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6.20 pm

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): I apologise for not being here for the early part of the debate. I was a member of the Select Committee when it undertook this inquiry, but I am no longer a member.

This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. I was impressed by the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) who made yet another good speech, using his expertise in tourism. He mentioned the success in achieving world heritage status for Blaenavon, which shows how much collaboration there has been between the local authorities of Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Monmouthshire. When that project is developed, it will be a great success.

I was interested in the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis). He will know that I have strong family connections with his constituency and in nearby Neath. He made important points, using his extensive historical knowledge. I also commend my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) for his comments. I assure him that those people who support culture will support Cardiff's bid to be the European city of culture. That decision will be made soon, and I hope that we can make whatever representations are necessary to ensure that Cardiff is successful.

The Select Committee received evidence from significant organisations that are working hard to promote Wales abroad, including the Welsh Development Agency, the Wales Tourist Board and Wales Trade International. In the short time that I have to speak, I want to stress the importance of promoting Wales abroad and of promoting the interests of Monmouthshire.

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Monmouthshire is part of Wales. I know that there has been debate about that in the past, and I get a few letters questioning the fact, but I assure my constituents and all Members of the House that Monmouthshire is most certainly part of Wales. I am particularly proud to be a Welsh Member of Parliament representing a Welsh constituency, although I was brought up in the fine Welsh community here in London. One of the ambassadors for Wales from my little Welsh community is our latest operatic dame, Anne Evans, who was a member of our little chapel, capel y Borough, just a few miles away in Southwark.

I should like to focus on three aspects of the Select Committee's report. The first is tourism. I represent an area of Monmouthshire which is outstandingly beautiful and includes world-famous sites such as the Wye valley and Tintern abbey. It attracts visitors from all over the world. I wonder sometimes whether they come to the Wye valley but go no further into Wales. I sincerely want people coming from Heathrow, Gatwick or Birmingham airports to use Monmouthshire as an entrance to Wales.

I was particularly delighted to see in the Wales Tourist Board's promotional literature, which goes to other countries, a 10-day tour starting in Monmouthshire, but when I went into the tourist office in Monmouthshire, no such literature was available because the tour is only promoted abroad. I hope that such literature can be made available within Monmouthshire itself.

Recently, Monmouthshire has been severely hit by foot and mouth. In the Easter holiday and the few weeks since then, there has been a revitalisation of rural tourism in Monmouthshire. I was delighted to spend time over Easter in a beautiful part of my constituency, the Llanthony valley, which I think is unknown in England, in the world and in Wales. It goes from the village of Llanfihangel Crucorney, past Llanthony priory, towards Capel-y-Fin and over to Hay. Capel-y-Fin is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), and has the smallest polling station in the country.

I hope that hon. Members will be able to see the amusing video that was filmed, and recently launched, in Monmouthshire, "Arthur's Dyke", which depicts the walk along Offa's dyke. There are beautiful locations in Wales, so the film industry can invest there. We have a tremendous international film school in the university of Wales college just outside Monmouthshire at Newport. I give credit to everyone who campaigned to get Newport city status, which will benefit Newport, south-east Wales and Monmouthshire.

The Select Committee took evidence from Wales Trade International and the Welsh Development Agency, and realised the significance of promoting Wales abroad. I have a particular interest in links between Wales and Japan. I am delighted that Wales has an honorary Japanese consul and that events in the Japan-UK 2001–02 festival were held in Monmouthshire at the Monmouth Boys school and the superb but largely unknown Nimbus concert hall, which is the only quality concert hall between Birmingham and Cardiff. I wish that more people in Wales knew about it. Japan has done a tremendous amount to help Wales. I would hate to think of the state of the Welsh economy had it not been for Japanese investment in the 1980s. There are strong links between the two countries. I was delighted that the former Japanese

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ambassador, Mr. Hayashi, made a memorable visit to Monmouth a couple of years ago; I trust that it established good links between Monmouth and Japan.

I have visited companies in the past couple of years that have developed a world reputation for their products. Last Friday, I went to the Mitel telecommunications factory. I was impressed by new developments in information technology that could be of great benefit in education and health care, including a remote district nurse service which would be particularly useful in rural areas. Television and interactive IT can be used to monitor old people and others in isolated areas. That would be a tremendous investment, and I hope that Mitel can trial its work in Wales.

I have also visited Nimbus, which is involved in advanced technology and makes CD machines that are exported across the world. Fairfield-Mabey manufactures bridge girders which are exported to developing countries across the world; it works with the Department for International Development to try to get infrastructure investment into other countries, which is to its credit. Ocean Resource develops installations for the petro-chemical industry; and the Cambian Group received the Queen's award for export achievement a couple of years ago—I was delighted to attend the ceremony.

