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House of Commons

Wednesday 7 March 2001

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Dee Estuary

1. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): When he last met the First Secretary to discuss environmental factors affecting the Dee estuary. [151048]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has regular discussions on environmental issues with the First Minister, and I have regular meetings with the Assembly Minister for the Environment. In the vast majority of cross-border environmental cases, decisions that affect Wales are a matter for the National Assembly for Wales, in discussion with the lead Whitehall Department and the Environment Agency, where appropriate.

Mr. Chapman: The Dee estuary is unitary in its economy and its environment. Given that, and the fact that my constituents work on Deeside and are concerned about cement kilns and dredging around Mostyn, does my hon. Friend think that sufficient resources are devoted to the Dee estuary strategy? Does he see any scope for drawing on the world-renowned expertise of the Mersey basin campaign in preparing and implementing the strategy?

Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend represents one side of the Dee estuary--in England. I represent part of the other side, in Wales, so we share a common border; all that separates us is the River Dee. The Dee estuary strategy is already achieving a great deal on existing resources, bringing together in partnership more than 90 organisations to work towards integrated management of the Dee. Both the Dee estuary strategy and the Mersey basin campaign are part of the Irish sea coast partnership, and I have no doubt that there are excellent opportunities for the exchange of best practice in developing integrated management and sustainable use of those important environmental resources. As we share the River Dee, I assure my hon. Friend that we will not let it down.

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Employment (North Wales)

2. Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West): What discussions he has had with the First Secretary about employment levels in north Wales. [151049]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): I regularly meet the First Secretary and discuss a wide range of issues, including employment in Wales. Recent labour market statistics show that employment in Wales from October to December 2000 was 1,261,000--a rise of 17,000 over the year.

Mr. Thomas: I thank my hon. Friend for that encouraging response. Is he aware that unemployment in my constituency is at its lowest for many years, and that since--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Could the House come to order? Otherwise it is unfair on the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas).

Mr. Thomas: Is my hon. Friend also aware that, since 1997, an average of 500 new jobs have been created for each constituency in north Wales? Will he venture an opinion as to why that encouraging state of affairs exists?

Mr. Hanson: In Clwyd, West, unemployment when the Conservative party left office was 1,539, and it is now 1,125. I venture an opinion that that is due to low inflation, strong manufacturing support and investment in our public services. The years of unemployment under the Conservatives have gone.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon): Will the hon. Gentleman come down to earth a little? How many more job losses in the manufacturing sector will it take for him to realise the massively damaging effect of the Government's economic policies in north Wales and elsewhere? Does he realise, for example, that since his Government came to power, 20,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost? When will he stop being Millbank's mouthpiece in Wales and start fighting for our interests?

Mr. Hanson: I notice that the hon. Gentleman did not mention the fact that on 1 May 1997, 2,585 people were unemployed in Ynys Mon and now the figure is 1,900--still too many, but 600 fewer. I notice that he did not mention the investment in Mostyn docks in my constituency and the 85 new jobs created there, the investment of £100 million in Toyota on Deeside, or the small business unit in Denbighshire. I notice that he did not mention objective 1 funding, which his party said we would never secure, but the Labour Government have delivered for Wales. There is still much to do and difficult issues to tackle, but separation and independence are not the answer for Wales.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): Does my hon. Friend think that the comments about English incomers

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by Seimon Glyn, a councillor in north-west Wales, which were racist in the extreme, will damage investment and the likelihood of creating jobs in the area?

Mr. Hanson: For hon. Members who have not heard about the remarks of Seimon Glyn, a Plaid Cymru councillor, he said that incomers to Wales were a drain on the resources of Wales. That means that many businesses, small and large, founded by people from England, will be threatened. I hope that the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones), as the leader of his party, will call on Seimon Glyn to withdraw those remarks. He might be interested to know that Mr. Glyn is the chairman of Gwynedd housing committee--what a disgrace for him to hold that position with such views.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I want to come in on this point, as it is important. The British Chambers of Commerce has estimated that there are 4,000 small business in north Wales, which employ about 20,000 people. Many of those businesses will have been started by people from throughout the world, including from England. Will the Under-Secretary confirm that his Government's policy towards such entrepreneurs will be positive and welcoming, unlike that of Seimon Glyn--and Plaid Cymru--who seems to want to control English entrants into Wales? Will he also confirm that, like the Conservative party, his party will have no truck with such a narrow and nationalist policy, which would devastate job creation in north Wales?

