Previous Section Index Home Page

That investment has come thanks to a combination of factors: an efficient engine plant that has experienced dramatically rising productivity over recent years; a successful and growing UK economy where companies know that they can invest with confidence and certainty; and, importantly, support provided by the Welsh Assembly Government. That is joined-up government or, more to the point, joined-up Labour government—a Labour-led Assembly working
1 Mar 2007 : Column 1163
with a Labour Government here to delivery growth and, importantly, jobs in north Wales.

Yesterday, Airbus announced the “Power 8” restructuring programme, which has major implications for more than 7,000 workers employed at Broughton and more than 6,000 workers at Filton, near Bristol. I do not downplay the job losses announced, which represent a reversal, after many years of growth, since the dreadful events of 9/11, which affected the entire world’s airline production business. I am confident, however, that those job losses can be achieved, through discussions with the trade unions, by voluntary means. I will certainly get involved in seeing how we can minimise the impact.

On the positive side, and in sharp contrast to some of the reports that we have seen in national newspapers, the UK remains the centre of excellence for wing and propulsion systems. Broughton has been recognised as a core site within the Airbus business. There will be substantial investment in Broughton to do with the A350 programme. At Filton, the development of a composite design and manufacturing facility means that the UK will retain an involvement in design, manufacturing and assembly for the next generation of wings. I do not underestimate the challenge that we face from Airbus partners in Germany and Spain for such work, but we will be in a position to fight our corner. The important aircraft coming up after the A350 will be the replacement for the A320, which is the workhorse of aircraft fleets around the world.

I am sure that I can rely on support from this Government to ensure that we secure our share of that work, which will be vital for the future. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to press colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry to continue to invest in composite technology to secure the future of all our UK plants. I place on record my thanks to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for his work and assistance over recent weeks and months. I am sure that, thanks to his help, we have money to secure a more beneficial outcome than we may have seen and that many in the press thought we were likely to see.

When we hit difficulties, we sometimes lose sight of the great progress that we have made. The West factory at Broughton is the largest factory built in the UK over recent years, costing more than £350 million to build and equip. Overall, we have seen more than €2 billion-worth of capital investment over the past nine years. Although Airbus has hit difficulties with the A380 and the redesign of the A350, and there have been problems with the dollar exchange rate, 2006 was a record year for deliveries of aircraft. We should not lose sight of that.

Where we have had success, we must maintain it, but also look to build on it and encourage others to site in our areas. Thanks to Airbus, we have a cluster of aerospace companies around Broughton—local suppliers including Magellan, Tritech, RD Precision, Metal Improvement Company and Electroimpact. As a result, more than £6 million a week overall is spent in the local economy. I am delighted that, despite the current difficulties, the company is carrying on its recruitment of the next generation of apprentices. Currently, Airbus has over 450 apprentices and over
1 Mar 2007 : Column 1164
6,000 have gone through the system in the past three decades—as I said, if only the rest of industry could follow that example. It has a good working relationship with Deeside college, North East Wales Institute and Yale college. Again, that could be used as a model.

I have mentioned that over 2,500 young people attended an event this week looking to become apprentices at Broughton. That shows the confidence that is there. It has been a difficult period for Airbus, but I am sure that we can secure the future.

I wanted to talk about many other issues today, including the steel industry and the need for more affordable housing, but unfortunately they will have to wait for another day, as I am aware that many other colleagues wish to speak.

5.15 pm

Mr. Dai Davies (Blaenau Gwent) (Ind): Following on from the Member for Shotton—the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami)—I will mention a few things that we missed out this afternoon. The communities first programme, which is a creation of the Welsh Assembly through objective 1 funding, is a huge opportunity. We need to look at the creation and the extension of social enterprises. There is a huge opportunity for employment. We must push that as much as we can.

