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House of Commons

Wednesday 18 January 2006

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Small Business (Government Regulation)

1. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When he next expects to meet representatives of small business organisations in Wales to discuss central Government regulation of business. [41794]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular meetings with representatives of the business community to discuss issues that concern them. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be attending a CBI Wales reception tomorrow in north Wales.

Mr. Bellingham Is the Minister aware that over the past eight years, Britain has fallen from fourth in the   world competitiveness rankings to 12th—the Principality has fallen by a similar amount. Is he aware that the Welsh CBI, Welsh chambers of commerce and the Welsh Federation of Small Businesses are saying that the cause of the fall is excessive regulation and that they are worried about possible job losses? Does he agree that if it were not for the extra jobs in the public sector, unemployment in Wales would probably be going up?

Nick Ainger: The hon. Gentleman's last statement was not true. There has recently been significant growth in the private sector. For example, in the third quarter of 2005, some 4,800 new small businesses were created in Wales. The hon. Gentleman claimed that the CBI and other business organisations were concerned, but let me give him some other quotes. Today's edition of The Western Mail says that a report by the Royal Bank of Scotland states that Wales begins 2006 with new momentum and confidence. It is reported that the Welsh economy picked up pace at the end of 2005, with growth in output and the acceleration of new orders suggesting that firms are confident about business prospects in the year ahead. That is the reality in Wales.
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Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a gross misrepresentation to suggest that   new jobs in Wales are being created only in the public sector? My constituency has had renewable manufacturing jobs in the energy sector, and we have an unemployment rate of 2.5 per cent. Will he commend the Assembly for the introduction of business laboratories, which are bringing into small business people in towns such as Wrexham who have never experienced entrepreneurship before? Those people commend the stability of the manufacturing sector and business generally, and I think that the Government are doing an excellent job.

Nick Ainger: Not surprisingly, I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The facts speak for themselves. More than 1,300 grants totalling £40 million have been given to small businesses in Wales under the investment grant programme. I think that my hon. Friend was referring to the Technium programme. We have invested £150 million in 13 Technium sites, and new businesses are being developed, research is going ahead and jobs are being created. That, again, is good news for Wales.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The Minister boasts about the number of start-ups, but fails to tell us the number of businesses that have closed down. With unemployment rising in Wales, it is more important than ever to address the regulatory burden that inhibits small businesses. Following the publication of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, what targets has he set for cutting the burden of regulation on Welsh business, and will he publish those targets?

Nick Ainger: It is not for me to set those targets, but a measurement exercise is under way to establish the baseline. May I welcome the hon. Lady to her first Welsh questions? The fact is that the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is the most radical such measure anywhere in the world. The CBI, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses and the British Chambers of Commerce are totally supportive of   it and see it as a major way forward on reducing regulation. It will build on what we achieved during our presidency of the European Union. The Commission is now withdrawing 68 pending laws and simplifying more than 220 pieces of legislation. That situation contrasts with the 8,100 statutory instruments that were passed in the last three years of the Conservative Government.

European Structural Funding

2. Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): What decisions have been reached on the future of European structural funding in the objective 1 area of Wales. [41795]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): On 16 December 2005, the European Council reached agreement on the European Union budget for 2007–13. As a consequence, west Wales and the valleys will qualify for the highest level of European funding and will continue to benefit from substantial European structural fund receipts for the
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next seven years. Work is already well under way by the Assembly to prepare the new round of programmes that are due to commence in January 2007.

Mr. David: I thank the Minister for that reply. May I   point out that Caerphilly county borough alone has attracted £36 million of objective 1 funding in the current funding period, which has created no fewer than 11,300 new jobs? Is that level of investment likely to continue under the new funding arrangement that has been agreed?

Nick Ainger: Absolutely. The deal means that the level of structural funds coming into Wales for the next six to seven years will be the same as we have received in the last six to seven years. It will total around £1.3 billion, which will be on top of the Assembly's block grant. The success of the programme so far means that probably, by the end of 2006, more than 40,000 new jobs will have been created; the unemployment rate in west Wales and the valleys will fall at twice the rate of the rest of the UK; and we will see full-time earnings in west Wales and the valleys growing twice as fast as in the rest of the UK. We can build on that huge success now that we have secured the great victory of getting objective 1 funding up to 2013.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): West Wales and the valleys is not the only area in Wales that benefits from structural funds; certainly, the rural areas of Powys and the urban areas of Newport and Cardiff also benefit. Will those areas continue to get support under the new budget arrangements?

