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Volume 470: debated on Wednesday 16 January 2008

Since the right hon. Gentleman took the position of Secretary of State for Wales in 2002, more than 23,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost. Those who lost their jobs would not have been reassured to learn that when the Secretary of State should have been looking after their interests he had two jobs and was seeking another, the handling of which was described by the Prime Minister yesterday as incompetent. Given the Secretary of State’s growing lack of credibility and the mire that now surrounds him, would not the best prospect for new jobs in Wales be for him to quit his two jobs today?

Thanks for that supporting question. Let me give the hon. Gentleman a quote:

“Wales has got a huge amount going for it…Wales has got great universities, a vibrant business sector, a tradition of excellence in engineering and manufacturing.”

Those are not my words, but those of the Leader of the Opposition only last month.

Unemployment in Gower is now considerably less than half of what it was in 1997. However, at the beginning of this week, we learned from 3 Ms, a flagship manufacturer in Gower, that it is reviewing some operations in the Gorseinon factory. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss the future of 3 Ms in Gorseinon?

I will be happy to do so. I remind my hon. Friend and everybody that Wales is a great place to do business at the moment. Only recently, the Royal Bank of Scotland found that manufacturing output continues to expand. The business climate is excellent. Wales is going from strength to strength, despite global uncertainty and financial instability. Everybody, including manufacturers, should come to Wales, because it is the best place to be.

Given that between June 1999 and June 2007 21 per cent. of manufacturing jobs were lost in Wales, does the Secretary of State agree that it is excellent news that Rigcycle Ltd has bought two quarries in Blaenau Ffestiniog and one in Penrhyn in Bethesda? Will he do all he can with his colleagues in the National Assembly to assist the company to expand even further? Does he agree that, Welsh slate, as a premier product, could do with more advertising worldwide?

I completely agree. As the hon. Gentleman knows better than anybody, the opportunity for Welsh slate is great. We should work together—I know that the Welsh Assembly Government will work with us—to advance the prospects of Welsh slate. I congratulate him on his work; we should ensure that the initiative in his constituency goes from strength to strength.

My right hon. Friend knows that General Dynamics in my constituency leads a £60 million defence research consortium with the Ministry of Defence, involving the universities of Cardiff, Cambridge and Imperial. What are the Government doing to ensure that the innovative ideas that come from that research benefit manufacturing industries in Wales?

My right hon. Friend will remember that I visited that factory with him. It is a fine example of manufacturing excellences in Wales, along with many others, such as the European Aeronautic Defence and Space company—EADS—which I visited, Airbus, the Metrix consortium and Visteon, with which I have worked. We will work closely with him and General Dynamics to see what opportunities there are. We will continue to invest in higher education and in skills and high technology to ensure that global companies such as General Dynamics continue to view Wales as an excellent base from which to operate.

When supporting manufacturing business in Wales, on what basis do Wales Office Ministers decide whether to give a personal endorsement to a manufacturing or other commercial operation in Wales, such as the Cuddy group? Does the Secretary of State have any regrets about the business endorsements that he has made as Secretary of State for Wales in the past two years?

I have absolutely no regrets—[Interruption.]—about the business endorsements that I have given in Wales. [Interruption.]

I was asked about the business endorsements in Wales that I gave as Secretary of State. I am proud to visit companies, whether manufacturers such as General Dynamics, construction companies such as Cuddy’s, or financial companies such as Picture Financial, which create more jobs. I have often accepted invitations from hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies. It is right that the Secretary of State for Wales gives his support to the growth and success of Welsh business.

Let me give the hon. Lady a quote:

“Most of the manufacturing capacity in sectors which are globally uncompetitive has already moved offshore, and the smaller manufacturing sector which remains in the UK is much better positioned to compete.”

The CBI Wales director, David Rosser, made that statement only a month ago, speaking from Wales.

In the light of the Secretary of State’s enthusiasm, will he arrange for the publication of all exchanges with the permanent secretary responsible for the Wales Office that relate to his dealings with businesses, especially those that he has endorsed, so that we can reassure manufacturing business that his Department is both competent and free of bias?

Let me say this to the hon. Lady: if she were doing my job, which she wants to do, I would perceive it as her duty to accept invitations from successful Welsh businesses—manufacturers and others—to give them support. Why is she attacking that?

She should applaud the statement that,

“the business sector in Wales seems to be going from strength to strength.”

It was made by Professor Dylan Jones-Evans, the director of the national entrepreneurship observatory for Wales and Conservative candidate for Clwyd, West in last year’s Assembly elections.

I compliment my right hon. Friend on his effective liaison with colleagues in the Welsh Assembly Government. What discussions has he had with Welsh Assembly Government colleagues about using the framework powers in the Education and Skills Bill to redress the gender imbalance and encourage more young women to take up apprenticeships and careers in manufacturing?

As my hon. Friend knows, we have had regular discussions—I with the First Minister and others with the Welsh Assembly Government—about the Bill. She is right: it is essential that we get more young women especially into apprenticeships. I remember visiting a training centre in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), where I had a discussion with a training official who was trying to persuade young girls to switch from hairdressing into plumbing, making it clear that it offered more opportunities for flexible working and greater wealth. [Interruption.] Conservative Members are decrying the opportunities for young women in Wales that this Labour Government are providing, when they should be supporting them.