21 Mar 2007 : Column 795

House of Commons

Wednesday 21 March 2007

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Energy Review

1. Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues and Welsh Assembly Ministers following the energy review. [127774]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): Numerous ones, as we want to combat climate change and secure our future energy supply.

Mr. Evennett: I thank the Secretary of State for his response. In the light of the energy review’s acknowledgment of nuclear power as an essential component of the energy mix, will he confirm that any proposal to replace the Wylfa power station with a new station would have his enthusiastic support?

Mr. Hain: Yes, and I have told the local Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), and the local county council that I back their request to have the replacement, Wylfa B, put in place. That will provide enormous opportunities for Anglesey.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Microgeneration is also an important facet of the energy mix. If I write to the Secretary of State, will he please investigate what has happened to the Dolgarrog wood-burning scheme, which would have provided energy for the whole of that part of the valley? It seems to have hit the buffers on funding. Will he liaise with his colleagues in the National Assembly to see whether that important model, which might be a template for many other places, can be restarted?

Mr. Hain: I would be happy to do that and to work with the hon. Gentleman to encourage microgeneration wherever possible. It is essential that Wales becomes a world leader in renewable energy. Whether in microgeneration of the kind that he describes, wind power, wave power, tidal power or the Severn barrage, Wales has a tremendous opportunity to be at the forefront of such developments.

21 Mar 2007 : Column 796

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new research and enterprise partnership launched at Westminster yesterday by the university of Wales, Aberystwyth, and the university of Wales, Bangor, with its emphasis on the development of new technologies, products and services, will have the opportunity to contribute significantly to sustainable, energy-efficient development in Wales, the UK and internationally?

Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend, and I commend her and the work going on at Bangor university, which I visited last year. I was enormously impressed by its attempt to make Wales a leader in the fight against climate change. We therefore hope that Opposition parties will back our policies to make sure that renewable, clean energy is the dominant energy supply in Wales.

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): The energy White Paper has still not been published, despite being promised for the beginning of this year. That delay is caused by the Government’s admitted failures to consult over the energy review. It is now certain that Wylfa nuclear power station will close in 2010. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how the Government propose to make up for the loss of generating capacity as a result of Wylfa’s closure? Why did the Government not act sooner to formulate their energy policy so as to secure the electricity supply in Wales?

Mr. Hain: We are confident that an electricity supply will be secured for Wales. It will certainly be secured if the hon. Gentleman changes his policy on the giant Gwynt-y-Môr wind farm project 9 miles off the north Wales coast, which is capable of powering nearly half the households in Wales. He has opposed that, and the Leader of the Opposition has opposed it, despite putting a little windmill on his home in Notting Hill—a lot of good that will do. There is a prospect of massive electricity generation—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Environmental Liability Directive

2. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What discussions he has had with the First Minister and ministerial colleagues on the implementation of the environmental liability directive. [127775]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with the First Minister and ministerial colleagues on a range of issues. The Welsh Assembly Government are currently considering responses to the consultation on options and will announce their conclusions later this year.

David Taylor: An ELD can only fully implement the “polluter pays” principle if there is strict liability for all occupational activities on land that lead to biodiversity damage. It is therefore regrettable that a weak English regime is proposed that exempts some hazardous genetically modified organism operations from financial penalties. Will the Minister congratulate Welsh Assembly Ministers on their more robust ELD line, which removes those
21 Mar 2007 : Column 797
permitted get-outs, and ask them to encourage their counterparts on this side of Offa’s Dyke to take a firmer stance, without exclusions, in the interests of environmental protection?

Nick Ainger: My hon. Friend is right that the directive establishes strict liability for environmental damage to land, water, protected species and habitats. In line with the “polluter pays” principle, offenders will be required to remedy any damage caused. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Assembly Government are considering responses to the consultation before deciding how to move forward. A second consultation will focus on draft regulations. The same high standards are being applied across England and Wales. DEFRA and the Assembly Government are liaising closely on implementing the directive. The details of how it will be implemented in Wales are a matter for the Assembly Government. I will raise his concern with DEFRA Ministers, and I will also meet Carwyn Jones, the Minister in the Assembly Government with responsibility for those matters, tomorrow.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Nation states have a duty under the ELD to include European designations of protection, but no such duty to include national designations. It appears that Wales will take a more inclusive approach. Many designations have cross-border significance, and DEFRA will have an input there as well. Will the Minister urge DEFRA to take a more inclusive approach to ELDs, and ensure that any cross-border designations are dealt with appropriately?

