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According to the labour force survey, 622,000 people were in employment in south-east Wales over the 12 months to November 2004—47,000 or 8.2 per cent. more than in 1997.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in Newport, unemployment has fallen by more than half since 1997 and that, in the last year alone, more than 1,700 new jobs have been announced in Newport by a wide variety of employers, including the Office for National Statistics and the Prison Service? Is that not a tribute to the quality of Newport's work force, as well as to the efforts by Newport city council and Newport Unlimited to attract employers to Newport? Does he share my pride about how Newport's people and economy have grown in strength and confidence in the past eight years under this Labour Government?
I do indeed. Newport is now one of the fastest-growing cities in Britain, with business start-up rates very high, a lot of confidence and more jobs being attracted by the Office for National Statistics, the Prison Service and world-class companies, such as Cogent and others. That just shows that, under Labour, Wales is working—do not let the Conservatives wreck it!
Today's decision by Dairy Farmers of Britain to close the Llangadog creamery, which will also affect the milk bottling plant in Cardiff, shows the difficulty that we have in the dairy industry in Wales at the moment. What can the Secretary of State say for dairy farmers throughout south Wales and about the job losses being experienced by that industry? What steps can he, with the National Assembly Government, now take to ensure that there is a farming co-operative that can take over plants such as Llangadog and continue to run them for the benefit of the dairy industry in Wales?
I understand the problem: the closure notice faced by that creamery is indeed very disappointing and disturbing, although I understand that efforts are being made to find an alternative purchaser and operator. We hope that those are brought to fruition because we want to see a healthy industry in the milk sector, as indeed it is in many other respects.
As someone who represents south-west Wales, may I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind that, although unemployment in all three Swansea constituencies has fallen by more than 50 per cent., we stand to lose some jobs because of civil service changes? Will he try to ensure that Swansea and south-west Wales—his own constituency included—stand to benefit from the UK redistribution of civil service jobs?
Indeed. As my right hon. Friend knows, 500 jobs were recently relocated by the national Pension Service. We are looking for more opportunities, as a result of the Government's plans to redistribute jobs from the over-congested parts of England into parts of Wales, such as Swansea, that need more jobs—although, as he knows, Swansea has been doing very well with business start-ups, the SA1 development and the two techniums there. Swansea is now a city that is really buzzing, as the Prime Minister recently saw for himself, and that is partly due to the excellent representation of the two Swansea Members of Parliament, including my right hon. Friend.
The fact is that the Secretary of State for Wales uses one set of statistics but ignores another. He never mentioned anything about manufacturing decline in south-east Wales at all. He talks about going forward, not back, but is it not a fact that anyone who votes Labour at the next election will be going forward to even more manufacturing meltdown in Wales?
That is from a Conservative Member who supported the policies of the last Conservative Government that saw more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs decimated in Wales. What we have seen is that the Welsh manufacturing sector continues to account for 21 per cent. of Wales's national wealth—a higher proportion than in the rest of the United Kingdom—employing 17 per cent. of the Welsh work force. Indeed, Welsh manufacturing output for the past four quarters was 0.3 per cent. higher than in the previous four years. Welsh export orders were up 7.3 per cent. on last year—bigger than the UK rate. Welsh manufacturing is now healthy, expanding and growing, compared with contracting and in a dismal position under the Conservatives.