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12 Mar 2003 : Column 352—continued

Albert Owen: The hon. Gentleman mentions a difference between London Labour and Cardiff Labour, but is there not a difference between London Plaid Cymru and Cardiff Plaid Cymru? The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price), who is not in his place, proposed that we move the capital of the United Kingdom to Liverpool. Is the hon. Gentleman proposing that we should move the capital city of Wales to Caergybi or Anglesey?

Mr. Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman knows that the comments made by my hon. Friend were not serious. If the hon. Gentleman had taken enough of an interest to read my hon. Friend's point in context, he might have understood it. As usual, he was not there for the debate, but if he had been he might have understood the point.

Our vision is of creating some major counterpoints in Wales to provide a magnet effect for industry and to kick-start the economy in all parts of Wales. Some of us who have been here a while remember the arguments with the Welsh Development Agency and the need to shift inward investment from the south-east corridor and the north-east to west Wales and the rural areas. I am sure that the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) would agree with the need to do that, especially

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since the Development Board for Rural Wales has gone. Policies were amended and people said, "Yes, it will be done, it is now part of our policy and half the moneys and half the effort will be put into those areas." Precious little effort was put in. It was far too easy, for example, for somebody behind a desk in the WDA to say, for example, "There are 4,000 unemployed within travelling distance of Newport. Let's get the semi-conductor plant in and soak up 3,000 jobs immediately." That is good luck for Newport, but bad luck for the rest of Wales. In one stroke, that person would achieve his or her targets for the next 18 months. That happens too often. We need to look strategically at the needs of the whole of Wales, not just some sectors of it.

We should set up in the Assembly a jobs unit that would take over the strategic and policy-making roles of the WDA and ELWa—Education and Learning Wales. The latter is greatly discredited and I wonder what job it is doing at the moment. The jobs unit would identify areas and sectors of potential economic growth in each regions and set targets for job creation. We need to improve access to finance for businesses that will boost the Welsh economy—not just large amounts of finance, but smaller amounts as well. The problem with the current regime is that if someone wants a small loan from the WDA, it is not interested. The loans have to be big. Some 90 per cent. of businesses in Wales are in the small and medium sector: they do not want several million pounds but £10,000 or £20,000. That does not interest the people at WDA, and that is not good enough. We need to cater for everyone in the business sector. It is important to focus on home-grown, Wales-based businesses, so that we can provide the maximum benefit for the Welsh economy.

We need to identify businesses with high growth potential and focus specialist funding on them so as to create a base of 10 to 20 fast-growing Welsh companies. I agree with the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) on that point. Wales has one listed company per 130,000 people, but Scotland, for example, has one for every 30,000 people. Scotland is doing considerably better. We need to identify high-growth sectors and to focus resources more effectively on developing businesses within those sectors. I am thinking of businesses in optoelectronics and auto electronics, high-quality food, renewable energy and sustainable tourism—for all of which Wales is well placed.

We need to get objective 1 funding back on track, cut the length of time for applications, cut the numbers of committees and partnerships, and get the thing moving, encouraging local firms to gain more and more public sector contracts. That could add £3 billion to the Welsh economy. We have to unlock the potential of the south Wales valleys and create a specific strategy for infrastructure, communications and environmental improvements to develop the valleys as an area of polycentric growth. We need to keep pushing for operating aids, which have been promised but not delivered by the Welsh Assembly Government. We will fight for Wales to receive the maximum possible operating aids to stimulate growth in indigenous businesses.

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The unemployment situation in Wales has improved—it would be wrong of me to deny that—but much needs to be done. The figures for gross domestic product show that we are still slipping behind. The right hon. Member for Llanelli highlighted many things that have still to be done. It behoves us all to strive to close the gap so that no longer will we be the poor relations of the United Kingdom. One way of doing that will be to elect a Plaid Cymru Administration in Cardiff in May. At this moment, that seems extremely likely.

4.16 pm

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): I apologise to right hon. and hon. Members for not being here for the opening speeches. This debate was changed from last week to this week, and I wrote to Mr. Speaker to point out that I was a Privy Council appointee to the disciplinary committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons—it was a quasi-judicial meeting that I was not able to leave.

