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6. Alan Howarth (Newport, East): What his latest assessment is of levels of employment in south-east Wales. [4196]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): Employment in south-east Wales increased slightly to 69 per cent. in 2000. Some 3,800 new jobs have been announced in south-east Wales in the past 12 months through developments in retailing, electronics and communications sectors. However, that does not compensate for the heavy loss of jobs in the area due to the Corus closures. The Government are providing support to those affected in the form of a modernised ISERBS package. This is complemented by a range of Government employment initiatives and by the Assembly's training and regeneration packages.

Alan Howarth: I thank my right hon. Friend for the energy that he has put into brokering the well co-ordinated response in south-east Wales to the crisis in the steel industry and the job losses following from it. Does he agree that the fortunes of Newport are crucial to the fortunes of south-east Wales and to employment prospects in particular? Will he do what he can to ensure that at the very earliest opportunity an urban regeneration company is established in Newport with broad scope and depth of resources?

Mr. Murphy: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for those comments. I entirely agree that an urban regeneration company for the Newport and south Gwent area would be an excellent idea. I understand that Newport county borough council is making proposals regarding the urban regeneration company, which the Assembly is considering in detail. I welcome the proposals, which will serve my constituents as well as those of my right hon. Friend.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): Do not the recent 800 job losses announced by United States-owned firms in Wales—Corning on Deeside, GEAES in Nant Garw and Dow Corning in Barry—confirm that the Government's core economic policies are destroying the Welsh manufacturing sector? As Secretary of State, what is the right hon. Gentleman doing? What proposals is he putting to his colleagues in Government to prevent further job losses in the Welsh manufacturing sector?

Mr. Murphy: As I said in my previous answer and as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we are deeply concerned about losses in the manufacturing sector in Wales, but I reject the claim that the Government are destroying manufacturing in Wales. He will know that only last week about 250 new jobs for Blaenau Gwent were announced by the First Minister. There have been 350 new jobs at Morrisons in Rogerston, 400 at Oakdale, 188 at SkyTronics in Cardiff and 264 in my constituency. On average, about 300 jobs a month are coming to Wales.

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Of course, that does not make up for all the jobs that we have lost, but it is not in any way true to say that we are destroying manufacturing in Wales.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): Given the increasing number of jobs in Wales that are dependent on the aviation industry, will my right hon. Friend assure me that when he next meets the Chancellor of the Exchequer he will press on him that any aid package for that industry includes the capacity to protect aviation jobs in Wales, especially in my constituency?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend will know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is sitting next to me and listening. At the end of the day, it is the stability and strength of our economy in Wales that will protect our jobs. That will be the best sort of protection in terms of what has happened on the international scene in the past few weeks.

Manufacturing Employment

7. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): If he will make a statement on manufacturing employment in Wales. [4197]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): Some 7,500 jobs have been announced in the manufacturing sector in Wales in the past 12 months. That is particularly welcome in the context of severe losses in the steel sector.

Mr. Brady: I am amazed by the complacency of the Secretary of State's comments. In the past four years throughout the United Kingdom 8 per cent. of the nation's manufacturing jobs have been destroyed by the Government. In Wales, the picture is worse. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that this Government's tax and regulatory policies have been one of the main reasons why those jobs have gone? What is he going to do now to lift that burden from business in Wales and start to reverse the decline?

Mr. Murphy: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on the basis that he represents a party that saw the loss of 2 million manufacturing jobs during its period of office. Of course we have lost jobs in steel and elsewhere, but as I said earlier jobs are coming to our economy in Wales. Of course I am not complacent. I live in Wales and I represent a Welsh constituency.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the seven years prior to 1997 under the previous Conservative Government only 100 jobs were created on the St. Asaph business park? In the four years since then, under a Labour Government, 1,100 jobs have been created on that £11.5 million project. Will my right hon. Friend join in congratulating the National Assembly for Wales, Denbighshire county council and the Welsh Development Agency on creating quality jobs in my constituency?

Mr. Murphy: Not only do I congratulate my colleagues in the National Assembly, the WDA and the local authority, I congratulate my hon. Friend. He played a major role in the St. Asaph business park development.

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At present, about 520 people are employed there— 100 are in inward investment companies. So, that is a great new story for north Wales and for his constituency in particular.

