in Wales; and if he will make a statement. (134258)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues, including the Secretary of State for Defence. There is a strong defence presence in Wales, which will be strengthened by the St. Athan defence training project.

RAF Valley is an integral part of the Anglesey community, has been so for over 60 years, and is a major contributor to the region. The recent positive announcement by the Ministry of Defence on locating the search and rescue headquarters and the new Hawk integrated operational support contract at Valley is creditable and gives confidence to both the civilian and military work force. Does he agree, however, that the academy at St. Athan offers further potential for RAF Valley to benefit and to broaden its skills base, and that a party with the aim of independence would jeopardise that?

I agree very much with my hon. Friend that RAF Valley has enormous potential, does good work and has potential linkages across Wales, including with the defence training project. That project, which is the biggest such public investment project in living memory—if not ever—will bring unparalleled investment in Wales, with over 5,000 jobs, an additional 1,500 jobs in construction and about £16 billion of investment, all of which is a result of the strong partnership between Westminster and a Welsh Assembly Government—a partnership that would be put at risk by a nationalist-Tory alliance in the Welsh Assembly Government if they won power.

Obviously, the Secretary of State has changed the order: it is now nationalist-Tory, not Tory-nationalist; in any event, it is nonsense, as it was last week. May I set the record straight? Plaid Cymru was fully supportive of the Defence Aviation Repair Agency bid from day one, we still are, and I fully appreciate what the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) says: the development is important to Wales and we could be world leaders in that kind of technology. At no stage have I expressed a contrary view, except to say that I would have preferred the jobs to have stayed in the public sector.

As the hon. Gentleman mentions the point, I do not mind whether the alliance is nationalist-Tory or Tory-nationalist; it would still put the Tories in power in Wales, and they have not been in power at a serious level of government anywhere in the United Kingdom for a long time. In respect of the policy of defence investment, why did his party president, Dafydd Iwan, call for the disbanding—

Given the Government’s massive investment in defence training, do not the armed services provide an excellent career for youngsters throughout Wales and across the United Kingdom? In that case, how does the Secretary of State answer those in Wales who call for Army recruitment to be banned in schools?

I did notice that one Plaid Cymru Assembly Member was calling for the Army to be banned from recruiting in schools, which is a crazy policy, like all Plaid Cymru’s other crazy policies that are designed to separate Wales from the rest of the United Kingdom, which would be a disastrous policy if it formed part of a Welsh Assembly Government’s future objectives.

Further to the question of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), the Secretary of State will be aware that the air service to be launched next week linking Cardiff airport with RAF Valley is to be subsidised by the Welsh Assembly Government to the tune of £800,000 per annum, which equates to a subsidy of more than £170 per passenger, per return flight, if those flights are fully occupied. Does he consider that such a level of subsidy is good value for taxpayers’ money? When does he anticipate that the service will be able to stand on its own feet financially?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) says from a sedentary position, the project is an investment in improved north-south transport links, which I would have thought the hon. Gentleman, as a north Wales MP, would welcome. I would have thought that he would say that businesses and individuals in north Wales who need to travel to and from Cardiff, which can take as long as five hours by car and a similar amount of time by train, should have the advantage of that service, which will bring extra investment to north Wales and Anglesey. He should be backing it, not attacking it.

Regulatory Burden

2. What plans he has for encouraging a reduction in the burden of central Government legislation on Welsh business. (134260)

The Government are wholeheartedly committed to cutting the regulatory burden on all businesses and are currently undertaking one of the most radical reform agendas in the world.

I am pleased to hear that, but is the Minister aware that recent surveys of Welsh business reveal overwhelming opposition to the Budget proposals to increase the rate of the small firms corporation tax? Will he pledge to do all that he can to resist those anti-business Euro-directives, particularly the working time directive, from which the UK had an opt-out, and the agency workers directive, both of which would do untold damage to Welsh tourism?

The Government have reduced the regulatory burden on business arising, for example, from Department of Trade and Industry regulations, by more than £1 billion. Some 900,000 companies are now exempt from audit requirements on their accounts. The hon. Gentleman refers to various surveys, and the CBI survey shows that manufacturers in Wales have received the highest surge in orders for more than a decade, and that Welsh firms are experiencing much stronger order and output growth than the UK as a whole. The latest figures show that new VAT registrations for businesses in Wales are up significantly. Moreover, 130,000 jobs have been created since 1997.

