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Mr. Crabb: I am disappointed by the complacency shown by the Secretary of State and his Parliamentary Under-Secretary this morning. Are they not aware that unemployment across Wales has been increasing for 10 consecutive months, in some constituencies by up to 35 per cent.? With Welsh manufacturing output slumping in the past year by 6 per cent. and the Chancellor's public sector jobs splurge coming to an end, is there not a real danger that much of the excellent progress that we have made on the Welsh job front since 1992 is now starting to unwind?
Not at all. The hon. Gentleman claims to speak for a constituency that has the fourth highest
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business start-up rate in any part of the United Kingdom, in which small businesses are booming because of the economic climate that the Government have created, in which unemployment has halved, and in which new opportunities are being created all the time, including the Bluestone holiday project. In Milford Haven, up to 700 construction jobs have been created through the construction of the new liquefied natural gas plant project. Pembrokeshire is booming under Labour; it was failing under the Tories.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend recall that, when he and I were first elected to the House in the dark days of Thatcherism, unemployment was our main concern? Now it is not an issue until it is dredged up by the right hon. and hon. piffle artists on the Benches opposite. It is a matter of celebration that EADS Defence Systemsa great leviathan of an international companyhas opened its new factory at Glyndwr House in Newport. It will act as a high-tech magnet to bring many jobs to Newport, Gwent and the rest of Wales.
Mr. Hain: Indeed. The latest jobs announcement is vital. The Newport area is now a magnet for high-tech investment in the defence industry and in other parts of the economy. That goes to prove what my hon. Friend says about Wales succeeding under the Labour Government as it has never succeeded before. There are 118,000 more people in jobs in Wales than when the Tories were last in office.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): How does the Secretary of State respond to the Joseph Rowntree finding that 40 per cent. of people in low-income households have someone who is in work? That is in-work poverty, up sharply from 30 per cent. in the mid-1990s, with 150,00 Welsh people in in-work poverty. Is not poverty in Wales poverty in work or out of it?
Mr. Hain: The number of workless households is still an important problem. It was terrible when we came into office and it is still not as good as it should be. We are tackling it with many of the measures that Plaid Cymru Members sometimes vote against. I hope the hon. Gentleman will support us next time.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Is the Secretary of State aware that numbers employed in full-time Welsh agriculture have fallen by 55 per cent. since 1997, that over 600 manufacturing jobs have been lost in mid-Wales since 2001, and that even now significant manufacturing jobs, such as the 120 jobs at the cheese processing plant at Felinfach, are under threat? In that context, is he willing to meet me and a delegation of representatives from the Farmers Union of Wales, the National Farmers Union and the Mid-Wales Manufacturing Group to discuss what measures we might take to reverse that trend?
Of course I should be happy to receive such a delegation, although I point out that despite the situation that the hon. Gentleman describes in that particular plant, there are 15,000 vacancies right across Wales. The difference is that when people lose their jobs
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through restructuring, including in the agricultural industry, it is regrettable and unfortunate, but compared with the Tory years, there are other jobs to go to and a support mechanism in place to provide reskilling and retraining and to assist people into more opportunities.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his warm welcome to me at the Dispatch Box. Given the loss of 500 jobs at the Defence Aviation Repair Agency St. Athan site, and given that the Government spent over £100 million of public money on the construction of the Red Dragon facility without ensuring its future, does the Secretary of State agree with the Select Committee on Defence that their decision on Red Dragon was incomprehensible and showed a clear lack of joined-up government? Does he support an investigation by the Wales Audit Office and the National Audit Office into that disgrace?
Mr. Hain: The Ministry of Defence has made it clear that it fully expects to recover its investment in the Red Dragon project by April 2007. That has left Wales with a highly marketable first-class facility to attract new investors. Up to 300 jobs are coming in 18 months, and St. Athan is well placed to bid as an excellent location for the defence training review jobs. I fully support that very strong bid, and the opportunities at St. Athan will make it an excellent site for that project.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I am conscious of the concerns felt by my hon. Friend and others on this subject, especially in relation to overcrowding. The Welsh Assembly Government are investing £50 million over the next 14 years to enhance capacity on the Valley Lines network. This has already provided an almost 20 per cent. increase in seats and doubled the length of 15 peak-time trains every weekday, but more must be done to meet increasing demand.
Chris Bryant: Would my hon. Friend buy a car that broke down every 2,500 miles? Trains in the Rhondda break down on average every 2,367 miles, largely because Arriva Trains never bothers to maintain the trains properly. Will my hon. Friend call Arriva Trains senior management into his office, give them a proper grilling and point out to them that third-class rail service was meant to have been abolished 43 years ago, not perpetuated in the Rhondda?
As I have said, I am conscious of my hon. Friend's concern. I have already asked Arriva Trains to meet me and explain what they plan to do to replace the Pacer trains, which have an appalling track record. That is essential, because demand from people travelling from the Rhondda, other valleys and the vale of Glamorgan into the Cardiff area is clearly increasing. Those people need and deserve quality transport, which Arriva should deliver as quickly as possible.
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The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): Over the past year, employment levels in Wales have been at an historic high. Gower also enjoys high employment, with an employment rate that is higher than the Wales average.
Mr. Caton: Employment levels have improved dramatically since 1997 in my constituency thanks to the Labour Government, but some Gower people who work over the border in Llanelli at the MOD establishment at Llangennech face losing their jobs, along with the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), whom I commend on her work defending those jobs. Despite an excellent performance record, the facility is threatened by a proposal that will reduce the quality of service to our armed services, that will fail to achieve the predicted savings and that will inevitably undermine the local economy. Will my right hon. Friend press his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to think again?
Mr. Hain: I am happy to discuss the matter with my colleagues in the MOD, but the Secretary of State for Defence and his team have had to make tough decisions to equip our forces in order for them to remain the finest fighting force in the world. However, a support team is in place to help anyone who leaves their job to find alternative employment.
Mr. Hain: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has the cheek to ask that question, because manufacturing jobs were massacred in Wales under the Tories. The truth is that manufacturing output and exports have continued to remain relatively stable in Wales. Almost every month, we attract new manufacturing companies to Wales, and we are driving up the value-added, high-tech manufacturing sector with the support of this Labour Government, who have provided a macroeconomic climate that is conducive to high-level manufacturing.
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