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I am very concerned about mental health provision in Powys. We cost ourselves far more than we save by not having appropriate mental health provision in mid-Wales.
I hope that over time Ministers can have conversations with their opposite numbers in Cardiff to see whether we can make a direct intervention and provide a much more acceptable level of service.
Newtown is currently suffering gridlock, because the council "improved" the traffic management in the centre of the town. When it switched the lights on, it more or less switched the traffic off. An appreciable part of the work over the next few days will be trying to convince it to go back to where we were before with a roundabout instead of lights. Such issues are not glamorous, but they preoccupy MPs most of the time. I may have to call on Ministers once again if the council is intransigent and bloody-mindedly refuses to heed the obvious distress of a community that is unable to drive from one side of a small town to the other.
The election will obviously be on 6 May, and we all look forward to a new Parliament and the new challenges that it will bring. For my part, I can only conclude with the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams), who turned to me earlier and said, "Actually, this is a pretty wonderful job, isn't it?" For all the difficulties, troubles and challenges, I still think that it is a noble profession. It is still an honour to serve here, working together with my local Assembly Member, the gentle giant, Mick Bates, and his soon-to-be-successor in 2011, Wyn Williams, the outstanding politician of his generation, who are up for the challenge. I am proud of my team in Newtown and proud of the constituency that I represent, and I hope to do even more if that is the will of the people of Montgomeryshire.
Nick Ainger (Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire) (Lab): It is always interesting to follow the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), who always aims to entertain, if not to inform us about Liberal Democrat policy. I am reminded of a story about the late Lord Howells. When he was the Member for Ceredigion, he announced at a public meeting that Liberal Democrat policy on water was that it should all be free. Afterwards he was challenged about this and told that it was not Liberal Democrat policy, and he said, "No, but it should be." I have a feeling that the hon. Gentleman is following his policy in that regard.
Lembit Öpik: With the exception of the fact that I always highlight party contradictions as I go along.
Nick Ainger: My right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) referred to his first contribution to the Wales day debate back in 1988, which reminded me of my first such contribution in 1993. I am not sure whether it was on 1 March, but it was close to it. I could not make a very positive contribution, because of the situation that my constituency was in. The second recession under the Conservative Government had hit my constituency particularly hard. From 1981, Pembrokeshire basically stayed in recession. There was a second recession in the early 1990s, and by January 1993, the Pembroke and Tenby travel-to-work area, which is basically the south Pembrokeshire part of my constituency under its current name, had the worst unemployment not only of any part of Wales but of any part of the UK. More than 2,600 people there were claiming unemployment benefit.
I think back to those days, when I looked for help for my people in my constituency who were facing repossession and those who had lost their jobs, and help was there none. The Government did not change the rules on support for mortgage interest payments, as the current Government have-the waiting period was 39 weeks then, and now it is 13 weeks. That has been a major contribution to keeping people in their homes. There was no future jobs fund and no new deal then, and so no real help for the unemployed. It was a tragic period for many individuals who lost not only their job but their home.
The difference between that home-grown recession and the global recession that we have faced over the past 18 months is that Government reactions have been a world apart. I am absolutely confident that the measures that have been taken, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State listed-the car scrappage scheme, the tax deferral, the future jobs fund, help for people to stay in their homes and so on-have had a significant impact on reducing the effect of the recession. As others have said, even after this deep recession, unemployment levels are still a lot better than they were back in the 1990s.
The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) said that we always get such arguments in these debates and in the Welsh Grand Committee, but it is worth remembering that the policy decisions in the two circumstances were completely different. They were taken by two different Governments and, as I have said, the way that Government decisions have helped people in the current experience is worlds away from what happened in the early 1990s.
I do not recognise the description of some parts of Wales that certain Opposition Members have given when talking about their constituencies. As I have travelled around Wales, as an individual Member and formerly as a Minister, I have seen the investment that has taken place on an unprecedented scale. I can give examples of services that have been provided in my constituency and elsewhere. There is the new Tenby college hospital, the £8 million refurbishment of the Pembroke Dock hospital, the new A and E at West Wales general hospital, the brand-new £30 million-plus Carmarthen high school, the upgrading of primary schools and the building of new ones in Jeffreyston, in Pembroke Dock and throughout the area. There has been huge investment in Pembrokeshire college, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire. New schools are being built; there is a new A and E unit and other development at Withybush general hospital; and a brand new leisure centre recently opened in Haverfordwest. That is my experience of west Wales.
The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire complains about the need to upgrade the A40, but as I speak, a completely new section is being upgraded. Admittedly, it is not a dual carriageway, but unfortunately, the traffic flows do not require one. I would have loved to see a dual carriageway there, but I am a pragmatist. We get what we can afford, and unfortunately, we do not have the resources to dual that section of the A40.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the port of Holyhead is now linked via the A55 all the way to Chester, but for a period in the 1980s, it stopped on the Anglesey side of the bridge-it was not completed by the Conservatives owing to a lack of money. It took a new Government to deal with that, albeit under the
private finance initiative, which I was uncomfortable with, but we now have a completed A55. It is therefore a little rich for Conservatives to say that they are all for linking ports by dualling roads, when they had 18 years to do so but failed.
