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4. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): When he last met the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales to discuss the current employment prospects for the country; and if he will make a statement. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): I meet the First Minister regularly and discuss a wide range of issues, including employment in Wales. There has been a steady increase in employment. The number of people of working age in employment in Wales has increased, from more than 1,181,000 in May 1997 to more than 1,215,000 in May 2000. Figures published today by the labour force survey of the Office for National Statistics show that the number of people in work in Wales is now 1,261,000.
Employment in Wales has increased by 80,000 since the general election. Youth unemployment has fallen by 75 per cent. since the election, thanks to the new deal, and long-term unemployment has fallen by 60 per cent. Genuine difficulties occasionally occur in industry in Wales and elsewhere, but we are dealing with the fall in GDP through objective 1 funding, and we will do all we can to ensure that employment in Wales continues to rise.
Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Welsh development agency and the Devonshire county council economic development committee on the creation, in the past four weeks alone, of 480 jobs at WTS Holdings in Prestatyn, 170 jobs at Hotpoint in Bodelwyddan, 150 jobs at TRB in St. Asaph, 1,000 proposed jobs related to Devonshire county council objective 1 projects, and 300 jobs at Morrison's superstore?
Mr. Hanson: The job opportunities in Denbighshire and my hon. Friend's constituency are in no mean part due to his efforts. The employment increases that have occurred are part of the strong, stable economy that we have in Wales--as, indeed, are the 80,000 new jobs that have been created since the general election. We now have the lowest level of unemployment in Wales for some considerable time--certainly, lower than that throughout the Conservative years.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Given last week's finding of the National Centre for Social Research that 80 per cent. of those who have supposedly found jobs through the new deal for young people would have got them any way; that people completing the training and education option of the new deal are twice as likely not to get a job as to get one, and that the average cost for each job through the new deal is about £17,000, why does not the hon. Gentleman give up the unequal struggle and admit that the new deal for young people provides a rotten service at a rip-off price?
Mr. Hanson: I should be surprised if a Question Time went by without the hon. Gentleman whingeing about the new deal. The real issue is that youth unemployment in Wales has fallen by 75 per cent. since the general election. That is in no mean part due to the efforts of the new deal and the Employment Service. I have met new deal workers throughout Wales, all of whom benefit from the scheme. Employers enjoy the scheme and find it worth while, as do the people on it. Given what the hon.
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): Last week, I met some young people on the new deal--people who have been given hope and opportunity as a result of being taken into work by the new deal. They are the sort of people who were abandoned by the Conservative party. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be rather nice if the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) were to have a word with his hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones), who is sitting next to him, and persuade Plaid Cymru in the National Assembly for Wales to start helping this Government and the Government of Wales in the Assembly to make the most of the opportunity provided by objective 1 to create jobs and opportunities for young people and all people in Wales?
Mr. Hanson: Whingeing is not the prerogative of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow); with regard to objective 1, it is also that of Plaid Cymru Members. The new deal is working in Wales; it has created jobs and reduced unemployment, especially among young people. It is worth while, but the Conservative party does not support it, and Plaid Cymru is a little lukewarm about objective 1.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Sadly, today's figures show that unemployment is on the rise and, indeed, that unemployment in Wales is on the rise, with thousands of job losses in the manufacturing sector. The M4 corridor used to be a magnet for inward investment. Now, unfortunately, it is job-loss alley, with Panasonic, Sony, Hitachi and Corus announcing recent job losses. Does the Minister think that the introduction of the climate change levy as proposed by the Government will help or hinder job creation in Wales?
Mr. Hanson: From the Ribble Valley, unemployment may appear to be rising in Wales, but those of us who represent seats in Wales know that it is definitely falling. The figures announced today show that unemployment is lower than it was yesterday. That is a genuine fact for the hon. Gentleman to chew on in due course. Despite the difficulties with Sony and other companies, there is still a great deal of high-tech investment in Wales. It should not be forgotten that 3,000 people still work for Panasonic and Sony in Wales.
