Welsh Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 4:18 pm on 26th February 2009.

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Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Chair, Members' Allowances Committee 4:18 pm, 26th February 2009

That could be a question for scrutiny by the Welsh Affairs Committee. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will receive letters from their constituents about that matter.

With the country facing serious economic challenges, along with the rest of the world, it would be a serious step indeed to impose even more regulation on companies in Wales. I have one final word on this matter. Over the years, we have had very successful Welsh language policies. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the Wales Office's language policy; I was the Minister who oversaw the introduction of that very successful policy. Such policies have been adopted by companies and the voluntary sector—I emphasis the word "voluntary". I hope that during consideration of the LCO, the idea of making any language scheme voluntary will be considered and ultimately adopted. I think that that would be supported across Wales.

For all the challenges that the present economic downturn brings, we must never lose sight of the fact that Wales is part of a global economy that will double in size over the next 20 years. The ideas expressed in the debate so far will contribute to the debate on how we approach that growth. There will be great opportunities in the future, but we must be ready to grab them. Our underlying purpose should be to make Wales a global leader in all those industries and services where our skills, our creativity, our enterprise and particularly our flexibility is known and is world-class.

The Work Foundation has published a report called "Manufacturing and the Knowledge Economy". It argues that the old way of separating manufacturing and services does not reflect the interconnected, interdependent nature of modern manufacturing, and I agree. Companies such as Rolls-Royce make more money from service contracts, sales of licences and hours of flight time on their engines than from manufacturing the engines in the first place. Car makers run finance houses offering loans to people who want to buy cars, and pharmaceutical companies offer health care services as well as selling drugs.

The great challenges that we will face in the coming years are not Welsh but global, and we have to be able to compete. Our real competitive advantage will be our knowledge base and capacity for innovation. In simple terms, we have to be smarter, quicker and more adaptable than our competitors. The world is undergoing a new industrial revolution—the knowledge revolution—fuelled by the pace of technological change, and Wales must be at the forefront. The only way in which countries such as Wales will be able to compete is to retrain and upskill our work force to face the challenges of the future. We have to stay ahead, with new and innovative ideas, which we can fully exploit only if we have the skills to do so. Put simply, we have to stake a claim to be the linchpin of the new knowledge economy.

With those challenges come great opportunities, and Wales could and should be at the forefront of making the most of them. I have always believed in our great strength as a society and in our capacity to respond rapidly to changing circumstances. However, we are facing challenges that may be greater than any that we have faced before, and we cannot be found wanting. There is too much at stake.

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