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House of Commons

Wednesday 26 November 2008

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Private Business

Leeds City Council Bill (By Order)

Nottingham City Council Bill (By Order)

Reading Borough Council Bill (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time tomorrow.

Manchester City Council Bill [ Lords]

Order read for resuming adjourned d ebate on Question [25 November],

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords]

Order read for resuming adjourned d ebate on Question [25 November],

Debate to be resumed tomorrow .

Canterbury City Council Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [25 November],

Debate to be resumed tomorrow .

Leeds City Council Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [25 November],

Debate to be resumed tomorrow .

Nottingham City Council Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [25 November],

Debate to be resumed tomorrow .

Reading Borough Council Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [25 November],

Debate to be resumed tomorrow .

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Mr. Speaker: I call Question 1.

Seaside Economy

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Seaside towns have benefited enormously—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Wait until the Minister answers the question.

1. Chris Ruane: What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues and Welsh Assembly Government Ministers on the seaside economy in Wales. [237997]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wayne David): Wales Office Ministers have many discussions with Government colleagues regarding all matters relating to Wales, including the economy of seaside areas. Recently, the Secretary of State, accompanied by the First Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), visited several schemes set up under the Rhyl city strategy, including the entering retail course and the Rhyl Youth Action Group.

Chris Ruane: I apologise for that; I get excited about seaside towns. Seaside towns—I have déj vu—in Wales have benefited enormously under this Labour Government. They are able to access billions of pounds of objective 1 funding. We have introduced mandatory licensing of houses in multiple occupation, and we have created tens
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of thousands of jobs. However, more needs to be done. There needs to be more co-ordination between the UK Government, the Welsh Assembly Government, and local government. Will the Minister visit my constituency and see what he can do to help join up government in seaside towns?

Mr. David: I commend my hon. Friend for his tremendous enthusiasm on behalf of seaside towns, and Rhyl in particular. He is absolutely right to stress that partnership is vital to success. The Rhyl city strategy brings together a range of partner organisations behind the shared strategic goal of reducing worklessness in the town. The Rhyl city strategy recently benefited from the Department for Work and Pensions deprived areas fund and the Welsh Assembly Government’s decision to provide funding for employability training. I would be delighted to join my hon. Friend in visiting some of those projects in Rhyl.

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): What consideration has the Minister given to the impact on the seaside economy of the presence of large numbers of transient residents? A recent study for Conwy county borough council revealed that almost a third of the concessionary bus passes issued in the borough had been granted to the occupants of holiday caravans. Does the Minister acknowledge that the presence of large numbers of transient residents can put a significant burden on the public purse, and will he raise the issue with colleagues at Westminster and in the Welsh Assembly?

Mr. David: This is an important issue, which should be looked at in a cool and moderate way. We should be careful to use terms that are not emotive and that do not paint an inappropriate picture. It is therefore important for us to have objective studies, while of course recognising that visitors are welcome to our seaside towns. Let us be clear: there are real signs in Wales of the tourist industry picking up after the admittedly difficult past few months. There are also clear indications that that progress is far ahead of what is happening on the other side of Offa’s Dyke.

Nick Ainger (Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that part of the success of the tourist industry in Wales is down to increased quality? May I recommend that he visit the Bluestone project in my constituency, which received £16 million of funding from the Welsh Assembly Government and has created 340 jobs—all local, apart from one—and 220 units of accommodation of the highest standard? That is the future of the tourist sector in Wales. I recommend that he talk to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is sitting next to him, and who has already visited.

Mr. David: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and I will certainly have a word with my right hon. Friend. I can already sense my visiting list becoming larger by the day. I have heard about the excellent work done in Pembrokeshire and the valuable contribution made by Bluestone. That sets an excellent example for businesses, and one of the things that stands out is the fact that it uses renewable energy in an extremely efficient way.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): By how much has the sale of candy floss increased during the Government’s lifetime?

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Mr. David: I know that the hon. Gentleman does not attend Wales questions very often, but they are a serious business, and it is important to recognise that tourism is one of the essential elements that creates a dynamic economy in Wales. It is very much our lifeblood, so I commend the Welsh Assembly Government for their tourism strategy, which is making great strides. There is a strong partnership between central Government and the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure that all aspects of tourism are effective—including, I suspect, the consumption of candy floss.

Economic Situation

2. Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with Welsh Assembly Government Ministers on measures to assist the Welsh economy in the current economic situation. [237998]

4. Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the state of the Welsh economy. [238000]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): Working in very close partnership, the United Kingdom Government and the Welsh Assembly Government are doing all that they can to help Welsh businesses and Welsh families through the financial difficulties that they now face.

Mrs. Moon: I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that over the past year Bridgend college has won numerous awards for partnership working with employers and trade unions to drive up standards and skills. Will he ensure that local colleges receive the funding that they need to make sure that our Welsh work force have the necessary skills and abilities to help them seek employment and to retrain so that work can both be kept and attracted to Wales during the difficult economic times?

Mr. Murphy: Yes, indeed, I will do that. I talked to Jane Hutt, the Minister for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills, about further education and, indeed, the need for reskilling. Further education colleges have an important role to play in that. I worked in one myself for 17 years, and the skills that can be transferred, even for people in their 50s and 60s, are important if we are to deal with the economic difficulties that we face. I will indeed do that, especially with reference to Bridgend college, which does a very good job.

Mr. Goodwill: The Welsh economy has lagged behind the rest of the economy during the boom. Is there any reason to believe that it will fare any better during Labour’s bust?

Mr. Murphy: I do not accept that the Welsh economy has lagged behind anything. Over the past number of years, there has been a huge change in the way in which people work in Wales. When I first came to Parliament, there were 3 million people out of work throughout the country, and many hundreds of thousands in Wales. The Welsh economy has been transformed over the past 10 to 15 years. Of course, we face huge difficulties like every other country in the world at the moment, but we have a robust government structure in Wales, with the
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Assembly working very hard with the Government. For example, only a few weeks ago in north Wales, we met businesses, both small and large, and local government, and they are all pulling together to ensure that the Welsh economy survives well in the present circumstances. The last thing that I want to do is talk down the Welsh economy.

Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): I welcome the pre-Budget report, and the help that it gives the Welsh economy. I welcome, too, the Secretary of State’s prominent role in Welsh economic summits, and the way in which that has engaged CBI Wales and Wales TUC. In that spirit of co-operation and consultation, I urge the Secretary of State to meet the Welsh automotive forum at the earliest opportunity so that he can hear at first hand its concerns about the future of employment in that sector.

Mr. Murphy: Of course I will do that. As all Welsh Members and other Members will know, the Welsh automotive industry is hugely important. In my constituency, for example, at least 2,000 to 3,000 people work for that industry directly—and a few thousand people indirectly—making brakes. I recently visited Meritor in Cwmbran, and we discussed the impact on the automotive industry of the fact that small businesses could not get money from the banks which, in turn, meant that they could not buy things produced by larger industries. The action we have taken to try to encourage banks to lend to small businesses will have a knock-on effect on the automotive industry, which is a very important point indeed.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): Was making the announcement through a single bullet point in the pre-Budget report that Welsh jobs at the Royal Mint are to be auctioned off to the highest bidder in the middle of a recession to pay for the economic incompetence of this Government either fair or responsible, and what did the Secretary of State for Wales do or say in Cabinet to oppose those plans?

Mr. Murphy: If the hon. Gentleman had read, for example, The Daily Telegraph, which I do from time to time, he would have seen that some 40 per cent. of British people—some 15 or 16 per cent. more than the rate for Conservatives—believe that the Government are doing a very good job of dealing with the economic problems at the moment. That is a complete change from several months ago. As I said to previous questioners, the Government are doing a very good job of dealing with the Welsh economy, together with the Welsh Assembly.

So far as the Mint is concerned, the hon. Gentleman and I have both read the sentence in the pre-Budget report about

There is no mention of hawking anything at all; it is about better ways of getting value for money in the Royal Mint. There is nothing wrong with getting value for money out of Government Departments or Government agencies. The hon. Gentleman reads too much into a single sentence.

Mr. Martin Caton (Gower) (Lab): My right hon. Friend knows that the manufacturing sector plays a larger role in the Welsh economy than it does across the whole of the UK. Does he agree that if Government at
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all levels protect and support Welsh industries as we go into recession, Welsh industries have the potential to lead us out of it?

Mr. Murphy: Yes, of course I agree. My hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of the manufacturing sector in many Welsh constituencies, including his constituency and my constituency. It will play an important role in bringing us out of recession, which will undoubtedly occur in years to come. At the moment, however, our job is to ensure that we help small and large businesses and families in Wales. It is no good doing nothing, which is what the Conservative party wants to do. We must do something positive to help Welsh people and Welsh businesses.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Unemployment is increasing in Wales at a faster rate than in any other part of the UK. Manufacturing jobs, particularly at Hoover in Merthyr Tydfil and Bosch in Llantrisant, are at risk. Even a Tory Minister promised to intervene in industry before breakfast, before lunch and before tea to protect jobs. When will the Secretary of State and his colleagues in the Assembly intervene to ensure that that massive loss of jobs is staunched as soon as possible?

Mr. Murphy: The criticism levelled against the Government over the past couple of days has been that we have intervened too much—we cannot win. The Government have committed hundreds of billions of pounds to stop the banking system collapsing. If it were to collapse, what would happen to manufacturing industry and small businesses in Wales? The hon. Gentleman knows as well as me that all the agencies, the Welsh Assembly and the Government are bending over backwards to help our manufacturing industry and people who have unfortunately become unemployed, by finding new jobs and reskilling people. There is positive intervention by government, whether at local level, Welsh level or United Kingdom level.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, because of the work pattern history in Wales—slate, coal and steel—Welsh workers have proved themselves to be adaptable and are prepared to learn new skills? Is he aware of the excellent work carried out at the Faenol skills centre, which is now the conservation centre, in my constituency? Will he link my question with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) and ensure that sufficient funding is available for such skills centres, working closely with further education colleges in the area?

Mr. Murphy: Yes of course I will. My hon. Friend makes the extremely important point that Welsh people have over the past dozen to 20 years been so adaptable and flexible in moving from traditional industries—in my constituency, coal and steel—to many others. That is important, because there is now a diverse range of jobs in Welsh constituencies. When the recession hits, we will be able to sustain ourselves more effectively than we could when we were reliant on one or two industries. I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of reskilling in further education colleges and other institutions.

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