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25 Feb 2010 : Column 543

A number of Members have put their finger on the nub of this matter by saying that at this critical time there are opportunities. Part of the reason for the relative underdevelopment in Wales is that the UK economy, from the early years of the 20th century, started to specialise away from manufacturing and into financial services. That is the core of the problem that the UK economy is facing, and we hope that we are seeing that economy being restored to a more healthy balance. Wales is well poised because manufacturing is still a more important part of its economy than it is in the rest of the UK's economy.

So Wales needs to grasp these important opportunities, because the economic statistics at the moment are depressing. Wales is the UK region with the lowest gross value-added per head; it is 10th out of 12 on research and development expenditure; and it is the lowest on private equity and venture capital. Before the shadow Secretary of State claims that that is all the fault of the Welsh Assembly Government or even this Westminster Government, I should say that Wales has lain in that position for generations; this is a deep structural problem in the Welsh and the UK economy. However, that does not mean that we should accept it.

Wales is a small country that needs a big idea. The hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger), my neighbour, put his finger on it when he said that we need to put manufacturing, science, technology and innovation at the heart of our economic future. I wish to see, in the UK in general and in Wales in particular, a decade in which we do that; we should have a decade for innovation, manufacturing and science to build the foundation for the 21st century. At the culmination of that decade, I would like the World Expo-the world fair-to come back to the UK for the first time in about 150 years. It started in this country in 1851 and has been going ever since, but it has not been back to the UK since 1862. Does the fact that we have not invited back the World Expo- the biggest international event after the Olympic games and the FIFA World cup-not say something about priorities?

The World Expo came to Dublin in 1907, when Ireland was still in the UK. Why not bring it to Wales? Why not have the Wales World Expo? Wales, which fired the industrial revolution, could host the biggest and most important world event for the new industrial revolution-the knowledge revolution that was referred to by the right hon. Member for Islwyn. Yes, it will require investment, just as the London Olympics have required investment. As we know, Wales has contributed heavily to that, paying about £436 million. Surely, just as the UK Government have supported the successful Olympic bid and the FIFA World cup bid, which would also be mostly based in London, they could support with central Government expenditure a bid for the Expo made on behalf of the whole UK, but based in Wales.

The Expo could have a transformational effect. The last two-in Hanover in Germany in 2000 and in Japan in 2005-had 25 million visitors. Let us imagine the transformative effect that the event could have on the image and the reality of Wales. It would be a catalyst that would transform our economic prospects and would put Wales on the world map, as it was so clearly 100 years ago.

The bidding round will start soon-it will open next year. Here is a challenge to the Front Benchers from
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both leading parties: will they back a Wales bid for the World Expo? I am speaking as an ordinary Back-Bench Member of Plaid Cymru, so this is also a challenge to my own party. If I were here after the next elections, in any discussions with either of the two Front-Bench teams, I would seek to make the proposal one of our red lines. Wales deserves this. Generations of my family and those of most other hon. Members in the Chamber contributed with their sweat and too often with their blood to making this state of the United Kingdom the great world economic power that it was. We are not asking for charity but for something that I think we deserve. We are asking for help so that we can help ourselves. We are asking for a foundation for a new economy.

Whatever our political position on the constitutional question, none of us wants Wales to be holding a begging bowl for the rest of this century. We do not want to go cap in hand to anyone, however we see Wales's political future. We want Wales to be able to stand up proud and tall. We have the human capital to do it-the most precious resource that we have is the skills and ability of our people-but we need investment. Let us have that investment in a decade of manufacturing and science. Let us not inspire engineers to go into the City of London, as they have for the past 20 years, to use their mathematics to sell more and more arcane financial products. Let us inspire engineers-Welsh sons and daughters-to do engineering when they come out of university by showing that there can be a productive future for them in manufacturing.

I am optimistic, too-we have to be, do we not, in a small country? As I shall be leaving these shores soon, I want to end by paraphrasing the famous phrase used by the late Robert Kennedy. Some people look at Wales and the world as they are and ask, "Why?" The challenge is to look at Wales and the world as they could be and ask, "Why not?"

5.33 pm

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): The St. David's day debate this year has been something of a bittersweet occasion: sweet because it is always sweet to celebrate Wales in this Palace of Westminster, but tinged with bitterness, perhaps, at the departure of so many colleagues from both sides of the Chamber.

The debate was also characterised by a trait that, I am afraid, is frequently Welsh-that of looking back. That could certainly be seen from those Members on the Government Benches who, again, after 13 years, sought to analyse what happened under the last Conservative Government. However, in some six weeks' time, the electorate of this country will be called not to go back over ancient history but to take, as the Prime Minister said, a second look-or perhaps a long hard look-at the record of this Labour Government in office.

The Secretary of State was his usual combative self, suggesting what a terrible state of affairs the country would fall into if the wicked Tories were ever to take over the levers of power, but frankly that does not wash any more. Labour has been in charge of the country for 13 years now, and we need to consider what has happened under that party.

