Economic Development (South-west Wales)

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 12th February 2003.

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Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower 11:30 am, 12th February 2003

What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister in the National Assembly about economic development potential in south-west Wales.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales

I have regular discussions with the First Minister about economic development, which is particularly helped by objective 1 funding, under which 187 projects in south-west Wales have been approved so far, attracting £66 million of grants.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he join me in welcoming the formation of the Gorseinon community development trust, a local vehicle for creating jobs in a community that has recently been hard hit by works closures? Will he use his best endeavours to effect the trust's proposals for an enterprise village on the old Corus Bryngwyn works in Gorseinon?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales

I welcome both proposals. There is a genuine prospect of creating world-class facilities throughout south-west Wales. They include the excellent and exciting tourist facility of Bluestone in Pembrokeshire. I hope that Pembrokeshire coast national park and Pembrokeshire county council will speed through the application as quickly as possible.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

The Secretary of State knows that the KTH plant in Llanidloes is threatened with closure. If it closed and 250 jobs went, the economic impact on a town of only a couple of thousand residents would be as serious as the difficulties in south-west Wales. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore be willing to accept a representation from the town taskforce, which is trying to ensure that we do not lose the jobs or that they are replaced if we encounter problems with KTH?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales

I will certainly be happy to meet a delegation, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be in attendance. I am worried about the development because I appreciate that KTH is a vital local employer in Llanidloes. The First Minister has asked Team Wales to investigate the possibility of saving jobs and maintaining that vital facility.

Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies Labour, Llanelli

My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the proposals to develop further the motor racing circuit at Pembrey and the adjoining airport. When he meets the First Minister, will he press him to ensure that the necessary infrastructure funds are available for two projects that will give the economy of south-west Wales an enormous boost?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales

My right hon. Friend is right. I have had the privilege of racing—not very quickly—on Pembrey motor racing circuit in a car sponsored by the Welsh Development Agency. The projects for the circuit and the airfield constitute an exciting prospect and they need support. I shall do everything possible to help. I have already discussed the matter with the Minister for Economic Development, who is also keen on the projects.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

The manufacturing sector is hardest hit in south-west Wales. To name only one company, Dewhirst closed three factories with the loss of 900 jobs and moved production to Morocco. Why does the Secretary of State believe that manufacturing confidence is so low and declining in Wales? Is it because of the climate change levy, the landfill tax increases, the fuel tax rises, the working time directive, the business rate rises, the huge increase in red tape, massive extra costs to business to operate the benefits system through the payroll or the extra jobs tax that will hit industry in April and siphon millions of pounds into Government coffers that should be invested in business?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales

I find the hon. Gentleman's concern for manufacturing in Wales very touching given that the Tories massacred the sector in the 1980s and early 1990s. As I understand it, most Dewhirst workers have been able to get new jobs or are in the process of finding them. Yes, manufacturers have had a tough time, principally because of the high pound, but we are doing all that we can to support them. There is much good news about new investment by manufacturers in Wales and employment in Wales. Unemployment fell to 5.2 per cent. in December. That is great news because it brings Wales to the same level as the rest of the United Kingdom. Instead of lagging behind, we have lower unemployment than the United States of America, Canada, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

The Secretary of State took his eye off the ball at the Convention on the Future of Europe and was clearly outflanked. I do not want him to do that for manufacturing jobs in south-west Wales. He knows that the Confederation of British Industry in Wales has already said that there are problems with the dualling of roads, congestion on the M4 and the trains between Cardiff and west Wales. Time and again, I have mentioned the potential to boost investment in Swansea and west Wales that Swansea airport offers. Will the Secretary of State hold talks with his colleagues and business leaders in Wales to ascertain what can be done to remove the barriers to economic growth in south-west Wales to attract more jobs there?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales

Not only will I meet business leaders in Wales; I met the director of CBI Wales on Monday, and the director general of the Institute of Directors yesterday. They fully support our strategy to develop a world-class economy in Wales. Rather than continually kicking Welsh businesses in the teeth, as the hon. Gentleman does, and continually running Wales down, they remember that the Tories massacred about 1 million manufacturing jobs when they were in power. We are supporting manufacturing. The Welsh economy is on the up. The hon. Gentleman should be praising it, not kicking it.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Lawrence Mrs Jackie Lawrence Labour, Preseli Pembrokeshire

My right hon. Friend will know of two major developments of national importance in west Wales that affect my constituency. He just mentioned one, the Bluestone project; the other is the Petroplus plan for a liquefied natural gas importation terminal, for which Pembrokeshire county council granted consent yesterday. Will my right hon. Friend also support that project, and do everything possible to ensure that the high-pressure gas pipeline is extended down to Pembrokeshire so that the project is not put at risk?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales

I have met Petroplus representatives, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State did so yesterday. The project in Milford Haven is very exciting: it will put Pembrokeshire at the forefront of energy supply. We will do all that we can to support it, and given my hon. Friend's additional support the future looks very bright.

Photo of Mr Roy Beggs Mr Roy Beggs UUP, East Antrim

Does the Secretary of State agree that Government policy—and indeed, the efforts of the Welsh Development Agency—contribute to the success of economic development in Wales? Might it not be of benefit for regional development agencies to come together to share experience and expertise, and avoid unnecessary competition?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman.