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House of Commons

Wednesday 18 October 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—

Antisocial Behaviour

1. Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the impact of measures to tackle antisocial behaviour in Wales. [93416]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): Before I answer my hon. Friend’s question, I am sure that the House will join me in remembering the 144 people, including 116 children, who lost their lives in the horrific Aberfan disaster 40 years ago this Saturday. Our thoughts will be with the relatives, the survivors, and indeed the whole community on this difficult occasion.

We take the problem of antisocial behaviour more seriously than any previous Government. The tough measures that we have introduced are stamping out this blight on our communities.

Mr. Jones: Antisocial behaviour has reduced in my constituency, but there are problems with local authorities not using the powers we have given them. The police have powers, but will my right hon. Friend use his influence to ensure that local authorities in Wales use the powers we have given them—for example, the provision of alley gates—to reduce antisocial behaviour,?

Mr. Hain: I agree that the antisocial behaviour legislation is not being applied with the vigour that we expect right across Wales, and it should be, both by the police, but particularly by local authorities, as my hon. Friend says. I saw a very good example of it being applied when I visited Llandudno Junction the other Friday, where a crack house has been closed down. While it was operating it was causing absolute devastation, blight and misery to neighbours in the area, many of whom were thinking of leaving their homes because they could not go out at night, their cars were being vandalised and their children were being threatened. That sort of thing must stop and we expect everybody to clamp down on it, as North Wales police and local councillors did so successfully there.

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Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The Secretary of State will be aware of the success of community support officers as the visible sign of authority in some communities. Will he make representations to the Home Office and to the Assembly to ensure that there is a roll out of community support officers, who have been so successful in Llandrindod Wells in tackling this terrible problem but do not yet operate in Ystradgynlais, from where I receive a continuous stream of complaints about the quality of life being disrupted by antisocial behaviour?

Mr. Hain: I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman on the importance of community support officers. That is why we have recruited 271 in Wales alone over the past few years, rising to 740 by next April and to 1,100 the year after, so a tremendous stream of important community support is becoming available. I hope that the Liberal Democrats will not only back the Government on the issue, but support us on antisocial behaviour measures, which they have voted against every time they have been brought before the House. They say a different thing locally, but we are used to that with the Liberal Democrats, are we not?

Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways of countering antisocial behaviour is to celebrate the achievements of young people? Yesterday, I was at the Royal Albert hall where three of my young constituents, Leah Young, James Taylor and Anthony Llewellyn of Glanafan comprehensive school, were finalists in the Young Brits at Art awards. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating them and their excellent school on this achievement, and the Commission for Racial Equality on this fine initiative, which will help to build social cohesion and citizenship in our communities?

Mr. Hain: I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Glanafan school, which is indeed a fine school, among many others across Wales under our Labour Government, and the Commission for Racial Equality on this important initiative. Antisocial behaviour involves a tiny minority of young people. They are incredibly disruptive and they have to be dealt with, but the great majority of young people in Wales make us proud.

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): As you can see, Mr. Speaker, I am here in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who unfortunately is ill and in hospital. However, I am glad to say that I have spoken to her today; she is on the mend and she hopes to be here this time next month.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the probation service is one of the many agencies involved in dealing with antisocial behaviour and its associated crimes. Does he agree that since such offences are of an inherently localised nature, it is important that the probation service in Wales should continue to be organised on a localised basis? Will he resist proposals that might result in the administration of the service being organised from across the English border?

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Mr. Hain: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box and express my sympathy for the hon. Lady. I phoned her yesterday to speak to her in hospital, and I, along with all hon. Members, wish her all the best.

On probation officers, we must ensure that we get the changes right, and we will do so. On antisocial behaviour, which is the subject of the question, the Conservatives voted against our policies to crack down on disorderly drinking and to introduce new powers for local authorities.

Aid to Africa

2. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Development on co-operation with the Welsh Assembly Government on aid to Africa. [93417]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are pleased to have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of issues, including co-operation with the Welsh Assembly Government.

Julie Morgan: My hon. Friend is well aware of the strong links between Wales and Africa, particularly among schools, hospitals and voluntary bodies. In my constituency, there are links between Cathays high school and Lesotho and Whitchurch high school and South Africa. Does my hon. Friend agree that such links contribute greatly to the professional development of teachers, broaden children’s horizons and benefit everybody involved?

