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House of Commons

Wednesday 10 June 2009

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Low Carbon Industries

1. Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): What recent meetings he has had with ministerial colleagues on new employment and training opportunities in low carbon industries in Wales. [278174]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): It is nice to be back, even though my appointment was marked by an earthquake a few miles from my home. May I also pay tribute to my close friend, my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), one of Wales’s outstanding politicians? We have followed each other in and out of this job for 10 years. He had regular such meetings with ministerial colleagues—in particular through the National Economic Council—and I will continue to do so.

Albert Owen: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and I welcome him back to his role. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) for the excellent contribution that he has made in government to Wales and to the rest of the United Kingdom.

Last Friday, I attended a skills building competition at Coleg Menai in my constituency, where I saw at first hand young craftsmen and students learning and developing skills for the future. Does the Secretary of State agree that Wales is well placed to be at the forefront of the green revolution to come, and does he further agree that we need a skills sharing strategy to build a pool of skills in energy generation for the future, including renewables, clean coal and nuclear power?

Mr. Hain: I completely agree with my hon. Friend, who is an outstanding Member of Parliament for his constituency. I am aware of the excellent training opportunities available at Coleg Menai, which have been achieved through additional funding of £4 million from the Welsh Assembly Government for its energy and fabrication centre. That funding would be slashed if the Conservative party ever got into power.

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Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): Last year I surveyed businesses in Cardiff that install and develop renewable technologies. The overwhelming majority said that business was falling because it was so difficult for families to get grants to install those technologies in their homes and people could not afford them. Since then, access to those grants has become even more difficult. Will the Secretary of State liaise with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that more money is available for families to install such technologies in their homes, so that we can ensure that this key Welsh industry can be developed and grow further?

Mr. Hain: I very much agree with the hon. Lady that the more funding we can get to assist people to put renewable energy installations into their homes the better, but of course the UK budget under this Government provided an extra £1.4 billion in additional support for the low carbon economy. She may know that the Welsh Assembly Government have invested some £4.5 million in the Carbon Trust to help it to develop its business plan. All of that funding is part of our investment programme driving forward our objective of a low carbon economy.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I, too, congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his return. He knows that I thought that it was utterly unjust that he was pushed out of office on trumped-up charges; it is good that he has now proved his innocence and returned to the Front Bench.

Montgomeryshire is a pioneer in low carbon industry through the work of the Centre for Alternative Technology. However, it is concerned that local authorities in Wales spend less on school maintenance and upkeep than any other council service, to the detriment of the environment. How can we expect to instil a sense of environmental responsibility and global citizenship if the next generation is being taught in schools that are environmentally not fit for use?

Mr. Hain: The answer may well be to get a Labour county council, to provide the additional funding. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks, and for the support that I have had across the House. He raises an important question, and if there is any other help that I can give him in securing his objectives I will be happy to do so.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): As this could be the last time that I am at the Dispatch Box under your auspices, Mr. Speaker, may I take this opportunity to thank you for your courtesy towards me and my Front-Bench team and for your service to this House, and to wish you well?

In welcoming the return of the new Secretary of State, I also wish to express my admiration for his predecessor. I have enjoyed working with the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), a decent and straightforward man. We will miss his common sense and dedication to Wales. I wonder what sort of Prime Minister we have, who can so easily dispense with his services.

In January the Government announced a £2.3 billion scheme for the car industry, including £1 billion to help it develop low carbon technologies. The German, French
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and Italian Governments have all delivered on their schemes. What has happened to the money for British and Welsh companies, and why are they the last to receive the help that was promised?

Mr. Hain: The money is coming through, although it would be threatened if the Conservatives ever got into power. I echo the hon. Lady’s remarks about you, Mr. Speaker. We have worked together for a long time. I am also grateful for the welcome that the hon. Lady gave me. I have been very fond of her over the years and I was glad to see that she survived the twin gaffes of advertising for a researcher for whom knowledge of devolution was “desirable but not necessary”, and letting the cat out of the bag on plans to reverse the devolution of higher education.

Port Security

2. Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on levels of border security at Welsh ports. [278175]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wayne David): Recently, the number of staff at ports of entry into Wales has increased significantly. The UK Border Agency has recently reopened its office at Pembroke Dock.

