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Economy

Volume 499: debated on Wednesday 11 November 2009

2. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues and Welsh Assembly Government Ministers on the state of the Welsh economy. (298040)

4. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues and Welsh Assembly Government Ministers on the state of the Welsh economy. (298042)

I have regular such discussions. The bold, decisive and radical action that we have taken together over the past 12 months has ensured that this recession has not turned into a depression.

Construction output is falling at about twice the national average in Wales. What can the Government do about that?

What we would not do is what the Conservative party would do, which is cut public investment. We have invested and we are continuing to invest £20 billion, some of which is coming into Wales, in construction and other infrastructure projects in order to fill the gap left by the private sector’s inability to invest, given the worldwide financial crisis. Those are the polices that the Government are following and we will continue to follow them, despite the criticism by the Opposition.

The three contenders for Rhodri Morgan’s job appear to have only one idea between them for the economic recovery of Wales, which is tapping into Welsh universities. Although that is important, does the Secretary of State think it is a sufficiently comprehensive approach to the Welsh economy, or an example of Labour’s inadequate response to Wales in a recession?

I realise that the hon. Gentleman has had to be briefed by somebody for this question, but it was pretty poor briefing. The truth is that the three excellent quality candidates—they are some of the highest calibre politicians in Wales—standing for the leadership of Welsh Labour are all committed to programmes such as ReAct, which seeks to support people who lose their jobs, and ProAct, which seeks to support people so that they do not lose their jobs, all of which are publicly funded by the Welsh Assembly Government. Those policies would come under severe threat if the Conservatives won the next election, because they are committed to massive public spending cuts in Wales.

Employment prospects in my constituency and throughout south Wales would be greatly enhanced if the Corus Margam new mine were to proceed. Will the Secretary of State undertake to ensure that the Wales Office, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Department of Energy and Climate Change work together to ensure that all the practical assistance that can be made available to Corus is made available, so that the 35 million tonnes of excellent coking coal in the Margam area is made available?

I will certainly do as my hon. Friend asks, and I commend him for his action in support of the workers there. The project is very exciting: the idea is to create a Margam deep mine that will produce the coking coal that Corus needs, creating 500 highly skilled and well-paid jobs in the process. We have set up a taskforce, together with the Welsh Assembly Government and other relevant Whitehall Departments, to try to take forward this exciting project for sustainable coal production and for the sustainability of Corus’s Port Talbot steelworks, which make such a massive contribution to the Welsh economy and the British economy as a whole.

Now that planning permission has been granted for the defence technical college at St. Athan—at seven times the size of the millennium stadium, it is the largest development of its type ever in Wales—what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the impact of this, the largest vocational training centre in the United Kingdom, on the Welsh economy?

It will have an enormous impact on the Welsh economy, and I commend my hon. Friend for his hard work in seeking to take that forward. On Remembrance day, we might ask the Opposition parties whether they will give an absolute commitment to support the project—[Hon. Members: “Answer!”] I am answering. This will create the best and most highly skilled armed force training anywhere in the world. It is a world-class facility that will put our soldiers in a better position than any other military force across the world, and it needs all-party support. Perhaps the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) will give that support.

The number of net job losses in Wales announced today represents 20 times the number lost in Lehman Brothers in London. If that is the case, why have manufacturing companies in Wales received just a fraction of the support that the Government have invested in the bail-out of the City of London?

I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would commend Welsh businesses and manufacturers on the fact that we are outperforming the UK average for exports, and the fact that employment in Wales is still 90,000 higher than it was when Labour came to power. Of course, manufacturing across the world has suffered as a result of the global financial crisis. That is why he ought to support the Government in the investment that we are continuing to take forward to support businesses and the economy, and to ensure that the recovery is sustained and that we return to the growth that we saw for 10 years under the Labour Government before the credit crunch.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in January 1993, at the depth of the last Tory recession, the claimant count in Wales stood at 140,000? Last month in Wales, after the most sustained and deep global recession, it stood at only 78,000. Does not that show that the package that the Government and the Welsh Assembly Government have put together of a fiscal stimulus, bringing forward public investment, was absolutely the right policy, and that yet again the Opposition got it wrong?

Order. The Secretary of State will, I know, focus his answer on the policy of the Government, not that of the Opposition.

I will be happy to do so, Mr. Speaker, not least because we have policies that are working, unlike the policies that so dismally failed Wales in the 1990s and 1980s. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger) said, we have learned the lessons from the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s. That is why we are investing, and it is vital for the Opposition parties to unite with us to continue to take forward that investment, instead of proposing sometimes savage cuts in the Welsh budget that will hit not just health and education but support for the economy, too. That would hit jobs. For all the difficulties with unemployment, unemployment is still significantly lower than it was during the 1980s and 1990s, because of this Government’s action.

On Armistice day, I want to pay tribute to all our servicemen and servicewomen from Wales, and in particular to the 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh, currently serving in Afghanistan. We are for ever in their debt and safer because of their sacrifice, their bravery and their dedication. They can count on the support of all of us in this House.

As a new nuclear power station at Wylfa would provide much-needed quality jobs in an area devastated by the closure of Anglesey Aluminium, I am pleased to endorse the Secretary of State’s welcome for the project. However, what discussions has he had with the First Minister in the Assembly, who has contradicted him and is opposing any new nuclear build in Wales?

I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to our soldiers, especially on Remembrance day. As for the nuclear power project on Anglesey, Wylfa B, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) has lobbied me hard on this. We are working together to ensure that we can take it forward. I am very pleased that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has prioritised it, and I know that the Welsh Assembly Government candidates standing for the Labour leadership, and therefore for the First Minister’s position, have all supported the Wylfa B project. I shall continue to work with them, whoever is elected, to take that forward.

But there is a real problem with the Secretary of State’s party’s position. He is supporting Wylfa but the First Minister is against it. I admit that Mr. Jones—the frontrunner to succeed the First Minister—is in favour, but the Labour Assembly Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing, Jane Davidson, is against it and wants a public inquiry. Are not these dangerously mixed messages to be sending out over such an important project for the Welsh economy?

No, not at all, because the decision is taken by the UK Government. It has not just my backing but that of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Prime Minister, and it also has the redoubtable backing of my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn. We intend to take the project forward in the future, and I am sure that when we do, it will have the backing of the Welsh Assembly Government. I would like the hon. Lady, instead of giving us mixed messages on the defence training college and other crucial projects in Wales that need Government support, to join me in backing them.