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12 Mar 2003 : Column 378—continued

5.52 pm

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside): Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to talk about manufacturing and training. I shall try to be brief to allow as many other hon. Members as possible to speak.

Manufacturing accounts for 31 per cent. of gross domestic product in Wales—11 per cent. more than in Britain as a whole. It is clearly a key sector of our economy. Some would have us believe that manufacturing is dying on its feet and not really part of our future. Manufacturing is and always has been a dynamic sector of the economy. Innovation and change have always been part of its growth and, in some areas, part of its decline.

Thirty years ago, the manufacturing base in my area was dominated by the steel industry, which employed more than 12,000 people, and the textile industry. By the 1980s, both those industries—the area's main employers—were devastated. Shotton Steel still holds the record for the largest single loss of jobs at one plant on one day. I hope that no other area ever has to suffer holding that record. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) spoke of the fears that are again surrounding the 12,000 jobs in the steel industry.

Steel and textile manufacturers needed to change and innovate, but importantly, both also needed the time and the economic stability to accomplish that. We are all aware of the Conservative party's economic policies, which meant that there was no such chance. The industries suffered the same fate as many other manufacturers during the years of the Thatcher Government.

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Life is never easy for manufacturing, as I am sure every manufacturer would tell us. Manufacturers would also tell us that they need economic stability—an environment where they can plan for the future in the knowledge that they are not on the edge of another boom and bust, as we saw under the Tory Government. In Wales, as in Britain as a whole, work force productivity remains a major concern. We will improve it only if manufacturers invest not just in new technology but in their work force. Equally, our education system must work more closely with industry to equip our young people and some of our older people with the skills and know-how that they need today.

Productivity gains are rarely made by people working longer or harder; they are made by people working smarter. About 30 per cent. of employers in Wales state that they suffer from skills shortages. Many more suffer from skills gaps in matching skills with the appropriate job. We need to tackle the problem in a number of ways.

More than 13,000 people in Wales are taking up modern apprenticeships. Many of those young people will secure employment in manufacturing, putting their new skills into practice. I welcome the modern skills diploma for adults, introduced by the Welsh Assembly, which is delivering an apprenticeship-style training scheme for the over-25s in employment—a vital group in our work force whose training needs we have tended to ignore. Training and retraining those in employment is key to improving productivity.

In my area, Deeside college has done a great deal of work to tailor its training packages to the needs of employers, not offering the one-size-fits-all solution that characterised further education in the past. Deeside college recently won the Queen's anniversary prize for its work with business and industry. Much credit goes to the college principal, Will Edmunds, for that achievement.

As unemployment is, thankfully, very low in Alyn and Deeside—less than 2 per cent., thanks to the economic stability delivered by a Labour Government—work-based education and training is of paramount importance to our economic growth and regeneration. We must therefore ensure that its availability and success are not held back. ELWa must receive the level of financial support that it needs for training in the workplace via the further education institutions. It will receive the necessary investment only from a Labour-run Assembly that makes education a priority.

One of Deeside's largest and most successful partnerships is with Airbus, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Gareth Thomas) spoke. It is probably the largest modern apprenticeship scheme in western Europe and is a good model that other companies and colleges could follow. At present, 274 apprentices are undergoing various forms of training, with a further 80 new recruits hoping to start in September this year.

Airbus has a high retention rate—above 90 per cent. One major factor is the opportunities for apprentices. More than 70 per cent. of the senior management is made up of former apprentices, including Brian Fleet, director of manufacturing, Airbus UK. That important point demonstrates that an apprenticeship not only leads to a good quality job, but opens opportunities to progress in the company, even to the top levels of management.

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Airbus rightly views training as a form of investment. Employees should be seen as valuable assets. Too many employers view employees as a form of disposable costs—something that can be put aside at the slightest change in the market. After the events of 11 September, which severely affected the market for airliners, one of the first things that Airbus did was to write to every apprentice in the company guaranteeing their job. Other British manufacturers would have written to apprentices telling them that they no longer had a future with the company. We have lost so many good people who could now be skilled workers, because they have been cast aside at an early stage.

The company's recruitment strategy has led to a growing number of female apprentices coming through the system, in an industry that has traditionally been male-dominated. I was pleased that this year the apprentice of the year was a woman. The company's commitment to training and the value it places on the work force are an example to other companies in Wales. Importantly, the partnership between the company, the college and the schools is producing well-trained people for good quality jobs.