We have heard in the press, and we have all, I guess, had letters sent to us, about the worry that the Olympics may take away some lottery funding from our communities. Obviously, there is concern about community projects that receive lottery funding, which could be threatened. The big one for me is tourism, which is an opportunity for the valley communities that we do not take advantage of. From the Rhondda valley through Caerphilly and Merthyr to what is probably the jewel in the crown, the big pit in Blaenavon in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), there is a massive opportunity. We have an industrial and medical history that is second to none. We have heard today about our links to America and to Italy through the ice cream factories. That is the case in my constituency, too, and we can attract those people to bring money into our localities. That is something that we must look at with some urgency.

In tackling climate change, we should look at the possibility of power generation not just from the River Severn, but from many other rivers throughout Wales. Another issue is industrial estates. We have a number, especially in constituencies such as mine, that are right up on the top of the mountain. Wind generators would be another major way of supplying those estates, away from the national grid as such. That is something that we can exploit in the best possible terms.

5.17 pm

Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): I speak in this important Welsh day debate from the perspective of being the Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee. I speak too as a Labour Member representing a constituency that is benefiting from rising investment, record sustained growth and strong prospects for 2007.

My constituency of Aberavon, in common with the rest of Wales, is facing a growing global challenge, and I wish to give some attention to that. When I became
1 Mar 2007 : Column 1165
Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, I expressed the view that our task was to champion the cause of the people of Wales in Parliament and to hold to account not only the Secretary of State for Wales but all other major spending Departments in Wales. It was also my view that we should be as collectivist, if that is the right word, as possible and achieve as much consensus as possible. I thank all members of the Committee for achieving that—most of the time, at least.

One of the virtues of a parliamentary Select Committee is that it can respond quickly to the changing circumstances in Wales and have short inquiries. Our most effective short inquiry was perhaps the one on the future of the St. Athan site and the Ministry of Defence’s new UK-wide training academy. The success of Metrix will lead, as we have heard, to the creation of around 5,000 jobs at St. Athan and contribute about £58 million to the local economy. I congratulate all Members of all political parties on the contribution that they made in that successful campaign, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith).

The Welsh Affairs Committee’s main inquiry last year was on energy, and it was one of the most relevant inquiries that we have ever held. We took evidence on the cost, efficiency and sustainability of existing energy sources in Wales, including nuclear power, wind, gas, oil and coal, and we had additional evidence later on earlier this year on coal. We also looked into tidal, wave, solar, hydroelectric, biomass and geothermal sources. Our recommendations will be taken very seriously during the preparation of the White Paper.

In November, we announced that we were beginning another major inquiry, on globalisation and its impact on Wales. We have begun our inquiry by looking at employment and we have noticed a major issue, skills. I suspect that the skills challenge will be one of the biggest issues to emerge, particularly the leading role of higher education institutions in Wales, and I hope that we will get some evidence from them in due course. The Labour manifesto for the Assembly, “Building a Better Wales”, calls for

and that is an important theme.

Education is a devolved matter, but I am pleased to see that Welsh higher education institutions have been showcasing their research, teaching and community links here at Westminster at a number of important events. The Committee has been proactive in monitoring the progress of the Government of Wales Act 2006 and, most recently, has been looking at the functioning of the Orders in Council. I look forward, as do all other members of the Committee to working in partnership with our Assembly colleagues on scrutinising them.

I now turn to the steel industry, which is very important in my constituency and other parts of Wales. This will be part of our globalisation inquiry and has been brought into sharp focus because of the takeover of Corus by the Indian firm, Tata. I am struck by the fascinating connections, some personal, between India and Wales. My late father was a keen supporter of the India League, which campaigned for independence with the Congress party. Indeed, Krishna Menon, the first Foreign Secretary in India after independence,
1 Mar 2007 : Column 1166
spoke in my home village during the second world war. Of course we are well aware of the close friendship over many decades between Aneurin Bevan and Prime Minister Nehru.

