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Lucas-SEI Work Force

4. Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): What progress he has made in finding alternative employment for the work force of the Lucas-SEI factory at Ystradgynlais in the upper Swansea valley. [72456]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): The nine-point action plan that I announced on 1 February is being taken forward actively and, so far, job referrals have been made to about half the Lucas work force. Following the transfer of functions, this issue will be a matter for the National Assembly.

Mr. Livsey: I know that the Minister and his Department have been working hard on this issue, but I am sure that he appreciates that only 30 of the employees of Lucas-SEI have found work. It is a serious situation. The leaflet that I hold in my hand was produced by the overseas trade services department of the Welsh Office. It says:

An event is taking place on 10 March that is aimed at Welsh investors. Would it not be better if those Welsh investors invested in the upper Swansea valley instead and provided jobs on the Ystradgynlais site, where there are many women, but 500 of them cannot leave their community to work? They have no transport, they have children at school, and they have a sore need for employment.

Mr. Hain: I pay tribute to the role that the hon. Gentleman has played with me in advancing and protecting the case of the Lucas workers. However, he fundamentally misrepresents what the export mission is about. As a Government, we should support Welsh businesses, including those in the Swansea valley, that want to export to Poland and elsewhere in the world; we should protect jobs, increase growth opportunities and strengthen those businesses. That is what the mission organised by the Welsh Office, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is about. It is not in conflict with the attempt to rescue the

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situation in the Swansea valley; it complements that effort, because it strengthens Welsh businesses that want to sell their goods and services abroad.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): Although I feel every sympathy for the 700 people--a large fraction of whom live in my constituency--who will lose their work at Ystradgynlais, may I express my strong support for my hon. Friend's handling of the problem? Regrettably, it was necessary to deal with it in a hard-headed way, in that the jobs went to Poland to people paid only about a quarter of the wages paid here. Is there any possibility of that multinational company bringing alternative work to Ystradgynlais? Obviously, we must redouble our efforts to bring other work to that area.

Mr. Hain: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. I have held discussions at the highest levels, in America and Britain, with the company and its new owner to try to secure the future of the site for the Swansea valley and to provide alternative job opportunities. However, the message from Lucas-SEI deals a savage blow to the Swansea valley, because the jobs that are being created in Poland and Slovakia pay only a quarter of the wages that were being paid in south Wales. That shows that the Government's strategy of driving the Welsh economy upwards to a high-skill, high-quality economy is the only one that will safeguard jobs in the future.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Does the Minister acknowledge that there is a lesson to be learned about the importance of lower levels of regulation and social cost, and especially--in relation to the Polish example--about the transformation of an economy that can be wrought by capitalism?

Mr. Hain: I realise that the hon. Gentleman stumbles into Welsh debates with a certain amount of clumsiness, but I must point out to him that the lesson of the Lucas fiasco is that the Tory strategy, pursued in Wales for 18 bitter years, of attacking the work force and closing down jobs does not work. The only strategy that will work is to drive up the quality of the Welsh economy so that it is a high-skill, world-class economy in which people want to invest. People will want to remain operating in Wales because we in Wales have the best work force and the best economy.


5. Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): What plans he has to help carers in Wales. [72457]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Alun Michael): The national strategy for carers was launched on 8 February, and outlines the Government's new co-ordinated approach to ensure that the needs of carers are addressed. It prepares the way for the work of the Assembly in that sphere of activity. Our aim is to provide improved information, care and support for carers throughout Wales, and to give carers the quality of life that we believe they deserve.

Ms Morgan: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. What would he say to the hundreds of carers who are

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meeting in Llandrindod Wells today about the future availability of respite care? As he is aware, respite care in Wales is currently dependent on where one lives. How will he ensure that affordable respite care is available to all carers throughout Wales, especially in view of the announcement about England?

Mr. Michael: Yes. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), met social services representatives at the end of last week, and we are actively discussing the matter with them. We are pursuing the integration of health and social services so that people receive proper standards of care in all areas. The review and reform of the health service that I described to the House last week are very much a part of that process.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): What specific, new carer-friendly employment practices does the right hon. Gentleman envisage? Does he suppose that, on the whole, they will be spread through exhortation or via legislation?

Mr. Michael: I think that they will be spread through partnership. We are working closely with the health service and local authorities in Wales--bodies which were once at each other's throats as a result of the divisive reforms of the health service introduced by the previous Government. We are working hard to ensure that the health service, local government and voluntary organisations co-operate in the best interests of carers whose needs are great--and whose needs are respected on the Government Benches.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): I assure my right hon. Friend that the national carers strategy is particularly welcome in Wales. However, concern has been expressed about the allocation of resources for respite care. Some £140 million has been devoted to respite care for local authorities in England. Can my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that a proportionate amount will be allocated to Wales?

Mr. Michael: My hon. Friend may be labouring under a misapprehension because Wales and England use different systems. Money allocated to local authorities in Wales is unhypothecated. That is why I referred to the discussions that my hon. Friend is having with Welsh local authorities, social services departments and the Welsh Local Government Association. We want to do our best for carers, but the allocation in Wales is different because the method is different.


7. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): What new guidelines have been issued to schools, universities and general practitioners following the outbreak of meningitis in south Wales. [72459]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Jon Owen Jones): The chief medical officer issued a letter to all doctors in Wales on 20 January 1999 to remind them about the importance of early recognition

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and prompt intervention in meningococcal infection. Helplines and advice are made available to local people by health authorities when an outbreak occurs. In addition, bilingual leaflets containing advice on recognising the signs and symptoms of meningitis are widely available. This information is targeted particularly at new mothers and university and college students.

Mr. Gray: I thank the Minister for his reply. None the less, is he concerned that conflicting messages may have been sent to parents in Wales? On the one hand, they have been directed to use accident and emergency services only for emergencies and, on the other, they are naturally concerned about the meningitis crisis. Should the Government not make it absolutely clear to all parents that, if they have the slightest concern that their children might be suffering from meningitis, they must contact the nearest accident and emergency unit as soon as possible?

Mr. Jones: There is clearly cause for concern whenever an outbreak occurs, and special advice is provided at the time. It would normally be appropriate for parents to consult their GPs, and Welsh GPs have received up-to-date advice about how to act promptly when signs of meningitis are identified. That procedure has worked in the case of outbreaks in Wales. I know that parents have been hugely concerned, but local authorities and particularly teachers acted promptly and gave of their own time to ensure that parents were well informed and that action was taken immediately.

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