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12 Mar 2003 : Column 322—continued

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I thank the Secretary of State for including us in his speech, which is a relief to us. The crucial question for him—in the spirit of the type of politics that he promotes—is whether he is seriously suggesting that the Labour party could have implemented a significant proportion of the programme for government that was agreed between the Liberal Democrats and Labour, had we not entered into that coalition. The evidence that the Liberal Democrats were crucial in the arrangement is the fact that there is a divergence between Welsh Labour party policy and—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I think that the Secretary of State will have got the point that the hon. Gentleman is making.

Peter Hain: The hon. Gentleman is right to this extent: the coalition has brought stability to the Welsh Assembly Government, and that has been essential in delivering our programme. However, the policies are Labour policies. They are being implemented on a basis

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of stability. Our decision to create a stable Government was taken in the national interest; we did not form a coalition with the Liberals because we wanted to. We are determined to get an overall majority and we are working flat out for it. We want to win back the seats that we lost to the nationalists—in the Rhondda, Islwyn, Llanelli and Conwy—and to ensure that we hold our existing seats, and perhaps take Monmouth from the Tories. Those are our objectives to establish an overall Labour majority.

Mr. Llwyd : Earlier, the right hon. Gentleman spoke at length about the employment situation in Wales, in which there has been great improvement. Such has been the improvement that I am sure we could afford to have one other person on the slide—the statistical slide. It is time for the Secretary of State to sack his speech writer. This is rubbish.

Peter Hain: I take that as a compliment. I invite the hon. Gentleman to train the person who drafts his interventions a little better.

Only Welsh Labour offers a coherent vision for a world-class Wales—a vision of high-quality jobs and high-quality public services, a vision of social justice and economic success, and a vision of Wales going places, not going backwards.

Lembit Öpik: I think that I heard the Minister say that only Labour policies had been implemented through the partnership. Where in Welsh Labour's manifesto did it say that the partnership would diverge from Westminster Labour Government policy on student funding, and where did it say that it would provide free school milk? Those are two examples to show that what the Minister said was factually incorrect.

Peter Hain: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. Those are Labour policies—although I acknowledge that they were given a bit of assistance by the Liberals.

I believe that, at the Wales general election on 1 May, people will look at Labour's solid record of achievement over the past four years, look at Labour's exciting plans for the next four years, and decide that Wales's future must lie not in going back to the days of boom and bust or to standing alone in separatist isolation, but in continuing a partnership for social justice and prosperity to build a world-class Wales—a future of working together for Wales and not pulling us apart, of winning together, not losing apart.

2.22 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): It is good to see Madam Deputy Speaker in her traditional place for this traditional debate. I enjoyed the spat between the Secretary of State for Wales and Plaid Cymru as to who would gain the most seats at the next local elections. [Hon. Members: "National elections."] We will not have to wait long for the Assembly elections on 1 May.

I was not surprised that the Secretary of State left the Liberal Democrats until the bitter end because there is very much a Lib-Lab pact. Not only do the Liberal Democrats have to take the credit for the things that

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they do not do and the things that they do, they have to take the blame when things go wrong. They are not prepared to do that.

The Secretary of State started by mentioning famous Welsh people and said that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was a good Welshman. I am delighted that the Secretary of State mentioned the archbishop, because he went to the same school as I did—Dynevor school in Swansea. It is a proud school with a proud history, but despite its proud record it was closed last year by a Labour council, under a Lib-Lab Assembly and a Labour Government. I find it amazing. Brian Ludlum, the chairman of the governors, was a Labour councillor when I was a councillor on West Glamorgan county council, but at least in those days we were accused only of selling off the school playing fields. This Government are selling off the schools. Brian Ludlum said that he had to take into account the fact that the school was on a prime site and would fetch a lot of money. How ridiculous that was. Dynevor school had a proud history and it is a great shame that it has closed.