Mr. Evans: Does not that response show that the Government are simply not listening? While the Labour- dominated Welsh Assembly is spending more than £40 million on a new building for itself--three times the original estimate--businesses are being attacked by the Government on several levels, with £5 billion of extra taxes, as well as £5 billion of extra regulation, being heaped on them. Meanwhile, we have a Prime Minister who is prepared to sign up to anything in Europe, which will make Britain less competitive than other countries. That means that we are exporting jobs from this country to our competitors. Will the Secretary of State meet
Mr. Hanson: The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) has yet again missed the point. If he had listened to what I said, he would have heard that unemployment has fallen by 80,000 in Wales since the general election. There is positive investment in our community in Wales. It is creating jobs. The Secretary of State meets businesses, the CBI and small businesses regularly--I was with him on Friday evening last week--to discuss issues. They know that the way to a strong economy is through the Government's policies. The Ribble Valley ranter can rant on all he likes, but he will not get far.
Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli): Will my hon. Friend, when he meets the First Secretary, raise with him the recent report that the venture capital firm 3i has closed its offices in Cardiff because of a lack of business opportunities and moved to Bristol? Will he press the First Secretary to do everything that he can to remedy the situation that created that?
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): In recent weeks, the Under-Secretary and I have discussed the matter with the Welsh Minister for the Environment, Transport and Planning and others. I am pleased to tell the House that, last Friday, while visiting flood-affected areas of north Wales, I was able to announce that the Welsh block would be increased by some £3 million over the next four years, consequential on additional funding for flood prevention in England. On that visit, I was able to see the results of the dedicated hard work of the emergency services and local authorities in dealing with that serious state of affairs.
Does the Secretary of State not agree that the greatest possible sympathy needs to be given to flood victims and, indeed, that more money needs to be allocated to the Environment Agency? Much more than the £3 million that he has achieved needs to be allocated; about £12 million is my estimate. Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the hard-pressed local authorities are not in a position to fund the Environment Agency properly for flood prevention schemes in Wales? Will he do something to ensure that the agency is properly funded by direct funding from Government, so that it can do the job properly?
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is aware that the £3 million is not the only money that is going into flooding in Wales. That is for flood defences over the next number of years, but, only this week, the Assembly has indicated that it will look carefully at all the points, including the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman. In addition, the Bellwin formula has been improved. It will help local authorities and help directly all the people affected by the floods.
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): As well as talking to the Environment Agency, will my right hon. Friend have discussions with his friends in the Cabinet and with the Association of British Insurers to see if help can be obtained for those unfortunate people in my constituency and elsewhere who have not been able to obtain insurance against flooding?
Mr. Murphy: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. As he is aware, the Government are committed to discuss with the Association of British Insurers how the insurance industry can respond more quickly and effectively to such emergencies.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): In his discussions with the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, has the Secretary of State extracted a date for the implementation of new national planning guidance policy--PPG25--and considered the impact on drainage, in particular of new houses being built on flood plains?
Mr. Murphy: No, but I am aware of what the hon. Lady is referring to. This week, the Minister for the Environment, Transport and Planning made a statement to the National Assembly. She is aware of the points that the hon. Lady has made and is looking carefully at future planning applications in areas affected by flooding.
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): May I inform my right hon. Friend that my constituents in Tintern, Usk and Maesygwartha, near Gilwern, were affected by the recent flooding? Although they commend the work of the emergency services and the county council, who helped in the clear-up, there is clearly a need for local authorities to have more powers and more resources, on the same basis as those provided to the Environment Agency, to invest in flood prevention work.
Mr. Murphy: Yes; I am very conscious of the points that my hon. Friend has made. His constituency is next to mine, and I know the problems that his constituents have faced. I shall ensure that the points he has made are taken up with the First Minister.