Before answering the question, I wish the House dydd gwyl Dewi da or a very happy St David’s day for Friday.
The Government are committed to delivering the plan that has cut the deficit by a quarter and given us record low interest rates and a record number of jobs, benefiting families and businesses in Wales. Moody’s decision to downgrade the UK Government bond rating is a reminder of how important it is to fix the country’s finances and a warning to those who think that we should simply borrow more.
What is good for the economy of north Wales is good for Merseyside and what is bad for that economy hurts us too. The fact that 1,240 more people are in long-term unemployment in north Wales than a year ago does not give me hope for the economy of my constituency. What is the Secretary of State going to do about that?
The hon. Lady is entirely right that the economies of north Wales and Merseyside are inextricably linked. The Government have created more jobs since we came to power. The rate of employment has increased by 1.6%. She should bear it in mind that the Welsh Assembly Government are responsible for economic development in Wales. They should therefore align their policies closely with those that this Government are pursuing.
Will the Secretary of State admit that his economic policies are failing Wales disastrously? His new jobs are a mirage. One new worker in 10 is underemployed. They are part-timers seeking full-time work or temporary workers who want a proper job. There are underemployed breadwinners who are struggling to put food on the table and heat their homes. That is contributing to the 200,000 children who are living in poverty in Wales. Why does he not apologise for that shameful record?
I will take no lessons from the right hon. Gentleman, whose party oversaw the trashing of the British economy and was responsible for the mess that we are having to clear up. The Government have created more than 1 million private sector jobs since we came to power, against the international trend, and we are proud of that.
The loss of the triple A status is a stark reminder of how important it is to develop sensible policies to fix the economy. I remind the hon. Gentleman that Moody’s recognises that the UK’s creditworthiness remains extremely high and points to the strong track record of fiscal consolidation. Were it not for that, we would be on a negative outlook, rather than a stable one.
I am glad to see that the Secretary of State is reading from a script today. No doubt, he is not trusted to make off-the-cuff comments again. I wish him a dydd gwyl Dewi hapus. What will life be like from April, after dydd gwyl Dewi, for the 170,000 working families who will lose their tax credits thanks to his Government, who prefer to give the money to millionaires?
After April, many more families in Wales will benefit from historically high levels of employment and lower taxes. I remind the hon. Lady that since we came to power, 1.1 million people in Wales are paying less tax and 109,000 people are paying no tax at all.
The house building industry is extremely important in Wales and a major driver of economic recovery. I was therefore disappointed to read today the comments of Steve Morgan, the chairman of Redrow plc, Wales’s largest building company, who says that the Welsh Government’s housing policies are potentially “catastrophic” for the industry, with the new regulations made in Cardiff likely to add £11,000 to the cost of a three-bedroom house. At a time when Welsh builders need work and Wales needs more homes, that cannot be right. I consequently urge the Welsh Government to align their policies with those of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Although unemployment in the Vale of Glamorgan is well below the national average, Barry still needs to attract private sector investment. Ten years ago, Barry was left out of the assisted areas map, which sadly has led to its increased decline. Will the Secretary of State work with the Welsh Government to ensure that Barry receives assisted area status this time around?
The Wales Office is in discussion with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Welsh Government about the assisted areas map for 2014 to 2020, but the decision on which sea areas are awarded assisted area status will be determined by the Welsh Government, subject to criteria set by the European Commission. I am sure they will listen to what my hon. Friend has to say.
No coalition Government policy has a greater economic impact on Wales than increasing the spending power of the poorest through raising the tax-free allowance. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how many people the coalition Government have lifted out of paying tax in Wales over the past two years?
The Welsh economy benefits from students from developing countries attending our excellent universities. Following the Prime Minister’s visit to India, will the Secretary of State join our universities in telling students from India, China, Malaysia and Indonesia that Welsh universities are open and that they would be welcome to study there?
Higher education is a major export earner for Wales and, of course, for the United Kingdom as a whole. During his recent visit to India my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear that there is no arbitrary limit on the number of students who can study in the UK, provided they have the necessary qualifications and can speak the language. They are more than welcome to come to the UK.
Last week the Joseph Rowntree Foundation warned that Wales faces a decade of destitution as a result of policies pursued by this Government, and the Welsh Government said that £600 million is being taken out of the pockets of ordinary Welsh people. Is the Secretary of State telling the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues what people are saying about his Government in Wales, or is he just there to cheerlead for policies that are hammering his country?[Official Report, 28 February 2013, Vol. 559, c. 7-8MC.]
If this Government were to pursue the policies advocated by the Labour party and try to fix a debt crisis simply by borrowing more, the plight of the individuals whom the hon. Gentleman mentions would be infinitely worse. So far we are providing 109,000 additional jobs for the people of Wales, and we are reducing their tax bills and doing our best to ensure that they get sustainable private sector jobs. The hon. Gentleman has no answer to that.