HC Deb 20 January 1986 vol 90 cc7-9
6. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many factory units have been built by the Welsh Development Agency since its inception.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Between January 1976 and December 1985 inclusive, the Welsh Development Agency completed 1,239 advance factory units, 20 bespoke factory units and 92 factory extensions, totalling more than 9.6 million sq ft.

Mr. Knox

How many factories has the agency built on average each year since the present Government came to office, and how does that compare with the figures under the Labour Government?

Mr. Edwards

Of the 1,351 factories and extensions completed by the agency, 1,167 have been built since May 1979. Under the Labour Administration the agency completed an annual average of 56 factories and extensions, totalling 500,000 sq ft. Under this Government the annual average has increased to 177 completions, totalling 1.2 million sq ft of factory space. What is more, we have been getting that factory space allocated.

Mr. Wigley

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government have commissioned two independent studies into the future of the Welsh Development Agency? Will he assure us that none will lead to the privatisation of any of its functions?

Mr. Edwards

I always welcome constructive ideas and read with interest the proposals of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) that we might privatise the agency, but that proposition has not been discussed or considered in the Welsh Office, and I have no plans to do anything of the sort.

Mr. Harvey

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that remarkable achievement and deplore the failure of the Labour Government to spend money on these projects, but what has been the average take-up rate of the units?

Mr. Edwards

At present the vacancy rate is about 12 per cent., which has decreased from 13.6 per cent. a year ago. Most property companies in the private sector would not think that those were unreasonable figures, bearing in mind the range of premises.

Mr. Ray Powell

Does the Secretary of State recall that at Question Time on 21 October last we devoted considerable time to the Parrot Corporation and the involvement of the right hon. Gentleman? Is he now prepared to make a statement to the House about the investigations carried out by Baker? If, as. we discovered last week on Westland, we must continually probe to get at the truth of this issue, will the Secretary of State accept that it is his responsibility to ensure that the Welsh Development Agency conducts its business properly? In view of all the questions that were asked, surely he should have come to the House with a statement, and not tried to hide behind a reply to a written question from his former Parliamentary Private Secretary

Mr. Edwards

As the hon. Gentleman said, I have answered the question. The proper course of events would be for the National Audit Office, and then the Public Accounts Committee, to pursue the matter if they considered that to be appropriate. There are well-known procedures for the PAC to carry out such an investigation while maintaining commercial confidentiality, which I am anxious should be maintained. We should not prejudice the police inquiries that are taking place and any actions by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The company is in production, and it is selling its products. It is manufacturing a first-class British product and I am concerned that it should go from strength to strength. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will help the company to build on the foundations that it has laid and so to provide jobs in the area in future.

Mr. Best

Does my right hon. Friend accept that factory units in north Wales need good roads to provide access? When will we have his conclusion on the report of the consulting engineers into bypasses along the A5 on Anglesey, which his office has received?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman's supplementary question does not relate to factory units built by the Welsh Development Agency.

Mr. Coleman

The building of factory units in Wales is always to be welcomed, but does the Secretary of State agree that it is time he urged upon the Cabinet a change in the Government's policy on financial intervention? Do not the redundancies declared on Friday at Metal Box at Neath underline the importance of resolving these matters?

Mr. Speaker

Again, the supplementary question does not relate to factory units built by the Welsh Development Agency.

Mr. Barry Jones

The right hon. Gentleman is evasive and unconvincing about the Parrot Corporation. Does he agree that there must be a full parliamentary inquiry into the scandal, perhaps by the Welsh Select Committee? We are still deeply suspicious of the alleged independence of what was an internal inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman may well he hiding behind the skirt of an insufficient inquiry. Does he understand that we require more information than has so far been given about the police investigation of the affair? If no more details are forthcoming, the House will expect to see published a full report of the investigation undertaken by Douglas Baker on behalf of the Secretary of State. Why did the right hon. Gentleman not ensure that there were adequate investment appraisal and risk analysis techniques? His limp control has dented the agency's reputation and undermined its status in the City. The right hon. Gentleman should take full responsibility for this disgraceful state of affairs.

Mr. Edwards

I hope that in his opening remarks the hon. Gentleman was not casting any doubt on the integrity and independence of a distinguished accountant who is the chairman of a major firm of accountants. Mr. Baker found that the collateralised deposit was an unusual transaction from a commercial point of view and that it could not reasonably have been anticipated by the agency. The hon. Gentleman suggests that if he had been looking after matters he would have spotted what an eminent accountant believes he himself might have failed to spot. However, I am certain that the proper way to proceed with the questions which the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) who asked the question, is not listening to my answer. Instead, he is jabbering away to his neighbour—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Time is getting on.

Mr. Edwards

If the hon. Gentleman wants answers to his questions, the proper way to proceed is through the Public Accounts Committee, which was established by the House. I am certain that we should all be concerned that the company, which is now in production, continues and proves to be a great success.