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12 Mar 2003 : Column 316—continued

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I hope that the Secretary of State is going to say something about Corus because I am sure that the House would like to hear directly what action he will be taking to ensure that the jobs there are maintained.

Peter Hain: I have been in touch with Corus management in Wales, the Department of Trade and Industry, the First Minister and the trade unions. We are all working together to make sure that the Welsh plants at least survive this very difficult situation. It is extraordinary that the Corus management board is having to take its Dutch-based supervisory board to court to get a decent policy and strategy for the industry. I am sure that all Welsh Members, including the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), will join me in saying that it is time for the Corus supervisory board to support the loyal work force of Corus in Wales and to give the most productive and competitive steel industry in the world a chance to flourish and grow.

Devolution is an essential part of the "team Wales" approach. When the chief executive of British Telecom recently told me that he had received a better response from the Welsh Assembly Government and agencies to investing in broadband than any other part of Britain, I asked him why. He said, "Because you can get to the decision makers more easily, because they immediately grasp the vital role of broadband and because they act quickly." The "team Wales" approach is vital in generating self-confidence in our economic future. More than 3,000 new businesses were created in Wales last year, 20 per cent. more than in the previous year and an increase larger than in any other part of the UK.

Last year, more than 800 new products and processes were introduced by Welsh companies. We need to accelerate that and to develop a spirit of self-confidence and entrepreneurialism that will help to ensure that the small and medium-sized businesses that comprise the vast majority of Welsh firms have the commitment to invest, to innovate and to grow. It is because I am concerned that we should succeed through partnership and through striving to be the best that I am outraged by the way that the Tories and the nationalists continually talk down Wales and the achievements of hard-working Welsh employers and employees.

Take, for example, our objective 1 money, secured by a British Labour Government negotiating in Europe. First, the Welsh nationalists claimed that we would not get objective 1 status. Then, when we did, they said that we would not get support from the Treasury to make proper use of it. Then, when we did get that extra

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Treasury funding, they said that the programme would be a failure. Four years ago, in the St. David's day debate, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) told the House of his grave concern that the whole objective 1 programme would come to nothing,

Is not it time that he and his colleagues apologised, and stopped spreading doom and gloom? Is not it better to aim to be the best, instead of constantly predicting the worst? Instead of the party of Wales, they are the whingers of Wales—their leader, Ieuan "Whinge" Jones.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): In 1989, the GDP of Wales was 89 per cent. of the UK average. The latest figure is 82 per cent. That is not a success.

Peter Hain: Is the hon. Gentleman saying—[Interruption.] I am about to answer, unless he wants to have another whinge. It is true that parts of the United Kingdom, especially the south-east, have raised their GDP per head much faster, but in real terms GDP per head has been rising swiftly in Wales. That is obvious in terms of employment, which is at record levels compared with recent decades; it is also obvious in the increased wealth and income spreading throughout Wales.

The Labour-led Assembly Government are succeeding not only because of their partnership with business, trade unions, local authorities and voluntary groups, but because of their strong partnership with the Government at Westminster: Labour working for Wales. That partnership is delivering record levels of sustained public investment. By 2005–06, the Assembly budget will increase to £12.5 billion, almost double what it was when Labour took office in 1997, with record increases in funding for the national health service in Wales. As a result, 700 more hospital consultants and GPs, 6,000 extra nurses and 2,000 other health care professionals will be recruited in the coming years. Education spending in Wales, which passed the £1 billion mark for the first time this year, will rise to £1.4 billion in two years. We could not have a clearer demonstration of the benefit to Wales of both devolving power to the Assembly and pooling resources at a United Kingdom level where appropriate. The firm legislative partnership between Westminster and Cardiff Bay has also produced this year's Health (Wales) Bill, giving patients a stronger role in the improvement, development and running of our health services.

As well as the specific Wales-only Bill, the Government's legislative programme for the current parliamentary Session contains several Bills that include Wales-only provisions, which have been developed in close consultation with the Assembly Government. Those include the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, which improves planning in Wales; the Local Government Bill, which gives more flexible powers to Welsh local authorities; and the Licensing Bill, which repeals the outdated provisions allowing polls to be called every seven years in Wales on the question of Sunday opening of pubs.

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The partnership between the Assembly and the UK Governments reaps benefits abroad as well as at home. The Assembly is able, through the devolution settlement, to form part of the UK delegation to the European Council of Ministers, ensuring a strong voice for Wales yet at the same time enjoying the benefits of being part of an influential member state. Since the advent of devolution, the Welsh Assembly Government have been an active participant in the EU, and have joined with the Scottish Executive in tabling proposals that take forward their strong claims for a louder voice in Europe. Last month, I was delighted to present on behalf of the UK Government a paper demanding a stronger voice in Brussels for Europe's regions such as Wales to the Convention on the Future of Europe. It had been drawn up by the Assembly and the Scottish Executive, working in partnership with UK Government Departments.

Partnership is the right approach to another of the challenges that we currently face: building stronger, safer communities. The UK Government are working with the Assembly to tackle the crime that blights our communities. We have already delivered record numbers of police officers in Wales, and we are equally determined to give them the powers to deal with antisocial behaviour, and to ensure that resources are effectively deployed to prevent crime and catch criminals.

Partnership is not, however, just about co-operation between levels of government. It must work downwards to generate an open, inclusive and participatory relationship with groups in society. The Government recently allocated more than £4 million to the local crime and disorder reduction partnerships in Wales, which involve the police, local councillors and other representatives of the community joining together to develop a crime reduction strategy that meets local needs. Through its Communities First programme, targeted on the most deprived areas of Wales, the Assembly places the power of change in the hands of community members.

How much more beneficial is that co-operative and positive approach than the Tories' Eurosceptic isolationism and the nationalists' antiquated separatism? Indeed, that kind of partnership is the very opposite of what the Tories and the nationalists offer people in Wales. On a recent visit to Wales, the Conservative party leader displayed his party's traditional distaste for devolution when he talked of

He said that

How, I wonder, does that extremism manifest itself? Is it in free bus passes for pensioners and the disabled? Is it in free access to the national museums and galleries of Wales? Is it in free prescriptions or Assembly Learning Grants? Which of those "extreme" measures would the Tories revoke if they ever came to power in the Assembly? They should answer that question. Those ridiculous comments show how out of touch with mainstream opinion in Wales the Tory party and its leader continue to be. As long as they stay out of touch, they will stay out of office.

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The Tory leader went on to claim that the Conservative party does not believe that

Everybody in Wales knows, however, that Labour has spent five years trying to redress the damage done to the national heath service by 18 years of Tory ideology. People in Wales know that Tory ideology meant the closure of 70 Welsh hospitals. They also know that Labour ideology has already seen eight new hospitals opened or under way. People in Wales know what the Tory agenda on health is because Tory leaders have told them: 20 per cent. cuts, meaning fewer nurses, fewer doctors and fewer hospitals. It means cuts, charges and privatisation, school and hospital closures, and thousands of jobs lost. The same old Tory wreckers are trying to wreck Wales again. Wales does not want to go back to the 10 per cent. Tory inflation, the 15 per cent. Tory interest rates and Tory mass unemployment.

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