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Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside): The hon. Gentleman and I disagree on some matters, but does he agree that the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) is true? Many of us attended the meeting with the chairman of Corus. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Corus has treated a magnificent work force most shabbily? He might agree that the Shotton work force should not have had that kick in the teeth and that Shotton steelworks should receive investment. He might find that some of his ideas agree with ours.

Mr. Llwyd: The right hon. Gentleman is right. I do not doubt for a second what the hon. Member for Monmouth says. I know him too well to doubt anything that he says on the Floor of the House. I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman that things should not have happened as they did, but we have to question what action the Government took in the preceding few months. No one can condone what happened, and it is an absolute disgrace that those communities in Wales are now being cast aside in such a callous, cynical manner--the worst possible example of capitalism gone bad. [Hon. Members: "Blame Corus."] That is exactly the point that I want to make if hon. Members will contain themselves for a minute or two.

I am trying to develop the point that a regional policy, operating aids and so on should be considered. If not, what is the point of objective 1, under which it is recognised that parts of the United Kingdom are doing very badly, while others are doing well? That is not only my view. I shall quote the following:

Those comments were made by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in November. Obviously, he recognises that there are regional economic disparities in the United Kingdom, but what has been done to counter the problem in Wales? I shall leave the point there; I hope that it is well made. Although there is much agreement in the Chamber, it is still a moot point, and I am sure that one of my right hon. or hon. Friends will develop it further.

The quotation that I cited shows that the Secretary of State has acknowledged the disparities for some time. Therefore, why has no attempt been made to develop a regional economic policy for Wales? I mentioned

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operating aids, and in this context the Government would be entitled to introduce a lower corporation tax and a lower employer's national insurance contribution. Other grant aid is available as a spur for manufacturing industry in general. A specific package could have been introduced to assist Corus with its difficulties.

Why have those suggestions not been taken up? It is all very well making a speech about economic disparities, but what answers have been given to deal with the problems of the various regions and parts of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): The hon. Gentleman refers to disparities in Wales and elsewhere and to the answers that have been given to overcome them, but will he comment on what happened in the Assembly when his colleagues abstained in the vote that provided an additional £5.5 million for Blaenau Gwent? They failed to vote for that money. If their inactivity had been rewarded and the money had not come to Blaenau Gwent, not only would public services have been slashed dramatically but our council taxes would have increased by between 50 and 60 per cent. Does he think that not voting for money for areas such as Blaenau Gwent is the answer to overcoming disparities and deprivation?

Mr. Llwyd: The answer is that the settlement was totally inadequate. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may laugh, but he has made his point and I did not find it very funny.

Mr. Smith rose--

Mr. Llwyd: If the hon. Gentleman bears with me, I shall respond to him. The settlement was insufficient--cuts have been made here, there and everywhere in local government. More important, much of that money has gone towards match funding for objective 1 projects, and I speak with some authority on that subject.

Mr. Smith: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the logic of his argument is that nothing is better than something? The nationalist party did not vote for any additional money for Blaenau Gwent; it failed to vote for the £5.5 million that was allocated to our community.

Mr. Llwyd: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point, but it was a Labour budget and it was unamendable. What does he suggest could have been done in those circumstances?

Mr. Smith: The nationalists could have shown their support for some of the most deprived communities in Wales by voting for the £5.5 million that the Labour Administration allocated for Blaenau Gwent. The fact that they failed to do so showed their disdain for my community and for some of the poorest communities in Wales.

Mr. Llwyd: I shall not respond to that final point, because it was getting ridiculous.

I shall return to the main point of this debate and the 16,000 jobs that have been lost to manufacturing industry in Wales since the Government took office. I can conclude only that some inactivity--either intentional or

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otherwise--has led to many jobs being lost in the perceived Labour heartlands in Wales. The mood is one of anger--anger at inactivity and anger at being taken for granted as traditional Labour voters.

The next election in Wales will prove to be very interesting, and more interesting even than the National Assembly election. That might have something to do with the peculiar behaviour of Mr. Adrian McMenamin.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli): Who is he?

Mr. Llwyd: The right hon. Gentleman asks, "Who is he?" I did not know either until Mr. McMenamin started misbehaving; he is such a useful member of the Wales Office team. He was employed by the Secretary of State for Wales as a ministerial special adviser and he is still employed--lucky man. He is paid out of the public purse and he spends time at home and in working hours denigrating members of Plaid Cymru--the Party of Wales--in the most offensive manner. The Secretary of State for Wales says that such behaviour is okay, but I will not dwell long on his view. He is not here today and I have been told why, so I shall not make an issue of it.

The Secretary of State cannot get away with the argument that Mr. McMenamin is not prohibited from behaving in the way that I have described outside office hours, because he jolly well is. Under his designation, he is not supposed to take political actions--however strange they may be--during office hours or at any other time. I sincerely believe that, if the right hon. Gentleman wants to consider himself a right hon. Gentleman, he must dismiss Mr. McMenamin, whether he is a maverick or part and parcel of something else.

Currently, two computers are busily churning out offensive remarks about members of my party. One has been registered to Millbank and the other to the Wales Office. We know that the previous Government were beset by sleaze, but it is sleazy of the Labour party to pay an official to insult Plaid Cymru Members as individuals. The last thing that I would do is insult a Labour Member, or, indeed, a member of any political party. We have a right to express our views and not to be denigrated and slagged off.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): I was interested by the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the use of public funds for political opportunity. Will he assure me that the press releases sent out in my area from the office of a Plaid Cymru Member of the European Parliament are paid for by his party, rather than from the public funds allocated to MEPs?

Mr. Llwyd: Of course they are paid for properly, but, if the hon. Lady wants to raise that issue, why does not she write to the person concerned? We are such a growing party that I cannot know what goes on in every office.

Mrs. Lawrence: I did write to the office, but I did not receive a reply.

Mr. Llwyd: I hope that the hon. Lady will take cognisance of my words. I shall e-mail the MEP concerned and ask her to address the point. I hope that that will be helpful.

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Parts of the British economy are doing very well, mainly because of the way in which economic policies are being implemented. However, their success has its cost in other areas, as Welsh Members of Parliament know. I am afraid that Wales is bottom of the United Kingdom regional competitive index table--a place that I think is shared by the north-east. Wales is also bottom of the regional knowledge-based business index table. In terms of the knowledge economy, it is lacking and is in worse circumstances than any other area. Although we agree with the long-term goal, the short to medium term looks very bleak for Wales, because of the difficulties caused by the failure to establish a regional policy and to target the region's specific problems.

There must be greater balance between high-tech jobs and those in more traditional industries such as manufacturing. The Government are rightly putting a lot of emphasis on the knowledge economy, but they seem to be ignoring the needs of traditional economies. We need to ensure that incoming companies feel comfortable with the development of regional policies. We should be taking measures such as those that I have mentioned, including cuts in corporation tax, national insurance and so on.

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