Health Service

8. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): What recent discussions he has had with the First Secretary of the National Assembly on the health service in Wales. [4198]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend and I regularly meet the National Assembly First Minister and the Minister for Health and Social Services to discuss the national health service in Wales.

Julie Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He is aware of the plan to phase out health authorities in Wales by 2003 and to give additional powers to local health groups. Will he assure me that the legislation will be in place by 2003 to enable that to happen, so that the layer of bureaucracy can be removed and there can be a further reduction in the quango state and more money for patient care?

Mr. Touhig: I know that my hon. Friend is a staunch advocate of the NHS. I can tell her that discussions are on-going about the proposed content of the Welsh health Bill. In addition, discussions are currently taking place between my officials, officials from the Department of Health and the Assembly on time-critical elements that we hope may be included in the NHS reform and decentralisation Bill. Unfortunately, I cannot tell my hon. Friend that the legislation will be on the statute book by the date that she says, because that is a matter for the House to determine when the Government announce their legislative programme, but I can tell her that we are working towards that end.


The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [4220] David Winnick (Walsall, North): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 17 October.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before listing my engagements, may I express on behalf of Members on both sides of the House our deep sadness at the death of Jamie Cann? He was a conscientious Member of Parliament who always battled for his constituency, Ipswich. He will be sadly missed, and our thoughts are with his family at this time.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today. Shortly before coming to the House, I spoke to President Bush.

David Winnick: In recognising that the terror groups who have struck again are fanatically opposed to a

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settlement in the middle east, should not the United States in particular do more to try to bring about a sovereign Palestinian state in the occupied territories? Would it not also be useful if countries such as our own told the Israelis that although they, like any other state, have a perfectly legitimate right to defend their country, as far as the occupied territories are concerned they cannot win against the Palestinians and, frankly, they do not deserve to win?

The Prime Minister: I think that the first thing that we should say to Israel is to give our complete condemnation of the assassination of the Israeli Tourism Minister, to express our outrage at his assassination and to urge the Palestinian National Authority to take all measures necessary to apprehend those who are responsible.

As for what my hon. Friend says about the peace process, I do actually believe that the United States of America has been making many efforts to establish a durable peace in the middle east, not least the Tenet plan and the Mitchell plan, which were conceived, and whose implementation was attempted, long before 11 September.

I think that now, however, there is a renewed sense of urgency and a desire to see a durable lasting settlement there, so that Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in peace. We shall certainly do all that we can to assist that process and move it forward. What we always know about such situations is that unless we do try to put in place a proper process where people negotiate the way forward, the extremists who are opposed to any form of peace settlement move in with their bloodshed, and we need to defeat the extremists and achieve a lasting and durable peace.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): I associate myself with the Prime Minister's comments and warm thoughts about Jamie Cann. Those of us on this side of the House who knew him will have memories of a good colleague and friend, and our thoughts also go to his family.

I also associate myself with the Prime Minister's comments on the brutal assassination today of the Israeli Cabinet Minister. Those who may not even have thought about this should know that, as the Prime Minister pointed out, those responsible are determined to break the peace process and ensure that it cannot go ahead; it is not the other way round. Certainly, we, like him, will be very concerned about the way that others react to them.

Some argued, over a week ago, when we were talking about the military action, and some appear to be arguing now, a week later, for a pause in the bombing. I fully understand that bin Laden's propaganda, and pictures in the media of bombs going astray will worry some, but does the Prime Minister agree that it is essential that, having started this action, we see it through, and that to stop now would send out a terrible message to bin Laden, the Taliban and any other rogue state bent on terrorism that they will be allowed to get away with atrocities in future because we lack the resolve to deal with them?

The Prime Minister: I do agree with that. I think it is important that we continue this military action and ensure that it is successful.

I can tell the House that we have now significantly damaged the Taliban's military capability, including fast jets, transports and helicopters. We have inflicted very

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severe damage on their command and control facilities, early warning systems, air defence systems, radar and surface-to-air missile sites, and we have also inflicted heavy damage on the terrorist network and terrorist training camps of al-Qaeda.

We are in the process of establishing an ability to take further military action against both the Taliban regime and the al-Qaeda network, and we are giving additional help to the Northern Alliance in its efforts against the Taliban. The Northern Alliance is now taking territory from the Taliban, and is close to Mazar-i-Sharif in the north and to Kabul.

