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28 Feb 2008 : Column 1321
4.35 pm

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): It is a delight to follow the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), whom I congratulate on having the Ryder cup in Newport; I pass the city’s wonderful golf course on the way to my mother in Cardiff. He may not be aware that St. Albans is the home of the Ryder cup—indeed, the beautiful golf course there is known as the Ryder Cup golf course. We have transported something over the border, and I am pleased about that.

One might ask why the MP for St. Albans is talking in the Welsh affairs debate. It is a delight to be here; not only was I born and brought up in Wales and educated at Swansea university, but there is a vibrant and thriving Welsh society in St. Albans. It was delightful to address the St. Albans St. David’s day dinner last year—briefly but not very well in Welsh, I might add.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) drew attention to the fact that there are not many leeks in the Chamber. I am sure that many of us have fond memories of eisteddfods, during which there used to be macho leek-chewing events—frequently resulting in dragon’s breath. We all chewed our leeks and wore our daffodils with pride. Like other hon. Members, I am wearing a fake daffodil today; I thank Marie Curie Cancer Care, which issued us with these little silk daffodils. The organisation does wonderful work in my constituency, where it founded a hospice, and in other constituencies. I pay tribute to it.

Unfortunately, I am old enough to have grown up in Wales during a huge transition period. Meibion Glyndwr came into being as a result of concerns in Wales, expressed at the time, about how much Englishness there was in the Principality. The civil disobedience that I watched as a child in the 1960s—the daubing of the road signs in 1967, for example—was of major concern to my parents. Many people in England wondered what people in Wales were playing at.

There was a serious issue at the time about Welsh speaking. Although my school was good at encouraging the Welsh language, and taught Welsh, that was not the case at many schools. The 1961 census showed that Welsh was on a huge decline. That has been reversed in a very short time and that is wonderful. Not many other languages could have achieved the renaissance that Welsh has enjoyed so quickly. Unfortunately, however, some of the questionable practices of Meibion Glyndwr and others resulted in cottage burning and the daubing of road signs in a wonderful shade of green. The old joke doing the rounds at the time was, “Come home to a real fire—buy a cottage in Wales!” None of that did Wales’s image any good at all and it made us a lot of enemies as well as friends.

The Cardiff and Swansea of my youth have been wonderfully transformed. The hon. Member for Newport, West referred to Grangetown; many of us were aware of the more industrialised parts of Cardiff. Crumbling, deprived areas such as Splott and even infamous Tiger Bay are now part of a vibrant reconstruction that draws many visitors into Cardiff and makes a visit to the Principality a wonderful experience. There has been a huge injection of money, energy and even glamour into the city.

“Torchwood” has been mentioned; my son was delighted to hear his grandmother point out houses in
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“Doctor Who” that she had been standing near when the film cameras came along. We all appreciate the assets of Wales, although we may not realise that we are seeing them in programmes such as “Doctor Who”. The rippling out of prosperity and the enticement of money and business investment have been to the good of Cardiff and Wales as a whole.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) mentioned the hope and optimism now expressed in Wales, and she was right to do so. Any deprived area—I have them in St. Albans—that is made to think well of itself and encouraged to think big and look to the future can profit from that hope and optimism.

There has been some debate, which I would not engage in, about whether more power or less power should be given to Wales. However, I am concerned—speaking as a Welsh-born MP but representing an English constituency—that we do not hear enough in the Chamber about the good bits of Wales. The appointment of regional Ministers, which some would say has been a great asset to Wales and the other regions, has also left us with a gaping hole. I was expecting—I stand to be corrected if I am wrong—that there was going to be a Select Committee for the regions that would give hon. Members the chance to question regional Ministers about what was going on in those regions, and indeed in Wales. That is a broken promise and a breach of trust on the part of the Government. This House should be able to hold the regional Ministers to account. The large amounts of funding that have profited Wales, and other areas, so well are fantastic, but we need to be able to talk to the regional Ministers and ask them exactly what is going on. My constituents’ taxes are going towards that funding process, and they would like to be able to find out what the regional Ministers have been up to and assess their roles and value.

