29 Nov 2006 : Column 1067

House of Commons

Wednesday 29 November 2006

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Convergence Funding

1. Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Assembly Government on how convergence funding will be spent in West Wales and the Valleys. [102917]

7. Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): What discussions he has had with Cabinet and Welsh Assembly Government colleagues about convergence funding in West Wales and the Valleys. [102924]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with Cabinet and Welsh Assembly Government colleagues on a range of issues, including convergence funding for West Wales and the Valleys.

Mr. David: I thank the Minister for that reply, and I am sure that he will agree that the objective 1 programme has been a great success in West Wales and the Valleys. Looking to the future, however, does he agree that we need to build on that success and to ensure that convergence funding is focused on the areas of greatest need, and that there is a complementarity of existing Government programmes and a strategic focus on how the money is spent?

Nick Ainger: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend about the success of the objective 1 programme. The statistics covering the objective 1 area of West Wales and the Valleys show that unemployment there has fallen by more than 22 per cent. compared with a 12 per cent. fall in the UK. They also show that average earnings since 2001 have risen by 21 per cent. in west Wales and the valleys compared with a UK average rise of 17 per cent. A range of other statistics also shows just how successful the past objective 1 programme has been. We are now moving into the convergence funding programme, and the Assembly has rightly decided—along the lines of my hon. Friend’s suggestion—that it will focus on fewer but more strategic projects, targeting resources where they will have the greatest impact—namely, on skills, research and development, and innovation, to
29 Nov 2006 : Column 1068
build on the success of the objective 1 programme. It is worth reminding Members what the Opposition said about objective 1—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mrs. Williams: Does my hon. Friend agree that the wise investment of the objective 1 funding in Wales has secured the future protection of both traditional and modern, 21st-century industries? Examples include a £1 million investment in Conwy port in my constituency, which has secured the future and development of the fishing industry there, and the £8 million investment in Technium CAST at Parc Menai in Bangor, which has ensured the continuation of the successful partnership between businesses and the university of Wales, Bangor. That has secured safe jobs in my constituency.

Nick Ainger: I congratulate the organisations that have been involved in trying to support the traditional industries as well as the cutting-edge industries such as those being developed at Technium CAST, which I visited last year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also visited it recently and met representatives of Brandsauce and the Inspired Gaming Group, which are creating more than 200 new jobs there. That is a good example of how objective 1 funding has been able not only to protect existing jobs but to go into the innovative industries such as those at Technium CAST. We were regularly told that objective 1 would not work or that we would not get it, but we did get it and it has been a success, and Members on both sides of the House should congratulate the Welsh Assembly Government on the way in which they have delivered objective 1 programmes in Wales.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Treasury regarding the cutting of Revenue jobs in the objective 1 areas at the same time as jobs are being created? The Government are destroying well-paid jobs in Porthmadog and in other constituencies neighbouring mine. Has the Secretary of State done anything about this, or has he just let the Treasury get on with it?

Nick Ainger: The hon. Gentleman will know that the proposals by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are out for consultation. I have already written on behalf of the Wales Office to express concern about the number of jobs involved and where they will be located, particularly as a significant proportion of them are to be located in the convergence funding area. Obviously, there will be ongoing discussions on that matter. A proper, detailed consultation process is being undertaken on this, in which the Public and Commercial Services Union is actively involved. Indeed, I have already exchanged correspondence with the union. We must recognise that Wales has benefited from the relocation of public sector jobs into Wales, including more than 1,500 in the past few years from London and elsewhere into my constituency and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), as well as Cwmbran and Cardiff. So there has been a flow in, but the hon. Gentleman has raised an issue that stems from the merger of Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue, which will result in a far more efficient bureaucracy than we had before. We must take that into account, but the problem lies in where the jobs are being taken from.

29 Nov 2006 : Column 1069

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): The Minister has mentioned the successes of the objective 1 project, but I am sure that he will be aware of figures obtained from the Welsh Assembly Government only last week indicating that, with just one month of objective 1 to go, only 58,500 of the 96,400 jobs promised for West Wales and the Valleys—61 per cent.—have been created to date. Does he agree that part of the problem is the Welsh Assembly Government’s over-centralised approach and tendency to micro-manage projects? Will he urge his colleagues in Cardiff bay to allow more decisions on the application of convergence funding in future to be made at local level, with the full participation of local authorities?

