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Mr. Winnick : It is whether you, Madam Speaker, will reconsider the position of Back-Bench Members. It is extremely difficult for us to make any applications to you on the Floor of the House, which means that our rights are being undermined and eroded, but through no fault of yours, Madam Speaker. A policy has been established, and I hope that you will reverse it. If not, it seems that, Parliament by Parliament, the rights of Back-Bench Members will be undermined and eroded, which will be extremely unfortunate.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Was it not possible for you to allow questions on the statement to run on? It was a statement of considerable significance to every Member representing a Welsh constituency. The annual Welsh day debate is about to take place, and we would have been only robbing ourselves of time in that debate if questions had been allowed to continue. Could not you have extended the time, Madam Speaker, to allow detailed questions to be asked by every Member representing a Welsh constituency who wished to do so?
Madam Speaker : The thought was in my mind. As the House knows, I allowed the statement and questions on it to continue for three quarters of an hour. I was concerned at the length of questions and answers. I timed the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), and the Secretary of State on the first question and answer exchange and they took 20 minutes. If all the questions and answers had been more brisk, I would have been able to call more Back-Bench Members, which was what I intended to do. I noted that both the hon. Member and the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that the matter would be debated by the Welsh Grand
Column 32Committee in the foreseeable future. We are also, as the hon. Gentleman said, about to have a wide-ranging debate on the Adjournment on Welsh affairs.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I raised a point of order last Wednesday, when I criticised the Secretary of State for the Environment for not notifying me that my question had been linked with another question. I have now established that, in fact, a message was sent from the Department of the Environment to me, via our message board. That message did not reach me in time, for reasons that are not at all clear.
I am aware that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) said earlier, there are serious communication problems among Government Departments, Ministers and hon. Members. I want to set the record straight and to say that on this occasion there is no criticism of the parliamentary branch and officials of the Department of the Environment.
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker, which has a dual purpose. The first is to ensure that those viewing our proceedings will know that I was present when questions were asked on the statement about the proposed local government reorganisation, even though I was not called. The second purpose--which is the point of order for you, Madam Speaker--involves the safeguarding of the rights of Back Benchers.
I was fortunate to draw No. 3 in the ballot for private Members' Bills immediately following the election, which meant that I should have been able quickly to put my Shops (Amendment) Bill before the House for Second Reading. However, it was eight months before it received a Second Reading, on 22 January, when it was agreed by a majority in the House. Nevertheless, it has been another six weeks before my Bill goes into Committee on Wednesday.
Applications were made last week for the Bill's proceedings to be televised and that was agreed on Friday. Within a matter of hours, I was told that they would not be televised. Since then, the Committee has been informed on four occasions that there has been a room change.
I believe that that matter requires investigation, Madam Speaker. We all subscribe to the ballot process and, if we come within the first 20 places, we expect to get our Bill through at least some of its stages. If we are in the first 10 places, we expect to get our Bills considerably further. I now understand that, even though I was No. 3 in the ballot, and even if my Bill took only one day in Committee on Wednesday--as it amends the Shops Act 1950, it is a sizeable Bill--no spot would be made available for its Report stage between now and July.
As 173 hon. Members voted in favour of my Bill on 22 January, and as you, Madam Speaker, look after the interests of Back Benchers, I hope that you will ensure that there is a thorough investigation of the reasons why no spot is available. My supporters need to be satisfied with the explanation.
Column 33the various room changes are administrative matters. However, I take seriously what he has said and, if he will leave the matter with me, I shall consider it.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Arbuthnot.]
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt) : This St. David day's debate is the first of the new Parliament and this year it also takes place on our national day. That makes it an especially appropriate day on which to debate our traditional emphasis on the future opportunities for Wales. Of course, we have spent some time discussing my proposals for the reform of local government in Wales and we shall have a further opportunity to do so again at next week's Welsh Grand Committee in Cardiff.
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : Some of us are amazed at the Secretary of State's gall and barefaced cheek in introducing local government reorganisation without showing any humility and acknowledging that the present system was established by a Conservative Government. I hope that the Secretary of State will acknowledge in his speech the effect of a Conservative Government on local government in Wales--and perhaps he will give a history lesson to his latter-day colleague, the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), who, it seems, does not know the history of the county of Gwent and of its establishment by a Conservative Government.