Mark Pritchard: I know that my hon. Friend will want to give credit to the Government where it is due, so does she join me in giving them credit for eventually listening to Conservative Members and appointing a full-time Secretary of State for Wales instead of a part-time one? Perhaps they might also listen in relation to Scotland and the Ministry of Defence.

Anne Main: My hon. Friend is right. As a Conservative Member, I hope to see the shadow Secretary of State for Wales slip into those shoes as a full-time role. As someone who was born in Wales, I cannot imagine having a part-time Secretary of State, but there it is.

I wish Wales well in its upward trajectory of prosperity and self-determination. We have a lot to learn from Wales. My father grew up on one of the largest mono-tenure estates built after the war—Ely—which has had significant problems. We have heard about some of the policing issues that are of concern not only to my constituents but to Welsh constituents. We need more police on the streets and for people to feel safe. Sadly, there was a very tragic case on the Ely estate when a father who went out to challenge a group of yobs was kicked to death. That is not the estate that my father would have recognised as a boy. Yes, it was social housing, yes, there were problems, but there was not that fear of challenging a group of young people—a message that comes across to my constituents and others. I should like there to be a
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stronger policing role in Wales, as well as in my constituency, and I should like to bring back the situation whereby if adults challenge a group of children they do not feel that they are being confrontational but more as they did in my youth. I remember that when the heddlu turned up, they thought nothing of giving us a ticking off if we were doing something wrong.

I wish Wales well, but I am somewhat disappointed that the Government have not delivered the promised level of scrutiny of the regional Ministers, including those representing Wales.

4.43 pm

John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): It is an honour and a privilege to follow an Ely girl and to take part in our traditional Welsh affairs debate. It is close to St. David’s day, the day of our patron saint, and a day when we should celebrate all that is Welsh and refer to our successes.

We have heard some excellent speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House. They tended to be general in their subject matter, but I would rather focus my comments on a great success for Wales that was alluded to by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan)—the military training academy that is coming to St. Athan. That is something that we can all celebrate: not only the people of south Wales but the people of the whole of Wales. If we get our act together and get this right, not only through the investment coming to us, but through taking advantage of this investment and marketing it to ensure that we maximise the benefits for the people of Wales, it will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us all.

I want to set out briefly exactly where we are on the question of the academy. The Government made a welcome and excellent announcement on 31 January, in which they said that they were releasing contracts to allow the lion’s share of package 1 of the defence training review to proceed on course and on time. At moments, I thought that the world had caved in because all the reports we had through the media suggested that something had gone wrong and that Wales had lost something. In fact, this country made a huge gain.

Within the last 24 hours, I have heard comments in this Chamber suggesting that package 1, which represents two thirds of the entire transformation of defence training in this country—all the phase 2 and phase 3 technical training for the tri-service —would not come to St. Athan. Yesterday, in this Chamber, it was suggested that it would not. Let me tell the House that it definitely is. In the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, whom I am delighted to see back in the place where he belongs—although he is not there at the moment—package 1 is absolutely safe.

The Metrix consortium won that bid in open competition, and it won it by a long way. For the record, it did not win the bid for that other section of this major transformation of British defence training, which is long overdue and welcome. It did not win package 2. It had been announced as the provisional bidder to be considered if it could put everything together and save huge amounts of money for the Government. However, it did not, so the announcement on 31 January was that
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the competition for the private finance initiative for package 2 had been withdrawn and closed. That does not mean that it is not coming to south Wales or that it is not coming to St. Athan. The transformation of the skills sets in that package is still going to take place; they will still be modernised, rationalised and relocated. If we get our act together on the investment to begin with, Wales is in a very strong position—pole position—to attract all, or a huge chunk, of the defence training programme.