I truly believe that our two countries have similar and common values. History and culture are important guides to us, but we must also recognise that we are living in new, changed and challenging times. We face globalisation in steel as in many other sectors where the pace of change is accelerating.

The steel unions want Corus—or should I say Tata—to spend a further £300 million on bringing facilities at Port Talbot, Llanwern and Scunthorpe to a level of production and quality to beat most of the competition from the EU. I share that aspiration, and I was greatly encouraged by the Minister for Trade, who made a positive contribution about the future of the steel industry when he gave evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee recently.

The Government’s approach to this strategically important industry needs to be constantly reviewed and re-evaluated and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) on her leadership, as chair of the all-party steel group, in identifying climate change measures and public procurement as key issues that the Government must address.

I shall end on an historical note. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to be congratulated on the way in which he has emphasised the importance of the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery. He may not know that one of the finest histories of slave rebellions, “The Black Jacobins” by C.L.R. James, a great writer of West Indian origin, was reputedly completed in 1938 in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, in the Dulais valley. C. L. R. James was, of course, a close friend of that great humanitarian and honorary Welshman, Paul Robeson—who was another friend of Nehru. All three of them would have been fascinated by the new relationship that is now developing between Wales and India.

5.25 pm

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I suppose it is inevitable that in our debate on St. David’s day we have heard numerous references to what Wales experienced during 18 years of Conservative Government. I know that the Conservatives sometimes do not like us to refer to that, and some of them find it quite funny, but that episode in Wales cast a dark cloud over the country, and only now are we beginning to see some genuine light at the end of the tunnel.

In the 1990s, I edited a pamphlet on what policies a Labour Government might introduce. One of the contributors to it was a young academic by the name of Kevin Morgan, who is now Professor Morgan of Cardiff university. He strongly argued that Wales needed a more diversified economy and much more Government-led investment in the defence sector. He pointed to the fact that there was massive Government-led investment in the south of England and the south-west but very little in Wales, and he was absolutely right.

I am pleased to be able to say that that is now being addressed. Two investments stand out as undoubtedly significant. The first has been referred to by my right
1 Mar 2007 : Column 1167
hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig): the General Dynamics UK Ltd investment in Oakdale and Newbridge, creating 700 well-paid, quality jobs, linked to the contract for the Bowman communications system for the Ministry of Defence. There is a huge investment—worth £2.4 billion—in the depressed valleys of south Wales. That investment is the thin end of a wedge. It has shown what is possible; it has shown that there is innate vitality in the valleys of south Wales, which is just waiting to be harnessed and tapped. The Bowman communications system has proved to be successful in action, and it highlights what can happen when we make the transition from analogue to digital.

Building on that success, the other great recent triumph has been the award of the defence training academy contract to St. Athan, to which Members have referred. There will be a huge investment of £16 billion. Wales celebrated the fact that we received objective 1 status a few years ago, which was worth £1.3 billion, but the figure for St. Athan is £16 billion, which shows how important the contract won by the Metrix consortium is for the economy of the whole of south Wales—indeed for the whole of Wales, as has been said.

There is one question that I particularly want to ask today: how did that investment come about? Did it come about because of good luck or an act of God, or because the Labour Government saw that the Welsh Assembly elections were coming up? No. That investment was won by St. Athan because it was the best place to invest, and it is the best place to invest because a unique partnership has been established between central Government in London and a Welsh Assembly Government. The Welsh Assembly Government did an enormous amount of preparatory work to ensure that the infrastructure was in place so that Metrix could put forward the best possible bid. That was—objectively—recognised by the MOD, and the contract went to the right place.

It is interesting that a number of people have claimed credit for the contract going to St. Athan. A constituent of mine wrote to The Western Mail; his name is Mr. Nutt, and he is a Plaid Cymru member. He said that it was a fantastic contract—a wonderful contract—and that he and his friends in Plaid Cymru were very pleased to have played a part in winning it. That is a joke. I wrote back to The Western Mail, saying that such was not the case, and that the partnership that was successful was a Labour partnership involving Labour Assembly Members, Labour MPs, a Labour Government in Cardiff and a Labour Government in Westminster. That is what won the bid. What was the response from Plaid Cymru in the pages of The Western Mail? Not one single letter. That is surprising, is it not? Most days, The Western Mail is full of letters from Plaid Cymru candidates and members putting their case, but on this issue they were absolutely silent.

Hywel Williams: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith) was kind enough to acknowledge, rightly,
1 Mar 2007 : Column 1168
the contribution of all parties in this place, rather than making the self-demeaning case that the hon. Gentleman is making.

Mr. David: I am just being objective and honest and telling the truth according to what I heard and saw with my own eyes, which is what we all know to be the reality.

What is more, at a crucial time when bids were being made, the president of Plaid Cymru not only failed to support the bid, but undermined it. On 29 November last year in a BBC Wales radio interview, Dafydd Iwan said categorically that he was against a military presence in Wales. If that is not undermining the defence training rationalisation programme bid, what is? That speaks volumes. It tells us exactly where Plaid Cymru really stands on the defence of this country and defence investment in Wales.

At the election on 3 May, the people of Wales will have the facts before them. They will know that the Labour party in government in Cardiff and in London is transforming the Welsh economy. They will realise that although the work has begun, there is much to do, and I believe that they will look at our record and come to an objective decision about what is the best way forward. I have no doubt that when the people of Wales have a clear choice between a rag-tag coalition made up of odds and sods of the Opposition parties, or a Labour Administration with coherent policies and a vision for the future, they will vote Labour.

5.31 pm

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I was going to speak for the limit of 12 minutes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I know that you will not let me, so I will try to condense my remarks into two minutes. [Interruption.] Well, if the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman had taken a little less time, we all could have got in. However, I am not going to argue with the Liberal Democrats, because I have some important constituency issues to discuss.

Last week I joined Assembly Minister Andrew Davies on a visit to the new Maes Awyr Môn—to Anglesey airport—to announce the intended operator of the north-south link between Cardiff and Anglesey. It was a very important step in a long political campaign that I have been involved in, working closely with the Westminster and Assembly Governments. The link will provide great opportunities for the people of north-west Wales and Anglesey in particular. A lot of objective 1 and local authority investment has gone into the project, and I hope that it will bring the benefits to the area that we all feel we deserve.

RAF Valley is very important to Ynys Môn not just in military terms—I will discuss that issue briefly in a moment—but for search and rescue. Next year, the United Kingdom search and rescue headquarters will be relocated there. That is to the credit of No. 22 Squadron, which does an excellent search and rescue job. Scheduled flights will run from Ynys Môn and the search and rescue headquarters will be there. Following this week’s announcement by the Ministry of Defence, RAF Valley will also have the contract to service the Hawk T1—the next generation of the fast jet—subject to the contract being completed between Babcock, the
1 Mar 2007 : Column 1169
civil maintenance operators at the airfield, and BAE Systems. That is good news for Anglesey. RAF Valley is central to the island’s and the region’s economy.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) that Plaid Cymru undermines military and armed forces investment in Wales. Indeed, it is not just a junior member of its team but its president who wants to remove all air bases and military establishments from Wales. The hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price)—he is not in his place, but if he were I would still raise this issue—did not have the courtesy to tell me that he wanted to curtail low flying in Wales. Doing so would also curtail jobs at RAF Valley. Of course, the Assembly Member and leader of Plaid Cymru was silent on this issue. In his own constituency, a spokesman said that they wanted to reduce the amount of low flying in the area, which would do away with the jobs. Plaid Cymru cannot have it both ways. Military and defence expenditure in Wales is the fault line in Plaid Cymru, and we are right to expose that before the Assembly elections so that people know that jobs will be secure with a Labour team here in Westminster and a Labour team in the Assembly.


Next Section Index Home Page