Mr. Hanson: Some important issues have been raised regarding rural housing and employment, but the approach of the nationalist party in discriminating against English people--that is what it is doing--who are bringing employment opportunities to Wales is nothing short of a disgrace. I hope that all hon. Members will recognise that Wales is against racism, that all people who come to Wales contribute to the economy and that all are welcome to live and work there.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): Does my hon. Friend accept that foot and mouth disease has wide-ranging consequences beyond the livestock industry? It has threatened jobs of those in the hotel and catering industry, in countryside pursuits, such as mountain guides, in the haulage industry and in other non-farming professions. Will he confirm that he is seriously considering the threat to such jobs and incomes in my constituency?

Mr. Hanson: The Government's first task has been to secure the end of foot and mouth disease and to contain it locally. Of course, there are areas where the disease has severe consequences for the local economy. I have agreed to meet next week a delegation from my hon. Friend's constituency to discuss the effects. I shall be happy to consider those issues and to receive representations on what the Government can examine with regard to their consequences.

BSK Plant (Llanidloes)

3. Mr. Lembit Opik (Montgomeryshire): What discussions he has had with the Secretary for Economic

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Development of the National Assembly for Wales to secure the future employment of the employees at the former BSK plant in Llanidloes. [151050]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State regularly meets the First Secretary, and I hold regular meetings with Assembly Ministers, in which we discuss a wide range of issues, including employment in Wales.

Mr. Opik: The closure in Llanidloes will mean that one in four members of the town's work force will be out of a job. In that context, will the Under-Secretary consider visiting Llanidloes to discuss employment, and commit himself to working with me and the Assembly's Secretary for Economic Development to do all that we can to replace those jobs and keep mid-Wales working?

Mr. Hanson: The news at Llanidloes was devastating for the BSK work force. I share and understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman, who will be aware that every effort is being made through the Employment Service to find alternative work for those affected by redundancy. That includes ensuring that they receive the training that they need to secure other employment. Following the announcement, the team from the Assembly and the Welsh Development Agency is to meet regarding the problems. The Deputy First Minister has also visited the area.

I shall be happy to consider the hon. Gentleman's request for a visit, but I remind him that his constituency will still have the lowest unemployment in Wales--a rate of some 2 per cent. I do not underestimate the difficulties that are faced, however, and I shall consider the issues that he raised.

Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): We have already had a question on the impact of racist comments made about investment by Seimon Glyn. What impact does my hon. Friend believe that Anne Robinson's racist comments will have on the image of Wales and its ability to attract investment?

Mr. Hanson: I presume that Anne Robinson's comments about Wales, which I understand were made on a forthcoming programme, were intended to be humorous. I can only say to Anne Robinson that she will have her point of view and that many of us in Wales will ultimately think that she is the weakest link.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): As I have family roots in the Llanidloes area, does the Under-Secretary accept from me that the loss of the jobs from Llanidloes could be as devastating as the loss of the steel jobs from the steel-making communities? In those circumstances, what approaches have been made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that operating aids are available for stimulating new job opportunities in Wales?

Mr. Hanson: As the right hon. Gentleman will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been in constant contact with my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and colleagues from other Departments, about the impact of Corus job losses on Wales. Obviously,

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we are waiting for Corus' final decisions, and there are on-going discussions in government about a range of issues regarding any ultimate financial package. I hope, as I am sure he does, that Corus will reconsider its decision to announce the closures and that in due course, following representations from the company and the work force, the proposals will be withdrawn.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): What representations has the Minister made to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor about business friendly policies, especially towards manufacturing in Wales, where more than 4,000 jobs have been lost this year alone? The climate change levy will deal manufacturing another heavy blow. Farming is in deep crisis, and the countryside needs help, not a further body blow from the Government. It is important for someone with a strong voice around the Cabinet table to argue for Wales. The Secretary of State refuses to fight for a strong position. Is not that another reason why Labour will lose the next general election? The people of Wales will turn their backs on Labour just as the Secretary of State turns his back on them.

Mr. Hanson: First, Labour has no intention of losing the general election--in Wales or elsewhere. As someone whose party has no Members of Parliament in Wales, the hon. Gentleman can tell us a lot about losing elections. Long-term unemployment is the lowest ever in Wales, where there is massive job creation.

The hon. Gentleman knows through numerous discussions on the subject that there are no plans for changes to the Secretary of State's position, which is part of the devolution settlement. The hon. Gentleman has made a U-turn today by announcing his party's plans for a part-time Secretary of State for Wales, tagged on to some other Department.

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