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Mr. Rogers: I appreciate the constructive way in which the hon. Gentleman is approaching the problem, but the issue has been considered. I have sat on the monitoring group since its inception and we identified that as a weakness early on. Unfortunately, the medical profession and the requirements of the hon. Gentleman's profession with regard to the legal aspects of the medical assessment mean that we cannot accelerate the process. He talks about drafting people in, but from where?
Before last week's announcement, which will involve about £40 million, the Department of Trade and Industry challenged the rights of widows to receive those payments in full. I welcome the Government's decision to reconsider that, but they should also examine the clawback. Many Labour Members agree with me. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who is not present--I am sure that he is on parliamentary work--has worked hard on that issue. We should all follow his example. It is ridiculous that in one case recovered money was initially calculated at £21,707, but was reduced to £6.38 on the third appeal. That decision cost thousands of pounds in processing costs and caused great worry for the person involved. The situation is abominable and I hope that the Government will realise that.
However, there is another side to the coin. I believe that it is wrong to claw back compensation, which is sometimes substantial, because the miner who is in receipt of it will never be back in full-time work. Indeed, many miners will not live long enough to consider such work.
Mr. Rogers: The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), and he is right to mention the clawback. The assessment, which was based on the last five or six years of payment, is now made on the original five or six years. As a lawyer, the hon. Gentleman knows that the compensation took account of sick pay that was provided in the initial years.
Mr. Llwyd: This is where we might fall out. The clawback was introduced in September 1997, when the House was in recess. [Interruption.] I am certain of my facts. If the compensation clawback had not been introduced by statutory instrument in September 1997, it would not exist. Incidentally, it was introduced within a fortnight of the High Court issuing a preliminary judgment that it would find for the miners. We would have had to fall back on the 1989 Tory provision to exempt the miners. I question the Government's timing. However, I want them to consider their timing now and quickly scrap the recovery of compensation. It is immoral to recover large sums and a waste of time to recover smaller sums.
I am very unhappy with what the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the hon. Member for City of York (Mr. Bayley), told me when I argued that the miners were a special case. He said that they were not because he had constituents who were suffering from asbestos as a result of working for British Rail. I told him that I was not there to discuss them and that if he wanted to be a constituency MP, he should plead their case--but I was not interested to hear about them. He then gave a worse example and compared miners with nurses. I do not want nurses to put their backs out, but it is unlikely to kill them and they should be able to return to work. His attitude was strange. However, I am encouraged that progress is being made. It has coincided with the appointment of the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe, and I hope that more quickly follows.
The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) rightly said that the Welsh economy is good in parts, but we know that there are problems in some manufacturing sectors. No fewer than 18,000 manufacturing jobs in Wales have disappeared, and we know that the country is undergoing a structural change. We cannot look back and cling to the good old days when we had a coal industry and other heavy industry--those days are gone and we must look to the future. However, I am concerned that many of those jobs need not have disappeared.
I am sure that all hon. Members feel the same about Corus. The answers given by the company's chairman to the Welsh Affairs Committee on Thursday were unacceptable. I could use stronger words, and I have no doubt that stronger words will be used at some point. The chairman said that there was overproduction so the company could not justify keeping the plant open. Having said that the plant was one of the most efficient in the UK, he said in the next breath that the economic situation in the UK did not help the company. He then bleated on about the euro and one thing and another. He was clutching at straws and his points were at variance with each other. One has to question the gentleman's veracity, and I have no doubt that he will be put to a strict test the next time he comes before the Committee.
Mr. Llwyd: Yes. Although the chairman denied it, I have an article from the Sydney Morning Herald that says the opposite. Such remarks are offensive to us all, no matter to which party we belong. One would have thought that such attitudes were a thing of the past and that people could not treat workers in that way. However, it seems that that is not the case.
Mr. Rogers: We have been through all this before. I remember that in the early 1980s, when my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and I were Members of the European Parliament, a company called Johnson and Johnson, which makes baby products, had a brand new factory in Pontllanfraith, built with money from the Welsh Development Agency and supplied with superb equipment. The company suddenly closed it and transferred the operation to Kuijk in Holland. The then right hon. Member for Islwyn, Neil Kinnock, and I met the company chairman at Heathrow and he said that Pontllanfraith was far more efficient than the factory in Holland, but it would take him a year to sack people in Holland, whereas people in Wales could be sacked in two minutes. The heart of the problem is labour laws in Europe. We must achieve the right equation with those laws or get out of Europe and promote our own values.
Mr. Livsey: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the complaint made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) could have been resolved at the Nice summit? For some reason, the Government did not resolve the problem of employment laws, which would have assisted steel workers because they could not have been sacked so summarily.
Mr. Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman is one step ahead of me. I was not aware that the problem could have been dealt with at the Nice summit, but I hope and pray that it will be dealt with shortly so that, at the very least, if we are presented with a fait accompli there is no repetition of the disgraceful behaviour by Corus or a similar outfit.
The right hon. Member for Llanelli pointed out that we are behind in knowledge-based industries. We know that whatever we say about increasing our manufacturing base, it will never be as strong as it was 30 or 40 years ago. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that there has to be a better partnership between schools, colleges and universities and business, manufacturing and industry. The Irish have done that very well. The Select Committee visited Ireland last year and we saw how universities are playing a proactive role in assisting industry not only in Ireland, but throughout the world. Students are bringing back PhDs from various parts of the world and bringing in investment, often from high-tech firms.
We can learn from that positive stance. Of course, there are many facets to it. Ireland has been careful to ensure that it implements all European directives and that it has good representation in the Commission and in all its key positions. It has been careful not to forget to ask for European money when it is available. In addition, the Irish people are very persuasive. I say good luck to them.
I will not get into the GDP argument except to say that there has been a 0.3 per cent. increase in Wales's GDP in the past couple of months. However, that follows a 3 per cent. fall since 1997, when the Government took office, so it has not taken us far. Objective 1 will not be a panacea for all ills, but it gives us hope that we can improve our position.
Mr. John Smith: On a point of clarification, the hon. Gentleman is referring to a fall in GDP relative to that of the rest of the United Kingdom. He is not saying that the GDP of Wales has declined--it has not.