Welsh Grand Committee

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Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend and pay tribute to the way in which she has championed the Tower workers. The way in which the work force have come together to make it a viable pit is a fantastic example to us all. Yes, the Margam pit provides a good future for coal mining in that part of Wales, including my constituency. My hon. Friend has often made the point that the skills at Tower are a vital asset. It is important that there is a seamless transition from Tower, whose reserves will soon be exhausted as she says, to new pits. The skills must be transferred, because they could otherwise be lost forever to that part of the Welsh economy at a time when the coal price is going up and there are fantastic opportunities for clean coal in the future.
Dr. Francis: My right hon. Friend will be aware of the uncertainty that currently surrounds the future of the steel industry in my constituency and throughout Wales. Does he agree that the steel industry is of strategic importance to the Welsh economy? Does he also agree that everything should be done to reassure steelworkers that the Government will support them to ensure that their current terms and conditions, particularly the pension rights of past and present workers, are protected?
Mr. Hain: I will certainly work with my hon. Friend to ensure that that is the case. There has been a takeover bid from Tata, the Indian conglomerate, and a similar bid from a Brazilian company. Both are reputable companies: I know that Tata has a good reputation for looking after its work force and is not an asset-stripping operation. It is important, however, that we work to ensure that the prospects of Corus in Port Talbot, Llanwern and elsewhere in the UK are protected in the takeover process, especially with regard to pensions.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): We must also bear in mind the Allied Steel and Wire workers, who are still dissatisfied with the position in which they are left.
I agree with the Secretary of State that Airbus and the European Aeronautic Defence and Space company are a fantastic operation. We can give cross-party support to their wing operation in north Wales. I believe it is very important and I was therefore delighted to welcome the announcement of the investment earlier this week. How is the investment divided between the Bristol site and the north Wales operation? There is talk that investment in the Bristol operation is far greater than in north Wales. I would be comforted to know that a significant amount of the investment is coming to Airbus in north Wales.
Mr. Hain: As the hon. Lady knows, there is a seamless link between Filton and Broughton as they take the future of Airbus forward. The combined investment by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Welsh Assembly Government is critical to Broughton’s future, as is its link with Filton.
Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that the proposals of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to reorganise its offices in Wales will lead to the near-decimation of the tax office network in rural west, mid and north Wales, which will lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs and have a severe economic impact on those communities? Will he update us on his discussions with his colleagues at the Treasury about those plans, which fly in the face of the aims of the objective 1 programme?
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales is meeting the Paymaster General in January to discuss precisely that issue. We are concerned that there is an impact on the objective 1 labour market and the hon. Gentleman is quite right to identify that. On the other hand, I am sure that he will also support the reforms that are being introduced at HM Revenue and Customs, because it is important that resources be transferred from back office costs to the front line—not just in that area but more particularly in health and education. That is what we have embarked on—making sure that we get a public sector and a civil service that is fit for purpose and that the resources are put where they are absolutely needed—in hospitals and schools, in housing and transport, and in other front-line services.

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act

4. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): What discussions he has had with the First Minister on the implementation of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. [108134]
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): My right hon. Friend played a central part in putting the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 on the statute book. It will tackle a whole raft of problems that blight local communities and make people’s lives a misery.
Alun Michael: I am grateful for that reply. Tackling damage to the local environment through local crime reduction partnerships will be a key part of the responsibilities of the police and the local authorities in every part of Wales. Will my right hon. Friend press Ministers at the Home Office and in the Welsh Assembly to ensure that the new powers in the Act are used quickly and effectively to tackle that blight on so many local Welsh communities? Will he encourage the Assembly—in cases where the responsibility is the Assembly’s—to bring such powers into effect rather more quickly, so that the powers can be used by Welsh local authorities, as I know those authorities wish to do?
Mr. Hain: I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. The powers now exist, as a result of his work. I notice, however, that the Conservatives voted against the Act on Second Reading—an astonishing fact, given that the Act is designed to tackle fly-tipping, neighbourhood disturbances, litter, nuisance alleys, fly-posting, graffiti, waste, nuisance vehicles and so on. The powers are important for local communities that are often blighted by such activity. I agree that the Assembly Government should put the measures in the legislation into effect, and empower local authorities to act, and act quickly, on behalf of local residents.

Want2Work Project

8. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the First Minister on the want to work project. [108139]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with the First Minister on a range of issues, including welfare-to-work initiatives such as Want2Work. I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) was able to visit south Wales two weeks ago. He saw projects in Cardiff and Merthyr Tydfil that have helped economically inactive people back to work.
Julie Morgan: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that the Want2Work scheme has been judged one of the most successful voluntary welfare-to-work schemes in the world? Does that not illustrate the success of the partnership between Labour in the Assembly and Labour in Westminster, with the Assembly providing the medical and the mentoring back-up, and Westminster providing safeguarding of benefits while people who have a long history of difficulty in being employed get back to work?