Nick Ainger: Yes, they will. Under the competitiveness and employment programmes the rest of Wales will qualify. The level has not yet been decided, but those areas will continue to benefit, perhaps even more so in certain places because the support could be more targeted. That is dependent on negotiations in Brussels.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): May I urge my hon. Friend to note the £19.8 million that has been spent in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) under objective 1? Will he note also that this party was initially criticised because nobody thought that we could deliver objective 1, and nobody thought that we would do it this time either, but once again we have proved the Opposition parties completely wrong?

Nick Ainger: That is absolutely right. At the beginning, we were told that we were not going to get objective 1; we did. Then we were told that we would not get the Treasury backing, and we did. Then we were told that it would not work, and it did—we not only created all those jobs but raised average earnings and addressed our infrastructure. Finally, we were told that because we were being so successful, we would not get objective 1 again, and we must do the deal urgently or we would lose it. The Opposition, particularly Plaid Cymru, were wrong every time. This is a major victory for Wales. We should accept that all the way along, over the past seven years, this Government have delivered objective 1 for Wales.
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Ministerial Visits

3. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): How many times he has visited constituencies in north and mid-Wales since 1 October 2005. [41796]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): I visited on 22 October. I am pleased to inform the hon. Gentleman that I will be visiting several locations in north Wales tomorrow and again next month.

Mr. Llwyd: So that is once in that long period, which is what I would expect from a part-time Secretary of State for Wales. If the right hon. Gentleman went to Gwynedd and north Wales, people would tell him that there is one NHS dentist available for the whole of north Wales. His support for the vacuous and specious plan   for an all-Wales police force is laughable. In the elegant words of his colleague the hon. Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones), it is "bloody nonsense"—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should not be using intemperate language, even in a quote. I noted more than one supplementary, so we will let the Secretary of State answer.

Mr. Hain: Intemperate language from an intemperate party that does not represent Wales. The truth is that north and mid-Wales have been doing much better under this Government, with almost 50,000 extra jobs created since 1997, work about to start on a £14.8 million new community hospital in Porthmadog, and a £9.9 million community hospital in Holywell. Whether on health or employment, Labour is delivering for north Wales, and the Tories, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru have consistently failed north Wales.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has certainly been no stranger to my constituency since he was appointed to his post, and neither have his parliamentary Under-Secretaries. Moreover, since October 2005, I have led numerous delegations to the Wales Office, which the Secretary of State has received, to discuss the important issues concerning my constituency, including the future of Wylfa nuclear power station and Anglesey Aluminium Metal Ltd, to name but two. Will the Secretary of State revisit my constituency to see new companies such as BioCycle Ltd, which has just been set up providing 24 new jobs, and which has won a Green Apple environmental award in 2005?

Mr. Hain: Not surprisingly, I welcome that question. On the numerous visits that I have paid to my hon. Friend's constituency of Ynys Môn, I have seen the consistent transformation of the appalling economic situation that we inherited from the Tory Government. Employment is up, new businesses are starting up, and the island is being transformed, especially since my hon. Friend was elected as its Member of Parliament.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): When the Secretary of State for Wales next makes one of his rare appearances in mid-Wales, will he take note of the crisis
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that has been caused by bovine tuberculosis? Will he also explain to the farmers in the area why the National Assembly for Wales appears set to reject all the evidence that TB is passed to cattle by badgers, in direct contrast to the Government in England, who are at least taking some note of the expert advice that they have been given?

Mr. Hain: I do not believe that anybody believes anything that the hon. Gentleman has just said.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): First, may I thank the junior Minister for his warm welcome? When the Secretary of State next goes to north and mid-Wales, will he talk to people about their concerns over the governance, command structures, time scale and funding of the police restructuring programme? The Home Office has said that there will be no new money to fund the proposed changes. Will the   Secretary of State now address the question that he failed to answer on 2 November, and tell concerned council tax payers in Wales by how much their bills will increase to pay for these plans?

Mr. Hain: First, I join my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales in welcoming the hon. Lady to her first Question Time in her new post. May I remind her that my first decision as a Wales Office Minister back in 1997 was to abolish the nursery vouchers that she had introduced as a Tory Minister?

Policing would be much better in north Wales and other regions of Wales if we had an all-Wales force that was able to tackle the important level 2 issues such as terrorism, drug dealing and serious organised crime by having the capacity to deliver, which the small forces do not have at the moment. The Home Secretary has made available additional funding to those police authorities that are able to join the restructuring, which will benefit neighbourhood policing and equip our policemen to protect us more safely in our communities right across Wales.

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