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1 Mar 2007 : Column 1098

John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): My right hon. Friend’s analysis of the challenges facing Wales in a global market is right, but does he agree that the construction of a military training academy at St. Athan in my constituency will provide the very skills that he is talking about and that Wales needs for the future?

Mr. Hain: Indeed, my hon. Friend is absolutely right and I pay tribute to his championing of the cause of the defence training review establishment in St. Athan. More than 5,000 jobs and investment of £16 billion will regenerate not just that area but the wider community in the valleys and surrounding areas— [ Interruption. ] I am being heckled by the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price), but I have a series of quotes, which I shall gladly read, showing how Plaid Cymru opposed the role of the defence forces in Wales. Indeed, the party’s president said that all defence establishments should clear out of Wales. There would be a massive cost to jobs in Wales, including at the defence training review establishment at St. Athan, because we should have to send back that decision to the Ministry of Defence.

David T.C. Davies rose—

Mr. Hain: I cannot resist allowing the hon. Gentleman to support me.

David T.C. Davies: I will indeed support the Secretary of State on this point. Does he agree that it was absolutely disgraceful that senior members of Plaid Cymru demanded that the military be kept out of schools, when the military offers an excellent base for young people who want to learn the specialist skills that he mentioned? Does he agree that we should all support our armed forces in this country?

Mr. Hain: I am always reluctant to agree with the hon. Gentleman, because it makes me wonder whether the position that I am taking is correct, but I have to say that he is absolutely right. What also interests me is the fact that the parliamentary leader of Plaid Cymru, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), signed an early-day motion in November opposing the entire defence review programme, and with it the jobs in Wales. I assume that the Plaid Cymru candidate in the Vale of Glamorgan is going to campaign on a programme of “Send the jobs back, repatriate the defence training rationalisation investment, and have a fresh decision in London.”

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): The Secretary of State knows that my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) signed that motion—as did many Labour Members—because we oppose the principle of privatisation. I was asked to support the consortium bid on behalf of Plaid Cymru and we gladly did so, because it was meant to have cross-party, all-Wales support. To say that Plaid Cymru did not support the consortium is factually incorrect.

Mr. Hain: I concede that the hon. Gentleman took that stance, but I do not see how he can reconcile that with the clear statement from his party president, Dafydd Iwan, which opposes any defence investment and activity in Wales.

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Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): A free Welsh army.

Mr. Hain: Except for the free Welsh army, as my hon. Friend says in his inimitable way.

We must encourage lifelong learning, whereby skills can be improved and updated throughout people’s working lives, allowing workers to move more easily between companies and sectors and making them better equipped to deal with change.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend applaud Airbus, which, even in the current difficulties, is moving ahead with its apprentice recruitment programme? Earlier this week, there were 2,500 young people looking to further their careers. Is that not a good example that many other employers in Wales should follow?

Mr. Hain: Airbus UK, and especially its plant at Broughton, which is the biggest manufacturing centre in the United Kingdom, if not in Europe, sets a standard of excellence for all. It is important that we recognise that the difficulties to which my hon. Friend referred are, as I understand it, going to drive forward Airbus to even greater success in the future as the premier airline manufacturer across the world—especially in competition with Boeing. It is important to put it on the record that the job cuts that, regrettably, have had to be made over the coming four years are in relation to overhead costs, not engineering, production or manufacturing costs, where Airbus expects to expand its production. As part of a decision taken at a European level, there will be extra work to do with wing manufacture, which was previously carried out in facilities in mainland Europe. That is good news for Airbus.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Does the Secretary of State agree that Airbus has been quite good at keeping in contact with the various political representatives and that it can be assured of cross-party support if it experiences difficulties? I think that all Welsh MPs in the Chamber today recognise the crucial importance of the high-value manufacturing and design jobs that Airbus brings to Wales and that help us to remain at the forefront of the international initiative for aerospace development.

Mr. Hain: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Airbus has received, and I am sure will continue to receive, cross-party support because it is the real jewel in the crown of the north-east Wales economy and, in many respects, of the Welsh economy as a whole.

At the same time, Wales must adapt to the huge and growing threat of climate change—the defining challenge of this era and beyond, which puts at risk the very future of humankind. It is predicted that global average temperatures could rise by 5.8° C and sea levels by up to 7.7 m by 2100. As the Stern review highlighted, the impacts of climate change will be economic as well as environmental. Unless urgent action is taken the impact could equate to 5 per cent. of global wealth, rising to 20 per cent. once the terrible
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human costs are taken into account. The imperative to cut our emissions is therefore not just moral and political, but economic.

Allied to climate change is the challenge of energy security. Over the next 15 years, we will lose 30 per cent. of our generating capacity, as ageing coal and nuclear plants reach the end of their lives. We face a huge energy gap, which must be bridged while curbing emissions and reducing our dependence on imported energy from dangerous and unstable parts of the world. We therefore need a huge push to increase our proportion of energy from renewable sources. Wales is already a major centre within the United Kingdom for onshore wind. With the North Hoyle wind farm, the first major offshore wind farm in Britain, and the proposal for a vast new north Wales offshore wind development at Gwynt-y-Mor, which would power up to 40 per cent. of Welsh homes, we can become a centre for offshore wind too.

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, because this is obviously a matter of great concern to both of us, particularly in the light of the statistics that were published today that show that emissions in Wales were higher in 2004 than in 1990. Would he care to comment on those statistics and lay out his vision for how we are going to reduce emissions in Wales in the future?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Lady is right, but she ought also to bear in mind that we had huge growth in Wales over that period. Growth across the United Kingdom has been nearly 28 per cent., whereas emissions have gone up in single figures. They should not have gone up at all, but the fact that they have gone up by such a small proportion, compared with growth, shows that we are going in the right direction. We have to do more. The climate change levy, which was opposed by her party, is an important part of that, as is the drive towards renewable energy. I hope that she will have a word with her boss, the Leader of the Opposition, and ask him to change his mind about the Gwynt-y-Mor wind farm development. I do not know what the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) thinks about it. The development would involve 250 turbines and would have the capacity to power the electricity needs of 40 per cent. of Welsh homes. It is an important project and I hope that it will get all-party support.

Marine, tidal and other renewable energies also offer enormous potential. The proposal for a Severn barrage, which is currently being assessed by the Sustainable Development Commission, could provide up to 5 per cent., and perhaps more, of Britain’s entire electricity needs—all of it from a clean, green, renewable source. It is an excellent project and I hope that the go-ahead will be signalled in the forthcoming energy White Paper, following an assessment by the Sustainable Development Commission. The project will rely on private sector investment—I have met the consortium behind it—but it will need Government support in respect of planning and other arrangements. I hope that it goes ahead, because it will be a flagship project that will mean that Britain, and Wales, is serious about the renewable energy agenda.

Lembit Öpik: Although I agree with the Secretary of State that we should utilise the energy available from
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the Severn estuary, does he agree that we must not yet dismiss the alternative possibility of tidal lagoons? It is possible that they might even produce more energy than a barrage. I am not asking him to commit to one or the other, but I would like him at least to keep the door open when it comes to the dialogue that we initiated at a Welsh Grand Committee, so that we can make a comparison between the two alternatives.

Mr. Hain: I am all in favour of a comparison to get the best option, but I suspect that the hon. Gentleman will find—this is the advice that I have received—that the barrage is a significantly better prospect and, in many ways, will intrude less on the estuary, whether we are thinking about shipping or boating life, or wildlife. It also offers the opportunity of a transport link—perhaps a rail link—across to Devon, which could offer big opportunities for Cardiff airport, for example, to act as a gateway into the skies for the south-west and could allow more people to travel to south Wales more easily to see its beauty and to enjoy the excellence of its cities, such as Cardiff and Swansea.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Is it not true that the most effective, long-term solution to renewable energy for Wales is marine power? However, it would have to be introduced—either with a barrage, lagoons, or mills—in combination with a pump storage facility so that water could be pumped up at the off-peak hours to any of the hills in Wales, where the topography is absolutely right for that, and allowed to run down to generate energy at peak hours. A combination of tidal power and pump storage would be a fine solution and the most effective solution for Wales.

Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is a pump storage facility and a hydro-electric project, which is also important, in north Wales. I think that Wales could lead the world in green, clean energy, and I hope that we do.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Before the Secretary of State moves on from renewable energy perhaps he could reflect on the role that bio-energy can play in replacing fossil fuels and the role that Wales can play in producing those biofuels, particularly biomass. A group of farmers in south-west Wales would like to supply the Bluestone project with heat, but at the moment Welsh farmers, unlike English farmers, do not have the benefit of grants to help with the high costs of establishing such crops. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could make representations to the Minister in the Assembly on that matter.

Mr. Hain: I shall certainly be happy to look into the matter and write to the hon. Gentleman as a result of my inquiries. I agree that biomass and bio-crops for fuel purposes have enormous potential, and Wales ought to go for that. Farmers have the potential, using wind and other environmentally friendly energy sources, to diversify their businesses and gain benefits. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about Bluestone. It is a fantastic project and environmentally very sound, and this could add to it.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support the changes that we will introduce, which have already been signalled, to ensure that there is less scope for
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nimbyism— which is rife in the United Kingdom, not least in Wales—to block renewable energy projects. We need to be serious about renewable energy, and that means supporting all the different forms that have been described in the debate so far—tidal, marine current, wind and biomass. If we are not serious, the only future is a nuclear one.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Will the Secretary of State enlighten the House as to whether a derogation from European regulations regarding wildlife would be required for the Severn barrage? If so, is it the Government’s intention to seek such a derogation?

Mr. Hain: That is among the issues being considered in assessing the viability of the project. The hon. Gentleman asks a legitimate question, but I hope that it does not signal opposition to the barrage. There will in future be no wildlife in the Severn estuary—or pretty well anywhere else—if we are not careful, and if climate-changing emissions continue on their upward trajectory and wreak their devastation.

Lembit Öpik: I very much agree with the Secretary of State that we have to make decisions now about renewable and sustainable energy, but does he accept that one of the problems in the original roll-out of wind turbines in Wales was that it was done with scant regard for local community concern? Is he aware that a cross-party group has been working on Tan 8 plus, as it has been called, to see whether we can build in community concerns to balance the environmental requirements that he has already outlined?

Mr. Hain: Of course we need to take account of community concerns, and nobody wants to see Wales carpeted with wind farms, but there has to be a recognition of the strategic importance of renewable energy projects. People often say to me, “We don’t like wind power. Let’s go for tidal power.” Any time anybody proposes siting a tidal project off a beach, there is massive opposition from local people. People have to decide where they stand on this matter. We are heading towards a much more strategic planning system, which can bypass such nimbyism.

For the information of the House, I can say that, in terms of the energy that would be produced, the Severn barrage project is equivalent to literally covering Wales with wind farms, so it is a very important project.

With enough support, Wales could become a world leader in renewable technologies, with huge potential also for jobs and business growth, so the impetus for urgent action makes not only environmental sense but economic and employment sense, too. I am therefore very encouraged that Carwyn Jones, the Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Environment, Planning and the Countryside, recently announced that all new buildings in Wales should be zero-carbon by 2011—another excellent policy from the Welsh Assembly Labour Government.

Mr. Crabb: Although I in no way want to downplay the moral obligation of the United Kingdom to do our bit to tackle climate change, is the Secretary of State aware that to make a serious difference in tackling
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global emissions, we need to see action in countries such as China, India and Brazil? What role does he think Wales can play, given our history of coal production, in helping countries such as China and India, which are adding huge amounts of coal-fired electricity generating capacity every month, to develop clean-coal solutions that will make a difference to climate change in the longer term?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I support him in it. With China opening a new coal-fired power station every week—one a week—its contribution to global emissions will dwarf anything that we are able to do about it. However, what lies behind his question is a great opportunity for Wales in, for example, exporting our clean-coal technology and renewable energy experience so that we can get a much more balanced energy policy in China and other countries, including India and Brazil, to which he referred.