In any military action there are difficulties—there is no clean or easy way to deal with it—but I think that the House will know that, in the weeks that followed 11 September, we made every effort to give the Taliban regime a chance to be reasonable and to yield up bin Laden and his associates; they refused to do so. We now know quite clearly from the statements made by al-Qaeda and bin Laden since 11 September that, if they are not stopped, they will try to commit further terrorist atrocities. We have no option but to continue this, to bring it to a successful conclusion and to close down that terrorist network once and for all.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Following that point with the Prime Minister, is not it also correct that ending the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is clearly linked to the same military success? The biggest obstacle that we now see to delivering aid is the control of the vast majority of Afghanistan by the Taliban, who are now, I understand, taxing some of the aid that is going in and even sending some of it to market, not letting it go to those who need it. As we know that some of the key passes into Afghanistan will be closed by the new year, time, as the Prime Minister knows, is short. So would not the best way to ensure that vital aid gets through be for the existing Taliban regime to fall and for a new Government to come to power committed to assisting the aid programme?

The Prime Minister: It may again help if I say a word or two about this, because I understand the concerns of aid agencies and others about humanitarian assistance going through to people inside Afghanistan. Around Afghanistan, on the borders, we have sufficient provision of food, camps and shelter for about 2.5 million people. Some 4 million people are already being helped. Inside Afghanistan is the problem. The World Food Programme believes that it can get in some 12,000 tonnes of food in the coming week, even despite the difficulties, and it has already got in several thousands tonnes of food in the past few days. That is difficult, but it is important for people to realise why it is difficult.

It is difficult because the Taliban regime are harassing the UN convoys, intimidating them and, in some cases, taking over their equipment, their communications or the sites where the UN staff are. They are taxing some of the food—so-called taxing—as it comes into Afghanistan, and they are trying to lift other parts of it and use it for their own purposes. If we have their co-operation in the humanitarian help to the Afghan people, we can make sure that that food gets through. It is they who are the obstacle, and we will do everything that we possibly can, despite their obstruction, to get that food through to

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people. However, it is very important that people realise that it is their obstruction that is stopping the food getting through to the people who need it.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Our aim must be to bring bin Laden and al-Qaeda to justice, as the Prime Minister has said from the beginning, but until there is a Government in Afghanistan who are determined to rid themselves of bin Laden and al-Qaeda, that, as he knows, will be immensely difficult to achieve. Will he therefore, take this opportunity to assure the House that such a Government must be broadly based and include not just the mainly Tajik Northern Alliance, but other tribes, such as the Pushtun, Hazaras and others? Will he also confirm, against some reports, that he and the United States are talking widely to all the people who could help to put together such a Government and who may already have plans to do so?

The Prime Minister: We certainly are talking to all the people who would have to be involved in order to have a broad-based post-Taliban regime in Afghanistan. However, the work that is being carried out is being undertaken principally by Mr. Brahimi, the UN representative, and he is in talks with all the relevant ethnic groupings in Afghanistan. It is extremely important that we have a successor to the Taliban regime that has broad support in the country and that we commit ourselves to assisting that regime in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Now, some few weeks after 11 September, I can assure the House that the coalition for action remains strong and that countries are pledging their support—military, as well as logistical support—right around the world. On the humanitarian effort, we are doing everything that we reasonably, humanly can, and will do more. In respect of what happens after the Taliban fall, we are working to make sure that the Afghan people, who are the victims of the Taliban, get the best possible prospect of a decent and stable future.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): The Prime Minister will know of the statement made by the aid agencies this morning that 400,000 people in Afghanistan are surviving on grass and wild vegetation. He will also know that that statement makes it clear that the problems of getting humanitarian relief through are caused by a combination of the tithes imposed by the Taliban, obstructions placed by the Northern Alliance and the bombing that makes drivers reluctant to go into the area. The aid agencies have called for a pause in the bombing to feed those 400,000, and the 2 million who will not have enough food to survive the winter. Will we take any notice of that call?

The Prime Minister: Of course, we take notice of the concerns that the agencies have raised but I must say to my hon. Friend that the principal problem for the drivers of the UN convoys is the Taliban regime's harassment and intimidation of them. We should remember that anyone who associates with the UN inside the Taliban- controlled areas of Afghanistan is liable, according to the Taliban's own statements, to be prosecuted by them.

The World Food Programme believes that it can get 12,000 tonnes of food into Afghanistan in the next week. We are doing everything we can to remove the obstacles,

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but the single most important thing for the Afghan people is to be released from the tyranny of the Taliban regime as swiftly as possible. That is essential, and it is essential for humanitarian reasons, too.

I also stress to my hon. Friend and to the House that the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan pre-dates 11 September by a long way. Literally millions of people were refugees before then and living in conditions of deprivation and, in some cases, starvation. So we will continue to do everything we can. We cannot have the Taliban regime remain in power and able to use this humanitarian crisis as a reason for warding off the action that we take.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): May I associate Liberal Democrat Members with the proper expressions of condolences about the two individuals that the leader of the Conservative party and the Prime Minister have already offered?

Given the need for the military action in Afghanistan to be underpinned by the moral authority of the maximum humanitarian effort that is consistent with the military and political objectives that we support, will the Prime Minister acknowledge that anything that can be done to open the passage of roads into Afghanistan will be welcome? Is the international community, for example, considering safe corridors that will perhaps be under longer-term United Nations administration?

The Prime Minister: We are looking urgently at all the different ways that we can try to secure corridors by which food can get into Afghanistan. Of course, one of the areas in which the military and the humanitarian actions interconnect is that the more territory that is under some sort of control by forces hostile to the Taliban, the more aid we can get into Afghanistan. The actions are linked. We are also working very closely with the United Nations to see what further measures it can take too.

Mr. Kennedy: UNICEF warns today that up to 100,000 children could die over the next few months because of climatic conditions, dreadful internal conditions and the lack of aid, so will the Prime Minister tell us what steps if any—perhaps through the use of American spy satellites—have been taken to ensure that the aid drops that have already taken place have, in fact, reached the desired destinations?

The Prime Minister: We believe that most of the aid that is being put into Afghanistan reaches the people whom it is supposed to reach, but we cannot be sure. We are operating in extremely difficult territory in the areas controlled by the Taliban where, as I said, there is a great deal of intimidation and harassment by them. However, in the conversation that I had with President Bush a few moments ago, we both agreed that the humanitarian aspect of this mission is as important as the military. Indeed, the two are linked. It is important that we do everything that we possibly can to remove any obstacles there and to get the aid in. We will consider what further help we can give to the refugees both on the borders of Afghanistan and those on the move inside Afghanistan.

I simply express to the House the obvious point that it is an extremely difficult situation in which there are very poor communications, poor infrastructure and hordes of

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soldiers from the Taliban who can literally take over an area very quickly and intimidate the people there, including, of course, the UN staff.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down): Is the Prime Minister aware that the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), will, as we understand it, withdraw his Ministers from the partnership Executive in Northern Ireland within the next few days, leading to the collapse of the power-sharing Executive and the unravelling of the devolved institutions? Does he agree that that will create a political vacuum in Northern Ireland that might only be filled by men of violence? Will he use his good offices to ensure that the hard-won peace process, even at this eleventh hour, can be saved, in partnership with the Irish Government, for the people of Ireland, north and south?

The Prime Minister: I am obviously deeply committed to the peace process moving forward. Of course it is important that we do everything we can to ensure that we have the stability and institutions that we want. However, that requires all those who have supported the Belfast agreement—the Good Friday agreement—to do what they are supposed to do under its terms. My hon. Friend knows full well what I am referring to. If all parties are to have the confidence that we are moving forward on an agreed basis—namely, peaceful and democratic means as the only way in which to advance their cause—it is important that everyone implements all the obligations under the agreement, not simply some of them.

Q2. [4221] Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): Did the Prime Minister see the comments of the Anglican vicar who lost a relative on 11 September? He told the BBC that Jo Moore's infamous e-mail was

Indeed, she did not even include the relatives of those who died in her belated list of apologies. Did anyone in Downing street speak to Jo Moore after her e-mail or seek her resignation at any time?

The Prime Minister: First, I do not defend in any shape or form what Jo Moore said, which was horrible, wrong and stupid. I do, however, defend the decision that to sack someone and end their career was too heavy a penalty. That was the decision taken. I supported it and regard the matter as closed.

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