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12 Mar 2003 : Column 335—continued

Mr. Evans: Many others will have a rant about it after today.

Mr. Llwyd: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) has taken 42 minutes so far, whereas some of us are restricted to 14 minutes. That is an abuse, especially when the hon. Gentleman is talking about matters such as membership of CND, which has nothing to do with the debate in hand. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The Chair has no control over the length of Front-Bench speeches—nor their content, unless they go out of order. Nothing out of order has occurred so far.

Mr. Evans: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The record will show how many interventions I have taken, which I have been happy to do. I am coming towards the end of my contribution—[Interruption.] That usually brings a cheer—possibly the only cheer during my speech.

The Secretary of State was quoted as saying that he was absolutely certain that his No. 1 task in Wales was Wales, and that when he had some hours left, he would do some work on the Convention on the Future of Europe. That explains why the Convention has gone pear-shaped for us. Both jobs are important. The Convention needs 100 per cent. attention, not divided time and divided loyalties.

One newspaper headline states, over an article by the Secretary of State, "The people of Wales must decide where the nation belongs in a future Europe". Now is the time for the Secretary of State for Wales to decide where his future lies—in looking after Wales or in looking after Europe. So much is at stake in Wales, and so much has already been lost.

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Let us help our businesses make profits and make sure that they are fairly taxed and the taxes are efficiently spent. The Government, both in Cardiff and in Westminster, are heaping extra taxes and extra regulations on our businesses and taxing the people by stealth at every turn, and the money raised is not getting through to the people in improved services.

Those are not my words; they are the words of the Prime Minister in the Labour party manifesto of 1997. That was six years ago. The words were right then, but sadly, that has never been delivered. People pay the extra taxes and receive poorer services. Businesses are taxed to the hilt and tied up in extra red tape. People working in the public services are fed up with huge extra bureaucracy and overload in their work. They are all saying the same thing: enough is enough. It is time for the Government finally to listen to the people.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the House that there is a 14-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches from here on.

3.7 pm

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): The only comment that I will make about the contribution from the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) is that it clearly demonstrates why the Tories have no Members of Parliament in Wales. An extra 54,000 public appointments is a sign of investment, not of waste. Until the Opposition learn that lesson, I hope that they will have no parliamentary representation in Wales.

I turn to parochial issues relating to Pembrokeshire that have national implications for Wales. There are two projects currently under way in Pembrokeshire that are vital to our local economy and which can bring tremendous benefits to the whole of Wales. The first is the plans of Petroplus for a liquid natural gas importation terminal in west Wales, and the second is the Bluestones project, which has been proposed as a unique top-quality tourist project in west Wales.

Those are important to our area, first and foremost because of the jobs and opportunities in the locality. Petroplus will also put Wales in the forefront of UK energy infrastructure. Bluestones will create and support 600 direct—and potentially 400 indirect—jobs in the tourism industry locally, and also help Wales to meet national Welsh criteria for quality tourism.

I want to refer back for a moment to Pembrokeshire in 1997. In some areas of my constituency, we had a legacy of unemployment affecting two or three generations in individual families. In Milford Haven, male unemployment was 20 per cent. and there was an increasing reliance on declining industries. In the 1960s and 1970s, Pembrokeshire had five oil refineries; there are now only two. There is little diversification in the local economy, which relies almost entirely on agriculture, tourism and the oil-related industries around Milford Haven waterway.

We have had our share of disappointments since 1997. In respect of ITV Digital, 868 full-time equivalent jobs were created and lost. Let us face it—who would

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have thought that ITV would run into the sort of problems that it encountered? It was seen as a blue-chip company that was bringing wealth to our area.

What happened in the clothing industry and with regard to Dewhirst in the north was a classic example of an industry walking away from its loyal work force. I took representatives of Dewhirst's management to meet Rhodri, the First Minister, and he and the Assembly promised to give every bit of help they could to Dewhirst in overcoming its problems and in diversifying just as Laura Ashley did. Laura Ashley has now become more successful than it ever was when it sold only women's clothing. However, the Dewhirst management, who did not even tell me about their decision to close the Fishguard site until the announcement had been made publicly, simply walked away from their commitment to an area with a low-wage economy to maximise their profits.

Despite our disappointments, it is interesting to note that between April 1997 and January 2003, there has been an overall fall in unemployment in my constituency of 37.7 per cent. If we had not lost those ITV Digital jobs, the picture would be considerably better. Youth unemployment has fallen by 80 per cent. and long-term unemployment by 75 per cent. However, Labour's goal is full employment, which is why the two projects to which I initially referred are especially important for my area.

When Chevron ceased trading, Petroplus, a small Dutch company, bought the site for storage only and not for refining. The irony is that Pembrokeshire has always thought of itself as an isolated area. For Petroplus, which is involved in the storage and distribution of oil, the area was central. It was amusing that its perception was completely different from ours, and we must build on that.

We have recently seen a review of security of supplies and energy culminating in the energy White Paper. Across the board, an assortment of predictions has been made about when the UK will become a net importer of gas. Some have said that that will happen in about 14 years, others that it could happen as early as 2005–06. Currently, interconnectors on the east coast of the UK provide our gas, but security of supply issues are important, with the liberalisation of other European gas markets still some way off. Security of the supply from Russia and Norway, which has had problems in recent months, is an important issue.

