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House of Commons
Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
Welsh Grand Committee Debates

Building Safer Communities

Welsh Grand Committee

Tuesday 13 February 2001


[Mr. Barry Jones in the Chair]

Building Safer Communities

Oral Answers to Questions

The Secretary of State was asked—

Police Forces (Funding)

10.30 am

1. Ms. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): What discussions he has had with chief constables in Wales concerning the Government's funding of police forces in Wales.[148987] The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I meet all four Welsh chief constables on a regular basis. I last met them on 15 January to discuss a number of issues affecting policing in Wales, including the funding of police forces.

Ms. Lawrence: The Dyfed-Powys police force, which covers my area, is responsible for policing over half the landmass of Wales. The police in my area are especially pleased with the money that the Government have provided for rural policing. Does my right hon. Friend, like me, welcome the fact that this money will enable the Dyfed-Powys force to consider reopening police stations in rural areas that were closed during the years of Tory Government?

Mr. Murphy: Of course I welcome that. Welsh police forces are to receive nearly £390 million from the main settlement for the next financial year. Of that, £56.3 million is going to Dyfed-Powys. I endorse what my hon. Friend has said particularly because, of course, crime is not restricted to industrial or urban areas. The money that is allocated to my hon. Friend's constituency and others is very welcome indeed.

Manufacturing Industry

2. Mr. Martin Caton (Gower): What discussions he has held with the First Secretary about manufacturing industry in Wales.[148988] The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I regularly meet the First Minister and discuss a wide range of issues including manufacturing in Wales. I welcome the announcement that Ford is investing £240 million at its Bridgend plant, creating over 600 new jobs. That is a major coup for Welsh industry and a welcome sign that manufacturing investment is back on track after what has been an extremely difficult month for Wales.

Mr. Caton: I, too, welcome the good news. My right hon. Friend may have had an opportunity to discuss these matters at the Millennium stadium a week last Saturday, at the rugby international. Did he have the chance to glance at the roof of the stadium—perhaps to avert his eyes from what was happening on the pitch? If so, he would have seen the first-class product of Welsh steel workers. Many of those panels were made or finished at the Bryngwyn works in Gorseinon in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend realise how sickened some of the families in Gorseinon were to see Corus management drinking and laughing in their hospitality box at that match, just days after they had announced the decimation of the Welsh steel industry?

Mr. Murphy: I understand my hon. Friend's frustration. All of us who represent constituencies in Wales that will be affected by the closures—and there are few in south Wales or in the north-east of the country that will not be affected—will share his views. I was at the rugby match. It was a sad day for Wales but, in that regard, I am sure that things will get better as the weeks progress. I fully understand his points about Gorseinon. Steel is an important industry for his constituency and for that town. All of us who represent Welsh steel-working communities are fearful of the future.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): Things may get better for the rugby, but can the Secretary of State put his hand on his heart and assure us that that is the case in manufacturing? Since 1990, there has been a net loss of 38,000 manufacturing jobs in Wales—in fact we are losing 10 for every new one that is announced—affecting works in every part of Wales. What specific steps will he take to reverse that situation?

Mr. Murphy: I represent a constituency in which the vast bulk of people who work, work in manufacturing. I, too, am concerned about the job losses that we have seen in manufacturing, as well as in steel and other industries, in Wales. However, the many jobs that are coming into Wales balance those losses. I have already referred to the jobs at Bridgend, and communications firms will be bringing several hundred jobs to my constituency during the next couple of weeks. Lost jobs are being replaced by other jobs. That is the essence of the matter. In a fast-moving economy, we must be diverse.

Manufacturing output has risen by 1.6 per cent. during the past year, and productivity has risen by 4 per cent. The problems in the steel industry concern all of us in Wales. What Corus has done has been a dreadful blow, but it must not hide the good news about the manufacturing and investment coming into our Welsh constituencies because of the Government's sound economic management.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): As manufacturing industry modernises, the survival of fit and healthy companies often means job losses. Ford's announcement last week reversed that trend. In the past, it has cut jobs to stay alive, but it has now announced new jobs because of the success of the Bridgend plant, brought about by all its staff—men and management.