Nick Ainger: In relation to the success of the project and reaching the job creation target, I would challenge the hon. Gentleman’s comments. He said that the objective 1 programme had only a month or two to go. In fact, the objective 1 programme will not finish until 2008, as there is a two-year time lag. The jobs target is ambitious, but let us be honest—we needed an ambitious target, bearing in mind the economy that the Tory Government left to Wales in 1997. While there will be those who pick particular areas and say that they have not been a success, he must recognise that the objective 1 programme has been a resounding success overall. Unemployment is down dramatically, employment is up significantly and earnings are also up significantly. We see massive progress throughout Wales—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Cross-border Transport

2. Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on cross-border transport links in north-east Wales. [102918]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I regularly meet Cabinet colleagues to discuss issues affecting Wales, including transport links.

Ian Lucas: Strong economic growth in north-east Wales is leading increasingly to congestion problems. Rail improvements, such as the Wrexham-London line, the Wrexham-Liverpool electrification project and improvements to the Chester-Wrexham line provide a sustainable alternative to road traffic in north-east Wales. Will my right hon. Friend have discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport to explore the availability of funding from the transport innovation fund to ensure a dynamic, non-congested local economy in north-east Wales?

Mr. Hain: I will be happy to make representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport as my hon. Friend suggests, and I will keep him in touch on that. I pay tribute to him for his tireless work in lobbying for improved rail services in Wrexham, and particularly for the way in which he has been able to secure, with the Welsh Assembly Government, funding for a new depot at Wrexham, which will create more than 55 new permanent jobs and pave the way for a regular service between Wrexham and London Marylebone. His point about shifting traffic off the roads and on to rail in that fashion is absolutely right.

29 Nov 2006 : Column 1070

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Two days ago, I took the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas)—and I echo the Secretary of State’s congratulations on landing the money—to see the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), to discuss the Wrexham-Shropshire-Marylebone railway project, which is an open access agreement. That project was planned to start next June and is now drifting because of bureaucratic delays. Will the Secretary of State undertake to work closely with the Department for Transport in Marsham street to ensure that the project stays on track, as it will be of huge benefit to those on both sides of the border?

Mr. Hain: We have already had meetings on that point, and we will pursue it. I remind the hon. Gentleman that I do not think that anyone ever took my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) anywhere, certainly not him. I also remind him that the Government are spending £110 million every week in the United Kingdom to improve our railways, which is a massive advance on the terrible record of the Tory Government he supported.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is right that rail depots are important for the maintenance of cross-border trains between England and Wales. He will be aware of the Virgin Trains proposal for a rail maintenance depot in my constituency to meet the 2008 timetable, although there is a bit of slippage on that. Will he use his good offices to bring together the Welsh Assembly Government, the Department for Transport and Virgin Trains to ensure that that happens on time, providing proper maintenance and increased jobs in north-west Wales?

Mr. Hain: Yes, indeed. I shall be happy to do that. My hon. Friend has worked hard to ensure that these matters are addressed, and Holyhead’s ferry port is booming and prosperity and job opportunities are improving as a result. Nevertheless, there is a great deal more to be done, and my hon. Friend is right to press me on that.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I welcome the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) back to the Chamber following her recent illness. It is good to see her again. We also send our best wishes to the Secretary of State’s wife following her recent unfortunate car accident.

The Minister will know of the appalling delays and cancellations on the Arriva Trains service on the Mid Wales line. My constituent Eleanor Cruz is consistently late for work in Shrewsbury as a direct result of them, and her problems typify those of many users. Given that not everyone can fly with my air service, will the Secretary of State support the re-establishment of a dual rail track from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth to improve the frequency and reliability of the service, and ensure that these horrendous delays become a thing of the past?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman’s air service is mentioned in the House so often that the issue of “Flights for Questions” may arise. I understand that the Assembly Government, Network Rail and Arriva Trains Wales are undertaking a feasibility study to consider setting up an hourly train service between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury.

29 Nov 2006 : Column 1071

I join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) back to her seat—to have a go at me later, I hope. The hon. Lady is an extremely dutiful Member: she even went through the Lobby in her wheelchair to vote for a Plaid Cymru motion on Iraq, while the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) was enjoying tapas and vino tinto in Madrid.

Orders in Council

3. Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): In what circumstances he expects to use Orders in Council under the provisions of the Government of Wales Act 2006. [102919]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): Orders in Council will be used to grant enhanced powers to the National Assembly at the request of the Welsh Assembly Government.