Nick Ainger: Yes, I do. The Welsh Assembly Government launched their international sustainable development framework two weeks ago, and the launch was attended by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, who said that UK aid now helps to lift more than 5,000 people a day out of poverty. My right hon. Friend also welcomed the Welsh Assembly Government’s announcement that they are strengthening their contribution to reducing poverty in Africa by providing support in humanitarian emergencies and by encouraging the exchange of skills between hospitals and schools, to which my hon. Friend has referred, in Wales and Africa—an initiative that makes a real difference to the lives of poor families. It is worth noting that by next year the UK aid budget will have tripled. We have led the campaign across the world on debt relief and debt cancellation, and this is part of that package. That contrasts greatly with the cuts made by the Conservative Government in their 18 years in power, when they effectively halved the aid budget in real terms.


3. Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): What change there has been in the number of manufacturing jobs in Wales since 1997. [93418]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): Despite the fact that manufacturing in Wales, as elsewhere, continues to face huge competitive threats from low-cost countries, it accounts for some 20 per cent. of total Welsh economic output, and we continue to attract high-level investment.

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Adam Price: Given this Government’s appallingly dismal record on defending the Welsh manufacturing sector, including the loss of another 3,000 jobs in the past six months alone, is the Secretary of State concerned to read the report by Morgan Stanley that Tata Steel, which yesterday announced its bid for Corus, plans to shift the production of steel slab from Port Talbot to India with the potential loss of thousands of jobs in south Wales?

Mr. Hain: I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman describes our record on the Welsh economy as “dismal”, when there are record numbers of jobs and when Welsh manufacturing is doing better than manufacturing elsewhere in the United Kingdom. New companies are coming in—for example, G24 Innovations has announced that it will create 300 jobs in Cardiff through its £60 million investment—and more jobs are being created in high-tech manufacturing all the time. Yes, low-cost manufacturing is disappearing to low-cost countries. Tata Steel is a huge Indian conglomerate, and the implications of its bid are not clear. I understand that it wants to invest in steel in the United Kingdom and to take advantage of the enormous growth in India by producing steel, including in Wales.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to early-day motion 2775, which has been signed by many Labour Members and which acknowledges the importance of Airbus to the UK economy? Airbus provides high quality employment in Wales: will my right hon. Friend work with Department of Trade and Industry Ministers to ensure that the next generation of composite wings are designed and built in the UK and not in Germany or Spain?

Mr. Hain: We will work tirelessly with my hon. Friend to ensure that that is achieved. I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to his continued work and effort on behalf of Airbus, which is an excellent company that has a site at Broughton in his constituency. There are now 20,000 highly skilled jobs in the aerospace industry in Wales. They contribute £1 billion to the Welsh economy, the great bulk of which comes from Airbus at Broughton. The Prime Minister has visited Broughton, and we will continue to support Airbus.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Does the Secretary of State agree that Wales could lead the world in environmentally sustainable manufacturing jobs through technologies such as geothermal, wind, tidal, hydrogen and solar power? Does he join me in applauding firms such as Dulas in Machynlleth and G24 Innovations, which he mentioned, in Cardiff, which will lead the way in clean energy for homes and businesses? Will he agree to meet a cross-sector delegation to hear manufacturers’ proposals for an eco-strategy to make Wales a global leader in green and renewable technologies?

Mr. Hain: I, or my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, will certainly be pleased to receive a delegation, because this is a vital subject. My hon. Friend visited Dulas and was hugely impressed with the company. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, as does Andrew Davies,
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the Minister with responsibility for economic development. Wales is a centre of clean, green energy production, as well as use.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I very much welcome the creation of 300 jobs near Cardiff in a very exciting new solar energy product, but what discussions has the Secretary of State had with colleagues in the Welsh Assembly Government about the use of initiatives such as Technium in Llanelli to ensure that investment in quality jobs reaches west Wales?

Mr. Hain: It is imperative that the enormous growth and prosperity that has been generated in south-east Wales, especially in Cardiff and Newport, spreads westward, including to Neath, but not least to Llanelli. There have been big examples of that happening recently. The Technium innovation is hugely successful in Swansea, and it will be in Llanelli, too, with the Government’s support.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The Secretary of State says that we should be happy about the fact that there is a higher percentage of manufacturing jobs in Wales than in the rest of the UK, yet that has always been the case, although the percentage was a lot higher nine years ago than it is today. How many more manufacturing jobs are going to be lost in Wales before the Government finally get a strategy to protect them?