Renewable Energy

12. Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): What discussions he has had on measures in Wales to promote renewable energy. [108143]
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): This year’s energy review in the upcoming energy White Paper will make plain our commitment to a massive increase in the proportion of energy obtained from renewables: 20 per cent. by 2020.
Nia Griffith: I congratulate the Secretary of State on installing solar PV on his own roof. Evidence clearly shows that incentives have an enormous impact on the uptake of microgeneration by householders and that our industries are in their infancy—I have a solar panel factory in my constituency and so does my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas). We are concerned that there should be stability in the market so that they can plan for the future. What talks has the Secretary of State had with officials from the Department of Trade and Industry to ensure that there is continuity in the form of grants available to householders for microgeneration?
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend raises an important point, that if there is to be a roll-out to households of solar panels, PV panels and other forms of microgeneration, which I know she is enthusiastic about, continuity of grant availability is needed, so that individual householders can make a contribution to the fight against climate change and save on their bills. Where I have responsibility for these matters in Northern Ireland I have established a new fund for putting free solar panels on the roofs of homes where low-income pensioners living in social housing are on the basic state retirement pension. I hope that such innovative policies will be adopted elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that in respect of renewable energy, the Government’s focus at Westminster and in Cardiff has been primarily on wind power, which a recent study by the Renewable Energy Foundation determined was not as effective and efficient as previously thought? Does he therefore agree that the Assembly and the Department of Trade and Industry should give far more consideration to predictable sources of generation, particularly tidal power? What assessment has the right hon. Gentleman made of the proposed lagoon in north Wales, off the coast of Kinmel bay, and of the proposal for a Severn barrage?
Mr. Hain: First, on the principle of wind power, it is the most effective contribution to renewable energy at present. It is more cost-effective in generating renewable energy and its technology is better developed than tidal, marine current or wave power; therefore it can make an immediate contribution of the kind that we need.
It is astonishing that the hon. Gentleman is opposed to the Gwynt y Môr wind farm project, which is 13 to 15 km off the coast of north Wales and will contribute about 750 MW, enough to power 420,000 homes. The Leader of the Opposition, at whose altar the hon. Gentleman worships daily, described it as a giant bird blender, although the right hon. Gentleman put a bird blender on his own roof at home. The Conservatives need to sort themselves out on wind power. They should back the Severn barrage and Gwynt y Môr, which is the biggest renewable energy project anywhere in the United Kingdom. If they are not backing that, and the right hon. Gentleman is not, they are not serious about green, clean energy.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Is the Secretary of State aware of the meeting that we held recently with the Under-Secretary of State about making Wales the environmental capital of the UK? Does he agree, notwithstanding some arguments of detail about what technology is being used, that that is something that should be approached on a cross-party basis?
Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in thanking the Under-Secretary for trying to resolve a particular problem with a piece of legislation that has prevented Benji’s, a local company in my constituency, from repairing and reselling products that would otherwise have to go into landfill, thereby helping us to achieve our goals?
Mr. Hain: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, especially those about my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. It is good to see people working together to take forward clean, green renewable energy strategy in Wales. I agree with the hon. Gentleman; I would like Wales to be a world centre of excellence for renewable energy and I hope that we can work together to achieve it.

Orders in Council

13. Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): When he expects to announce the detailed arrangements for the consideration of requests by the National Assembly for Wales for Orders in Council. [108144]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): The Wales Office, in conjunction with the Welsh Assembly Government, is developing detailed guidance in relation to the Order in Council process.
Hywel Williams: I thank the Under-Secretary for that answer. We are a little over four months away from the election, when the powers will be enacted. Is not “working on” an insufficient response to the uncertainty felt by many on both sides of this House, and in Wales, about a substantial puzzle? I am a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, which I understand will have a role in the process. Perhaps it is just me, but I am unclear as to what I shall be doing.
Nick Ainger: The hon. Gentleman says that he is a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee. As he knows, I shall be appearing before it next Tuesday. We have already submitted a memorandum to the Committee, and I am sure that the evidence that I shall give will bring clarity for him. It is not such a complex situation, but the Welsh Affairs Committee does have an important role to play, particularly in the pre-legislative scrutiny of Orders in Council. I am sure that we will have an interesting session next Tuesday.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Is the Minister not being very complacent? We are not discussing a cosy little arrangement between the Under-Secretary of State and the Welsh Affairs Committee; we are talking about the constitutional position of legislation, powers passing from this House to the Assembly and the way in which laws are scrutinised. It is a disgrace that at this stage, only four months away from the election, the Under-Secretary is still saying that he has prepared a memorandum here and is giving evidence there, obscuring the whole process in smoke and mirrors. Is it not time that this Government, whose Secretary of State for Wales said that the Government of Wales Act 1998 settled the business of devolution for a generation, told us how they are going to handle the constitution of this country and the legislative process? This is a disgrace.
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Prepared 14 December 2006