Mrs. Gillan: As the hon. Gentleman well knows, cross-party support for winning the training contract and bringing it to St. Athan was very strong. He obviously knows something that I do not, however. Is there still a possibility of the second package coming to St. Athan? If there is, he is giving the impression that he knows the time frame involved. My understanding was that the process had been pushed out into the long grass and was probably not going to happen at this stage, or for many years to come.

John Smith: Absolutely not. That is why I wanted to make this point today. It is important that we in Wales know exactly where we stand. There is no package 2 because there is no group of skills—personnel management, logistics, languages, photography, policing, intelligence—in a package going out to tender for a PFI. But—and it is a big but—all those skills are going to be rationalised. That was made absolutely clear in a written statement made on 31 January. My point is a simple one. The process will take longer, and the hon. Lady is right in that respect, but there is no reason why that work, or the lion’s share of it, should not be located at St. Athan. In fact, there are not many other places that the work could go to.

Mrs. Gillan: I hope that what the hon. Gentleman is saying is absolutely correct. I understand, not least because the language college is near to my constituency, that one of the problems was that the skills sets could not be found. I would not want him to mislead the House or anyone else by saying that there would be any immediate transfer of any of package 2 to St. Athan. My understanding is that such changes lie many, many years in the future.

John Smith: That is not so. The timetable for the transformation under the defence training review, which was arguably the most important part of the Government’s strategic defence review, is the next five years. That applies to package 1, too. My understanding is that the problem was not the skills sets, to which the hon. Lady referred, but affordability and whether savings could be made from economies of scale from the project to base a whole-programme solution on one site. It is important to remain positive and ensure that we maximise our opportunities to get all the investment to Wales.

We have won two thirds of the total investment under the defence training review. However, more than two thirds of the money and jobs will come to St. Athan. A higher proportion of package 1 is going to relocate to St. Athan. Under package 2, a much smaller proportion would have relocated. We therefore have more than two thirds of the investment.

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Mark Pritchard: In the light of package 2 having been kicked into the long grass, will the hon. Gentleman revise the employment figures that he and other members of the Labour party have been publishing in Wales? The Welsh people have a right to know the number of jobs that are coming to Wales.

John Smith: I would love to do that and I shall do so immediately. I qualify my remarks by saying that the final negotiations are not complete and will not be for some time. I hope that Main Gate 2 will be ready in spring, and we will have a clearer picture then. However, I shall give the revised figures. There will be roughly just over 1,000 trainers’ jobs—in training design and general training provision—just over 1,000 support jobs for training on the site; and 1,000 full-time military jobs on the site. That is approximately—we must be careful—3,000 jobs.

Metrix has used the most conservative calculations to show that it will create at least 1,500 jobs in the wider community of my constituency of Vale of Glamorgan and south Wales generally. Metrix uses a multiplier of 0.5. That means that every new military job—uniform or civilian—that comes to St. Athan will create half a job in the community. The company therefore estimates 1,500 jobs and a total of 4,500. That is down from the original total of 5,500 but I stress that the estimate is conservative. The usual multiplier for military bases that move into an area and provide work is between one and a half and three times the number of military jobs.

The number of jobs that we get in Wales depends on us, not Metrix or anybody else. It depends on our preparedness to take up the jobs and the opportunities that come our way as a result of the process. If one read the BBC website on the day of the announcement, one would have believed that we had lost out. The calculation that I explained does not include the training of at least 6,500 military engineers every year at St. Athan. The jobs that that will create are not even factored in. It is a huge opportunity.

Mark Pritchard: The hon. Gentleman mentioned 1,000 trainers. Is he aware of a recent PCS survey, which revealed that 98 per cent. of trainers in other parts of the country who have been asked to relocate to Wales are either unwilling or unable to do so? In the national interest, it is important that the Government provide clarity on the issue. It is no good having trainees in Wales if there are no trainers.

