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Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab):
Three of the Welsh Affairs Committee's reports are tagged to this debate, and I would like to use them as the basis for my contribution. The first report in this Session is a digest of the Committee's work in 2004, and it sets out its activities, inquiries and reports. During 2004, the Committee demonstrated the breadth of the subject matter that it covers. We scrutinised policies of the Home Office, of the Department for Education and Skills, of the Department for Transport, of the Department of Trade and Industry, and of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Such coverage
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demonstrates that our role is greater than merely scrutinising the Wales Office, and that we cast our net widely in scrutinising Government policy that affects Wales.
However, in addition to scrutinising Government policy affecting Wales, my Committee also scrutinises draft Wales-only legislation and Wales-only legislation that is being considered by Parliament. In previous years, we have undertaken pre-legislative scrutiny in parallel to, but separately from, scrutiny of the same draft legislation by Committees of the National Assembly. That approach was inefficient and inappropriate, so my Committee recommended, successfully, that the House empower it formally to meet Committees of the National Assembly on matters of mutual interest.
We have used those powers to scrutinise the draft Transport (Wales) Bill and the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill, which was debated on Second Reading earlier today. We have also used the power formally to meet National Assembly Committees to consider the Ofcom review's findings on public service broadcasting as they will affect Wales.
Formal joint working is an important and welcome development. At an administrative level it avoids duplication, but its true worth is its ability to provide joined-up scrutiny of Government policy through partnership between the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government. In our report on the work of the Committee in 2004, we pointed out that all sides believed that formal joint working was a success. The Under-Secretary described it as the way forward, while the Secretary of State for Wales considered it to be beneficial to all involved. The shadow Secretary of State for Wales also considered it to be a more time-efficient approach that avoided duplication.
I welcome those comments because the power formally to meet Committees of the National Assembly will cease to have effect at the end of this Parliament. I hope that, if the Government and the official Opposition are in favour of our formal joint working, those powers will be made permanent at the start of the next Parliament, regardless of who is in power. I offer the Under-Secretary and the shadow Minister the opportunity to confirm their views on this matter during their replies.
I also want to draw attention to our two major reports published in this Session. The first, "Manufacturing and Trade in Wales", considered the economic well-being of Wales and the second, "Police Service, Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour in Wales", considered all aspects of antisocial behaviour control in Wales. The first report considered the current state of Welsh manufacturing, foreign direct investment to Wales, Welsh exports, the relationship between industry and academia, and UK Government support for Welsh manufacturing. It concluded:
Lembit Öpik: Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that nevertheless, areas such as Montgomeryshire have had a particular problem with small-scale manufacturing operations? Indeed, more than 600 manufacturing and other jobs have been lost there on account of downsizing and shifting work abroad. Does he agree that any strategy for Welsh manufacturing needs to take account not just of the large multinational companies, but of the private companies on which the economic prosperity of local communities often depends?
Mr. Jones: One of the particular problems in attracting foreign direct investment is that we do not get the necessary research and development jobs. Our Committee recommended that we should try to get those jobs into Wales, so that we can have a chance of maintaining the presence of such companies. If these jobs go elsewhere and we end up with "screwdriver operations", such companies might leave Wales and go elsewhere. However, I cannot discuss everything that the Committee said in detail; otherwise, we would end up having the same debate that we had then.
The report reached many conclusions and it made many recommendations, but I draw the House's attention to the following, which relates to the intervention from the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). European structural fundsthey remain a vital form of financial support for the Welsh economy, particularly in areas that still have objective 1 statusare shortly to be renegotiated in light of EU enlargement. There is genuine concern that the accession of countries with lower gross domestic products than Wales's will divert those funds away from Wales. While Wales is improving its economy and social structures, it would be detrimental if it lost those important funding streams. We recommended that the Government give a clear undertaking that Wales will not lose out as a result of these negotiations. We also recommended that the Welsh Assembly Government be given the greatest flexibility appropriate to delivering that funding, along with regional selective assistance across Wales. I look to the Government to reassure us that Wales will not lose out as a result of European enlargement.
We also wish to see a refinement of the UK Government's support that includes the introduction of a regional element to research and development tax credits and research councils' grant allocation procedures that would provide for a more equitable spread of Government funds across the UK. At present, Wales does not appear to receive its fair share of Government funding. That needs to be addressed so that Wales can fulfil its great potential.
During the course of the inquiry, the Ministry of Defence announced that it had decided to relocate its Defence Aviation Repair Agency operations from Wales to England. MOD procurement policy has a significant impact on the economy of nations and regions in the United Kingdom. Wales already is under-represented in that respect, and the relocation of DARA is a further diminution of Government procurement in
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Wales. We recommended that the Government reverse their decision to move DARA's operations from St. Athan to England.
Mr. David : Before my hon. Friend leaves the issue of manufacturing in Wales, will he clarify whether his Committee found unanimity or a majority view among manufacturers in respect of their attitude towards the European Union?
Mr. Jones: The question put to all manufacturers was whether they would like to be in the euro. Surprisingly, they mainly said that they were not particularly bothered either way so long as there was consistency and stability in the currency. I found that rather surprising because I expected them to want to be in the euro zone, which is why we put the question in the first place.
Our second major report, as I said earlier, was entitled "Police Service, Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour in Wales". We took extensive evidence and were pleased to report that, in the main, the four police forces in Wales were performing well. We welcomed the refinement of the targets contained within the latest national policing plan. Earlier plans had set targets for reductions in the levels of specific crimes, and while they may have been appropriate for some forces in the UK, they were not always appropriate for Welsh forces. For example, attempting to reduce bicycle crime in Dyfed-Powys by 15 per cent. was probably not the most appropriate use of the police's time, since there is virtually no bicycle crime at all in that area. The current plan sets an overall crime reduction target of 15 per cent., which we believe is a much more appropriate goal that will let the Welsh police target local crime and provide a better service for Wales.
A significant part of the inquiry concentrated on antisocial behaviour, on which the Government have introduced welcome legislation. Indeed, all the Welsh chief constables unanimously approved the range of measures provided by the Government to help them with their tasks, but there is not yet a sophisticated method of monitoring the success of the police in tackling such behaviour. Our report set out some initial concerns about the low number of antisocial behaviour orders issued in Wales compared to England. There was a perception that Welsh forces were not using ASBOs properly. However, as we found in our report, that was not the case.
Welsh forces have developed strategies for staged intervention that use ASBOs as a measure of last resort. The focus on ASBO numbers means that their methods are not officially counted as successes and, as a result, Welsh forces have appeared to be performing poorly when in fact they are making real headway in tackling antisocial behaviour. For that reason, we call on the Government to introduce a better measurement for success that reflects the Welsh approach.
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