Mr. Hunt : My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) has made me aware on many occasions of his profound knowledge of history and has used historical analysis often to justify the creation of the county of Monmouthshire. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will use today's debate to concentrate on other matters, bearing in mind the fact that we will have an opportunity next week to discuss local government. I shall, of course, seek to address the hon. Gentleman's point in next week's debate.
I am proud that Wales is pioneering local government reform in the United Kingdom. These debates are traditionally wide ranging and my hon. Friends and I look forward to addressing a range of important issues affecting policies in Wales, including agriculture and rural affairs ; tourism and inward investment ; health, education and housing ; the government of Wales ; and our roads and railways. Perhaps the most important issue of all is how the Welsh economy and the Welsh environment can be improved in years to come. Many right hon. and hon. Members will seek to contribute to the debate, so I will mention some of those matters only in passing.
My own priority for the future is to continue to build a diverse and strong economic base for Wales.
Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside) : I remind the Secretary of State of the problems of the Welsh steel industry and of the dumping of east European steel in western Europe and the imposition by President Clinton of tariffs. Does the right hon. Gentleman raise the problems of British Steel in the Cabinet? Does he agree that Britain and Wales in particular must not lose even one tonne of steel-making capacity, because the industry is too important for that to happen?
Column 35mentioned. We must have effective anti- dumping measures. As to world trade, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that Wales will prosper, but only if there is full, fair and free trade. I want the Uruguay round brought to an early conclusion and a new GATT that will do much to stimulate world trade and perhaps make unnecessary many of the measures being contemplated or announced by some Governments. Steel is a vital core industry for Wales and it is a matter of pride for me that although many jobs have been lost in the industry, its productivity and output have increased enormously. It is a matter of pride for everyone in the industry that it is one of the most competitive in the world. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise that it is only possible for our competitive industry to prosper if we have full, fair and free trade.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : Will the Secretary of State address his failure to secure objective 1 status for Wales? It was granted to the Scottish highlands and to certain parts of England, such as Merseyside, but Wales has failed in that respect. If we do not secure the maximum possible assistance from the European Community, we will be in danger of missing out on opportunities that are needed in all parts of Wales.
Mr. Hunt : The hon. Gentleman will know that the way in which to proceed is determined under the nomenclature of units of territorial statistics, affectionately known as NUTS. Under that category, it was only possible for us to put forward Dyfed, Gwynedd, Powys and Clwyd as a single region.
Under the territorial distinction, it is possible only for us to see the full region as such. The regionalisation announced by the European Community does not include Dyfed, Gwynedd, Powys and Clwyd, which is a matter of regret. I stress the importance that we give to securing objective 1 status for rural Wales.
Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor) : As my right hon. Friend will know, the President of the Board of Trade has said that, although the Commissioner has not included rural Wales, he intends to put forward the argument for rural Wales at the Council of Ministers' meeting.
Mr. Evans : Let me return to the important point that I was making in regard to objective 1 status. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has made it clear that rural Wales is still part of his ambitions in terms of obtaining objective 1 status. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State invite Opposition Members to communicate with the European Commission and Mr.
Column 36Bruce Millan--who used to be a parliamentary colleague of theirs--and urge Mr. Millan to include rural Wales with Merseyside and the highlands and islands of Scotland?
Mr. Hunt : I agree with my hon. Friend. The final decision rests with the Council of Ministers, in the context of the review of the structural funds regulations. I shall certainly continue to press the case for rural Wales. Let me add that, although it is not possible on the NUTS II geographical basis, I very much want the needs of mid-Glamorgan, in industrial south Wales, to be recognised as deserving special treatment. We shall continue to press for that. As I have said, it is always a pressing responsibility in Wales to forge policies that bring about sustainable prosperity for the future. Difficult times emphasise fundamental strengths and there have been many developments in recent years to support our confidence in the underlying prospects for the Welsh economy, but we still have some way to go.
