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House of Commons

Wednesday 23 June 2010

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

business before questions

London Local Authorities Bill [Lords]


Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked-

Business Relocation

1. Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on encouraging the relocation of businesses to Wales. [3032]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr David Jones): Before I answer my hon. Friend, I am sure that the House will want to join my right hon. Friend and me in expressing condolences to the family of the right hon. Lord Walker of Worcester, whose death at the age of 78 was announced earlier this morning. A distinguished Member of the other place and a former Secretary of State for Wales, he was a good friend to the Welsh people.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are committed to attracting more inward investment to Wales, as we believe it will be a key driver for future economic growth.

Jonathan Evans: First, may I associate myself with what my hon. Friend said about Lord Walker? May I also take the opportunity to welcome my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to their new responsibilities and to wish them well in the challenges that lie ahead?

Given the recognition even by the First Minister both in an interview on "The Andrew Marr Show" and during the Welsh Labour conference this year that there are not enough private sector jobs in Wales, does my hon. Friend agree that success depends on driving up private sector jobs in the Principality in the future?

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Mr Jones: Yes, my hon. Friend is entirely right. The private sector is the key to future growth in Wales, which is why yesterday's Budget announced a major package of corporation tax reform that is aimed at making Britain-and, of course, Wales-one of the most competitive parts of the G20. In particular, the exemption of up to £5,000 of employer national insurance contributions for each of the first 10 employees, which applies outside London and the south-east, will be of benefit to Wales.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): May I associate myself with the condolences expressed to the family of the late Lord Walker and also congratulate the right hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman on their appointment to their posts?

Yesterday, there was a recognition by the Government of the need to grow economies outside the south-east of England. We have argued long and hard about the overheating of the south-east and its cost to the north of England and Wales. Will the Minister consider the idea of either regionalising corporation tax according to gross value added or devolving it altogether to the Welsh Assembly so that the needs of business can be met and real support provided for it?

Mr Jones: I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the announcements in yesterday's Budget. The announcement of the exemption of up to £5,000 of national insurance contributions for new employment outside London and the south-east will certainly be of benefit; to that extent, it is a major departure, which I am sure that the entire House will welcome.

Mr Llwyd: May I press the hon. Gentleman on the question of corporation tax? Does he have any problem with that? At the end of the day, it is his Government's policy in the north of Ireland, so why does it not apply to Wales?

Mr Jones: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome yesterday's announcements. There is no plan to regionalise corporation tax further in the United Kingdom, but I am sure that yesterday's announcements will offer a major boost to the Welsh economy.

National Assembly for Wales

2. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with the First Minister on the proposed referendum on the law-making powers of the National Assembly for Wales. [3033]

8. Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with the First Minister on the proposed referendum on law-making powers of the National Assembly for Wales. [3040]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mrs Cheryl Gillan): May I also echo the words of my hon. Friend in recognising the tremendous work that the right hon. Lord Walker of Worcester did in this House as one of my predecessors as Secretary of State for Wales from 1987 to 1990? I am sure that all our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.

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I have had regular discussions with the First Minister on the proposed referendum on the law-making powers of the National Assembly for Wales.

Philip Davies: Given that so few people in Wales actively voted for the National Assembly in the first place, will my right hon. Friend consider having a turnout threshold for any referendum on whether to give the Assembly more powers so that at least a respectable number of people vote before we make any constitutional changes?

Mrs Gillan: I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware of it, but there was a threshold of 40% for the previous referendum. I am afraid to tell the House, however, that I am bound by the Government of Wales Act 2006, in accordance with which there is no threshold, but a simple majority. It is therefore important, I believe, that the electorate in Wales uses its right to vote on an important issue. I hope that when the referendum is run, they will turn out in numbers.

Mr Andrew Turner: What progress has the Secretary of State made on the question for the referendum?