Nick Ainger: Indeed. My hon. Friend makes his point very well.
We can be incredibly proud of what we have achieved in the past 12 years or so. We have seen real improvements in the quality of the services that are provided to our constituents, including in health and education, and we have been able to encourage employment. That we have maintained relatively low interest rates has been a huge assistance to small businesses. Back in the 1990s, interest rates were 15 per cent., and mortgage rates were even higher, which had a huge impact on our constituents' quality of life and the viability of businesses. There has been a big change, and we ought to be honest with ourselves about that.
The deficit that we face is clearly a major issue. As a member of the Treasury Committee, I have heard of the effects and causes of the global recession in individual economies in the United States-which the Committee visited a couple of weeks ago-Frankfurt, Austria and Hungary. There was a common theme. Countries throughout the world recognise, thank goodness, that at the time of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, there was co-ordinated action, which was led, I must say, by our own Prime Minister. The major part he played in forming a consensus and driving through the necessary action is acknowledged around the world. The good news is that the world responded in a co-ordinated way, and that we did not enter a serious depression, which we easily could have done. As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said, banks could have closed, and people might not have been able to withdraw their deposits, or get cash from cash machines. That was the reality we faced in autumn 2008, but co-ordinated global action prevented those things from happening.
There are two reasons for that, the first of which I have raised before in the House. Because of the crisis that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers, it is not recognised to the extent it should be that from late 2007 to mid-2008-less than a year-we had the biggest spike in energy prices the world has ever seen. Oil went from around $70 a barrel to nearly $150 a barrel, which was unprecedented. That had a serious impact, as did the rises in commodity prices for food, other forms of energy and materials such as metals. Following that serious global problem, and building on it, came the credit crunch and the global banking crisis. We must tackle that issue. We must try to prevent the commodity exchanges getting out of control as they did. There is something wrong when the Governor of the Bank of England writes to the Chancellor to inform him that the consumer prices index has risen to 3.5 per cent. and one of the three reasons he gives is that oil prices went up by 70 per cent. in 2009-during the deepest recession that we have seen. Energy prices should have been falling as demand was falling. Oil prices should have been falling or at least not reached their current level.
We need to tackle this problem globally and have complete transparency on the commodity exchanges so that we do not have the speculative activity that has
caused that particular problem. The good news is that the US and other countries consider this to be a major issue and the IMF is also looking at it. It will take co-ordinated global action.
The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) mentioned the RBS bonuses, and said that only those earning less than £39,000 would receive a bonus-
Mrs. Gillan: According to the Lobby briefing.
Nick Ainger: Well, the Lobby briefing was wrong then. Those earning less than £39,000 will receive their bonus in cash. Those earning more will receive their substantial bonuses in the form of shares paid over three years, but if their performance over that time is deemed to have fallen off, the bonus will be clawed back. The overall performance of the institution will also be taken into account.
Those arrangements are in line with the G20 recommendations. However, the bonus culture has to change. There is a massive disconnect between the financial services industry and the rest of the real economy. People stand aghast when institutions that have caused them personally to lose their jobs, see their businesses close and, in certain circumstances, lose their homes, still have a culture of so-called performance-related pay, with massive bonuses, the like of which is not replicated in any other industry. If someone is paid £250,000 or £500,000 and their wages are doubled, tripled or even quadrupled, I cannot see how they can work any harder. There are only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week. I cannot see how these huge alleged incentives can actually act as any incentive at all.
Mr. David Jones: The hon. Gentleman refers to the real economy to distinguish it from the banking and financial sector. But is it not the case that the banking sector has mushroomed exponentially under the Labour Government, whereas what he would presumably call the real economy-manufacturing industry-has declined in Wales by a third?
Nick Ainger: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should take the axe to the financial services sector. I am sure that his friend Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, would take serious exception to that. To be fair, we have seen a significant expansion of financial services in Wales, and Admiral is a very good example of that. I am arguing not that the financial services sector should be cut, but that we need to rebuild the real economy.
The International Monetary Fund is absolutely right to say that countries should not cut spending until the recovery is well in place, but my understanding, from the shadow Chancellor's speech last night, of Conservative policy this week-I am not sure what it will be next week, because it seems to change regularly-is that he still wants to cut spending as soon as possible to address the deficit, if, God forbid, a Conservative Government are elected in May. However, the IMF is clear in saying that countries around the world should be very careful about the timing of spending reductions. The recovery is very fragile, not only in this country, but in the United States and throughout the eurozone, where the growth
rate is now 0.1 per cent.-the same as ours. It would be incredibly foolish and naïve to start a programme of cutting back expenditure. The fear, rightly expressed by the IMF, is that the world could be plunged back into recession-and of all that that means.