My message to Wales is that the portents are good. I believe that our economic theme in 1993 must be "go for growth". The current signs are encouraging : for the first time since the 1920s, unemployment in Wales is now below the United Kingdom average--although it is still rising and is still too high. Productivity has risen by almost 26 per cent. since 1985, compared with a United Kingdom rise of only 11 per cent. Overall output has increased by over 18 per cent. since 1985, compared with a United Kingdom increase of some 7 per cent. During the 1980s, Wales gained, on average, about 1,500 net new businesses a year, taking the total of VAT-registered businesses from about 70,000 to more than 86,000.
Of course, we must do more. I acknowledge that, to build on those successes, we need to emphasise clearly the industrial and economic strategy for the next few years. Let me list the matters that I believe need to be addressed.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he is in favour of further reductions in interest rates, which are an essential step towards the stimulation of confidence in the economy, in Wales and elsewhere in the United Kingdom? Will he also confirm that he will resist all cuts in public expenditure, in either capital or revenue accounts? Wales, like the rest of the United Kingdom, needs everything that it can get if we are to grow out of the prolonged recession brought about by the Government's policies.
Mr. Hunt : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have never been other than a critic of the economic policies that he espoused at the last general election. His question emphasised his party's unfitness to manage the economy. He knows that it is wrong for the Government to give an indication on interest rates. Our interest rates are at their lowest for years--6 per cent. We do not believe that Government should spend their way out of recession. We must ensure that our public expenditure programmes are relevant and that increasing emphasis is placed on capital, as it was in the autumn statement. I am delighted, therefore, to say that in the coming year Wales will have a record capital programme of £1.5 billion. That represents a good investment for the future.
Secondly, we must do all that we can to sustain or even improve our inward investment record, which is second to
Column 37none. Thirdly, we must press on with a concerted export drive and I have announced a range of measures that will achieve that. Fourthly, we must continue to invest in the success of Source Wales to maximise the advantage that we take of the new local markets that are created by our foreign investors. I shall do my best to ensure that we not only achieve record levels of inward investment but that we knock on the door of every inward investor to stress the quality of goods and services in Wales under the Source Wales programme.
We must emphasise at every turn the need for Welsh companies to adopt a total quality strategy and to pursue excellence in all that they do. They will then win those much-valued orders.
We must take full advantage of the new co-ordination that is made possible by the transfer of responsibility for training and, from 1 April, for the University of Wales from Whitehall to Wales to ensure a properly co- ordinated training, education and enterprise department. We have led the way in the United Kingdom by establishing such a department in the Welsh Office.
I want us to continue to promote the highest standards of management within companies in Wales. I want us to seek, through the higher education sector and our most forward-looking companies, innovation and research of the highest possible standards. We want to ensure that our co-ordinated approach to policy in the valleys makes the most of the initiative from the people of the valleys, fostering independence, not dependence. I know that many ideas have been advanced about how we should take this approach further and I shall refer to them in a moment.
We must ensure--this is my tenth point--that the new local councils that I announced today do everything possible to co-ordinate our approach to economic needs in Wales, not least by bringing new and relevant ideas from community level to the Welsh economic council. Those are 10 key pointers for future policy, but, as everyone knows, the Government do not have all the answers. They are primarily a consumer of wealth, not a creator of it, and initiatives for the long-term success of our people must come from the people themselves. Our future policies must therefore have a far more decentralised flavour. We must encourage local initiatives and not swamp them with the dirigiste ideas that are still frequently abroad on the Opposition Benches.
Mr. Roy Hughes : At my interview session last Saturday morning, a constituent told me that he had heard that a large concern in Newport, which employs more than 250 people, is considering its position in the town as a result of the Secretary of State's decision to authorise a waste disposal plant. Does not that have serious implications for employment in the town? What is the Secretary of State going to do about it? Let us have some straight answers.
Mr. Hunt : The hon. Gentleman asks about planning. It is not for me to comment beyond the decision that I have reached. Of course, I took all matters into account. He should follow the example of many of his colleagues in making me aware of difficulties in any companies in Wales and I hope that he will let me have full details of the case that he cited.
Column 38links to and from the Principality. Is he aware of the alarming statement by the general manager of the west coast main line that the line will be closed in six years' time and that, if it is not, there will be a catastrophe because British Rail desperately needs £400 million for investment in track and infrastructure? There is a danger that the high speed train through services to north Wales will not continue beyond 1994, unless the Secretary of State assures us to the contrary. Many other hon. Members representing north Wales are extremely worried, so will he meet an all-party deputation to see what can be done to ensure that these vital services continue to north Wales?
