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House of Commons

Wednesday 27 June 2001

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Member Sworn

The following Member took and subscribed the Oath:

Eleanor Laing, Epping Forest

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Small Business

1. Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): When he next plans to visit north Wales to discuss the impact of Government policy on small businesses with the business community. [520]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): Last November I met members of the north Wales economic forum who included representatives of business in north Wales.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and I will continue regularly to visit north Wales and the rest of Wales to meet representatives of small business, which we recognise forms the bedrock of our Welsh economy.

Mrs. Williams: I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his reappointment as Secretary of State for Wales. I was delighted when that announcement was made.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that G L Jones Playgrounds Ltd., in Bethesda in my constituency--a firm that he may remember visiting a few weeks ago--shows the way forward for Welsh manufacturing? It combines information technology with older Welsh manufacturing skills to produce playground equipment that is specially designed for the needs of children with disabilities and that can be marketed throughout the world. Will he join me in congratulating the university of Wales, Bangor on the way in which it has pioneered throughout Wales the teaching company scheme that successfully transfers research and knowledge to industry and commerce?

Mr. Murphy: Yes, I am happy to congratulate the university on its achievements, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on quadrupling her majority at the general election.

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I agree with my hon. Friend that small businesses are extremely important to the Welsh economy. About 144,000 firms in Wales come into the small or medium category, and nearly 500,000 people in Wales are employed in them. It is important that we manage the change in our economy from what it used to be to what it is, and it is important that small businesses, including the firm to which she referred, play their part in that.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): The right hon. Gentleman knows that many small businesses in Wales are involved in tourism. What immediate, direct compensation packages has he urged his Cabinet colleagues to provide to those businesses?

Mr. Murphy: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the impact of foot and mouth disease on tourism in Wales, especially in Brecon this week. We face a tremendous problem, particularly as footpaths were reopened only a few days ago. He will know that the Government and the National Assembly are providing a joint package to help tourism businesses in Wales that includes application to the small firms loan guarantee scheme for loans up to £250,000, business advice through Business Connect Wales and deferment of tax, VAT and national insurance payments. The Assembly has provided a very generous package of assistance to enable local authorities to help businesses, including those in tourism. I know that he along with everyone in Wales, accepts that there are tremendous burdens on tourism businesses in Wales.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): The Secretary of State is aware that the French automotive company, Faurecia, has recently received regional selective assistance to set up in north Wales. Is he aware that only a couple of years ago, the same company, carrying out similar work, received such assistance to come to my community, and just a few months ago, sacked the work force without consultation? Its excuse was that it was leaving the United Kingdom because of problems with the euro and the exchange rate, and that it wanted to set up in Poland. Why should we continue to give assistance to companies that treat their work force with such disdain and lie through their teeth about their reason for moving away from an area?

Mr. Murphy: I share my hon. Friend's concern about what occurred in Tredegar. I know that the loss of jobs in his constituency is a tremendous blow, coming as it does after the loss of jobs at the Corus plant there. However, I assure him that any regional selective assistance grant that the company to which he referred received for moving to Tredegar will have to be repaid to the National Assembly. As he knows, the company has relocated to north Wales, where 240 jobs are at stake because of the proximity of the Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port. However, I share his concern about the way in which the move was carried out.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I congratulate the Secretary of State on his reappointment, and the Under-Secretary of State for Wales and the hon. Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger) on their respective promotions.

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The Secretary of State said that he has great sympathy for those people in the tourism industry whose businesses have been blighted by the foot and mouth outbreak. Is the support package that he described going to be adequate, given the circumstances in which those people find themselves?

Mr. Murphy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words of congratulation. I did not mention all the means of assistance that are available to firms in rural areas of Wales. For example, I did not mention that the National Assembly is undertaking a rates revaluation, or that it has held urgent talks with banks, building societies and mortgage lenders, at which it urged them to be flexible with rural businesses.

Lots of other measures are being taken, although the hon. Gentleman knows that there is a limit to what the Government can do for businesses in rural areas. However, the partnership between the Assembly, the Government and local authorities in Wales will go a long way towards alleviating what is obviously a terrible situation for people in those areas.

Mr. Evans: I asked that question because I feel that the support being given to industries in rural areas of Wales is inadequate and needs to be reconsidered. Is the Secretary of State aware of the Wales Tourist Board survey that found that three quarters of those who responded had suffered an average decrease in sales revenue of 60 per cent., and that advance bookings for the next six months are down by 67 per cent. on average? Will he hold another meeting with the First Secretary and representatives of the Welsh Development Agency to determine what tangible support can be extended to a blighted tourist industry?

The Secretary of State mentioned the recent tragic outbreak of foot and mouth in Brecon, but businesses need support now. I was in Ynys Mon a few weeks ago and I spoke to the owners of two businesses there that have been blighted by the disease, who told me that they need the money now. Will he give them some hope that it will be made available?

Mr. Murphy: I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will meet the First Minister and Sir David Rowe-Beddoe, the chairman of the WDA, and that we will discuss some of the points that he raised. As far as Brecon is concerned, a meeting will be held today to deal with some of the matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Local authorities and agencies such as the WDA are co-operating to try to resolve the problems that have been identified.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the £12 million package that the Assembly made available for businesses in rural areas is very generous, and that it has gone a long way towards helping the businesses about which he spoke. However, I shall certainly bring the matters that he raised today to the attention of the First Minister.


2. Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): What discussions he has had with the Home Secretary about measures to tackle crime in Wales. [521]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales meets the Home Secretary regularly to discuss a range of issues, including measures to tackle crime in Wales.

Mr. Griffiths: Is my hon. Friend aware that, although crime in the South Wales police area has fallen by some 25 per cent.--the second largest reduction in the whole of England and Wales--people in some areas remain worried about levels of crime? The communities that care programme that has just begun in my constituency has four projects under way that involve the police, local government, schools and the voluntary sector working together. The programme is jointly funded by the Home Office and the Welsh Assembly. Will he make further representations to the Home Office about bolstering the funding of those special projects in my constituency that are going so well at the moment?

Mr. Touhig: I congratulate the South Wales police on a record reduction in crime in their area. I am aware of the communities that care project to which my hon. Friend referred. It targets violence and crime, drug abuse, schools failure, pregnancy in schools and sexually transmitted diseases. The Bridgend project has received funding of £446,000, and I understand that the project organisers are now putting together their development plan. I welcome the initiative, and I would like something similar in my constituency. I wish it well and I am sure that it will be a success.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Does the Minister accept that the people of Wales and of the United Kingdom as a whole want more police on the beat? More police on the beat would be a way of tackling crime. When will the Government make the necessary funds available to put more policemen on the beat so that they are visible?

Mr. Touhig: The hon. Gentleman represents a party that has just lost a general election campaigning on a massive reduction in public expenditure. Police numbers in Wales have increased, additional money has been put in to combat crime in Wales and there has been a record number of policemen on the beat in Wales. That is the resource that the police service most needs. The Government have delivered that resource and will continue to do so.

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