The establishment of a liquified natural gas terminal on the west coast will allow supplies of LNG to be imported by vessel from other locations in the world. Pembrokeshire has the expertise to deal with that industry after 30 years in the oil industry. The site is one of the very few UK deep-water ports that allows good access to even the largest vessels, and planning consent was granted in February by Pembrokeshire county council. There is still some way to go and the process has not ended, as it is subject to IPPC—integrated pollution prevention and control—authorisation and to COMAH—control of major accident hazard—safety assessment.

The development offers much to our locality and Wales as a whole. It will provide only limited jobs in our area, but the most important thing is that it will put

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Wales at the beginning of a high-pressure gas pipeline, rather than at the end, as at present. It will provide security of gas supply for Wales in a changing global scene and sustain existing refinery businesses by providing a reliable supply of competitive fuel. Local industry has been crying out for years for a high-pressure gas line. The line currently finishes at Swansea, 70 miles away. The development will be a tremendous boost for existing industry and a magnet for new investment.

The Secretary of State has given his support in principle and the project has passed the first hurdle, but my concern, which is shared by many people, including those in the company itself, is that unless Transco meets the challenges and time scale demanded by the project and the pipeline, we could lose out on this valuable infrastructure project for Wales as a whole. I ask him to do all that he can to ensure that Transco does not drag its heels and jeopardise the project.

The second project, Bluestones, is located over the border from my constituency in that of my hon. Friend the Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger). It has tremendous implications for my area because of the job opportunities that it offers. It is very much a new-generation tourism project and offers the opportunity to turn seasonal part-time jobs into full-time year-round employment. The development straddles the border between the national park and the county council, so planning responsibility lies with both those authorities, which are currently considering the matter.

I should like to mention national park purposes and duties. Unfortunately, there is a perception and a public rumour circulating in our county that the national park is determined to block the project. I sincerely hope that that is not true and I have every confidence and faith in the national park officer, Nic Wheeler, to ensure that the process is carried through correctly and as quickly as possible.

We must remember, however, that the principles of the national parks are to conserve and enhance their natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage and to promote opportunities for the public understanding and enjoyment of their special qualities. Those are the national parks' two primary purposes, but they also have duties. They have a statutory duty to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of their local communities in ways that are compatible with their pursuit of national park purposes. They should also have regard to the principles of sustainable development. In formulating policies for the administration and management of the parks, they must have in mind the wide range of interests that can be affected by their decisions.

Those responsible for the parks have a distinct duty of stewardship, but at the same time, they must recognise that the parks are a living and working environment for the people who live there. That is essential if they are to remain vibrant areas and not lapse into purely rural theme parks. The Government's creation of the sustainable development fund, which involves some new work for the parks, is a very positive move that demonstrates that the parks are taking on board those issues.

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I ask both the national park and the local council to recognise the need to undertake their statutory duties without any unnecessary delays. As I said, in Pembrokeshire, the public perception is that there are commercial considerations and we do not want the authorities to be seen to hold back those processes and threaten the project. That would be a tragedy for Pembrokeshire and Wales as a whole, because of the 1,000 jobs that could emanate from the project and the services that would be available to local people as well as tourists. Given that the Carbon Trust, Ethical Pembrokeshire and other organisations are involved in seeking to ensure that the development proceeds in the most sustainable manner with the smallest footprint on the environment, any failure to proceed would be a tragedy.I also firmly believe that the project is an opportunity to create a top-quality tourist venture that abides by sustainable principles and could become a model not only for the whole of Wales, but for the whole UK. We must capitalise on that opportunity.

The Wales Tourist Board has identified seven main points that give priority to projects. Bluestones clearly matches every one of those targets by providing a strong competitive advantage for Welsh tourism, enhancing quality and service, extending the season and profitability, providing full-time job opportunities, demonstrating sound business planning, enhancing the environment and supporting Welsh culture.

The project offers opportunities for the national park to bring more people to appreciate the value of national park areas. I fear that if we do not take the wider vision, and if there is a blinkered vision among local communities and individuals, we could miss a tremendous opportunity for our community and for Wales in terms of the importance of the tourist industry as a whole.

I can best demonstrate that by giving two short examples. Oakwood, upon which the scheme is based, is a leisure park in Pembrokeshire that attracts daily visitors. It is, as its name suggests, primary oak woodland that is very valuable environmentally. The presence of Oakwood park has preserved that woodland, which, given the difficulties that farming is experiencing, could have faced being cut down.

My second little story was told to me by a former colleague in this House who is involved with the Forestry Commission. He happened to mention that he had been approached by a very sound environmental group about diminishing the amount of Sitka spruce in Northumberland and replacing it with mixed deciduous woodland. On the face of it, that appeared to be sensible and logical until it was pointed out that it could destroy 80 per cent. of the UK's red squirrel population. Although deciduous mixed woodland might seem preferable, it can support the grey squirrel, which would chase out the red squirrel. Environmental matters are not always straightforward; they can be much more complex than they seem to be.

I urge the Secretary of State on every level to support both projects because of the individual benefits that they can bring to my constituency and the tremendous opportunities that they offer to Wales.

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3.21 pm

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