Mr. Hunt : I have been given differing reports of the meeting, which I did not attend. I have not seen the alleged source of the rumour, said to be an internal British Rail document. I checked with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and nor has he seen it. Therefore, we have no reason to believe that it is anything other than scaremongering. That is not something that I have heard from the hon. Gentleman in the past and I hope that he will join me in making it clear that there is no substance to what has been said.
However, I understand that British Rail intends soon to start renewing the infrastructure of the west coast main line. The precise timing will be decided in the spring, when British Rail has decided on its next corporate plan. It is already carrying out a programme to upgrade the north Wales coast main line. I have heard from Sir Bob Reid the extent of those plans about which I am very pleased. The future of the north Wales coast main line is important for the area. I was delighted to have held the post of Secretary of State for Wales when the first 125 left Euston heading for north Wales and Holyhead. That was a very good move, but I now want more traffic on that route. The introduction of the 125 cut the journey time substantially and offers a very good service.
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : Was the right hon. Gentleman satisfied to be the Secretary of State for Wales who presided over the period when British Rail took Aberystwyth off the main line and relegated the Birmingham-Aberystwyth line to what amounts to a milk train route, which is of no use to any business person and of little use to people who work at the university of Aberystwyth? Is not it a disgraceful apology for a railway line? Is he generally satisfied with British Rail's performance in Wales?
Mr. Hunt : I have raised the question of the mid-Wales routes with Sir Bob Reid, but, as we always say at the Dispatch Box, it is a matter for British Rail. There are good local services through to Aberystwyth, although I recognise that there are strong feelings locally which the hon. and learned Gentleman expresses and which he will no doubt also express to British Rail.
I praise the record of Wales in attracting inward investment and all those who help to ensure that we continue to break new records. I have calculated that, since April 1983, there have been more than 1, 000 inward investment projects in Wales and 208 new projects in the last financial year alone, promising 16,000 jobs. That is a pretty good record against the present background of world recession.
Column 39subject about which the Welsh Office never speaks and on which there is no record is outward divestment, an equally ugly phrase. It is the number of quality jobs which are siphoned out of my constituency and others to Malaysia, France and dozens of other countries. The Government's claim about inward investment is like filling up the bath- -the taps are running and one can measure the water going in, but one forgets that the plug is out and that the water is draining away. When will the Secretary of State keep a record and report to the House the number of jobs that are lost to Wales?
Mr. Hunt : The statistic is there. The hon. Gentleman has only to consider manufacturing output. Is not it a fact that, despite the rundown in certain key industries, manufacturing output has increased over the past 14 years? Yes, it is a fact. It has increased by more than 25 per cent. since 1979.
One of the examples that I was going to use to stress that Wales is now internationally the first option for new projects and expansion is Newport Wafer Fab which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is promising 280 jobs. I could give many other examples.
Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West) : To help the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), will my right hon. Friend tell the House how many of the plants and factories which have opened in Wales since 1979 are still in operation and still providing employment?
Mr. Hunt : It is staggering that 803 new manufacturing plants that have opened in Wales since 1979 are still in production. My hon. Friend is right to stress their importance. [ Hon. Members :--"A planted question".] That is not so. If the hon. Gentleman had read further down the Order Paper, he would have seen that my hon. Friend's question was tabled but not called. However, my hon. Friend has found a good way of ensuring that the House knew my answer. The Government have not only encouraged international partnerships and investment. Since January 1992--I stress this figure because it has increased since I last mentioned it--210 offers of regional selective assistance have been accepted by new and developing businesses in Wales. That involves a contribution from the taxpayer of £82 million, making a total investment of £543 million, involving 14,200 jobs, many of which are still to come.
I mentioned Newport Wafer Fab--
Mr. Flynn rose --
Mr. Hunt : No, the hon. Gentleman has had his opportunity. Other examples include Robertson Associates and Treforest with 195 jobs, the Marshall Food Group at Sandy Croft with a further 313, Flexonics Automotive at Crumlin promising 260 jobs, Amcor Packaging at Mold with 150, and Tillery Valley foods at Abertillery with a further 111. I am pleased to be able to announce further job projects.