Mr. Evennett: Given that Orders in Council will be used to transfer primary legislation powers to the Assembly, can the Secretary of State confirm that any proposals he presents will be the subject of proper parliamentary debate and scrutiny rather than just a one-and-a-half-hour debate here or in the other place?

Mr. Hain: As the hon. Gentleman knows—although he, or at least his party, voted against the Government of Wales Act, which was a pretty shameful and typically anti-Welsh stance for the Tories to take—there is new provision for Orders in Council to streamline the process of the Assembly’s gaining extra powers. As I told the Assembly yesterday, however, there is no question of Parliament simply rubber-stamping requests from the Assembly. Parliament has never been in the business of rubber-stamping anything. There will, I trust, be proper scrutiny through the Welsh Affairs Committee, and probably something similar in the House of Lords.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Could an Order in Council be used to remove a royal warrant from a company that is closing its factory in Rhondda? The Queen and the Prince of Wales currently provide a warrant for Burberry, but it is trying to withdraw its production from the United Kingdom by closing the Rhondda factory. Will the Secretary of State write to Her Majesty to try to persuade her to remove the royal warrant?

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is not an appropriate way in which to use a question.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): May I add my welcome to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), and send my sincere best wishes to the Secretary of State’s wife for a speedy and full recovery?

As the Secretary of State will know, yesterday the National Assembly unanimously passed a motion calling on the First Minister to seek the support of the United Kingdom Government for the establishment of an agreed protocol on how the Secretary of State will consider each application from the Assembly Government for an Order in Council under the Government of Wales Act.
29 Nov 2006 : Column 1072
Will the Secretary of State commit himself to an urgent discussion on that protocol, and in due course sign up to it on the basis that it is crucial to the working of the Act?

Mr. Hain: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his best wishes to my wife, which I will certainly pass on to her.

In the light of the Government of Wales Act it is important for us to modify the protocols, particularly devolution guidance notes. They must be a matter between the Welsh Assembly and United Kingdom Governments, not between the Assembly and the House of Commons or Parliament as a whole, but there is no doubt that action is needed. I told the Assembly yesterday that we should establish a presumption in favour of granting it extra powers unless the principle or scope of the request is clearly wrong—for instance, if it covers a non-devolved matter.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) about Elizabeth; Conservative Members too wish her well. I also thank the boys for welcoming me back. I obviously need to be back at the Dispatch Box to rebut the rubbish that the Secretary of State talks about Tory policies both in this House and in the Welsh Assembly. Can the Secretary of State clarify whether under the new Act an Order in Council—a request for legislation made by the Welsh Assembly Government—can be amended or refused by any of the following: the Welsh Grand Committee, the House of Lords, this House or himself?

Mr. Hain: I relish having the hon. Lady back at the Dispatch Box, and I am glad that she has returned to it with her normal feisty approach to matters. As she knows, because she was present for some days in Committee on the Floor of the House, the Order in Council procedure will be subject to proper scrutiny. I believe that the Welsh Affairs Committee is the right vehicle for that, and any amendments and so forth can be considered in that context. As the hon. Lady brought up rubbishing Tory policies, let me remind Members that the Tories’ hypocrisy on devolution is absolutely staggering: they did all that they could during the passage of the Government of Wales Bill to stop the Assembly getting new powers.

Mrs. Gillan: The Secretary of State knows that we voted against that Bill on Third Reading with a proviso. Is it not really the truth that the request for an Order need never reach this Parliament because he has taken to himself the powers of a Viceroy of Wales and he himself can block or alter the legislation, so it need never reach this House and this House can be taken out of the equation? Is that what his new constitutional convention is about, and is not this threat to refuse their requests the ideal weapon to bring Rhodri Morgan and Welsh Labour to heel?

Mr. Hain: I do not know whether the hon. Lady was preparing that rather silly intervention while she was away. The truth is that the Secretary of State would be in discussion with the First Minister about what the Assembly proposed to put to the House—if the hon. Lady were ever to occupy the post of Secretary of State
29 Nov 2006 : Column 1073
she would be in exactly the same position. That route via the Secretary of State is the route by which any such proposal comes before this Parliament. So of course there will be discussions. This is not a question of acting as a Viceroy or exercising vetoes; it is about undertaking the proper procedures. As for the hon. Lady’s argument that her party opposed the Bill with a proviso, let me point out that they voted against it on both Second and Third Reading, which shows their anti-devolution stance; they are the same old Tories.

Next Section Index Home Page