Mr. Crabb: I thank the Minister for that reply. I, too, would like to welcome the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) back to this important office of state. He will be aware that since he last held that office, operations have begun at the first of two major liquefied natural gas facilities at Milford Haven and work has begun on the new 2,000 MW power station at Pembroke. Near the port of Milford Haven, a major concentration of vital energy infrastructure is emerging, comprising important oil, gas and power facilities. Will he give a commitment today that he will sit down with the new Home Secretary to discuss security arrangements at the port and, in particular, consider the level of resourcing for Dyfed-Powys police, who are operating under severe financial constraints? The security burdens created by the new power facilities and energy infrastructure are creating an additional burden for them.

Mr. David: The hon. Gentleman referred to the new liquefied natural gas terminals—I am glad that he welcomed them—and to the new power station that will be built there in the near future. As he said, construction has already commenced. That is a tremendous boost to the local economy, and I am glad that he recognises its importance. Obviously, the issue that he raised about policing and potential counter-terrorist threats is an important one. Discussions have already taken place with my right hon. Friend’s predecessor, and they will continue to take place. The hon. Gentleman can be certain that we are mindful of the importance of the matter and that we will do our utmost to ensure that proper protection is installed for the areas to which he referred.

Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): What discussions has my hon. Friend had with representatives of the Welsh Assembly Government regarding ports in
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Wales and rail links, particularly in constituencies such as mine, where the docks are so important and where there are competing needs on rail and freight matters?

Mr. David: My hon. Friend has referred to another important issue. It is vital for the port of Swansea, which is a dynamic and vital part of the south Wales economy, to be fully integrated into the transport network of south Wales as a whole. I know that the Welsh Affairs Committee, of which my hon. Friend is a member, will be studying this issue in the near future and plans to visit different parts of the European Union to learn lessons. It is vital that we move as quickly as we can towards having a comprehensive, integrated and intermodal transport system in south Wales and throughout Wales as a whole.

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): Port security in Wales is the joint responsibility of the four Welsh police forces, but the chief constable of North Wales has suggested that national standards for counter-terrorism policing are forever unattainable. Does the Minister acknowledge that the current fragmented model for policing our ports is no longer adequate, and will he urge the Home Secretary to listen to the advice of Lord Stevens, who has concluded that only a dedicated national border security force can protect our ports properly?

Mr. David: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that greater integration is already taking place. We have seen changes with regard to the UK Border Agency, and in Pembroke Dock, for example, which the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) mentioned, we are seeing that integration taking place. We have seen, before our very eyes, members of staff being trained in a range of activities so that they can comprehensively fulfil their role. In Wales as a whole, greater co-operation and co-ordination between police forces is vital. That is firmly on the agenda, and both the Wales Office and the Home Office fully endorse it.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware of the vital role that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs plays in protecting our borders and ports. Would he be willing to seek a meeting with the Treasury about the confusion that reigns about moving Swansea staff into the high street in Swansea, together with staff from Llanelli, leaving an underused office in Llanelli? Perhaps that could be reconsidered.

Mr. David: Reorganisation is taking place. Streamlining must occur, and we must have the most effective service that we can provide. At the same time, we must ensure that resources are effectively used. I understand the concern referred to by my hon. Friend, and I give a commitment to meet her and any other colleagues who wish to meet, so that we can discuss how the situation can be expedited as quickly as possible.


3. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on prospects for the manufacturing sector in Wales. [278176]

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The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I had my first meeting with the First Minister on the Welsh economy on Monday. I intend to work closely with the Welsh Assembly Government and ministerial colleagues to ensure that the manufacturing sector, which is so vital to Wales, receives all the help that is needed to come through the global crisis as strongly as possible.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Welcome back! Way back in 2005, CBI Wales warned that manufacturing in Wales was continuing on a downward trend. More recently, Professor Pham of the Cardiff School of Engineering has argued that a weakness in the Welsh economy—the fact that it is dominated by small businesses—has inhibited the growth of a strong research and development base. That is a serious point. Does the Secretary of State agree with Professor Pham, and what can be done to rectify that problem in the Welsh economy?

Mr. Hain: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s welcome, and I acknowledge that he has shown a long and committed interest in supporting manufacturing. He may be interested to know that the latest report from the Engineering Employers Federation shows a slight improvement in the Welsh manufacturing sector, with Welsh manufacturers expecting an improvement over the next three months. He may also be encouraged to know that the latest report by the Purchasing Managers Index shows that total business activity has increased for the first time since May 2008, with growth in Wales greater than the UK-wide trend.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will remember the pleas that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) made in 1997 for our area to be covered by objective 1 funding. Does he agree that that funding has been important for the whole of the western part of Wales? Does he still wonder why the Secretary of State in post before that date did not apply for objective 1 funding so that Wales could have benefited a lot earlier than it did?