As in Britain as a whole, education spending in Wales has risen significantly under Labour—a real-terms increase of some 6 per cent. in 2003–04 over the current year, with planned investment rising to a record £1.4 billion by 2005–06. That level of commitment is needed if we are to improve standards and produce youngsters able to work to the requirements that modern value-added manufacturers are looking for. Schools, colleges and universities have a major role to play in promoting a positive image for manufacturing and engineering. Too many youngsters still view a career in that sector as less valuable and important than one in the white collar, office-based professions.

If we are to ensure that success is guaranteed, we need continuing investment in education and training. We must see real improvements in this area.

6 pm

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): I am grateful for the opportunity briefly to contribute to this debate. I am pleased that we have an opportunity to concentrate on domestic issues in Wales. At the moment, whenever I speak to constituents or other people in Wales, they talk about the international situation, so I am glad that we can concentrate today on domestic issues, which should not be forgotten.

As many other right hon. and hon. Members, including the Secretary of State, have said, the great achievement that the Labour Governments in Westminster and Wales have achieved is the drop in unemployment in Wales, which has fallen by 40 per cent. since 1997. Wales has had the biggest increase in employment of any region in the UK and the biggest fall in inactivity. Other hon. Members have mentioned what has happened in their constituencies. In mine, there has been a fall of 46.6 per cent. in unemployment, which is tremendous. The equivalent figures are minus 80.9 per cent. for youth unemployment and minus 84.8 per cent. for long-term unemployment, so it is clear that we are now reaching all parts of the labour market. That achievement is a tribute to the Labour Governments here and in the Assembly.

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St. David's day was recently celebrated and last Saturday was international women's day. I attended the launch in the old library in Cardiff of a book produced by the Honno press and edited by Professor Deirdre Beddoe. Some remarkable contributions were made by women who read out extracts about experiences in their lives in Wales. We heard contributions from Elaine Morgan, Molly Parkin and Jane Salisbury. Many women in the audience had contributed to the book, including the mother-in-law of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis), who made a tremendous contribution. All of the women had remarkable stories to tell. While listening today to various hon. Members talking about the great achievements that Welsh people have made in becoming stars in sport, film and other areas, I thought about the women who read to us about their experiences last Saturday. In many cases, those experiences were very ordinary, but they were a tremendous tribute to the wealth of talent that we have in Wales.

I thought that it would be interesting briefly to consider the position of women in Wales today. It is probably very much as hon. Members will imagine and as the jobs situation in Wales has always been stereotyped. In 2002, 46 per cent. of women were in part-time occupations, compared with 9 per cent. of male employees. That has not changed much. Women account for 69 per cent. of administrative, secretarial and consumer services occupations, while men account for 80 per cent. of skilled trades and plant and machine operators. A similar divide has existed for many years in Wales, so the situation has not changed very much.

As other hon. Members have mentioned, however, the introduction of the national minimum wage has increased the wages of thousands of women and part-time workers. That is a tremendous achievement. Along with devolution, the introduction of the minimum wage was one of the great ambitions of Keir Hardie, and we have brought those two things about. So far, we have failed in reforming the House of Lords, but perhaps we can achieve that in the future. The minimum wage has helped thousands of women in Wales and, on its introduction, it narrowed the pay gap between men and women by 3 per cent. Nevertheless, there still is a pay gap. In 2002, full-time women workers earned 13.4 per cent. less per hour on average than male full-time employees. That is grossly unfair.

In discussing the rise in employment and how well we are doing economically in Wales, we must bear in mind the disparities that still exist, especially between women and men. One of the main priorities of the Government women's unit here and the equal opportunities unit in Cardiff bay is to try to close the pay gap between men and women in Wales. The Welsh Assembly Government are putting their own house in order by carrying out a pay audit and planning over three years to equalise the pay of women and men, and they are setting money aside to ensure that that happens. Some Departments here are doing the same. Private bodies are being asked to undertake voluntary pay audits, but I am not sure whether that will work out in the long term.

The position of women in terms of employment has been improved by the introduction of much more child care. Many more child care places are available in

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Wales, although they are still too expensive for some women to be able to take advantage of them. Maternity and paternity rights have been increased and great efforts are being made to help people to manage the balance between their family responsibilities and work. That is crucial.

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