I shall raise several issues, all of which are of great importance to Wales. I want to address the important principle of this House discussing more draft legislation for Wales. As Chairman of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, I believe that our Committee has some experience of those matters. I want to tell the House about some of the advantages that would derive from an extension to our discussions of primary legislation for Wales. As right hon. and hon. Members will know, the Health (Wales) Bill was an excellent start to the concept of draft legislation for Wales. The Welsh Affairs Committee was charged with providing the main pre-legislative scrutiny on behalf of this House. Even though I say it myself, the Committee did a good job of fulfilling the obligations set by the Government.

I pay tribute to the Health and Social Services Committee of the devolved National Assembly for Wales, which mirrored our responsibilities. All in all, the process was a huge success. It proved that Cardiff and Westminster can work in tandem in the interests of Wales and for the benefit of Wales. That is why more draft legislation would be welcome. The Welsh Affairs Committee greatly welcomed the chance to lead on the draft Health (Wales) Bill and now looks forward to fulfilling the same task on other draft bills.

In anticipation of the Government heeding my call, I would like to raise an issue that I have raised with the Serjeant at Arms in recent months, and will continue to press for. I would like this House to enter into a reciprocal arrangement with the National Assembly for Wales so that Members of both the Parliament and the Assembly may have security passes allowing them access to each other's buildings. Members may be interested to know that I and members of my Committee have security passes that allow us to gain access to the Assembly building in Cardiff. That came about because we spent a lot of time in the Assembly, taking evidence, meeting with Members and attending Committees. It makes excellent sense for MPs to have passes. Unfortunately, however, we cannot return the favour to Assembly Members. I find that very embarrassing. I am asking for a change not just as a reciprocal courtesy or a nicety, but as a practical convenience for Members of the Assembly who regularly visit this House on formal business. I look forward to the Secretary of State taking up this issue

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with the House authorities on behalf of Welsh Assembly Members. It is more than just a gesture; it is rapidly becoming a practical necessity. I look forward to a positive outcome.

I should like to give a brief outline of an element of work undertaken by the Welsh Affairs Committee that is not usually mentioned in the Chamber but, none the less, forms an important strand of scrutiny of the Executive by the House in respect of Wales. I refer to my Committee's scrutiny of the Wales Office's annual departmental report. As hon. Members know, a core function of the Committee is to take evidence on the departmental report. Unfortunately, for the sake of this annual debate, the report is invariably published nearly 12 months too late. I assure the House, however, that my Committee takes evidence on matters contained in the report and questions the Secretary of State closely on matters as they affect Wales.

For example, following the publication of last year's report, the then Secretary of State answered questions on Corus's restructuring of steel production in Wales. Sadly, that is a topical subject following the news that broke earlier this week. We also questioned him on how he monitored the potential impact on Wales of Bills introduced in the House. Other subjects included the Wales and Border rail franchise; post offices in Wales—both urban and rural; and the Welsh language scheme. As the House can see, they are all issues of great importance, and I look forward to the publication of the current Secretary of State's first report, which I hope we will receive in the not-too-distant future.

It may surprise some of my hon. Friends if I offer thanks to a Welsh nationalist Member, the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams), who is sadly not in his place. I was recently successful in securing a Westminster Hall Adjournment debate on employment in north Wales in which the hon. Gentleman and I had an interesting exchange about call centre jobs in Caernarfon. To put it in a nutshell, he complained that his constituency was not attracting enough call centre jobs. I intervened in his speech helpfully to point out that that was probably because the call centre companies had commissioned market research and concluded that some regional accents are more user-friendly than others. The fact that there is only one call centre in Caernarfon has nothing to do with Government policy and more to do with what the companies that run call centres perceive to be acceptable. My Committee initially discovered the research when it took evidence in our investigation of inward investment in Wales.

Interestingly, after the Westminster Hall debate the hon. Member for Caernarfon took it upon himself to rush out a press release to local newspapers castigating me for being less than generous about the Caernarfon accent and alleging that I had said that it was "second class". If he senses some reluctance on the part of inward investors to put their money into north-west Wales, I suggest to him in all sincerity—


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