Let me consider the speeches that various hon. and right hon. Members have made, starting with the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). May I echo
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the tribute that my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) paid to him? His work as the Secretary of State for Wales was outstanding. His greatest achievement-in his second tenure of office-was to restore the prominence of the Welsh Grand Committee, which is an important institution of the House and is vital for the venting of Wales's voice in Parliament. It is frequently forgotten, since the establishment of the National Assembly, that a large proportion of day-to-day life in Wales is directly affected by what happens here. It is therefore essential that Welsh Members of Parliament have the opportunity to debate relevant issues here. He ensured that the Welsh Grand Committee met regularly, and I hope that his successor continues the pattern that he established.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the banks, as have many other hon. and right hon. Members. Clearly, the banking system and the crisis within it has been a cause of much of the pain that the country has experienced in the past two or three years. It is undoubtedly the case that immense greed was allowed to impel those who worked in the banks, but, by the same token, it cannot be overlooked that the regulatory system that was established by the Government was defective.

Nick Ainger rose-

Mr. Jones: I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene, but I have very little time.

The tripartite system that was established directly by the Prime Minister proved wanting. Indeed, the Governor of the Bank of England commented that although the Northern Rock fiasco could not have been averted, it certainly could have been mitigated if the Bank of England had had direct and overarching responsibility for regulation. That is something that the next Conservative Government will introduce.

Nick Ainger: The hon. Gentleman is doing the Governor a disservice. The Treasury Committee looked at these matters in great detail, and we found that there were major problems with regulation not only in this country but in every other developed country, despite the model being used.

Mr. Jones: The fact of the matter is that in this country we had a tripartite system that did not work. There was no individual or body with overarching responsibility. [ Interruption. ] France, of course, was not immune from what happened. The recession has hit this country harder than any other developed country. We were the first into the recession; we are the last out of it; and our exit is a faltering one. Indeed, it may well be-God forbid-that we are about to have a double dip. We might see statistics in April that show that we have re-entered recession, such is the fragility of the economy. The Government cannot abdicate responsibility for that, as they seek to do.

The right hon. Member for Torfaen also discussed transport. He pointed out that it now takes him one hour longer than it did 20 years ago to drive from his constituency to London. I agree entirely that there should be far more co-ordination between the Welsh Assembly Government and the Department for Transport
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on the development of transport policy. It is worth repeating what I have said before-it is ludicrous that the Welsh road freight transport policy takes no account of the DFT in London and that the DFT was not consulted about that policy given that most road freight journeys start or end in England.

We heard from the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), who commented, perhaps otiosely, that it was clear from the comments of various Members that there is an election in the offing. I think that that is very clear from most of the speeches that we have heard. He also referred to rural issues. He, of course, represents a rural constituency, and he spoke about the price of fuel there. I am sure that he shares my concern that so many petrol stations in Wales are about to be adversely affected by the enormous hike in rates. If he were present, he would be interested to hear that 27 rural filling stations in Powys will be in danger if the rates increases go ahead without any mitigation. I urge the Welsh Assembly Government to look at that issue.

The right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) bemoaned her lack of a daffodil. I share her pain, but she will be pleased to note that I am wearing my special St. David's day tie. It has a pattern of leeks on a suitably blue background, and I hope that the number of leeks will be echoed by the number of Conservative Members of Parliament elected at the next general election.

The right hon. Lady rightly spoke of the need for compassion towards the unemployed, but it is also true that Wales is more seriously affected by economic inactivity than any other part of the country. In Wales, more than 24 per cent. of the working age population is economically inactive. That is no good for the economy but, more particularly, it is no good for the people involved. I promise her that the next Conservative Government will introduce measures to do everything possible to put those people back to work. People cannot simply be written off for all sorts of work just because they have one, particular medical condition. A truly caring and compassionate Government would look at each individual, assess what they can do and help them to find the work that suits them. I am sure that the right hon. Lady agrees with that.

Among other things, my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) spoke about the recession's impact on young people. They are suffering doubly: they are finding it difficult to get work but, as my hon. Friend so rightly said, they are the ones who will pick up the bill for this recession-and probably their children will have to do so, too, such is the scale of the economic devastation that this country has experienced. Those young people must be intensely depressed by the fact that, having completed their education or training, they cannot find work. Above all else, we must ensure that they are given the opportunity as soon as possible to find the apprenticeships, or at least the work experience placements, that will equip them for the rest of their lives.

We heard from the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) who, much to my personal distress, will be standing down at the next general election. He was again combative, berating the Conservative party for the way in which, he claimed, it let down Wales in the 1980s and 1990s. However, may I remind him that the Government of whom he was a member inherited the best and most propitious economic legacy that
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any Government have ever inherited? What have the Government done with that legacy? They have frittered it away, and reduced this country to a basket case. The right hon. Member for Islwyn must face facts: I know that he is a fair-minded man, and I am sure that he will be as distressed as I am at the parlous mess that this country now finds itself in.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) spoke about the war in Afghanistan. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) paid tribute to the Royal Welch Fusiliers and the sterling service that they are undertaking out there, and I echo her words. I paid a visit to them at Dale barracks, Chester, before they were deployed, and I can tell the House that they were very eager to go there and do their duty. They were looking forward to it not with relish, but with the professionalism that marks out the Welsh military. I do not believe that it would be safe to pull out of Afghanistan immediately, as the hon. Gentleman suggested; I believe that we have a real and proper function to carry out there, and I am glad to see that Welsh servicemen are doing that job. I am sure that we all wish them safety in that important function.