Mr. Flynn rose --
Mr. Flynn rose --
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that if the Secretary of State, or any other hon. Member who has the floor, does not give way, he must resume his seat.
Mr. Hunt : I am pleased to confirm what I believe the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) already knows. Lucas-SEI has already created more than 150 jobs at its Neath facility, which only started operations three months ago, and I am today announcing another four job projects.
Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the list of job opportunities in the hundreds which he has produced for parts of Wales. However, I am a little disturbed by the possibility that the debate may suggest that Wales is some sort of independent economic and industrial unit. Self-evidently, it is not. At the risk of boring repetition, I point out that, although my right hon. Friend has talked about 200 jobs here and 300 jobs there, there is the probability --the almost certainty--that if consent is given under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 for a power station at Connah's Quay, 4,000 jobs will be created. I am sad to say--no, it is not sad from my point of view--that some of those jobs would go to Englishmen. I was baptised in Portmadoc, so I believe that I have some right to speak on these matters. Will my right hon. Friend press the Department of Trade and Industry to give a decision about the 4,000 jobs and about the other jobs to come for the gas industry in north Wales and in what I hope will soon become Cheshire again?
Mr. Hunt : Were it not for the fact that I should very much like to continue as Secretary of State for Wales for many years to come, I should admit that my hon. Friend has just laid impeccable credentials. In all the many years during which I have served the adjoining constituency, I have been unaware of his Welsh background and of his Welsh baptism.
My hon. Friend will recognise, because he has been fighting hard for the project, that under section 36 of the 1989 Act, it is very much a matter for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. As I said earlier, I shall ensure that I bring my hon. Friend's remarks to his attention.
To promote further success, last year I published proposals to set up a Welsh economic council. The responses, as I said, have been positive and I shall announce my final proposals shortly. The council will be an important forum for discussing positively wealth and job creation.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : Is not there a danger of making a quango of the quangos in that council? Is not there a danger of the Secretary of State debasing the election principle? Does he rule out, as a matter of principle, having an all-Wales elected body from the new local authority units, possibly as a step on the way to a proper elected assembly?
Mr. Hunt : There are only three more executive agencies than there were in 1979. I do not want the hon. Gentleman to run away with the idea that many more such bodies have been created. Most of the bodies are advisory bodies. I was dealing with the Welsh economic council, which, as the hon. Gentleman may recall, was an idea put to me by the Welsh Association of District Councils. I assure the
Column 41hon. Gentleman that when the Welsh economic council is announced, it will be seen to contain strong representation from the local authorities.
I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly that there should be a different forum--a parliament or an assembly for Wales. I hope that he will accept that we have a strong difference of opinion on that matter.
Following the autumn statement, I announced that expenditure by the Welsh Development Agency would reach a new record level. Next year, its expenditure will increase by almost £5 million to £171.4 million. I am delighted to announce today that, as a result of the increase, I have just approved a £50 million programme of expenditure by the agency on property development in the coming year. The WDA will continue to ensure that we can meet the property needs of inward investors and of the local business community.
The new programme will continue to emphasise land assembly, bespoke building and the stimulation of private sector involvement in the Welsh industrial property market. The WDA will also have a massive £66 million next year to upgrade the environment and to promote economic activity through the biggest land reclamation programme in Europe. The agency will bring almost 1,500 acres of derelict, neglected and unsightly land into productive use and there are many exciting projects.
Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower) : Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether the WDA will spend any money on cleaning up the polluted rivers and streams of Wales? That pollution has been caused by former and, possibly, present owners of mineral rights walking away from their responsibilities when mines have been closed. It is a national disgrace that coal owners, for example, once the coal mines have been abandoned, can wash their hands completely of their responsibilities and leave the rivers and streams devoid of life as the ferruginous material mixes with the water and kills the fish and wildlife there.
Mr. Hunt : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that 94 per cent. of the rivers in Wales are of reasonable or fair quality. We are talking about particular instances. The WDA will spend about £32 million in the coming year on land reclamation which could include measures to prevent further pollution. Other schemes are in progress to achieve the end that he and I want--a continuing improvement in the quality of our rivers.