John Smith: I am fully aware of that. We must consider the age profile of existing trainers, excellent though they are. Although the existing training is excellent, it is not what we want for the future. That is the problem. Training must change in its approach and in the technologies that we use. The methodology, too, must change. The old skills training is no good and the reason is the age profile. Nearly all the trainers are ex-military personnel who have transferred to civilian work, so they are getting on a bit. We are talking about a five-year programme, so how old will they be in five years’ time? However, a five-year recruitment period and having to train people was always factored in from day one.

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We hear about 5,000 or 6,000 on the jobs front, but that is a very modest estimate indeed from package 1, and we may still get the rest of the investment. We are currently talking about £11 billion coming to Wales in a private finance initiative. If we get everything, the figure could be as much as £16 billion or £17 billion, which is a huge amount. Some £60 million a year is going into the local economy in direct spend. But let me make what might be quite a startling announcement: that is not the real attraction of the investment and ensuring that we, the Welsh, get most of it is not the real challenge.

Today’s debate has been excellent. A number of colleagues in all parts of the House, including the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), stressed the importance of upskilling the labour force, especially in technical skills, to allow us to compete with the rest of the world. The real attraction of the investment is that St. Athan in south Wales will be the largest centre of excellence for providing training in technical skills that are directly transferable to civilian work. As part of the military covenant, the qualifications that our servicemen and women will acquire, and which they justly deserve, will be exactly the same as those in engineering—let us remember that that means aeronautical, mechanical and electronic engineering—and ICT. Those are all the things that have been mentioned this afternoon and in which Wales will become the largest centre of excellence in Europe. It will become the second largest centre of excellence for such training in the world.

It is an honour to listen to my old friend the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent, because in a previous incarnation I had the privilege of trying to attract footloose investment into his beautiful constituency and into the whole of the beautiful county of Gwent. I therefore have an intimate knowledge of the barriers to attracting footloose investment into our country. We need high value-added footloose investment. Traditionally, we did well in mineral extraction and metal manufacture, but the high skills involved in those industries did not translate very well into the manufacture of white goods or the modern factory. Those jobs were reasonably well paid for Wales and solved our unemployment problem, but were not very good, in terms of under-employment and not upskilling people.

That is the real challenge that our country faces. We have a unique opportunity to present ourselves as one of the largest centres of excellence in the world for some of the most sought-after technical skills in the world. That is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we should grasp with both hands and ensure that we get as much as we can.

We talk about jobs and investment, and there is not one company in the world that will not be interested in what is going on in south Wales, because it will achieve a critical mass of skills training. It does not matter that the training is in uniforms. The tutors will not be in uniforms for ever, just as the old RAF St. Athan and the excellent skills provided there in deep repair and aircraft maintenance attracted companies such as British Airways. It is no accident that British Airways is at Rhoose airport. It is there because of the centre of excellence that was just up the road—frankly, it used to poach people from just up the road. It is no accident that General Electric went to Nantgarw. It went there because of the skills training at RAF St. Athan.

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That is a microcosm of what we can expect if package 1 alone comes to Wales. I call on colleagues in all parts of the House to say, “This is the challenge that we face in Wales. This could transform our country’s reputation in the world as a clever little country in those vital areas.” We have everything to play for, and we need to move forward on this. It is an exciting opportunity for our country, and I am sure that we will live up to the challenge. I think it was Richard Burton who said that the Welsh could face anything except success or failure. He was right about many things, but I believe that we have a great opportunity to prove him absolutely wrong on that one, because we are going to win.

Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the role played by Mr. Mike Hayle, the chief executive of the Metrix consortium. He led his team from day one and delivered this gigantic investment for our country. Mike will be moving on in a few months’ time, having delivered the investment. He is a project leader, and it is now for someone else to deal with the technical implementation. He is going on to other challenges, but I would like to place on record my thanks for the work that he has done, and to wish him all the best in the future, whatever he decides to do.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I see that three hon. Members are trying to catch my eye. The wind-ups are due to start at 5.30, so perhaps hon. Members will try to bear that in mind.

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