Mr. Hain: The fact that high-tech manufacturing jobs are coming in, and the fact that companies I have visited such as Sharp in Wrexham and International Rectifier in Newport are investing more and have high-quality, long-term jobs, shows that there is an enormous strength in manufacturing. It is a bit rich for the hon. Gentleman to complain about changes in manufacturing jobs given that 100,000 of them were murdered under the Conservative Government whom he supported.

John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): It goes without saying that a strong, modern manufacturing industry in Wales requires a high-quality skills base. What progress is my right hon. Friend making in bringing the defence training academy—a skills training academy—to St. Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan?

Mr. Hain: The Government expect to make an announcement on that in the near future. St. Athan’s proposal for a world-class, state-of-the-art training centre for the Ministry of Defence has enormous merit, but the MOD must take the decision in the proper way.

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): The Secretary of State will be aware that last July his colleague, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said that on the sale of BAE Systems’ interest in Airbus the Government would be given a guarantee that Britain would have a role in future aircraft development. Given that last Friday BAE disposed of its interest in Airbus, can the Secretary of State confirm that under the terms of that guarantee Britain’s place in the future of Airbus and the 6,000 jobs at Broughton are secure?

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Mr. Hain: In fact, there are more high-quality jobs at Broughton. The Broughton centre is the biggest and most successful manufacturing centre anywhere in the European Union, let alone in the United Kingdom. We believe that its future will be secure under a Labour Government—who knows what it will be under a Tory Government?

Mr. Jones: The Secretary of State has not replied to my question about the guarantee. Is it not expressly subject to overriding shareholder interest? In those circumstances, what weight can be given to it; and is it not in truth virtually worthless?

Mr. Hain: No, I do not accept that. Airbus in Broughton has expanded year after year under our Government. It is a world centre for wing production that cannot be equalled anywhere in the world, including by Boeing in the United States, and its future is secure.

EU Structural Funds

4. Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): What progress is being made in drawing up plans for the allocation of EU structural funds in west Wales and the valleys. [93419]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): The Welsh Assembly Government anticipate reaching agreement on their programmes in early 2007.

Mr. David: I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that the objective 1 programme for west Wales and the valleys has been successful, drawing praise from the European Commission and others. However, does he also agree that, when we look to the future and the convergence programme, we need a strategic approach to the allocation of funds to have the greatest possible effect?

Mr. Hain: I agree. Wales’s objective 1 programme has been rated the best in Europe and we need to ensure that it continues to have that effect. It is interesting that increases in earnings and jobs since its operation in west Wales and the valleys are greater than the Welsh and English averages. That is an incredible achievement for areas that suffered such blight and were devastated under the Tories. Objective 1 funding has brought growth, prosperity and hope to west Wales and the valleys.

Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): May I press the Secretary of State a little more on the timetable for the new round of convergence funding? He knows that the Welsh European Funding Office is currently giving advice to prospective applicants, but cannot give a precise date,

Does he agree that there is a healthy impatience to get the matter resolved, not least because many projects are waiting in the pipeline? They include the development of renewable energies and energy efficiency, which fulfil some of the Lisbon criteria, and many small-scale community projects that do not. None the less, they all need the green light and cannot wait indefinitely.

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Mr. Hain: We shall continue to take that forward as effectively as possible. We have shown in the past that we always deliver under objective 1, despite whingeing and sniping by Opposition Members. The Labour Government have delivered in Cardiff and Westminster. The proof is that, whereas the gross value added per head in west Wales and the valleys was falling before 2000 and the objective 1 programme, it now consistently keeps pace with the UK average. That is a genuine tribute to the effectiveness of our policies.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Will EU structural funds be used to protect jobs in the Rhondda? Two weeks ago, Burberry announced that it intends to close its factory in Treorchy just after Christmas. Yet only last week, it announced a record increase in retail sales of 27 per cent. in the past few months. Does the Secretary of State worry that British brands, which trade on their Britishness, undermine that brand by outsourcing to other countries and stopping their production in Britain?

Mr. Hain: I acknowledge the valiant fight that my hon. Friend, along with Leighton Andrews, Assembly Member for Rhondda, has put up on behalf of the Burberry workers. We shall continue to support their efforts to try to ensure that there is a future for the factory. However, competition and management decisions have clearly affected that. It is therefore important to continue to work together to ascertain what can be done.

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