Nick Ainger: Not only will the proposed directive cover the issue, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, domestic legislation already provides extensive protection for the environment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to contribute to the consultation and make his point then: all responses will be considered carefully. However, I will raise his concerns with the relevant DEFRA Minister, along with those of my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor).

Royal Naval Armaments Depot Llangennech

3. Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): What discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the closure of Royal Naval Armaments Depot Llangennech. [127776]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of issues, including defence matters.

Adam Price: Can the Secretary of State explain why, when central Government Departments such as the Ministry of Defence—or, indeed, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Treasury—cut jobs, they cut them in places like Carmarthenshire or Pembrokeshire, which need them most, whereas when they create jobs they create them outside the convergence fund region, in the places that need them least? Is it not about time that the Government had a policy for west Wales, and indeed for all Wales, so that jobs can be created throughout the nation?

21 Mar 2007 : Column 798

Mr. Hain: I agree that we should be creating jobs throughout the nation, and in fact we are doing so. As the hon. Gentleman will know, in west Wales and the valleys—he represents a valleys constituency, as I do—unemployment has fallen and more jobs have been created. The Llangennech example is part of a restructuring of the Ministry of Defence, and we are working with all concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) has visited the site, and the local Assembly Member, Catherine Thomas, is involved with the unions and work force.

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. What would really hit jobs in Wales would be any chance of Plaid Cymru’s bankrupt economic policies holding sway there.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): MOD Llangennech—locally known as the RN—has been an integral part of the community for several generations. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give that if the MOD leaves Llangennech and the site is disposed of, full consideration will be given to making part of it a community facility, as well as providing the maximum possible support for those who may lose their jobs after many years of loyal service?

Mr. Hain: As I said earlier, my hon. Friend has been extremely active in defending the aspirations of the local community. I know that she will take the matter up with the Defence Minister responsible for such matters, and we in the Wales Office will be sure to support her in her objective.

Automotive Industry

4. Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the future of the automotive industry in Wales. [127777]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I have regular discussions with the First Minister on a range of issues, including the automotive industry in Wales.

Mr. David: I accept that some automotive companies have been relocated from Wales to eastern Europe, but does my hon. Friend accept that there have been major expansions and relocations within Wales? There has been what the Western Mail has called a “mini-surge” for the Welsh automotive industry. I am thinking particularly of a company called Mollertech, in the borough of Caerphilly. Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that that is an indication of the strength and success of the Welsh economy?

Nick Ainger: Yes, indeed. Wales now has record levels of employment, and part of that success is due to investment in the automotive sector there. My hon. Friend mentioned the Mollertech investment, which will create 99 jobs in Caerphilly with a £10.7 million expansion and support from the Welsh Assembly Government. Ford Bridgend is creating more than 200 posts over the next two years with a £100 million investment; Toyota is investing about £100 million in its Deeside plant, safeguarding 680 jobs; and Takao Europe Manufacturing is investing £3.2 million, which will create 100 jobs in Ebbw Vale. It is clear that, having
21 Mar 2007 : Column 799
gone through a particularly difficult period, the automotive industry is now seeing the benefits of expansion and investment, which are safeguarding existing jobs and creating new ones.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The Minister must not be complacent, because in each year of the Labour Government manufacturing jobs have been lost in Wales. Ford Bridgend employs more than 1,600 workers and has made more than 13 million engines since 1980 when it came into being, including the world-beating Land Rover engine. In an hour’s time, in an attempt to appear green, the Chancellor will double the taxes on so-called 4x4s. What effect does the Minister estimate that that will have on jobs at that plant, and also on the incomes of our hard-pressed Welsh farmers, who rely on such vehicles?

