Welsh Grand Committee
Tuesday 3 July 2001
[Mr. Win Griffiths in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chairman: Before I call the first question, it may be helpful for new Members if I explain that Question Time in the Welsh Grand Committee operates in the same way as Question Time in the Chamber. When called, Members will give the number of their question; once the Minister has replied, I will call the same Member to ask a supplementary question. Other Members may then be called to ask further supplementary questions. I want to call as many Members as possible, so I request that all Members ask brief supplementary questions and Ministers give concise answers. I must also tell the Committee that Questions 6 and 8 are to be grouped together.
The Secretary of State was asked
1. Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): What discussions he has had with the First Secretary of the National Assembly about the progress of objective 1 programmes in Wales. 
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I meet the First Secretary regularly and we discuss a range of issues. I was particularly pleased to see that the Assembly has approved more than £200 million worth of European grants and £200 million of match funding over the past two months, giving the go-ahead to 289 projects.
Mr. Havard: Does my right hon. Friend agree that objective 1 and other European schemes are not a panacea but a catalyst for rebuilding our economic capacity? One key element is confidence, and will he condemn those who try to reopen settled issues concerning both the description of the scheme and the funding arrangements? Will he encourage such people to see the scheme in context, with other measures that have been adopted both by the Government and by private sector employers to rebuild that capacity in Wales?
Mr. Murphy: I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and I agree that objective 1 is only one of many ways in which the Welsh economy can be improved. It is enormously important, because £1.3 billion over seven years is a great deal of money, which will ensure that we raise our gross domestic product in Wales, but it is also right for my hon. Friend to refer to the other measures that the Government have introduced to improve our economy.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Bearing in mind the fact that about £340 million of match funding must be found between 2001 and 2004 by the National Assembly, will the right hon. Gentleman assist as best he can and secure extra money from the Treasury to help the process? As the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard) said, objective 1 is not a panacea for all ills, but it is still an important scheme. I urge the Minister to do his best to secure additional funding along those lines.
Mr. Murphy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his viewpoint. I agree with much of it in that we understand that parts of his area of Wales, as well as the valleys, all benefit from objective 1 funding. As he knows, we had more than £400 million over and above the Barnett formula in the previous financial settlement. That was welcome news for Wales, and we will continue to press for money to come to Wales for objective 1 funding.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it will be the private sector that will produce the extra jobs in Wales and create the wealth, and that we must do all we can to work closely with it and ensure that it has the tools to do the job? I held a joint meeting in my constituency last week at which my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen spoke. There is still a thirst for knowledge about objective 1 in the private sector, and we must co-operate closely.
Mr. Murphy: I agree with my hon. Friendbut I must just remind him that I am the Member for Torfaen and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary represents Islwyn. We both agree that the private sector is enormously important in objective 1 projects. My experience from my previous job in the Northern Ireland Office is that the Government know that the private sector has a crucial role to play, and I hope that firms in Wales, both large and small, will take advantage of objective 1 funding. They have another six years to go, and it is important that meetings such as that held last week by my hon. Friend are held throughout Wales to encourage the private sector to take part in objective 1 schemes.
Private Companies (Rural Employment)
2. Lembit Ipik (Montgomeryshire): What assessment he has made of the impact of announcements by private companies relating to employment opportunities in rural areas of Wales made in the last month. 
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I welcome the recent announcement by Triplex Components Group Ltd. safeguarding the future of 120 jobs at Kings Triplex Holdings in Llanidloes, and, we hope, those of all 150 people who currently work there. I was also pleased to hear Laura Ashley confirm that it will create 120 jobs in Newtown and Carno over the next three years. Those are welcome developments at a time when much of the rural economy of Powys is struggling with the devastating effects of the foot and mouth outbreak.
Lembit Ipik: I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Does he agree that those developments are a tribute to teamwork by the town of Llanidloes, the Welsh Development Agency, the Assembly, local politicians, the work force and their unions? Does he also agree that that is an example of what can be achieved if we take a strategic approach towards investment in non-agricultural businesses in rural areas, which is important? Let us remember that a wide diversity of job opportunities helps any economic environment, making it less likely to collapse if there is a crisis in one sector, such as the foot and mouth outbreak.
Mr. Murphy: I accept that, and pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the work that he has done in connection with this week's good news that jobs will be safeguarded. The Government, the Assembly, local authorities and trade unions worked closely together. I repeat what the hon. Gentleman has said on several occasions: small as the companies may seem in terms of employee numbers, they are relatively very important to rural Wales.
Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the recent announcement by Aberthaw power station in the rural vale of Glamorgan that if today's European Parliament announcement on control of emissions goes against it, that could result in its premature closure? That would have a devastating effect not only on my constituency and those of my hon. FriendsI am thinking, for example, of Tower collieries and the clearance of tips in Merthyr Tydfilbut on the whole of south Wales. Such a closure could undermine the secure supply of energy for new investment.
Mr. Murphy: I accept my hon. Friend's point about employment prospects in his constituency and at Tower in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), but this goes far further. We should take a great interest in what is happening in the European Parliament, and various Members of the European Parliament who represent Wales have taken different views on the matter. The Labour Members were concerned about the impact of emissions, and I have talked to Glenys Kinnock, among others. We remain very much involved with our colleagues there, because we understand that employment prospects could be affected if the directive goes through.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Does the Secretary of State not accept that his answer is enormously complacent? A Dun and Bradstreet report says that five Welsh businesses are closing every day, mainly as a result of foot and mouth, and one agricultural supplier has lost 98 per cent. of his income; that is not just the icing on the cake, but the cake itself. Surely we need a vibrant farming industry, off which other industries can thrive.
Does the Secretary of State accept that people need to know where the buck stops? Is it not a fact that responsibility is being shuffled around from the Secretary of State to Ministers and Secretaries in the Welsh Assembly, and that they are fiddling while Wales and its businesses burn? Is it not about time that someone took responsibility and came up with an action plan that will assist Welsh businesses?
Mr. Murphy: If I may say so, that is a little dramatic, even for the hon. Gentleman. On subject of the Dun and Bradstreet business failure survey, he knows that, despite a rise in business failures in 2001, business failures in Wales in the first six months are well down on those in the corresponding period in 2000. What the hon. Gentleman says is not quite right. Relatively, Wales has done much better than other parts of the United Kingdom. I accept, of course, the hon. Gentleman's point about the impact of foot and mouth on rural areas, and particularly on tourism. He knowsI answered him in the House last weekthat the Government and the Assembly are introducing measures that go a long way towards ensuring that we overcome those problems. It is not easy; the money is not unlimited and it takes time. The hon. Gentleman must understand that the partnership between the Government and the Assembly is working. We are doing all that we can, jointly, to alleviate problems. No doubt the issue will crop up again later in today's debate.
New Deal in Wales
3. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about the extension of the New Deal in Wales. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): Both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I regularly meet ministerial colleagues, including the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to discuss a wide range of issues, including the Government's new deal programme. The new deal programme has proved successful in Wales and we are keen to build on that success by extending the new deal to over-25s who have been on jobseeker's allowance for at least 18 months. We also want to extend the new deal for lone parents and for disabled people.