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12 Mar 2003 : Column 325—continued

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): The hon. Gentleman has referred to the cost of the climate change levy to

12 Mar 2003 : Column 326

manufacturing industry, but is it not right to mention the amount that the Government have given to industry to compensate it for its losses? They are giving £2 billion that has been taken from the national insurance fund.

Mr. Evans: My point is that the energy tax fell disproportionately on manufacturing industry. It has been hardest hit, and it is proportionately more important to Wales. It has suffered the extra job losses. One cannot open a newspaper these days without reading that there have been further job losses.

I referred to Corus in an intervention. I wanted to get that point on the record, so that the Government know how important it is that these jobs are preserved not just in Wales but throughout the United Kingdom. I agree with everything that the Secretary of State said in response, but it is a shame that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry seemed to be caught on the hop by the announcement. She spoke to the all-party steel group the night before, and she seemed to believe that all the jobs would be preserved. The announcement obviously came as a huge surprise and shock to her.

Peter Hain: I do not intend to abuse the opportunity to intervene, but I wish to respond to the point about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The announcement was made in the early hours of the morning and the information was not available to her when she spoke to members of the all-party steel group. Indeed, the Corus managers present were not in possession of that information, either.

It is important to get the issue of manufacturing into perspective. Although 26,900 manufacturing jobs have been lost since 1999 in the objective 1 area, more than 20,000 have been created. New manufacturing jobs are being created all the time even though older manufacturing jobs are being lost as part of the process of global restructuring.

Mr. Evans: I am grateful to the Secretary of State, but people sometimes wonder where all the jobs have gone. Unemployment is not going up, but we read about manufacturing jobs disappearing. My figures for the whole of Wales show that, in November 1999, there were 247,000 jobs in manufacturing, whereas in November 2002, the figure, which includes the jobs created and those that have gone, was 206,000, so 41,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared in Wales. In November 1999, there were 361,000 jobs in public administration in Wales, but by November 2002, the figure was 415,000, so there are 54,000 extra jobs in public administration. One has only to read the many pages in The Western Mail that advertise jobs in local authorities, the Welsh Assembly, the Welsh Development Agency and the quangos that have been so berated by Government Back Benchers. Such jobs are advertised every day. However, manufacturing is vital to Wales and it is a shame to see jobs in that sector under threat. In fact, in many cases, the jobs have already disappeared.

Objective 1 has been mentioned, and we welcome the money that has gone to support the most disadvantaged areas of Wales. However, it is a great shame that the impetus behind that money was not quicker and that industry throughout Wales was not involved at an earlier stage. That would have enabled objective 1 money to have come on stream much earlier.

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The Secretary of State did not refer to agriculture, but he must recognise that that sector has suffered an appalling downturn. The figures for those employed in agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing have fallen from 21,000 in 1999 to 14,000 today. That is extremely alarming. Indeed, the Prime Minister was asked today about the importance of agriculture. Jobs in that sector are important.

Mr. Simon Thomas: I must say in passing that one job lost in Wales is that of Conservative candidate for Llanelli. [Hon. Members: "Tell us more."] Look in the newspapers.

On agriculture, is it not the case that the Liberal Democrat Assembly Member, Mike German, is responsible for agriculture and that he has failed time and again to make on time and in full the payments that farmers deserve? That is one of the reasons why farming faces such a crisis today.

Mr. Evans: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning late payments. I am sure that we have all received letters from NFU Wales, which has listed the areas where there are problems. Late payments clearly are a problem, and that brings us back to the fact that the Liberal Democrats, a party in the Administration in Cardiff, must take responsibility for the plight of the farmers in Wales who have simply had to wait for their payments.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evans: Of course, I will give way, so that the hon. Gentleman can say sorry to the farmers in Wales.

Mr. Williams: We all concede that there have been difficulties in making the payments. However, the Assembly Government have addressed the European Union's new requirements for making those payments and have put in place the mechanism for doing that. Some 98 per cent. of payments have now been made. When the suckler cow payments are made shortly, that will complete the process.

Mr. Evans: It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to be sympathetic to the plight of farmers in Wales, but he must recognise that farmers cannot bank sympathy. They need hard cash. The money has been paid late and the Liberal Democrats must take responsibility for those late payments and understand the stress that farmers have gone through.

Mr. Williams rose—

Mr. Evans: If the hon. Gentleman wants to say sorry, I will give way to him again.

Mr. Williams: I will not say sorry, but perhaps I should declare an interest: I am a recipient of the payments. At least the farmers in Wales will receive the money. When the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was Secretary of State for Wales, he sent a lot of that money back to the Treasury.

Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman is, at least, a recipient of the money. I hope that he received it on time.

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[Interruption.] No, he did not get it on time. He knows whom to blame—Mike German and the Liberal Democrats in the Welsh Assembly.

We have also received letters about other key issues. Red tape and TB—I am not referring to the Prime Minister, as some might think—are real problems. Tuberculosis in cattle must be tackled. In addition, we face the problem of the ban on farm burial from 30 April. The French already have a scheme under way that is fully funded by their Government, but we have nothing in the United Kingdom or Wales to deal with the problem of fallen stock. We must address that problem sooner rather than later, because the ban will come into effect on 30 April.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is daily becoming a rabid Eurosceptic, and he believes that there should be more flexibility in Europe. I have read many of the articles in which he has said that. Nations are doing their own thing, so let us do our own thing, but let us not do nothing. Sitting idly by while another industry goes to the wall cannot be allowed to happen. Wales was known for its manufacturing and for its agriculture, but the Government are waving goodbye to both.

I hope that the Minister will deal with insurance in his winding-up speech, because that affects agriculture and manufacturing. Many businesses find it incredibly difficult to obtain insurance or they find that the premiums have gone through the roof. That is not simply the result of 11 September. Part of the problem relates to the claims culture that now exists in this country, but some firms have seen their premiums rise by as much as a factor of 10. That is totally unacceptable and creates serious problems for firms and employment prospects.

Another thing that affects the people of Wales is the increases in council tax that will shortly drop through their letterboxes. The Secretary of State did not mention those. They represent one of the most cruel stealth taxes and come on top of other tax rises introduced by the Government since 1997 on petrol, stamp duty and air travel. In addition, the job tax increase comes into effect next month. The increase in council tax is one of the most iniquitous of them all. It is not as if the quality of public services is improving. Local authority homes are closing and the free bus pass scheme, which the Secretary of State mentioned, is not fully funded by the Welsh Assembly.

I am sure that the latest figures will interest hon. Members. I wondered which local authority would be the first to hit £1,000 for a band D house, and it is Merthyr Tydfil, with a council tax of £1,003, an increase of 6.9 per cent. on last year's charge. That is an increase of 65 per cent. on the rate in 1997 when the Government came to power. The increases are staggering. In Blaenau Gwent, the council tax is up 10 per cent., taking the bill for a band D house up to £975. In Denbighshire, it is up 12 per cent., taking the bill up to £944. Inflation is running at 2.5 per cent., but the local authority in Torfaen is imposing a tax rise of 14 per cent. The bill for a band D house in that area in 1997 was £483; this year, it will be £816. That is an appalling record. The increase is a stealth tax and it hits ordinary people throughout Wales.

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