We heard from the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan), who raised a constituency issue that she has raised on many previous occasions. We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), who rightly pointed out the one-sided view of history with which we were regaled by Labour Members. He also raised the issue of apprenticeships, which are absolutely vital. We have a dearth of them, and it must be a priority of the next Conservative Government to find apprenticeships.

The hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis), the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, was next to speak, and I pay tribute to him for his chairmanship, which has been absolutely outstanding. I also pay tribute to my fellow Committee members for all the hard work that we have carried out. That may sound as if I am patting myself on the back, but after some 43 inquiries and innumerable LCOs, I think that I am entitled to do so.

I must pay tribute to the Committee for the speed with which it has dealt with LCO applications. In passing, however, I have to say that over the past couple of years I have been dismayed by the attempts of certain individuals, particularly the Presiding Officer of the Welsh Assembly, to suggest that the Committee has tried to slow down the progress of LCOs. We have carried out our functions as expeditiously as possible, and we could not have done any better.

We then had an entertaining contribution from the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), who clearly thinks that the Conservative party is in power, because he devoted most of his contribution to berating it. Indeed, one might even think that he was concerned about a Conservative challenge in his constituency. However, he made one point with which I agree: the planning framework is resulting in the proliferation of wind farms in parts of rural Wales. The TAN 8 policy document is an absolutely pernicious piece of work that needs urgent revision.

We then heard from the hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger), who spoke from a position of authority as a member of the Treasury Committee. He, like many Members, referred
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to the bank bonus culture. We must face the fact that bonuses have been part of the culture and remunerative package of bankers over the years. The issue must be looked at, but it is quite wrong to berate moderately paid bank employees for the fact that they are awarded bonuses.

I am conscious of the time-although I would like to refer to other Members' contributions, I do not have the time to do so. On St. David's day it is clear that all Members, whatever their political background, want to do their best for Wales, but we cannot all come to the same conclusions. In the next few weeks, the people of Wales, like the people of the rest of the United Kingdom, will have to make a choice between five more years under Labour, repeating the failure that Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom has experienced, or a new optimism with a Conservative party that is prepared to take on the challenges that this country faces, and to make life better for the people of Wales, which I am sure is what everyone in this Chamber wants.

5.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wayne David): We have had a good debate this afternoon. A wide range of issues has been discussed. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan), for example, has spoken with passion about Llanishen reservoir, while the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams) discussed a number of issues, including what is happening at the Aberystwyth university Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, which I recently visited. We can discuss that issue further.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) made a passionate address. She accurately told us about the difficulties of the south Wales experience, particularly during the miners' strike. There was also a colourful speech from the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik).

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) has given us a clear indication of the excellent work conducted by the Welsh Affairs Committee. He referred particularly to the effective scrutiny of legislative competence orders and the excellent work done on a number of other issues. I should particularly like to refer to the good work that the Committee has done on the future of the Legal Services Commission.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) made an important address. He talked about how in the past few years his constituency had been transformed under the Labour Government. Similarly, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) talked about the improvements that have taken place in his constituency. He specifically referred to improvements in the national health service. A new hospital is being built in Caerphilly borough; it happens to be in my constituency, but it will serve his constituents as well. Like other hon. Members, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's tremendous work over a number of years as a member of the Government and a Member of the House.

We also heard the last St. David's day address from the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price). I pay tribute to his work and the erudite contributions that he has made to debates in the House.
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I was particularly pleased at his reference to Idris Davies, who came from the Rhymney valley. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger) made an erudite speech, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), who is a true champion of his constituency.

One of the main points made by Labour Members in this debate concerned the need to maintain current levels of public expenditure to ensure that the economic recovery that we see now is sustained and developed. A few days ago, a significant letter, signed by no fewer than 67 leading economists, was published in the Financial Times. It stated:

That is eloquent testimony to the effective economic strategy being successfully pursued by the Government. It is imperative that that strategy should be maintained.

There is a clear distinction between that economic approach and what is being advocated by a number of Conservative Members, in particular the hon. Members for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb), for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) and for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones). At the election, there will be a clear choice for the people of Britain, including the people of Wales. It will be between clear investment from a Labour Government and a programme of harsh cuts.

We have at least an inkling of the cuts that we could expect if a Conservative Government were elected. We have heard the comments about the free breakfasts provided by the Welsh Assembly-the Conservatives describe them as "wasteful gimmicks". We have heard the Conservatives say that free prescriptions are "unsustainable". Free bus passes have been enormously popular and liberating for elderly people in Wales, but the Conservatives have said that they need "to review this scheme".

Mrs. Gillan: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. David: I am sorry, but time is short. [Interruption.] No, I am quoting accurately from Conservative policy statements.

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