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Welsh Grand Committee Debates

Future of Energy in Wales

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Peter Atkinson
Ainger, Nick (Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire) (Lab)
Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff, West)
Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)
Caton, Mr. Martin (Gower) (Lab)
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
Crabb, Mr. Stephen (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
David, Mr. Wayne (Caerphilly) (Lab)
Davies, Mr. Dai (Blaenau Gwent) (Ind)
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth) (Con)
Flynn, Paul (Newport, West) (Lab)
Francis, Dr. Hywel (Aberavon) (Lab)
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl (Chesham and Amersham) (Con)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Hain, Mr. Peter (Neath) (Lab)
Hanson, Mr. David (Delyn)
Havard, Mr. Dai (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Irranca-Davies, Huw (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales)
James, Mrs. Siân C. (Swansea, East) (Lab)
Jones, Mr. David (Clwyd, West) (Con)
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) (Lab)
Michael, Alun (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine (Bridgend) (Lab)
Morden, Jessica (Newport, East) (Lab)
Morgan, Julie (Cardiff, North) (Lab)
Murphy, Mr. Paul (Secretary of State for Wales)
Öpik, Lembit (Montgomeryshire) (LD)
Owen, Albert (Ynys Môn) (Lab)
Price, Adam (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC)
Pritchard, Mark (The Wrekin) (Con)
Ruane, Chris (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab)
Smith, John (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab)
Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
Touhig, Mr. Don (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
Williams, Mr. Alan (Swansea, West) (Lab)
Williams, Mrs. Betty (Conwy) (Lab)
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon) (PC)
Williams, Mark (Ceredigion) (LD)
Williams, Mr. Roger (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)
Willott, Jenny (Cardiff, Central) (LD)
Chris Shaw, Mark Oxborough Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Welsh Grand Committee

Wednesday 18 June 2008

[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

The Secretary of State was asked—

HMRC Reorganisation

9 am
1. Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): What assessment he has made of the effects of the reorganisation of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs offices in Wales; and if he will make a statement. [210771]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I fully understand the concerns of those affected by the HMRC change programme in Wales, and we have conveyed—and will continue to convey—those concerns to Treasury Ministers.
Mark Williams: I thank the Minister for that response. This question is very much in the wake of last week’s announcement that there will be widespread tax office closures and that the only remaining office in Ceredigion and Powys will be a much reduced service in Aberystwyth, which will consist of a skeleton staff dealing with compliance issues. Is this not just another illustration of the Government yet again removing vital services that disproportionately affect rural areas more than others? Is it not the case that that does not advance the work of the HMRC and flies in the face of the Assembly’s policy, which is to move jobs out of Cardiff and into the localities?
Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. There is certainly an increasing propensity to move jobs out of the urban centres and into the rural areas. We have seen much of that happen since 2003, not least in places such as Pembroke Dock, where I understand that 351 total jobs, including those with the Department for Work and Pensions, have been relocated as part of the overall Government restructuring in that area. There are welcome trends in the other direction as well, but he raises important matters, and I would urge all hon. Members concerned to feed into the eight-week consultation process to make their voices heard.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I hear what the Minister says, and he has made representations, but those representations have not been very successful. There are currently 1,200 Revenue and Customs jobs in Wales, but I understand that the closures are going to affect areas the length and breadth of Wales—Bangor, Brecon, Bridgend, Carmarthen, Haverfordwest, Merthyr Tydfil, Pembroke Dock, Pontypool, Rhyl and Welshpool. On a day when we are going to be discussing energy and environmental matters, will the Minister tell me what study has been done of the environmental impact on the clients of Customs and Excise who are now going to have to travel far more extensively to get the consultation and advice they need?
Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Lady raises a point about the environmental impact that has been raised in discussions over quite a long period. I understand that those issues and concerns have been fed into the previous HMRC review and will be fed into this one as well, but it is worth pointing out that, in terms of overall Government relocation of posts, something like 3,200 have been relocated into Wales, particularly into areas that traditionally have not benefited from public service jobs. While this is difficult and challenging—it is challenging across all parts of Wales, including in my constituency—I take her point, but we are keen to ensure that the overall trend is towards increasing jobs in these areas, not diminishing them.
Mrs. Gillan: The Minister is right: it is challenging, but I think that is an understatement. Now he says that there are more Government jobs going into other parts of Wales. It strikes me that there has not been any joined-up government at all. How can it be cost effective, good value to the taxpayer or environmentally friendly to reduce a whole load of jobs down to the centre, into Cardiff and Swansea, while at the same time pushing out other jobs from other Departments? Surely the Minister can see that this is neither logical nor good government.
Huw Irranca-Davies: We all genuinely believe in joined-up government, and we have to accept that the thrust of the Government’s initiative has been to try to drive jobs out of the urban centres and into other areas—rural areas, west Wales and so on. In fact, the figures over the past five or six years will stand up and show that. However, the importance not only of a debate like this but of the eight-week consultation period is that hon. Members, representing the best interests of their constituencies, can feed in their concerns.
In respect of environmental impacts and others, during the impact assessments in those eight weeks, the full range of factors will be taken into account, including the impact on staff and their travelling, on customers and on the local economy as well. It is vital that those views are heard.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): On the HMRC website, the acting chairman says to the staff and the public:
“We take our responsibilities seriously; striving to do the right thing for our customers, our people, our communities and for our environment. That means...asking ourselves, for instance, how easily people can understand our communications, how well we look after our staff, how we are impacting on our local communities and how we can do more to protect the environment.”
That rings hollow at the moment in a number of towns up and down Wales, including Brecon, in my constituency.
How much will be saved as a result of the reorganisation? Surely office space in the more rural towns is cheaper than in the capital, Cardiff. When we are told that the rural economy must depend on IT and electronic communications, is not HMRC setting a bad example? We should be using rural areas and technology to improve the local economies.
Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Gentleman makes important points, as others have done, but he would not expect me to take sides with one hon. Member’s constituency over another, not least when the cuts are in various parts of Wales, including my constituency. However, he makes important points about the proper assessment of the impact of the closure programme, and he asks about the savings. The purpose behind the programme is the Gershon review to encourage efficiency and savings. We cannot escape that fact. Savings would include 12,500 net staff reductions by 2008 and similar numbers in 2008 to 2011, with £30 million annual estate savings by April 2008 and an aim of increased savings of £100 million by 2011. While that is difficult—on a constituency basis and Wales-wide—we cannot avoid the need to act on the Gershon review and to make savings where we can.

Defence Expenditure

2. Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had on levels of defence expenditure in Wales. [210772]
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I regularly discuss defence matters, including expenditure in Wales, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and other Ministers.
Albert Owen: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response. He will be aware of the additional investment in RAF Valley in my constituency in recent years. The announcement a few weeks ago about the new fast jet training project, worth some £635 million, is further testament to the strategic importance to defence of RAF Valley and of Wales. Does he agree that the additional Ministry of Defence expenditure will be matched by civilian investment in jobs and opportunities for the future? Is not the next step to train a local skills base in such areas, so that the local economies can benefit fully?
Mr. Murphy: Yes, I very much agree. As was clear from my hon. Friend the Minister’s replies to the first question, there are swings and roundabouts in how the Government spend money in Wales. If we add to the £635 million that is being spent on fast jet training in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) the £11 billion that is being invested in RAF St. Athan, for the training facilities in both places, that is a huge vote of confidence by the Government and the Ministry of Defence in Wales as a place where they can invest money, with both military and civilian jobs flowing from that. I agree entirely.
Mrs. Gillan: On 16 June, the Armed Forces Minister unveiled the fact that he was going to examine the equipment programme, to look at the planning assumptions over the next year, therefore causing more delay to the equipment programme. With the resignation of Lord Drayson last year and the growing budgetary crisis at the MOD, can the Secretary of State give an undertaking that nothing in Wales will be affected by that announcement—no contracts will be delayed and no jobs will be threatened?
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Lady knows that I cannot give commitments on behalf of another Department, one way or the other. All I know is that the Government and the Ministry of Defence in particular have invested billions of pounds in Wales. On the issue that she raises, I know, for example, that General Dynamics and other companies in Wales have an important role to play in the Welsh economy. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is aware of that. I know of no plans to stop that development.

Pharmacy White Paper

3. Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the implications of the pharmacy White Paper for Wales. [210773]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): My right hon. Friend has regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of issues including pharmaceutical matters in Wales. I have also recently met Community Pharmacy Wales to discuss these issues.
Mr. Jones: I am glad to hear that the Minister has met Community Pharmacy Wales. He will know from his meeting of its concerns that, although the White Paper has produced proposals that it generally welcomes to expand the services of community pharmacies, there are no such proposals for Wales. The CPW is concerned that Wales is lagging far behind Scotland and now England. Will he have words with his colleagues in the Assembly to convey the concerns of Community Pharmacy Wales and urge them to ensure that the services offered by Welsh pharmacies are entirely within Wales?
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Prepared 19 June 2008