Mr. Hain: I certainly do remember the powerful case that my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) made in representing their constituencies and in persuading me that objective 1 funding should be extended to Denbighshire. Indeed, she is quite right: the shadow Health Secretary announced on the “Today” programme only this morning plans for a 10 per cent. cut in departmental expenditure limits for all Departments except those covering health, international aid and schools. That would mean savage cuts in spending in Wales, and would also put the whole of the European convergence programme, which has done so much for west Wales and the valleys, in jeopardy.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for your kindness over the years—even though you have occasionally confused me with the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams). I also welcome back to his former post the Secretary of State, who faces greater challenges now than ever before. I should also like to thank his predecessor, who was kind enough to meet representatives from a group of manufacturing companies in my constituency.

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Manufacturing is key to the Welsh economy, but Experian recently released a report that suggested that 350,000 manufacturing jobs would be lost across the UK between now and 2010. We know that a significant proportion of those losses will affect Wales’s already battered manufacturing sector. On his return to the Cabinet, will the Secretary of State make protecting Welsh manufacturing jobs his No. 1 priority? The last thing we want to see is whole communities left on the scrap heap, as happened in the 1980s and 1990s.

Mr. Hain: I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I shall certainly be happy to work with him. I know that the sort of manufacturing that still exists in his constituency is very important. It tends to be made up of small and medium-sized enterprises that need all the support that they can get. I also thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. I do not know who was the more prejudiced by the confusion between him and the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams).

2012 Olympics and Paralympics

4. Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues and the Welsh Assembly Government on the establishment of training camps in Wales in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. [278177]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wayne David): I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues in both the UK and the Welsh Assembly Government on a range of issues, including how Wales can benefit from the 2012 games. Wales has already developed an international reputation for hosting successful major sporting events, and that is reflected in the fact that the Australian Paralympic committee has decided to come to Wales.

Dr. Francis: I thank the Minister for that reply, and welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State back to his former position. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) for the work that he did in that post.

An important feature of the recent report from the Welsh Affairs Committee on the Olympics and Paralympics is the significance that it attaches to the pre-games training camps and the legacy for sporting excellence that they might provide. There are now 31 designated centres across Wales: that is praise indeed for the facilities that exist already, and also for the ones—such as the Glyncorrwg mountain bike centre in my constituency—still to come. Will my hon. Friend the Minister agree to visit some of those centres, and encourage the Minister for the Olympics to do so as well, so that more Olympic and Paralympic teams will come to Wales? He mentioned the example of the Australian Paralympic team that will be based in Wales—and the New Zealand Paralympic team, too, will be based in Swansea.

Mr. David: I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution, and for the question that he has just asked. I also thank the Welsh Affairs Committee for the excellent work that it has done, particularly on this important issue. As he knows, the Government are four-square behind all efforts to ensure that Wales derives the greatest benefit from the Olympic games, which are for Britain as a whole,
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and that includes us. Some 32 sites have been shortlisted for use as pre-games training camps, which demonstrates the commitment and involvement. I also welcome his suggestion that I might visit some of those; I would be happy to do so.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Like the Minister, I am disappointed that Wales has failed to attract more Olympic events when we have so much to offer international sport. Does he agree that the Welsh Assembly Government’s decision, at short notice, to renege on their agreement to fund the Wales Rally GB undermines the attractiveness of Wales as an international sporting venue and could result in a much larger bill? Given his new Secretary of State’s remarks as a Back Bencher, will he now ensure that his right hon. Friend gets that decision reversed before more damage is done to Wales’s international reputation?

Mr. David: The hon. Lady raises an important issue, on which discussions are continuing. I can tell her that the Secretary of State has already raised it with the First Minister of the Welsh Assembly Government. The important thing that I wish to stress is that, in general, Wales is benefiting from a range of different sporting activities. For example, it hosted the rugby world cup in 1999, the FA cup finals from 2001 to 2006 and rugby’s Heineken cup finals, to name but a few, and of course the Ryder cup is coming in the near future. All those events are important, and we are absolutely committed to ensuring that Wales stays centre stage in a sporting sense.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): I ask my question in my capacity as the joint chair of the all-party group on racing and bloodstock industries. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Ffos Las on the opening of the new race course there, which is being put forward as a possible equestrian centre for international teams taking part in horse racing events?

Mr. David: Yes, I certainly offer congratulations as my hon. Friend suggested. It is important that we recognise that sport, and Wales’s involvement in it, should be as broadly based as we can possibly make it, and I shall ensure that that is the case.

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