Mrs Gillan: No work was done in the Department on the question prior to the general election. I am pleased to tell the House, however, that the project board has produced a question and a preceding statement for the referendum on law-making powers for the National Assembly for Wales, and I am sending it today to the Electoral Commission for the 10 weeks that it needs to carry out its work in proving that question. In the short time I have been in the office, I think I have achieved more than my predecessor did in the time from 17 February, when notice was given to him that a referendum was required.

Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): May I congratulate the right hon. Lady on her new job? Despite what the London commentariat say, it is a very important job indeed. She will know that, during any referendum, the question of Members of Parliament from Wales will be an issue. Will she confirm that she agrees with her previous statement that there should be 40 Welsh MPs?

Mrs Gillan: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome. When I dealt with him from the other side of the Dispatch Box, I always found that his courtesy was unfailing. He refers to the potential boundary changes and the reduction of the number of MPs-I am sure that no one outside the House will be arguing for more highly paid politicians. However, I take very seriously the representation of Wales in the House, and nothing will be done in reducing the number of MPs that will disproportionately affect the share of voice that Wales has in the House and at Government levels.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): Would the Secretary of State like to campaign for a yes vote in the referendum, or will she consult the electorate of Buckinghamshire first?

Mrs Gillan: I am very proud to be the first woman to occupy the position of Secretary of State for Wales, and I was born and brought up in Wales. It is singularly important that the people of Wales decide on the referendum and the outcome, and I will campaign for
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neither a no vote nor a yes vote. I and my Minister will remain neutral, which is the proper thing to do. The hon. Lady needs to familiarise herself with her own party, as I believe that there are split views in the Labour party as well.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): The Secretary of State will be aware that some of us on these Benches will campaign with great enthusiasm for the referendum, and were disappointed that the referendum that we hoped for in October did not come about. Does she think the fact that it did not occur reflects on the inactivity of the previous Government? Furthermore, in welcoming her news about the question, may I ask whether the Government will make a speedy commitment to a referendum in the spring of next year?

Mrs Gillan: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. As we said in the coalition agreement, and as I said before the election, I am determined to allow the people of Wales to decide in a referendum. It is only polite to accede to the request of the Assembly, which, after all, voted unanimously for a referendum, and I am sad that the previous Secretary of State commenced no work on the question and confined himself to work on the order that we will eventually lay before the House. I am pleased to confirm that I am sending the preamble and question to the Electoral Commission.

Mr Speaker: May I just gently ask the Secretary of State to face the House rather than having her back to the Chair? That would be very helpful.

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): May I join in the commiserations to Lord Walker's family on his death?

May I congratulate the right hon. Lady, especially on being the first woman Secretary of State for Wales? However, as accounts given to the media have traduced the truth, I must ask whether she is aware that as Secretary of State, on Monday 10 May, in the Wales Office, I specifically asked and received an assurance from senior officials that work I had put in train months before would have enabled a referendum to be staged this October. Before she answers, may I remind her that whatever she has been saying to the media, she must not mislead this House, especially as she will not have seen the official papers detailing my preparations for the referendum?

Mrs Gillan: I thank the shadow Secretary of State for his welcome. I cannot comment on the advice received by the former Administration; however, I do have access to documents that have indicated to me that no work was done on the question before the general election. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to have a discussion with me about the matter, he is quite able to do so, but no work was done by the Department. The only work carried out was on the order that was to be laid before the House. This was the first question that I asked when I walked into the Department.

Independent Commission on Funding and Finance for Wales

3. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): What recent discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the findings of the Independent Commission on Funding and Finance for Wales. [3034]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr David Jones): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has discussed the issue of funding for Wales with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and also met the hon. Gentleman last week to discuss the subject. I hope that the hon. Gentleman found that helpful.

Roger Williams: I welcome the Minister and the Secretary of State to their posts.

Notwithstanding the review that has been promised after a successful referendum, there is clear and understandable concern about the difficulties that will be faced in Wales because of the necessary measures being taken to reduce the deficit. Will the Minister commit himself to a dialogue with Gerry Holtham and with Treasury colleagues to ensure that Wales is given a fair deal, given its historic levels of underfunding and the severe pressure put on the Welsh Assembly Government?