All those facts demonstrate that the Government are extremely successful in dealing with these matters. Small businesses are growing substantially in Wales, and are being created on a regular basis. That shows that we have the right policies, which could only be put at risk if we ended up with some sort of rag-bag coalition.

Will my hon. Friend remind Conservative Members that it was a Conservative Government who devastated business and industry in Wales, although siren voices suggested that measures such as the minimum wage would devastate business and industry rather than introducing fairness? Will he restate this Government’s policy of introducing measures from European directives properly, not gold-plating them but ensuring that there is fairness in industry for all, including business?

I agree with everything that my right hon. Friend has said. I know from the hard work that he did in ensuring the passage of legislation to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses that he is an expert in the field. The facts are clear: businesses in Wales are growing and are being created faster than ever before, and all the surveys indicate that the Government’s regime is working.

Of course, we will resist any attempts to gold-plate European regulation. We will continue with the formula—the partnership between the Welsh Assembly Government and the Labour Government here in Westminster—which has proved so successful, putting 138,000 more people in work than was the case 10 years ago.

Is not the misery-mongering from Norfolk mocked by the reality of thriving private industry in Wales? In Newport alone we have benefited from a huge amount of investment, resulting in thousands of new jobs in EADS, Yellow Pages, International Rectifier and the Quinn Group. Is that not largely due to the strength of the partnership between the Labour-controlled Welsh Assembly and the Labour-controlled Government, which would be put at risk if it fell into the instability of an Assembly controlled—

Surprisingly, I agree, yet again, with my hon. Friend. What he says is true, although that success is happening not just in Newport, but in my constituency: we now have record levels of employment where we used to have record levels of unemployment. Indeed, it is true throughout Wales. Ibsen Biopharm has announced an investment of more than £39 million in a pharmaceutical plant in Wrexham, and the Amazon investment was announced only last month.

Industry recognises that Wales is a good place in which to invest. We are seeing existing industries growing and new industries being created, because—as my hon. Friend says—of the wonderful partnership between Westminster and Cardiff.

Public Sector Employment

3. How many of the jobs created in Wales since 1997 have been in the public and publicly funded sectors. (134261)

Employment in Wales is at historically high levels, with 138,000 more people in employment in Wales since 1997. The increase in private sector employment in Wales has been three and a half times the increase in public sector employment.

The Secretary of State will know that Wales has a much higher proportion of public sector workers than the rest of the United Kingdom, and that unemployment there is rising. How does he account for that, and what will he tell voters in Wales tomorrow? Is it not the case that Labour is not working for those who are unemployed in Wales?

Unemployment is pretty stable, and employment continues to rise. Significantly, economic inactivity levels—which have been a curse of the Welsh economy—have been falling, especially in valley areas that have received the objective 1 funding delivered not by the last Tory Government, but by a Labour Government.

The hon. Gentleman should look at the latest CBI report, which shows that manufacturers in Wales have received the highest surge in order levels for more than a decade. Entrepreneurship in Wales is at an all-time high, states a report in The Sunday Times. Many businesses are doing well, and many people are starting up businesses in all areas of the economy in Wales. It is a great place to do business. All of that would be put at risk if there were an unholy alliance between the nationalists and the Tories in a Welsh Assembly coalition Government.

The fastest growing part of the UK economy is in the Deeside hub—the axis between north-east Wales, Chester and Ellesmere Port. As my right hon. Friend knows, that has occurred only because of the partnerships that have been created across the border. The recent fantastic announcement about Vauxhall Motors has protected the jobs of hundreds of people living in north-east Wales.

My hon. Friend is right: the integration of the north-east Wales economy with nearby areas again underlines how absurd is the nationalist policy of separatism in Scotland or Wales or any part of the United Kingdom. It is a crazy policy for jobs and it would put at risk all the success—

The official figures show that 48,000 manufacturing jobs in Wales have been lost in 10 years. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will work with the Government in Cardiff, of whatever political complexion, to reverse this disastrous decline?

