Welsh Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 5:51 pm on 26th February 2009.

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Photo of Wayne David Wayne David The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales 5:51 pm, 26th February 2009

It gives me great pleasure to respond to this St. David's day debate. As far as I am aware, he was not an ancestor mine, but he could be an antecedent of many of the hon. Members who have participated today. He lived a frugal life, and my hon. Friend Julie Morgan reminded us that his only drink was water. He believed in brevity: he was a man of few words, like my right hon. Friend Mr. Hain, who gave a commendably brief speech this afternoon. He also focused on the little things in life, about which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reminded us in the note on this debate that he sent to all Welsh Members.

I was pleased that nearly all those who contributed to the debate focused on the people whom they represent in their constituencies rather than on somewhat remote theories and activities. Most people in Wales are worried about the economy, and that was brought home to us in the passionate contributions from my right hon. Friend Mr. Touhig and various other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend Nia Griffith.

These are undoubtedly difficult times, but I want to stress that the Government are being very proactive. That is the important thing: we are doing everything that is humanly possible to demonstrate that we are on the side of ordinary people. For example, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have been travelling around Wales over the past few weeks, meeting the owners of small businesses in particular, and hearing at first hand about the difficulties that they face. We have listened to their views and ensured that they are articulated here in London, the centre of UK Government.

The Wales Office has published the document "Real help now", and it has proved to be very useful. Mark Williams said that it has been extremely well received, but it is important to stress that that is not the end of the matter. The document will be constantly updated and made even more accessible to people throughout the length and breadth of Wales.

The document clearly demonstrates how central Government here in London and the Welsh Assembly are working in partnership for the benefit of the people of Wales. I shall not go through all the schemes enumerated in it, but several hon. Members mentioned the ProAct programme, which is already delivering material benefits for people in Wales.

Times are difficult, but it is important to stress that positive developments are also occurring in Wales, and we heard some references to them this afternoon. For instance, my hon. Friend John Smith referred to the defence technical academy, and mention was also made of the gas-fired power station in Pembrokeshire.

My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli said that she had heard rumours that large numbers of people from abroad might apply for jobs on infrastructure projects in her constituency. I assure her that we will do our utmost to make sure that the majority of those employed come from the local labour market, as it is very important that local people benefit from those investments.

Similarly, the go-ahead has been given for a new prison at Caernarfon, as my hon. Friend Albert Owen noted.

A number of Members, including the hon. Members for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) and for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies) referred to the positive developments with tourism in Wales. It is undoubtedly a very important area that we should exploit to the utmost given the value of the currency.

Concern was expressed about a new nuclear power station to succeed Wylfa. The Wales Office is 100 per cent. behind a new nuclear power station in Ynys Môn—let there be no question about that. Members asked whether Wylfa will continue beyond March 2010. There is a possibility of that, but we will have to see exactly what the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has to say.

Another clear theme is the need not only to deal with the situation in which we find ourselves but to prepare and plan strategically for the future. The upturn will come, and I am confident that it will be a dynamic upturn. We have to invest in education and training, as Mr. Crabb said. My hon. Friend Dr. Francis and the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent mentioned that, too. There can be no shortcuts. It is vital that we invest in education and training—there is no doubt about that.

Equally, we have to invest in digitalisation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is responsible for digital inclusion, is 100 per cent. behind ensuring that we have a comprehensive strategy to ensure that everyone benefits from the new technological revolution that is gathering momentum all the time.

Adam Price had some impressive and innovative ideas about the new banking system that needs to emerge. His ideas will be well worth debating in future.

A number of Members mentioned the need for a strategic investment in transport infrastructure. Again, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham referred to that, as did the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent when he spoke about the Heads of the Valleys road. Lembit Öpik referred to it, too, and I wholly agree with his comments. However, I am not so sure that I will take him up on his offer to join him on an aeroplane.

The debate was also significant because we heard some trenchant and controversial remarks from my hon. Friend Paul Flynn. However, I believe that the Government of Wales Act 1998 has been very successful. Yes, it could be streamlined and improved, but basically it is working very well. One reason it is working well is the good work being undertaken by the Welsh Affairs Committee. To have good legislation, it is vital to have effective pre-legislative scrutiny. I believe that that is what the Welsh Affairs Committee provides. I say that because I shall be giving evidence to the Committee on Monday on the important issue of carers and I hope that its members will not be too hard on me.

Obviously, another important issue that will come before the Welsh Affairs Committee is the Welsh language LCO. As a number of Members have said, it is important that in seeking to develop and promote the Welsh language we should seek consensus in Wales. We should take all the people of Wales with us, non-Welsh speakers as well as Welsh speakers. It is important to recognise that the advances with the Welsh language have been made because there has been not just an acceptance of it but positive support for it. That must be taken forward and that is the way to build the Welsh language for the future.

I welcome the remarks from the English hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) because it is vital that we recognise that Wales is not separate from England and that the cross-border links between our two countries are important. The Welsh Affairs Committee, again, has highlighted the importance of that relationship at all times. However, I did take some exception to the implication in his remarks about the future of Welsh representation. He pointed out how many electors he represents and how many the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire represents. My concern is that some people in the Conservative party might therefore conclude that we need fewer Welsh MPs, and it would be a huge mistake to go down that road— [ Interruption. ] Given the mutterings that we are hearing, I think that we are beginning to see the true face of the Conservative party again. This debate shows, above all else, that Welsh MPs have a vital role to play in the future development of Wales, and long may we have positive debates such as the one we have had this afternoon.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of Welsh Affairs.

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