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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State regularly meets the First Minister, and I hold regular meetings with the Assembly Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning, when we discuss a wide range of issues including unemployment levels in Wales.
The Government's continued firm handling of their sound economic policy has seen a significant reduction in the number of people claiming benefits in Wales, with a fall in the claimant count from 4.7 per cent. in December 1999 to 4.3 per cent. in December 2000.
Mr. Brady: I thank the Minister for his reply, although it was somewhat selective. He knows, as I do, that unemployment in Wales is rising, and with manufacturing in Wales now under threat, there is a danger that it may rise further. Will he and the Secretary of State, who appear to be the only people in the country who do not recognise that the climate change levy will hurt the British steel industry, make urgent representations to the Government to try to ensure that that damaging tax is scrapped?
Mr. Hanson: I hate to disparage the hon. Gentleman's facts, but since the general election youth unemployment in Wales has fallen by three quarters and long-term unemployment has fallen by 60 per cent. I will take no lessons on tax from the hon. Gentleman. The Government are committed to tackling unemployment. I notice that the hon. Gentleman did not mention that unemployment in Altrincham and Sale, West has fallen by 52 per cent. since the general election.
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): During the devolution debate, the nationalists and the Liberals said that people overseas were queueing up to invest in Wales as soon as the Welsh Assembly was established. That has been shown to be patent nonsense. Who is responsible for an employment and industrial strategy in Wales? Is it his office, the Welsh Assembly, the Welsh Development Agency, training and enterprise councils or local government?
Mr. Hanson: There is a partnership agreement between the National Assembly--which is responsible for the Welsh Development Agency--my right hon. Friend, myself and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and that is achieving results. As I said, there has been a 60 per cent. fall in long-term unemployment and a fall of three quarters in youth unemployment. Online finance enterprise has created 400 jobs in south Wales, and Wireless Systems has created 250 jobs in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That demonstrates that our policies are working.
Mr. Hanson: We have met Corus, but as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, there has been little discussion with the company about the details of its package, about which it has kept quiet. We deplore the fact that it has not given information to the Government. There are still opportunities for Corus to discuss proposals with the Government, and we would welcome that.
Mr. Martin Caton (Gower): The good news that my hon. Friend has given the House about employment in Wales is obviously right, but I know that he will appreciate that it is of little comfort to the workers at Valeo Climate Control in my constituency, who learned that the French-owned company intends to close that plant by July. The work force are gutted; they have done everything and more in recent years to improve productivity. They are now recognised by Valeo as a centre of excellence in terms of productivity, quality and flexibility. Will my hon. Friend and our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State meet a delegation of hon. Members who represent workers at Valeo and representatives of the work force at Valeo to discuss saving those jobs?
Mr. Hanson: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) to discuss the situation at Valeo. I am saddened by the announcement that 337 jobs will be lost. I believe that production will be maintained until the end of July, and I am hopeful that the Welsh Development Agency will be able to pursue with the company the possibility of a new buyer for the site in the near future. I give my hon. Friend the commitment that we will meet him.
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): We have rightly spent more than 20 minutes speaking about Llanwern, but another major public company, Dairy Crest, today announced the loss of 800 jobs, including 270 at Marshfield in Cardiff and 270 at Carmarthen. Last Friday, as the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) pointed out, the closure of Valeo's plant at Gorseinon was announced, with the loss of about 330 jobs. On Monday last week, Dewhirst announced that 300 jobs were likely to go at Fishguard, after announcing 175 job losses at Lampeter.
The falling trend of unemployment that the Government inherited is rapidly disappearing. Every day we hear of job losses in Wales. What are the Minister and the Secretary of State saying to the Lib-Lab coalition in Cardiff, which seems to include the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik), judging by his earlier question? What are Ministers saying to the Lib-Lab coalition about the way in which it is presiding over what was a good news story about jobs in Wales?
Mr. Hanson: Obviously, I regret the decision announced today about the Carmarthen and Marshfield plants, but it will come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that the same company announced on the same day that there is to be an expansion at Wrexham, with a further 175 jobs.
I say sincerely to the hon. Gentleman that the Government are committed to creating employment. Unemployment is falling in Wales. We have the right economic conditions. There will always be ups and downs in the employment market, and we regret that. We will work with companies and with my hon. Friends in the Administration in Cardiff to create employment. What will damage employment prospects in Wales are severe cuts in public spending from the Conservatives, the madness of their economic policies and the continuation of what they did for 18 years.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly meet the Health and Education Secretaries to discuss health and education issues in Wales. Spending in both of those areas is often part of our agenda.
Mr. Jones: Is my hon. Friend aware that I have received representations from head teachers in my constituency, members of staff and governors, who believe that they have been unfairly treated in the payment, particularly the direct payment, of moneys to schools in Wales? They look across the border and see large sums being spent directly in schools in England, and they believe that they have been unfairly treated. Will my hon. Friend raise these matters with the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning when he next meets her?
Mr. Hanson: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The £1.35 billion extra for health and the £551 million for education that the Government have given the National Assembly are significant. My hon. Friend raises an important issue about the expenditure and distribution of those funds, and I will discuss the matter with the Minister in the Assembly shortly, when I next meet her.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Following the decision of the Scottish Executive last week about the funding of social care for the elderly, what discussions has the Minister held with the Welsh Assembly and Ministers in Wales about the unfairness to elderly people in Wales, let alone those in England?
Mr. Hanson: Those matters will form part of our on-going discussions with the National Assembly about the implications of the Scottish decision. The £551 million for education and £1.35 billion for health that the Government have allocated would not be available if the hon. Gentleman's party came to power. Let us not talk about semantics. His party is committed to cutting that resource. Our party is committed to investing that money. Whatever else happens with the health service, under this Government there is more money in Wales for the health service there.
Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): What measures can my hon. Friend take to ensure that education in Wales serves industry so that we have people with the right skills to take advantage of the jobs that will come to Wales?
Mr. Hanson: I know that my hon. Friend battles hard for his constituency and for employment. Local authorities will use the more than £500 million extra for education in Wales to build up skills. I reiterate the important point that the money would not be available if the official Opposition were in government. They would cut those resources for Wales.