Obviously, as Secretary of State it is my duty to work with any Government in Wales of whatever political complexion, but it is important that I and my Labour predecessors have been able to work with a Labour Welsh Assembly Government that has provided unparalleled success in the economy, including in manufacturing—new manufacturers continue to be attracted to come to Wales and, as I have said, the CBI reports the best prospects for manufacturing for a long time. All of that would be put at risk if we were to have an unstable rag-bag coalition of the alternative parties, especially the nationalists joining with the Tories in an unholy alliance, which would put Wales’ success at risk.

If the Secretary of State has been so successful in working with the Labour Welsh Assembly Government, will he explain what Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs workers in Pembrokeshire will do when their jobs are axed, in a cynically timed decision, after these elections? Will he also explain why half the population in Wales cannot find an NHS dentist, and what NHS nurses and doctors will do when Labour closes hospitals, such as Withybush, Llandudno and Bronglais?

No hospital closures are planned of that kind. This is yet again Tory scaremongering—the Tories are joining with their friends the nationalists in doing that. What about the 8,000 more nurses that there are in Wales since the last election? What about the 500 more consultants in hospitals? What about the 1,700 extra teachers and the 5,700 extra school support staff and the 1,000 extra police officers? [Interruption.] The hon. Lady says, “What about waiting times?” Waiting times have plummeted since 1997, when we came to power and found the terrible Tory inheritance. The public sector in Wales is doing well and it will continue to improve. The Tory alternative is massive public spending cuts: £21 billion in total, £1 billion of which will fall on the Welsh budget.

Antisocial Behaviour

4. What discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on tackling antisocial behaviour in Wales. (134262)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on issues affecting Wales. We have introduced tougher antisocial behaviour measures than any previous Administration, which are designed to stamp out this blight on our communities.

The Penllwyn community partnership in my constituency has worked well with councillors and the police to combat the menace of antisocial behaviour. Far from being short term, costly and counter-productive, as suggested by the Leader of the Opposition, using legislation passed by this Government we have ensured that communities are empowered to tackle this nuisance. What measures are planned to ensure that people living in communities such as the Penllwyn will continue to be given help and support in order to improve the quality of life in their neighbourhoods?

I applaud what has been taking place in my right hon. Friend’s constituency and I know that he has taken a close interest in that. I assure him that if Labour is returned to power at Cardiff bay in the Assembly elections, we will introduce antisocial behaviour units in every local authority area, increase investment in the safer and stronger communities fund and increase fines for littering, graffiti and fly-tipping, because all of those activities are a blight on a our local neighbourhoods. As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, such measures are often opposed by the Conservatives, the nationalists and the Liberal Democrats. Therefore, they should, perhaps, join together and form a Government if they get the chance, as they have been continuously working together in opposition to undercut and undermine our Welsh Labour Government’s achievements.

When the Secretary of State has discussed with the Home Secretary the difficult issue of antisocial behaviour, has he raised a problem in Wales that is equally a problem in England? Families that suffer antisocial behaviour from neighbours feel that the time scale for resolving the problem and the note-keeping and incident recording that they have to do is so extensive that it makes their lives unacceptably awful for too long. Can something be done to speed up the process, while maintaining a sense of justice in the system?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very serious point, and we must make sure that we monitor this issue and chase up on it. He is right: a neighbour from hell is a hellish experience. I saw that for myself at Llandudno Junction, for example, a few months ago, where a particular household literally terrorised the local community to the point where people did not want to live in their own homes. Through tough antisocial behaviour legislation and the local council working with the police, action was taken, the family was moved and the neighbourhood has returned to stability.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the behaviour of the chief constable of north Wales in displaying pictures of a motorcyclist killed on a north Wales road, without the permission of the relatives of that person, could be considered extremely antisocial? Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling for the resignation of the chief constable?

I agree with my hon. Friend that this episode has caused enormous distress to the relatives of the victim, who were not even consulted in advance about this behaviour by the North Wales police chief constable. It is completely unacceptable, and I know that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is looking into it very seriously.

Grant Gronow, Jonathan Smith, Nathan John, Jessica Littleford, Stacey Hughes and Hannah Jones—the “Bryntirion six”—are young people who helped a woman who was being assaulted and robbed. They went to her aid while adults stood by, and they have been given a respect award. Will the Secretary of State join me in commending these young people, who demonstrate that not all young people are thugs? Many are decent law-abiding examples to adults of good behaviour.

I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating these young people from her constituency; they are an example to everybody and a model to others. This allows us to state, as she has, that only a tiny minority of youngsters behave in the yobbish fashion that gives rise to the need for antisocial behaviour legislation. The vast majority of young people are a good example to their community—as, indeed, are her constituents.

Environmental Issues

5. What discussions he has had with the First Minister on environmental issues affecting Wales which are negotiated in Europe. (134263)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly meet Welsh Assembly Government colleagues to discuss issues affecting Wales, including environmental issues negotiated in Europe.

The EU, the United Kingdom and, indeed, the Welsh Administration all share a concern about the collapse of some species in Wales. There was a target—[Hon. Members: “Tories!”] I am sure that some are also concerned about the resurgence of the Tories in Wales. I am particularly concerned about the 81 per cent. decline in the number of curlew, for instance, since 1993, and the water vole has also declined by some four fifths in the past 20 years or so. I do not blame the Government for this, but what can the Minister and the Welsh Administration do to reverse this decline in biodiversity in Wales and to establish better wildlife conditions for the benefit of all the people in Wales?

The hon. Gentleman asks an interesting question. It is true that certain species have been recorded as being in decline, whereas others are improving. Species such as the otter are now returning to many Welsh rivers in which they have not been seen for decades, so the picture is mixed. However, it is important that factors such as climate change be addressed as well, because they may well have an effect on biodiversity not just in Wales, but throughout the world. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read the Climate Change Bill, which will put in legislation clear targets to try to address the threat that we all face from climate change.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the National Assembly for Wales has a central role to play in protecting our environment and combating climate change? Will he support proposals for new law-making powers for the Assembly to tackle environmental pollution in all its forms?

Yes, indeed, my hon. Friend raises an important point. Issues relating to climate change and how we tackle it are now the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government. For example, I know their commitment to trying to achieve, by 2011, the target of all new buildings in Wales being carbon neutral. That is the sort of policy needed to tackle climate change, and we will also address it through technology and encouraging people and institutions to act more responsibly.

Is the Minister aware that ground-level ozone and summer smog caused mainly by traffic emissions has killed an estimated 1,500 people in Wales since 1997? I am probably the first Member of Parliament to ride a Vectrix electric bike, launched yesterday, a zero carbon vehicle with a range of 68 miles for a 20p charge. Does the Minister agree that such technology will reduce health risks and will he join me and the Welsh Liberal Democrats in promoting the use and manufacture of such vehicles in Wales?

The hon. Gentleman is right that emissions are not only about climate change, but about health and the quality of the atmosphere. My official cars in London and Cardiff are electric hybrids. The Government have produced a list of top tips for smarter drivers which, if all motorists followed them, would reduce emissions by 5.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year and save more than £2 billion in fuel costs. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), it is important that individuals take the decision to address climate change in their habits, including the way in which they drive and the type of vehicles they use. That is part of the way in which we will tackle climate change.

When the Secretary of State has not been repeating election slogans like a parrot, he has forcibly and repeatedly supported the proposed 200 turbine wind farm at Gwynt y Môr, to the extent that he has even attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) for raising his constituents’ concerns about the massive impact of that environmental project. In the past 48 hours, the First Minister has surprisingly and cynically taken the Conservative line and joined us in calling for a public inquiry. Will the Minister now condemn the First Minister for dumping official Labour policy on that wind farm for the sake of a few votes?

That policy has certainly not been dumped. The fact is that last year the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) came to north Wales, shortly before announcing that he was going to put a wind turbine on his house, and described the Gwynt y Môr development as a massive bird blender. He may have changed his view, but I can assure the hon. Lady that the First Minister has not changed his view on his support for renewable energy. Yet again, the Conservatives claim to have a grand policy in favour of renewable energy, but when it comes to hard decisions, they fluff them.

My right hon. Friend and I regularly meet Welsh Assembly Government colleagues to discuss issues affecting Wales, including the environment.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that Wales is on target to meet its national target to increase recycling and composting rates to 40 per cent. by 2009-10? What discussions has he had with the First Minister about that?

The recycling and waste disposal schemes being pursued by the Welsh Assembly Government are on track and we have discussed these matters. Wales has a big and ambitious recycling and waste disposal programme at all levels, and encourages households to do the same.