In Wrexham in north Wales, Sharp has recently announced that it is doubling production of photovoltaic solar panels at its Wrexham plant, making it one of the largest such facilities in the world, and very welcome in terms of local employment, too. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) for the way in which he has supported that company in its growth.

So much has changed since Labour’s historic election victory of 1997 that it is worth remembering exactly what Wales was like at that time, after 18 years of Conservative rule. Thousands of jobs had been lost, a generation of young people had been thrown on the scrapheap with no chance of employment or access to education and training, and whole communities had been devastated by the rundown of local industries. Children were being taught in crowded classrooms; thousands of people were waiting more than 12 months for in-patient treatment; and crime had doubled. Mortgage rates, bankruptcies and inflation soared as the economy endured the worst two recessions since the second world war.

Wales was also governed by Tory Secretaries of State from English constituencies, like governor-generals, with little knowledge or understanding of our needs, and the same fate awaits Wales if the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham gets into my job in a future Conservative Government, if there ever is one. [Interruption.] Indeed, the hon. Lady would be a governess-general of Wales.

Now, in 2007, with Labour, Wales is heading in the right direction, going from strength to strength. Employment is at record levels, with 133,000 more jobs and 37,000 fewer unemployed than in 1997. Private sector output is up for the 46th( )month in a row. Major international companies such as Airbus, Logica CMG, Sharp, Toyota, EADS, General Dynamics, Ford and Cogent are thriving in Wales and competing successfully in global markets. As the recent announcement of the £16 billion investment in the defence training academy at St. Athan demonstrates, people now know that Wales can do it.

Investment in the health service is now more than £1,600 per person, double what it was under the Tories.
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As a result, we have more than 500 more consultants and more than 8,000 more qualified nurses in Wales alone. From 1 April, Welsh Labour’s landmark policy of free prescriptions for everyone in Wales will come into force, giving particular help to those on low incomes with chronic illnesses who are currently deterred from finding jobs by the cost of their prescriptions. From 2 April, another landmark Welsh Labour policy will come into force: the ban on smoking in all enclosed public spaces and workplaces, three months ahead of England, protecting workers from second-hand smoke.

In our schools, class sizes are down, with 1,700 more teachers than in 1998, and 5,700 more school support staff. Since 2002, more than £100 million a year has been invested in school buildings, and that figure is now up to £150 million a year. Welsh Labour’s policy of free breakfasts in primary schools, introduced in “community first” areas from September 2004, has now been rolled out throughout Wales, with more than 600 schools now signed up.

More young people are going on to higher education, and there are many more apprenticeships. Thousands of people who were previously in long-term unemployment, many of them lone parents or disabled, now have the opportunity of employment. Crime is down by a third, and 1,000 more police officers, 1,200 more police support staff, and more than 380 additional community support officers—the figure will rise to 700 later this year—have been introduced under Labour. There are 422 antisocial behaviour orders in Wales, which were introduced by a Labour Government in the face of opposition from many Opposition parties. Antisocial behaviour orders are making Wales safer, despite the opposition of the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

Some 50,000 children have been taken out of poverty, with the help of tax credits and increases in child benefit. Child poverty rates in Wales, once among the worst in Britain, have been brought into line with those in the rest of the country. [Interruption.] Of course there is more to do, but if we consider the miserable Tory record, we have made fantastic progress. Over 220,000 working families with children in Wales now receive nearly £3,000 per year, on average, in tax credits. The 30,000 children born each year in Wales benefit from the child trust fund, which was denounced by the Liberal Democrats as a gimmick. Older people in Wales are better off under Labour, with more than 160,000 low-income pensioners having their incomes boosted by about £30 a week or more under Labour’s pension credit. More than 469,000 households in Wales will benefit from automatic winter fuel payments of at least £200—something denied them under the Tories.

Free television licences for over-75s are given to about 190,000 pensioner households in Wales, and as a result of the Government’s Pensions Bill, re-linking the state pension with earnings, about 589,000 pensioners in Wales will benefit. Welsh Labour’s policy of free bus passes for older people and those with disabilities, pioneered in Wales and now being copied throughout the United Kingdom, benefits 530,000 people. Once again, Welsh Labour has led the way.

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