Mr Jones: The Government are committed to ensuring that Wales is properly funded, but it is clearly right for the Treasury's energies to be concentrated on tackling the deficit left behind by the Labour party. We will certainly give careful consideration to the Holtham commission's final report, which is to be published this summer. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already met Mr Holtham, and intends to have further meetings with him.

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Do the Minister and the Secretary of State recall that last November the Treasury was persuaded to accept an historic reform ensuring that Wales was not disadvantaged under the Barnett formula? Why are they not ensuring that the agreement to protect the Welsh Budget is implemented? On Barnett, the Chancellor promised on 12 February 2010 to

How on earth can the Secretary of State and the Minister have allowed that pledge to be dumped in the long grass? Instead of capitulating immediately to savage cuts, why do they not stand up and fight for Wales as their Labour predecessors did?

Mr Jones: Having read the so-called pledge that the right hon. Gentleman received from the Treasury, I think it fair to say that it was almost meaningless. As he knows, the Holtham commission is due to report substantively next month. My right hon. Friend and I intend to have further discussions with Mr Holtham, and it would be wrong to pre-empt his decision.

Armed Forces Day

4. Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on marking Armed Forces day in Wales in 2010. [3035]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mrs Cheryl Gillan): Let me begin by paying tribute to the brave Welsh men and women serving in our armed forces throughout the world, particularly in Afghanistan. They are doing a very difficult job, and I am sure that all Members present will join me in thanking them for their bravery and dedication.

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I am delighted to be attending the national Armed Forces day event in Cardiff this Saturday, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. My hon. Friend the Minister will also be attending the north Wales event in Caernarfon in July.

Greg Hands: The Secretary of State will know that the whole country is looking forward to Armed Forces day. Last week we were delighted when the Prime Minister and the President of France met veterans at Royal hospital Chelsea, in my constituency. Can the Secretary of State tell us what specific proposals there are to involve veterans in the ceremonies in Cardiff on Saturday?

Mrs Gillan: We should be very proud that Cardiff was chosen for this year's Armed Forces day celebration. On Monday, when I attended the ceremonial Armed Forces day flag-raising event at Cardiff castle, I was privileged to have several conversations with some of our veterans who were present, representing veterans from all over the United Kingdom. I understand that they will play a prominent part in the ceremonies on Saturday.

Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): May I ask the Secretary of State to reflect on the impact of yesterday's Budget on us in Wales, and in particular on public sector workers? Already 250 jobs have left my constituency. How many public sector jobs does the Secretary of State expect us to lose during the current Parliament?

Mrs Gillan: Well, I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, but I find it hard to make a linkage to-

Mr Speaker: I am sure it will not be beyond the ingenuity of the Secretary of State somehow to respond in order, although I accept that this is a testing one.

Mrs Gillan: I am not sure how I will make that linkage to Armed Forces day, but I would say that for those who are low paid in the public sector I was delighted to see that the Chancellor had chosen not to freeze their pay for two years and to give them an increase of £250 in each year, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman would welcome. I also welcome that our Prime Minister went to Afghanistan and announced the doubling of the pay for our brave soldiers when they are serving on our behalf overseas.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best tributes we could pay to the armed forces would be to offer them the best training-world-class training-and that the proposed defence technical college for St Athan could well offer that training? What discussions has she had with the Secretary of State for Defence about this project, and about the delays caused by the last Administration?

Mrs Gillan: May I welcome my hon. Friend to his rightful place in the House, representing the Vale of Glamorgan? He knows what a strong supporter I am of the case for the training college at St Athan, and all I can say is that this is yet another example of how the Labour party did not stand up for Welsh interests. Labour did not get on with this project when it had the
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opportunity to do so when it was in government. May I also remind my hon. Friend that planning permission for this project was granted by a Conservative-led local authority back in 2009?

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