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5.19 pm

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): It really is a pleasure to follow an English MP in this debate on Welsh day. I am very pleased to be able to speak on Welsh affairs. There are, as the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) mentioned, some cross-border issues, and there are occasions when I need to speak on English affairs. It worries me that the Conservatives have proposals for English-only votes on English-only matters. That would deny me as a Welsh MP the opportunity to represent the interests of my constituents when they go across the border for essential services.

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I believe in an integral United Kingdom and in the freedom of movement of people across the borders for services and goods. I have to say that I had thought that it was only the nationalists who believed in this type of segregation; yet the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham indicated that he wanted to lift up Offa’s dyke to prevent Welsh people coming across the border and businesses coming from Shrewsbury into Wales. Well, we Welsh Members in this Parliament want an equal voice on matters affecting the whole of the United Kingdom. I am here today to represent the views of my constituents on some local matters, but also on those of national interest across the UK.

In a few days’ time, I hope to promote Anglesey, the mother of Wales, in the mother of Parliaments with an Anglesey day. I know that the Wales Office is co-operating on that matter so that all can benefit from the culture and heritage of Anglesey and from the economic advantages when people come into my constituency. It is about promoting my constituency.

I want to refer in greater detail to a couple of important Welsh affairs issues, into which there have been inquiries. We have heard today about the important role—I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) on this matter—of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. I think it does a good job of scrutinising Welsh legislation coming from the Assembly in the form of legislative competence orders. We take this matter seriously and we liaise with other MPs, so if they wish to raise any strong issues on behalf of their constituents, they will be fed into that mechanism.

I want to concentrate on two particular inquiries and the difference they have made to the north-west Wales region and my constituency of Ynys Môn. The first was into prisons in Wales. We worked on the important issue of prisoners having to move far away from their homes to serve their sentences—sometimes into south Wales from north Wales, but also into parts of England. That makes it very difficult for their families to visit them. The Select Committee identified the need for a prison in Wales and we lobbied particularly for a prison in north Wales.

A few weeks ago, the Justice Secretary announced a preferred site for that prison in north-west Wales, and I am very pleased about that, as I lobbied hard for it. As a result of the recommendations of the Welsh Affairs Committee, that preferred site in Ferodo in north-west Wales will create hundreds of jobs in the area. The desolate site of the Ferodo factory, which has a nightmare industrial relations history, will now provide well-paid and secure jobs. That is good evidence of the Welsh Affairs Committee raising an issue and making recommendations, resulting in benefit to the people of north-west Wales and the people whom I represent. It is evidence of the UK Government delivering for the people of my area.

Energy in Wales, which is relevant to everyone in the UK, was the subject of the other inquiry that I wish to deal with. We had a follow-up inquiry into clean coal and other technologies as well. One of the main findings that would benefit my constituency—a cross-party recommendation, made by parties including the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru—was that if new nuclear development went ahead, and the United Kingdom
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Government supported it, existing sites in Wales would benefit from that. That was a clear, cross-party view at the time. The recommendations said that the extension of Wylfa power station needed to be considered. I can inform the House—I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) will confirm this when he winds up—that there is movement on that issue. There is a full study looking into a possible extension, which would ensure two or three years’ more generation at the Wylfa site. That would provide extra jobs, skills and opportunities to young people over that period.

I want to inform and update Members on an issue that the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne) raised earlier, when he was present. He is a supporter of Anglesey Aluminium, because Bridgnorth Aluminium in his constituency is one of the main customers of Anglesey Aluminium. I declare an interest as chair of the all-party aluminium industry group. The hon. Gentleman and I are working together to keep that smelter open. There is a big issue about the power contract, which is due for renewal in September. That is threatening some 600 to 700 jobs in my constituency.

All the political avenues are being explored, as I have explained in parliamentary questions, and indeed in the Welsh Grand Committee—another issue on which I disagree with the hon. Member for Newport, West. I think that it is an important forum for raising issues. He does not agree, and neither do the press, but it is an opportunity for me to raise issues on behalf of my constituency. I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is encouraging us to hold more of those Grand Committees. They are important. I do not have a blog; some people spend a lot of time on social websites, but I like to speak in this House, on behalf of my constituency, on important matters on as many opportunities as I can get.

The issue of Anglesey Aluminium is complex, because Rio Tinto, the parent company, is shedding 14,000 jobs worldwide. It is also reducing the production of aluminium across the world, so this is a precarious moment for the aluminium industry and for the renewal of the contract. I assure the House that everybody is working together on the issue. The Welsh Assembly Government are working on a new biomass plant, after the closure of Wylfa. The Wales Office is acting as a host, and as a facilitator between the Welsh Assembly Government, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, to get the best political outcome. At the end of the day, it will be a commercial decision, but I hope that there are more favourable conditions, so that we can save those jobs.

I want to talk more about nuclear power, green and low-carbon energies, and the opportunity for Wales to be a leader and a pioneer in the low-carbon economy. The Climate Change Act 2008, the Energy Act 2008 and planning provisions provide an excellent framework for the development of renewable energy. The Energy Act also provides us with renewables obligations, so that there can be progress on an industrial scale. That will help to ensure that there is benefit. We must have nuclear as part of a rich mix if we want a safe, continued electricity supply for industry and our homes. I think that we are moving towards consensus on that. I read this week in The Independent that four leading
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environmentalists have said that they are pro-nuclear. One of them was a senior director of Greenpeace, who now sees the value of nuclear power. He calculates that the perceived risks associated with nuclear power are less than those posed by climate change and global warming. If we are to continue to build a prosperous, low-carbon economy, we need nuclear power. The UK Government, along with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, have listed a number of preferred sites for the first wave of new nuclear build. I am pleased to say that Wylfa is part of that first phase.

A new nuclear power station in my area could create as many as 9,000 construction jobs, as well as the generating jobs that will follow. Those are highly-skilled, well-paid jobs that would benefit my constituents. There is only one brake on consensus. I read with dismay this week a letter in The Western Mail that was written jointly by the chair and the environmental spokesperson of Plaid Cymru. The letter said that if Plaid Cymru was ever in power and had to make a decision on new nuclear on Anglesey, it would vote against it.

Mr. David Jones: I am interested in that last point. Does the hon. Gentleman know what the leader of Plaid Cymru in the Assembly would have to say about the matter?

Albert Owen: That is an interesting question, and that is what dismays me. The environmental spokesperson and the chair of Plaid Cymru, speaking about all these national issues on television, said that they would not back a nuclear power station in my constituency. In 2007, the Assembly Member for my constituency stood on a platform and said that he was fully in favour of nuclear power. I find it inconceivable that the leader of a serious political party can say that he is fully in favour of nuclear power while the chairman and the environmental spokesperson say that they are against it. Far from being enlightened about the position of the chairman and spokesman, the electorate of Ynys Môn are confused by the mixed message, at a time when jobs are at a premium.

Adam Price: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Albert Owen: I will, but I want my speech to be brief.

Adam Price: What is the position of the Labour Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing in the Welsh Assembly Government? What, indeed, is the position of the Welsh Assembly Government, who have said that they are against nuclear power? If the issue of nuclear power were devolved to the Welsh Assembly Government, the majority of Labour Members there would vote against it as well.

Albert Owen: The hon. Gentleman is trying to confuse the issue even further. I have lobbied the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O’Brien), in the House. I have lobbied on a platform with the leader of Plaid Cymru, saying that we need these jobs in the area. I have been consistent on the matter. The Prime Minister has visited my constituency, and he supports the development. The Labour party is delivering a preferred site that includes Wylfa.

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Adam Price rose—

Albert Owen: I will not give way again. I am very short of time, and I want my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) to have an opportunity to speak.

The mixed message must end. Plaid Cymru must end this division. It is putting jobs at risk. The Labour party is delivering on nuclear power in my constituency; the chair of Plaid Cymru would oppose it, and if Plaid Cymru were in power we would not have these opportunities.

I want to send the clear message that Anglesey is open for business when it comes to a low-carbon economy. Nuclear power can be a catalyst to attract others. We have windmills in my constituency which were early prototypes and have subsequently been developed further, and I also support marine turbine energy, which can provide a skills base. At the core, however, is nuclear power.

We are at a very important stage: Anglesey is now a preferred site. I want to see this happen, and the people whom I represent want to see it happen. They know that the Labour party in this place supports it, that the power is retained here, and that we will ensure that it happens.

I am standing here and fighting for what my constituents want: new nuclear build in Wales. I am proud to do that, because I believe that it is important. We should be pioneers of a new age of electricity generation. Anglesey was a pioneer of education, and I want it to be the pioneer of clean energy for the future.

5.33 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): At this time, we are all rightly concerned about the economy. Every job loss is a devastating blow for the worker affected and his or her family. I know that there has been a tremendous amount of activity both at Cabinet level and among ordinary Members such as me, in groups such as the all-party parliamentary group for the steel and metal related industry. We have been lobbying the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, who has agreed to attend a steel summit to meet the appropriate representatives of the manufacturing industry, and I know that many similar initiatives have been undertaken involving such industries as motor manufacturing. However, it is important that we do not fuel scaremongering rumours and talk the economy down. That will only sap confidence and stifle efforts to get the economy moving again.

I share the concern expressed by hon. Members about the somewhat erratic and obstructive behaviour of some banks, including sudden changes in the terms and conditions of their lending. Some successful businesses in my constituency have been badly treated in that way, and only following my intervention have things got moving. That should not have been necessary. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will convey that message to the National Economic Council.