A high proportion-about 36 per cent.-of those constituents of mine who are unemployed have a background in the construction industry, which is a far higher proportion than for virtually any other area in Wales, and possibly the UK. This Monday, there was a demonstration outside the Pembroke power station site demanding a high proportion of British jobs for British workers and so on. It was believed that a high proportion of the 500 people currently building the new power station were not UK residents. In fact, the information provided by the main contractor indicates that more than 90 per cent. of the work force are from the UK, with 40 per cent. from Pembrokeshire and nearly 60 per cent.-57 per cent., I think-from Wales.
There is an issue though. As a result of the winding down of two major liquefied natural gas site projects, a high proportion of people are seeking work on that site. I think that we can see a real improvement in how people are notified of vacancies, and that the recruitment system can be radically improved. I hope, therefore, that the contractors, including the main contractors, together with the main client, RWE, are considering that issue, so that many of the opportunities presented as the site develops can go to local people with the right skills and experience, which have developed in Pembrokeshire over its many years of dealing with the petrochemical industry.
I want to make a general point about the engineering and construction industry. I declare an interest: I am a member of Unite and my constituency receives support from the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians. We have a huge opportunity, particularly in Wales, but throughout the UK as well, in the engineering and construction industry, with the decarbonisation of power generation over the next 10 or 20 years. People are talking about £20 billion-at least-in investment in new gas-fired power stations; in new coal-fired stations with carbon capture and storage; in nuclear power, such as that produced at Wylfa; in a massive increase in offshore wind and tidal energy; and even in the Severn barrage, if that comes off. There are massive opportunities that the engineering and construction industry should be able to benefit from and which should increase our work force.
Those opportunities are as great as when North sea oil was being developed in the 1970s, so we need to maximise the number of UK companies that win those contracts and employ UK labour. The alternative is what happened at the Lindsey oil refinery at the Staythorpe power station, where UK contractors were unsuccessful in certain parts of the contract, and labour from Spain and elsewhere was brought in to carry out part of it.
The Gibson report, which was published in December, highlights what needs to be addressed. The recommendations are quite clear. One of the issues is that we have an ageing work force in the engineering and construction industry, with 65 per cent. of the work force being over 40, and 41 per cent. being over 50. We need to bring young people into the industry. One of the recommendations of the Gibson report is that we should double the number of on-site apprentices, from 500 to 1,000, by 2011. There are also clear problems
with productivity and, in particular, the supervision and management of contracts, and clear recommendations are made about that.
However, I want to emphasise again how we come out of the recession and how we can build and develop on the basis that exists now, and move into sustainable recovery. Part of that will involve decarbonisation of power generation. There are huge investments to be made, and Wales can benefit hugely from those. RWE is the main developer for the massive wind farm on the Bristol channel. We have seen Wylfa being replaced, as well as the gas-fired power station in my constituency, and there is a new power station in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Jessica Morden). There is a range of opportunities for various forms of tidal power. That is the way to grow out of the recession; that is the way to recovery. I fear that the alternative posed by the Conservatives could see my constituency returning to the position that it was in during the early 1990s.
Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): Given the time and the fact that a neighbouring hon. Member and friend, the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), wants to speak, I will be very quick.
I want to raise three or four issues relating to Ceredigion, all of which are economic in nature. The first is funding for higher education and research in Wales. I am concerned that the suggested restructuring of the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth university raises the prospect of up to 70 job losses. That is a blow not only to those individuals and the economy of north Ceredigion, but to the Welsh research base. Given the circumstances-a shortfall of £2.4 million and a changed emphasis in research funding priorities-I should say from the outset that I understand the rationale behind the university's strategy, but that does not mitigate the blow that north Ceredigion will face. This has been an ongoing saga, affecting the funding of the plant breeding station, of which my noble Friend Lord Elystan-Morgan reminded me, the funding of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research and now the funding of IBERS.
In the wake of the emergence of IBERS-the merger of IGER with Aberystwyth university, with significant funding from the Welsh Assembly Government, which has been greatly welcomed-we faced early concerns about the high expectations of the university's capacity to compete in the global environment. I am sure that the university has the potential, the hope and the experience to compete from a global perspective, but there are great concerns among the work force. IBERS has chosen to focus its core research on the necessary areas of climate change, biofuels and food security-a narrowing of its research. They are major issues now and they will be major issues in the foreseeable future, but my concern is that we will lose the broad research base and that the new focus could be too prescriptive. I have no doubt that the expertise at IBERS will ensure that it remains competitive in the global market, but I worry that the agenda of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, in pursuing a narrow set of objectives for universities, will expose further education and research to many commercial pressures.
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