Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(6)(Programme motions),

Question agreed to.


Queen's recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)(Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.

4 Apr 2005 : Column 1155

4 Apr 2005 : Column 1157

Welsh Affairs

[Relevant documents: First Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 2004–05, Work of the Committee in 2004, HC 256, Second Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 2004–05, Manufacturing and Trade in Wales, HC 329, and Fourth Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 2004–05, Police Service, Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour in Wales, HC 46.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Heppell.]

5.35 pm

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I   pay tribute first to the former Prime Minister Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, who died only a few days ago. The first Welsh Prime Minister since Lloyd George, he was a much respected adopted son of Wales, and we are proud of him and his legacy.

May I also express Wales's sorrow at the death of His Holiness the Pope? Tens of thousands of Catholics in Wales are in mourning, and we stand in sympathy and   support with them. We remember the Pope's visit to Wales in 1982, the huge impact that he made and the heartfelt warmth with which he was received.

I also place on the record my appreciation of those Welsh colleagues who are standing down at the next election, having, between them, served for 117 years as Members. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence), my right hon. Friends the Members for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) and for Newport, East (Alan Howarth), and my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) and   for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith) have a wealth and breadth of experience that will be much missed in the House.

When the annual Welsh day debate was held just a few weeks before the 1997 general election, there were nearly 110,000 unemployed in Wales. Now, there are fewer than 60,000. In 1997 Wales was lagging well behind other parts of Britain, written off as backward and failing; now we are forging ahead, dynamic and succeeding. In 1997 business confidence was low; now business activity in Wales has increased for 23 months in   a row. In 1997 communities in Wales had been devastated by years of economic mismanagement and neglect. For example, the heart had been ripped out of the Pembrokeshire economy. Now communities right across Wales are being regenerated, and Pembrokeshire has the fourth highest business start-up rate in the whole of Britain.

When we met in the last days of the Conservative Government, thousands of care workers, cleaners and security staff in Wales were earning just £1.90 an hour, hundreds of them in my constituency. By October this   year it will be illegal for them to earn less than £5.05   an hour, with a further increase to £5.35 next year, benefiting 80,000 low-paid workers in Wales. Back in the 1990s the Leader of the Opposition told us that the
4 Apr 2005 : Column 1158
minimum wage would cost 2 million jobs. Since then 2 million jobs have been created, 125,000 of them in Wales—

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): In the public sector.

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman mutters about the public sector. No. As I will remind him later, around 40,000 jobs have been created in the public sector, and we are proud of that. There are more nurses, more doctors, more police officers and more teachers. The remainder of the 125,000 are in the private sector. In other words, for every public sector job created, two private sector jobs have been created in Wales under this Government.

In that Welsh day debate in 1997, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), then Secretary of State for Wales, told the House:

The Conservatives were wrong then, and they are wrong now.

The facts speak for themselves. When we met eight years ago the Welsh economy was on its back. Today it is striding forward, with 7,000 business start-ups funded by the Assembly last year—up 20 per cent. from the previous year—and a higher survival rate than in Britain as a whole. Earnings are rising faster than the UK average in Wales. Economic growth has increased by 6 per cent. since 2002. After almost eight years in office we can be proud of Wales, and not just on the rugby field.

Mr. Wiggin: I think that the Secretary of State is right   about rugby, but I do not think that he is right about the economic indicators. Perhaps he would care to comment. Does he think that the proportion of those   unemployed, when combined with sickness and disability, is higher or lower than anywhere else in the UK?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman knows that we have historic levels of ill health and industrial injury in Wales for all the reasons that everybody understands. He knows also that levels of economic inactivity have been falling, in some respects at a higher rate than in any other part of the UK, and that is encouraging. Further, he knows that in respect of people with disabilities, the   pilots carried out at Rhondda Cynon Taff and the Ogmore valleys have shown that more than 1,000 people have come off incapacity benefit and into work. Given the opportunity to work and the dignity and prosperity that that brings, they have taken it. Surely he should be welcoming this.

I realise that the hon. Gentleman has great difficulty in finding any reasons to criticise this Labour Government's record in Wales, particularly by comparison with the record of our Conservative predecessors. However, he should not alight on aspects of the economy that stand up to his criticism.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Is it not a bit of a cheek for the Tories to start raising the issue of
4 Apr 2005 : Column 1159
incapacity benefit in the valleys communities when it was the Conservatives who closed the pits   and then persuaded people to move off the unemployment figures and on to incapacity benefit? They wanted to persuade people to make that move to massage the figures. That is that sort of thing that we should be hearing the Conservatives talk about. People are worried about communities in south Wales being trashed by them again.

Next Section IndexHome Page