At the start of this St. David's day debate, it is important to say that our thoughts are with our troops in the Gulf—allied troops, British troops, and of course Welsh troops. They are preparing to take whatever action is deemed necessary to ensure that Saddam Hussein complies with resolution 1441. We know that these are hugely difficult times and we fully support the Prime Minister on the build-up and preparation for action. I have no doubt that, if it were not for the actions that have been taken so far, Blix and the weapons inspectors would have been nowhere near Iraq now.

Welsh service people have a proud record of service to their country. I was in the Falkland Islands three weeks ago, where I laid a wreath for our service people who were killed in action. As the House knows, Welsh servicemen and women were at the forefront of that war. We are proud of their record and their contribution to the British armed forces.

I want to focus on a few areas, including the economy, education and training—which has been mentioned—the national health service and the future of Wales under this Government and the Welsh Assembly. I will start with Swansea airport. The Secretary of State knows that I have campaigned long and hard for the expansion of that airport and the opening of a London-Swansea route. It is important that that should come about, not only for Swansea but for west Wales as a whole. I congratulate Air Wales and Swansea airport on the announcement that there will be a London City-Swansea route. It will open on 28 April. Two new 50-seater aircraft have already been bought, one of which will be used on that route.

Air Wales hopes to expand its number of employees from just 50 to more than 200 when the expansion is fully operational. When I was a lad, Swansea airport employed just three people, and I think that they were mostly employed to keep the sheep off the runway. It is now hoped that 100 people will be employed there. It is a success story.

Peter Hain: I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's close interest in the development of Swansea airport and I applaud him for it. He has been a great source of support. I am visiting Swansea airport on Friday, partly

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on his suggestion. I am very excited by the developments. The London link shows what can be done. I would like to see a Cardiff link and the expansion of airports across Wales, including north Wales and mid-Wales.

Mr. Evans: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I think that everybody in the House would applaud him on this issue. Although they do not mind coming to Newport and Cardiff, a lot of businesses seem to have a mental block about going further west or to the north. The expansion of regional airports—led by Swansea and Valley airport, which I have also supported—will be very important.

Mr. John Smith: I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said about airports, but does he also acknowledge the success of Wales's international airport at Cardiff, which is one of the fastest growing airports in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Evans: Of course I will join the hon. Gentleman in acknowledging that success. We both deplored the actions of British Airways in pulling out of Cardiff airport, which was a grave mistake. I also applaud BMI Baby for coming in and considering a number of routes, which I hope it will take over from British Airways.

Not everything is as great a success as Swansea airport and Air Wales. Businesses in the United Kingdom have had £47 billion of extra taxes foisted on them; they have also had to bear more than £5 billion of extra rules and regulations in every year that this Government have been in power. The latest tax—the tax on jobs—will hit them next month. It will hit employers and employees. I will deal with the impact that the tax will have on local authorities and the public a bit later on, but the 1 per cent. extra tax on jobs will raise the equivalent of a 3p rise in the basic rate of income tax. That means that a burden of more than £4 billion will fall on businesses in the United Kingdom including Wales.

When the Government introduced the climate change levy, we were told that it would be a neutral tax and that we should not worry. The CBI, along with the Engineering Employers Federation, has done a report on the climate change levy. They have found that manufacturing has been hit hardest, with a £328 million rise in their energy bills. The Secretary of State will know that Wales is more reliant on manufacturing than any other part of the United Kingdom, but this tax was still introduced.

In the survey, the CBI and the Engineering Employers Federation found that some firms were not able or willing to absorb the extra tax and have moved production abroad. That cannot be right. Manufacturing has faced an enormous slump before and since the introduction of the climate change levy. I could list a huge number of manufacturing companies in Wales and the jobs that have gone. Hon. Members will know about them, because the job losses will have occurred in their constituencies—in Swansea, Bridgend and Llanelli. We have suffered manufacturing job losses throughout Wales.

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