Welsh Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:25 pm on 26th February 2009.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales 2:25 pm, 26th February 2009

First, I thank the Secretary of State for his kind words to David and Samantha Cameron and their family on the death of their son, Ivan. We all share his thoughts, and David will be able to see that the Secretary of State speaks on behalf of Wales in passing on those best wishes to him on this sad occasion.

I apologise to the Under-Secretary of State for Wales; sadly, I will not be here for his winding-up speech and his exchange with my hon. Friend Mr. Jones. I mean no discourtesy; my timetable has become a little hectic today, and I will be on my way to Wales when he addresses the House.

I should like to continue in the spirit in which the Secretary of State opened this St. David's day debate. Since we last celebrated St. David's day, some things have not changed in Wales. First, the brave men and women of our armed services are still defending our interests abroad. My hon. Friend Mr. Howarth will be visiting the Welsh Guards based in his constituency, who I understand will shortly depart for Afghanistan. I am sure that, on St. David's day, all our thoughts are with them and their families. All our thanks go to the Welsh men and women who are serving our country so bravely abroad in our armed services.

I am delighted that we have something else that has not changed—a rugby team on the rise, with the prospect of a second consecutive grand slam. I am delighted that Albert Owen has new baking facilities in his constituency and brand new jobs. I hope that they are not making French bread—as the Secretary of State said, I hope that they are making Welsh cakes instead. We have had another set of elections since the last St. David's day, and I am pleased to say that yet more people in Wales chose to vote Conservative as they sought change through the ballot box.

The Secretary of State is right, however, to say that what has changed dramatically is the economic outlook. We have not compared notes, but I think that he will find that my speech takes the same shape as his, with remarks on the economy in Wales followed by remarks about the Welsh language order. Some 28,000 more people have lost their jobs, and we now have more than 100,000 people out of work. Many thousands of 16 to 24-year-olds are not in work, education or training, which is exceedingly worrying. A significant number of businesses both large and small have closed, and sadly house repossessions are rising. Although that is clearly not confined to Wales, or even to the United Kingdom, the effect on Wales, as the poorest region of the UK, is especially great.

The first priority must be to help families and businesses in the short term. We would like taxes to be cut for savers and pensioners, a bold and straightforward national loan guarantee scheme to get credit flowing, a reduction in employment costs for small businesses, tax breaks for new jobs and a six-month delay in VAT bills to help small businesses with their cash flow. We believe that such practical measures could help our beleaguered economy.

The "Real help now" list, which the Secretary of State produced with the Assembly Government, sets out various measures and schemes that the Government have established. Of course, the Secretary of State also referred to his summits. However, the documents and the meetings, although they are well intentioned and establish a plan, do not appear to save many jobs or halt business closures at the moment. Today, the Government are putting many more billions of pounds into our banking system, and that is hard news for businesses that are closing and those whose jobs are threatened in Wales.

As has been said time and again, a credit crunch can be truly tackled only by addressing the problems of credit and getting money flowing to the business front, instead of the current sclerotic position, whereby nothing moves to help businesses. A bold loan guarantee scheme, such as that suggested by my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron, would be welcomed throughout the country. While we tinker at the edge of the problems with so many of the schemes in "Real help now", large sums go into the banking system, and the bankers appear to sit back in relative comfort, without apologising for their part in our economy's downfall.

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