We can also promote Monmouthshire as a sporting venue. I am sure that we all share delight in winning the bid to host the Ryder cup at the Celtic Manor, and give credit to Sir Terry Matthews, Tony Lewis and everyone else who worked hard on the bid on their tremendous achievement. One or two of the holes on the Ryder cup course are in Monmouthshire; when it is expanded, I hope that there will be more. Monmouthshire has other world-famous sporting facilities. We have two of the finest salmon rivers in the world, the Usk and the Wye, and have outstanding cultural traditions.

We want to attract people from across the world to Monmouthshire so that they can use it as a gateway into Wales. However, I want Monmouthshire and all its assets to be enjoyed by the people of Wales. I hope that visitors will appreciate it as they do the north-east and north-west of Wales. We can do more to promote our own areas. It was a great pleasure to serve on the Select Committee, and I commend its recommendations to the House.

6.29 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): It is a pleasure to wind up the debate on behalf of the official Opposition. Not many Conservative Members are here, for reasons that are well known to the House—some important elections are going on around the country, at least in England. I do not know what excuse the many missing Welsh Labour Members have, but it is a pleasure to see those who are here, and I congratulate them on having turned up and taken part.

We have heard no fewer than 14 Back-Bench speeches, all of which made an important contribution. Many debates become repetitive, but on this occasion each speech has added something new to the debate, and it has been a privilege to listen to it.

The Secretary of State opened the debate by making several important points, one or two of which I should like to add to. He talked about the benefits of the European Union to Wales. We should bear it in mind that one of the problems involved in the money that comes

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from Europe is that it is no more than recycled money from the very few net contributors to the European Union, of which this country is one. We should not get too excited about what Europe may be doing for Wales. The Secretary of State mentioned that money in the context of objective 1 arrangements. As he will be aware, the report points to problems with delays in objective 1 payments. The Welsh European Funding Office, an executive agency of the National Assembly, is responsible for such payments. Clearly, members of the Committee believe that that issue should be urgently addressed.

The Secretary of State spoke about Wales with obvious pride and stressed what a beautiful country it is. In describing the importance of tourism, he explained why Wales has not been able to promote itself throughout the world as have England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and, indeed, the Republic. His comments about the problems faced by Wales were useful and gave a good background to the subject, although that does not mean to say that we should let the matter rest there.

The shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), made several practical points. At times he was somewhat controversial, which is not unusual for him. In discussing the cost of the Assembly building, he suggested that the money might have been better spent on some of the more important functions of government in Wales.

My hon. Friend also covered matters relating to tourism, such as people's ability nowadays to travel abroad very cheaply. It sometimes costs more to drive to and park at the airport than to fly to certain elegant settings in Europe and beyond. That problem should not be underestimated. I speak as an Englishman—I say that before anyone else can—but I have spent many weeks and months travelling Wales and have enjoyed many holidays there. It has recently become obvious to me that fewer people are doing that because it is so easy and cheap to travel abroad. My hon. Friend put his finger on an important point and, characteristically, suggested one or two ways in which it might be addressed—for example, by improving airports.

My hon. Friend touched on the problem of ITV Digital, which has unfortunately hit Wales very hard. I want to return to that in a few minutes.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones), who chairs the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, gave a comprehensive and useful outline of the report. It was interesting to hear about the number and quality of the people he invited to give evidence, one or two of whom, if they had turned up, would have attracted a record attendance at the Committee. It is sad that that did not happen. He also listed several people who have Welsh ancestry, and pointed out that many people have Welsh ancestry but do not recognise it. That was an important point. He also mentioned several things that are associated with Wales. Again, it is perhaps unfortunate that that is not fully recognised.

I like and admire the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) a great deal. As ever, he made an entertaining speech full of good points. He mentioned the aerospace industry, which several other hon. Members discussed. It is also important to my constituency of Tewkesbury, where several aerospace jobs have been lost. There have been many aerospace mergers,

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but there are also many opportunities. It is therefore important for the United Kingdom, especially Wales, to grasp them.

It is important for aerospace companies in this country to work on a level playing field. We hear so much about the level playing field for agriculture, but it is no less vital for aerospace. We must ensure that our competitors do not receive benefits from their Governments that the Government do not give ours. I am asking not for handouts to aerospace companies—far from it—but for them not to be disadvantaged when competing with companies abroad.

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