The presence among inward investors of strong exporting companies has enhanced the Welsh contribution to the United Kingdom balance of payments. I want overseas markets to be exploited to the full. That is why I have launched a new export drive to encourage small businesses in particular, which are not normally involved in export trade, to seek opportunities overseas. We shall move from an average of three export missions a year to 24 missions over the next three years. I have already announced measures to help those participating in the missions with fares and with expenses.
The direct jobs created by home-grown and inward investment are just the start. The spin-off opportunities are enormous. We dealt with that earlier today when we talked about the Source Wales programme. Since January 1992, the programme has been instrumental in securing £6.1 million of immediate business for Welsh small and
Column 42medium enterprises. The longer-term benefits will be even greater. Altogether, 1,760 Welsh businesses have been contacted to form part of the south Wales database.
I have discussed with the chairman of the WDA, Dr. Gwyn Jones, how we can ensure that some of our more important investors, such as British Airways, Bosch and Toyota, have direct links with the programme. I am pleased to say that an individual has been seconded by the WDA to each of those three major companies to ensure that more goods and services are supplied by Welsh businesses.
A key development came last year with the establishment of the training, education and enterprise department to give even greater coherence to our investment in the skills and enterprise of the people of Wales. The new department will build on the achievements of the network of seven training and enterprise councils which were established in Wales in April 1991. We have already pioneered the one-step shop approach to ensure that our businesses have immediate access to the information they need, especially if they are responding with new projects and new ideas.
Reforms in the further education sector from 1 April will mean that further education institutions will be able to respond more easily to the needs of students, of employers and of local communities. I was pleased to confirm the provision of £143 million for further education in Wales next year, which will allow a substantial increase in student numbers.
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) : It is all very well for the Secretary of State to present us with fine words on training and enterprise. As he knows, the reality is that training and enterprise councils have had their places, budgets and opportunities savagely cut in recent years. There is no hope of many thousands of youngsters in Wales either getting on a decent training scheme or getting a decent job at the end of it.
Mr. Hunt : I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The amount spent by training and enterprise councils in the present year is more than £100 million. I have been told that the likely outturn figure is £102 million. That compares with the provision that I am making in the Budget with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for training and enterprise councils to have about £106 million to spend in the coming financial year.
For the first time ever, we will have responsibility for funding the whole higher education sector in Wales. The council will receive more than £157 million for funding in 1993-94. I believe that resources for that year will increase by 9.9 per cent. in cash over 1992-93, including an additional £2.9 million to raise the quality of research.
We need the right environment and infrastructure to sustain business and individuals and promote growth. The programme for the valleys, which was launched nearly five years ago by my predecessor--now Lord Walker--is an outstanding example of effective action to regenerate an urban area. The initial three-year programme was extended for a further two years. We reach the end of that on 31 March this year.
The programme for the valleys is unique in bringing to bear the full range of Government policies on the problems and challenges of a single area. We can take pride in what has been achieved. In a difficult economic period, the valleys have outperformed the Welsh economy and the
Column 43United Kingdom economy as a whole. It used to be the case that when recession hit the United Kingdom, the valleys would be much worse off.
If the valleys had simply followed the United Kingdom trend since 1988, their unemployment rate would be more than 20 per cent. higher than it is and more than 10,000 people might not now have jobs as a result. That should not be surprising when we have invested the provision of about £800 million which was announced. We have also created 2.6 million sq ft of industrial floor space. We have cleared more than 2,000 acres of derelict land and levered in £700 million worth of additional private sector investment.
When I say "we", I do not mean simply the Welsh Office and the Welsh Development Agency. I am referring to all the partners in the programme for the valleys, including the local authorities and the people themselves. For all the criticism which we receive from time to time, it is striking that the critics of the programme for the valleys seem to be urging me to do more of the same.
I am immensely encouraged by recent progress in developing local strategies to tackle the needs of valleys towns and creating partnerships to implement those strategies. They include joint ventures between the Welsh Development Agency and local councils and community initiatives under the community revival strategies. There is the potential for partnerships with the training and enterprise councils, the Welsh Development Agency, the private sector, local enterprise agencies and the various voluntary bodies as well as local authorities.