The changes in Corus are due to short-term financial issues, not new technology, given that it has offloaded hundreds of millions of pounds on to its shareholders. Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether Corus has had discussions with Ford about how it can overcome short-term problems, such as with exchange rates, and still be prepared to invest in Welsh manufacturing for the future?

Mr. Murphy: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, who is in a good position to comment because many hundreds, if not thousands, of his Bridgend constituents work in the steel industry. Ford has now provided 600 extra jobs in his constituency. Wireless Systems International has brought over 260 new jobs to my constituency. Such companies are taking long-term decisions about their futures. Our fear, expressed in our comments in the past few days, is that Corus has not taken a long-term decision, but has thought of only the short term. What is the sense of closing down whole works, or parts of works, on the basis of an exchange rate that may change, and is even changing at the moment? The trade unions are meeting Corus tomorrow, and we appeal to it to reconsider the proposals and think about the long term—not just for the future of the company, but for the future of our communities in Wales.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): Reference has been made to the rugby international. I would not dream of entering a hospitality box, especially with Corus directors. During that game, I sat next to a steel worker who had been made redundant, and had an interesting discussion with him.

There have been tremendous job losses in both manufacturing and farming. In my constituency, over 1,000 Lucas Rists workers have lost their jobs, as have 150 workers in motorway remoulds in Knighton. Has the Secretary of State made representations to his colleagues in the Treasury about the euro and the exchange rate, which lose us money on every tonne of steel, every gallon or litre of milk, and every kilo of lamb and beef? Has he read in this morning's papers that Welsh farming has lost £2.6 million of its income during the past 12 months?

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman was not addressing the question.

Mr. Murphy: Agriculture is important, but does not relate to a question on manufacturing—although I understand the hon. Gentleman's points about job losses.I want to re-emphasise my point that the Government must be concerned with balancing job losses and job gains. In my constituency, between 8,000 and 10,000 jobs have been lost over the past decade, but they have all been replaced. The Government must concentrate their attention on ensuring that any jobs lost are replaced by those in other sectors. The Government do not underestimate the enormity of the proposals that Corus is putting to the people of Wales, or their consequences. That is why we are urging Corus to reconsider its decision.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Has my right hon. Friend noted the anger and disbelief, expressed by Dutch Corus workers, at the abominable way in which the Welsh and English workers have been treated? On the continent of Europe it is usual for companies to work in partnership with workers in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Is it not true that Corus, therefore, stands out as an ugly exception to that rule? If we are successfully to apply pressure to a transnational company, should not that be applied transnationally by unions and Governments? In addition to meeting the First Minister of the Welsh Assembly, will my right hon. Friend seek talks with his opposite numbers in Germany and Holland?

Mr. Murphy: We will consider anything that ensures that Corus changes its mind. However, when the chief executive of Corus, Sir Brian Moffat, met me, the First Minister for Wales, the Prime Minister and a Trade and Industry Minister in past weeks, he was always confident that his proposals would go through unaltered. He took no notice of the point that the Government could help the steel industry because he was determined to take the route that he did. When Sir Brian Moffat meets the trade unions and they suggest positive, detailed alternatives to his announcement, I hope that he will consider them seriously. The issue concerns the long-term future of the steel industry in the United Kingdom and Wales. Once the steelworks has been closed, it cannot be reopened.

Opto-electronic Industry

3. Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): What discussions he has had with the First Minister about the expansion of the opto-electronic industry in Wales.[148989] The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): My right hon. Friend regularly meets the First Secretary and discusses a wide range of industry matters. My right hon. Friend visited Avimo Optical Imaging, Prestatyn in September and visited Thales Optronics, Llandudno Junction—formerly Pilkington Optronics—last week. I have also met the Optro-Electronic Forum.


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Prepared 13 February 2001