Nick Ainger: The hon. Lady will have to be patient and wait to hear what announcements the Chancellor makes in a little over half an hour’s time. I am surprised that she implies that there is no real improvement in, and investment going into, the automotive industry. I have listed the successes that we have had in recent years. Frankly, the last thing that the Welsh economy and Welsh business need is a return to the failed Tory policies— [Interruption.] Those failed policies led to two recessions— [Interruption.] They led to two recessions since the war and 160,000 unemployed in Wales—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Aerospace Industry

5. Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the contribution of the aerospace industry to the economy of Wales. [127778]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I have regular discussions with the First Minister concerning the Welsh economy, including the importance of the aerospace industry to it.

Mark Tami: Last Friday, I attended a rally of about 1,000 Airbus workers from Broughton who were concerned about their future. I ask my right hon. Friend to press the Assembly Government and the Department of Trade and Industry to invest further in research and development in composite materials in order to secure the United Kingdom’s position as world leader in wing-building technology.

Mr. Hain: I will be happy to continue to work with my hon. Friend to achieve that objective. I applaud him for joining many of his constituents at that rally. I believe that the future of Airbus is secure. It is the jewel in the crown of the economy of that part of Wales and nearby across the border in England, and it will continue to get the support of both the Welsh Assembly Government and the Government at Westminster.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): On that point, does the Secretary of State agree that Airbus in Broughton has achieved its remarkable success through
21 Mar 2007 : Column 800
research and development investment in wing technology, and that that, together with a superb work force, has secured the contract for the A350 composite wing? Will he join me in backing Broughton’s goal of winning the wing contract for the next generation of single-aisle aircraft, which would guarantee a world-class role for Wales in aerospace technology for decades to come?

Mr. Hain: Indeed; I am happy to do so. I also emphasise that although provision has been made for job reductions at Airbus Broughton, none of them is on the engineering or production side; they have been made to enable Airbus to be much more competitive and to compete with Boeing, which I know it will be able to do successfully, partly for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has given.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): We all agree that Airbus is a fine company, but can the Secretary of State help me on the following point? Because of direct political lobbying last month by German politicians, Wales lost out on, and Germany won, the wing-equipping work for the new A350 XWB. Can the Secretary of State reassure me and the workers at Airbus in north Wales that the reports that our Government dithered and made only weak representations at the last minute are untrue, and if they are untrue will he prove it by immediately publishing the details of the case that the Government made to Airbus and EADS—the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company—on behalf of Wales and the UK?

Mr. Hain: That is just a load of rubbish. The hon. Lady clearly does not know what is going on at Airbus. The truth is that Airbus has extra work for its wings as a result of the deal negotiated. The management and unions there are extremely confident about its future, not least because during the past 10 years during which it has succeeded we have had the best economic climate for Airbus and Welsh business ever in our history—and that is because we have had the best Chancellor for British business and Welsh business ever in our history as well.

Welsh Border (Governance)

6. Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): What steps he is taking to help improve relations between the National Assembly for Wales and English local authorities on the Welsh border. [127779]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): The hon. Gentleman will know of the recent memorandum of understanding between the West Midlands regional assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government. Rural communities in mid-Wales, Shropshire and Herefordshire share many interests, and it makes sense for them to co-operate where appropriate.

Daniel Kawczynski: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He has already spoken to me about this issue, and he knows how concerned I am for my constituents who live right on the Welsh border, because of the differences in funding from the Welsh
21 Mar 2007 : Column 801
Assembly for services for Welsh citizens who cross the border to use facilities such as the Royal Shrewsbury hospital. He knows that my hospital loses £2 million a year because of the difference in funding from the Welsh Assembly. Will he please ask the Assembly to increase co-operation with English authorities on our side of the border, to make sure that the treatment of citizens is fairer on both sides?

Nick Ainger: From what I gather, the hon. Gentleman wants to see further investment, but it certainly will not come from him and his party, given their policies. The memorandum of understanding outlines the commitment of both organisations to building stronger cross-border collaboration in policy and service delivery. Cross-border working has been highlighted as a key priority for each of the Wales spatial plan areas. An official level working group has been established, which led to the memorandum of understanding, and I am happy to convey the hon. Gentleman’s further suggestion to Welsh Ministers when I meet them. I know that the Welsh Assembly Government share the hon. Gentleman’s concern to ensure proper co-operation on cross-border issues.

Next Section Index Home Page