The Welsh economy has shown significant progress in recent years. The rate of employment in Wales is at a record high and increased by more than that in any other part of the UK over the last year, with 64,000 more people in work. There is a wealth of world-leading innovation in Wales, with Welsh businesses spending over £450 million on research and development in 2017.
The decision on Wylfa Newydd is a massive setback, not only for Anglesey but for the whole north Wales economy, and the project was a central plank of the north Wales growth deal. When it comes to major infrastructure projects, the Secretary of State has a record of unmitigated failure; he has a kind of reverse Midas touch. When will he start to speak up for Wales in Cabinet? If he is not prepared to speak up for Wales, will he step aside and let someone else have a go?
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that there is no greater champion for Wales than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. However, the hon. Gentleman raises a very serious and important point regarding Wylfa. This does affect the whole region. The Government were willing to offer a significant and generous package of potential support, but despite that, Hitachi decided that the project was still too great a commercial challenge. We are still committed to nuclear sites as part of the UK’s future energy mix, and we will also continue to support the Isle of Anglesey with initiatives such as the north Wales growth deal.
I understand from my colleague Rhun ap Iorwerth AM that, given the economic uncertainty now surrounding Hitachi’s future at Wylfa Newydd, the Welsh Government have indicated that they are prepared to commit further funds to the north Wales growth bid if Westminster makes the same commitment. Will it?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. We are certainly open-minded. Commitments such as this must be project-led. I reiterate that we recognise the significant impact that Hitachi’s decision will have on the region and planned investment, some of which could be co-dependent on the growth deal. We are committing £120 million, as the hon. Lady knows, and we will certainly talk to our partners in Wales. In fact, I am going there next week to talk with Ministers and stakeholders.
I greatly appreciate that the Minister sees the importance of the north Wales growth bid, particularly in relation to the news at Wylfa. It is interesting that the British Government offered Hitachi a one-third equity stake in the £20 billion nuclear power development in Ynys Môn. Now that Wylfa Newydd looks set to be the latest project to join the Welsh infrastructure scrapyard, will the Minister guarantee that his Government will use the previously promised equity to create 850 alternative, permanent and well-paid jobs in north-west Wales?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. We are certainly not abandoning that area of Wales. I reiterate that this was a commercial decision. We are committing £120 million to the north Wales growth deal, which we hope to get over the line as soon as practically possibly. The Government’s decision to agree to take an equity stake, to secure a strike price and to underwrite the debt on that project, was incredibly generous.
Since 2013, we have seen the cancellation of the Atlantic Array wind turbines off south Wales, the cancellation of the Celtic Array wind farms off north wales, the cancellation of the Cardiff-Swansea rail line in 2018, the cancellation of the Swansea bay tidal lagoon in 2018 and—to cap it all, the cancellation of cancellations— the cancellation of Wylfa Newydd last week, which was a £16 billion investment that would have transformed the economy of north Wales. Will the Secretary of State support the establishment of an inquiry, which the CBI in Wales has called for, to uncover why this Conservative Government are incapable of delivering large infrastructure projects in Wales?
The hon. Gentleman seems to miss the fact that these are commercial decisions to put these projects on hold. In terms of Hitachi, it is a suspended project. We will continue to engage with Hitachi regarding options for the site. We are absolutely committed to creating a broad-based, resilient economy through our industrial strategy, and we will continue to work with the private sector, local partners and the Welsh Government to ensure that Wales prospers. I hope that Members across the House welcome the news this week that the employment rate in Wales now matches that of the UK for the first time since my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) was the Secretary of State for Wales.