Welsh Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:55 pm on 26th February 2009.

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Photo of Hywel Francis Hywel Francis Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 2:55 pm, 26th February 2009

I wish to make a contribution to this debate from two perspectives: that of an individual Member—for Aberavon—and that of Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee. The perspectives and priorities are much the same—they follow those outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales—and they are clearly about the economy, both local and global; nothing is more important to the people of Wales.

In my constituency, manufacturing—in particular, steel—is the dominant sector. In my roles as a member of the all-party steel and cast metal group, and secretary of the steel union community parliamentary group, I have had regular meetings with Ministers, unions and Corus, as well as my local authority. I have been impressed by the fact that there is a universal desire to retain both the steel industry and, equally importantly, the skills within that industry. I particularly congratulate the Welsh Assembly Government and the Secretary of State for Wales on the work that they have done through the Welsh economic summits, and, more widely, the steps that they have taken to establish the ProAct and ReAct initiatives. I am also looking forward to the local economic summit that will be launched in Neath-Port Talbot very soon, and I know that similar initiatives are taking place across Wales, which is most welcome; my hon. Friend Albert Owen is taking a leading role in his local economic summit.

In the course of evaluating the impact of the economic downturn on my constituency, I have visited several small businesses. I recently met the management and work force at two important small companies: Excel and Rhino Engineering. They are both cutting-edge manufacturing companies which are appreciative of the information and guidance being provided by the Government, and particularly the circular letter that the Secretary of State for Wales recently sent to Members, copies of which have been passed on to many businesses in my constituency. The two companies have also benefited from significant contracts for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics to be held in London.

Looking cautiously to the future, I have been struck by Tata's continued expressions of support for local communities in my constituency and the backing that it has given to the Corus steel plant, as well as by the fact that it is seriously examining the possibility of developing the new Margam drift mine—a project that, as one would expect, has strong support from the National Union of Mineworkers and other local unions.

Again looking to the future, it is encouraging to see that employers' organisations such a the EEF and UK Steel and unions such as Community are looking beyond the current difficult circumstances, talking up the need for greening the economy, what they call a nuclear renaissance and its links to steel, and ultra-low carbon steel-making, turning theory into what they call practical reality.

Turning to the work of the Welsh Affairs Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing, I should at the outset pay tribute to all its members and staff for their sterling work over the past year. Its work load has virtually doubled in the recent period, and I am pleased to announce today that over the past year we have succeeded in getting significant improvement in staff support to take account of this increased work load.

Our annual report, which will be published tomorrow, outlines the growth and range of our activities. The Committee's profile has also been raised both here in Westminster and in Wales, and on balance, we should welcome that. One kindly journalist compared my Committee to that benign institution the Commonwealth games. One Assembly Member generously suggested that we should serve on only one Select, or any, Committee—on just our own Committee—a suggestion that I found helpful.

One hon. Member, a great supporter of our Committee and one-time member of it—Mr. Llwyd, to whom I sent a message earlier today; I understand that he is on his way to Cardiff—gave some advice on how I should run my Committee. He suggested that I should crack the whip. I am grateful for his advice, but that is not my style and I do not think it the style of any Chairman of a Select Committee. We work by consensus and consent—a more inclusive approach. Ours is not the style or the language of the slave-driver.

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