An extremely important element of the Labour Government’s strategy to help people through the economic downturn is the determination to carry on with public investment for the future. My own county, Carmarthenshire, has an impressive school building programme, but EU
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convergence funding is giving cause for real concern. Carmarthenshire has a number of projects that it is ready to proceed with, but it is experiencing difficulty in drawing down EU convergence funding via the Assembly. I have secured the agreement of the Deputy Minister for Regeneration in the Assembly to visit my constituency and meet council officers, but I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did all that he could to persuade Assembly Ministers to prioritise the release of convergence funding to projects that are ready to roll. I also ask him to impress upon Assembly Ministers the logic of extending the western valleys initiative to include not only Cross Hands, but the whole of the Gwendraeth valley, the most western of the south-west Wales coal mining valleys.

I turn now to a very sensitive matter: foreign workers. It is important that when we consider such matters, we attack structures and not people—that we look at structures, and if necessary criticise them and seek to change them, rather than resort to racist attitudes and comments. We are all too aware that there are organisations out there whose agenda is to breed fear and hatred and to create scapegoats, and who seem to have money to spend on glossy and very deceptive leaflets. We need to take a clear stand against such organisations and their attitudes.

I know from speaking to people in my constituency that they are not racist. They recognise the enormous contribution to Welsh society that people born abroad have made, particularly in our health service. They are, however, understandably alarmed when they hear rumours that contractors working on big infrastructure projects, such as the gas pipeline or the construction of the power station in Pembrokeshire, are taking on foreign workers—sometimes in large numbers, according to the rumours. I would be very grateful if my right hon. Friend looked into this matter and found out why foreign workers are being taken on, supposedly in preference to Welsh workers. If this is happening, we must ask why. If it is happening because employers think they can get away with shoddier terms and conditions—lower pay and fewer rights—that needs to be sorted out.

There was tremendous support among Labour Members for the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, and work has subsequently been done at both EU and national levels to improve terms and conditions for such workers, but we need to know exactly why these foreign firms appear to be giving preference to foreign workers. Using them on the cheap is not fair to our workers, who are being undercut, and it is not fair to foreign workers, who are being exploited. If foreign workers are being taken on instead of Welsh workers because our workers do not have the appropriate skills, we need to identify exactly what those skills are and make sure that we provide opportunities for our people to acquire them. We also need to think ahead about what skills will be necessary in future, particularly as we develop public infrastructure projects—and, it is to be hoped, when private sector opportunities open up as the economy picks up. We need to make sure, too, that we are equipping our young people to take up such opportunities.

Lastly, may I ask my right hon. Friend to wear two hats at once: that of Secretary of State for Wales and that of Minister for digital inclusion? I should like to
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bring to his attention the excellent work of an organisation called UCanDoIT. At present, Trina Davison, a constituent of mine, is the only person working across the whole of south and west Wales who is providing the valuable service that UCanDoIT offers. What Trina does is work with housebound people in their homes to sort out computer equipment for them and link them up to the internet. In some cases, she is working with partially sighted people, and she teaches them to use special technology that reads things out to them and gives them access to computers, e-mail and the internet. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend met me to discuss what more can be done to extend this excellent work in Wales and give more people the opportunity to get online. For people who are housebound, internet access is particularly important, both for potential employment opportunities and for social contact, which can greatly enhance well-being.

5.38 pm

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): As is the case with most St. David’s day debates, this one has been thoughtful and generally good-natured, reflecting the good humour that is characteristic of our nation. I am indebted to the Secretary of State for the important information that today is, in fact, not St. David’s day but the feast day of St. Isabel of France. Like him, I hope that that does not bode ill for tomorrow evening, although I am sure that it does not. Even in our part of Wales, where we prefer the spherical ball to the oval type, we are following the fortunes of the Wales team with great interest; indeed, a constituent of mine said only the other day that what he was particularly pleased about was that the only Englishman who is likely to get his hands on the Six Nations trophy is the engraver.

The debate has, predictably, been dominated by concerns about the economy. The hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis), the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, spoke about his own constituency, but he also discussed the important work that his Committee is doing not only on the process and scrutiny of legislative competence orders but on the impact that present economic conditions are having on the Welsh economy. I must rise to the hon. Gentleman’s defence and say that he is an excellent Chairman: he chairs the Committee with great sensitivity and great wisdom. He does not need to be told to crack the whip. He knows how, from time to time, to tighten the screw, but he does not need to crack the whip.

We then passed on to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams), who also spoke about the impact of the current economic downturn. He spoke about the higher education sector, which is of course important, in his constituency and about the need for reskilling and upskilling. Importantly, he also mentioned the farming industry and the adverse impact that electronic identification of sheep will have on the Welsh agriculture sector if it is allowed to go ahead. My constituency is in many ways similar to his, and I can tell the House that many farmers there are very concerned about whether, if that system is introduced, it will be worth while continuing farming.

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