HC Deb 04 December 1995 vol 268 cc3-5
3. Mr. Wigley

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to meet the chief executive of Invest in Britain to discuss his policy towards attracting inward investment into Wales.[1858]

Mr. Hague

None at present, but my officials and the Welsh Development Agency are in regular contact with the Invest in Britain Bureau. I have been assured by the bureau that it does all it can to attract inward investment to Wales.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Secretary of State aware that the number of new jobs provided, and existing jobs safeguarded, by inward investment in Wales dropped from 11.8 per cent. of the United Kingdom figure in 1992 to 5.6 per cent. in the last year for which figures are available? In those circumstances, does it not appear that something is going wrong with the miracle that was happening in inward investment in Wales? Those working at the coal face, if I may use that term, feed back that Invest in Britain is increasingly becoming invest in England. Will he take a hard line with that body to ensure that we are not missing out by virtue of our successful propaganda 10 years ago?

Mr. Hague

I am certainly aware that the figures for the past year or two have not been as good as those in previous years, although the figure that the hon. Gentleman quoted is the lowest possible figure that could be obtained by calculating the number of jobs safeguarded or created in different statistical ways. There is a more competitive environment in inward investment. That makes it all the more important for us to renew our efforts. I have been doing that during the past few months. I acknowledge the efforts that the hon. Gentleman made during his recent trip to the United States. I shall do my utmost to ensure that the Invest in Britain Bureau works for the whole of Britain, but I have no reason at the moment to think that it does not.

Sir Wyn Roberts

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government's record on inward investment in Wales since 1979 is absolutely first class, thanks to the Invest in Britain Bureau, Welsh Development International and others? Will he give us an assurance that he will continue to give top priority to inward investment rather than to any distractions caused by the devolutionary diversions of the Labour party?

Mr. Hague

Yes, I can give my right hon. Friend that assurance. Those devolutionary distractions would be damaging to the prospects for inward investment were they to be brought to fruition. As my right hon. Friend says, the bureau has done a great deal to encourage inward investment in the past—as has he, as have my predecessors and as has the position of the United Kingdom as an 'economy with lower taxes on companies and employment and less regulation than other European economies.

Mr. Alan Williams

Will the Secretary of State bear it in mind that the imbalance is not only between England and Wales but within Wales? Will he talk to the Welsh Development Agency about the gross failure to bring much of the inward investment beyond Bridgend? Does he recognise that there is an astonishing imbalance in the amount of money and resources that come into my part of Wales, which can be rectified only by structural changes? Will he now consider reintroducing development area status for parts of south-west Wales?

Mr. Hague

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's question. The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) is smiling about the success of Bridgend, but I should like to encourage the WDA and others to ensure that development takes place wherever we can encourage it—away from the M4 and A55 corridors as well as in those areas, where it has already been well established. That is one of our stated policies. We shall continue to try to attract inward investment to all parts of Wales, but I cannot give a commitment that the Government will review assisted area status generally in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Bearing it in mind that inward investment into the United Kingdom as a proportion of that into the European Union is way ahead of what it should be in view of our population, is it not significant that, within the United Kingdom, Wales is way ahead? In both cases, is not that due to the conditions laid down by the Conservative Government?

Mr. Hague

Yes. My hon. Friend is right. Since 1980, more than –7 billion of inward investment has come to Wales. The United Kingdom as a whole continues to be an international magnet for investment—because of the policies that the Government have pursued, and they are precisely the policies on tax, regulation and other matters which Opposition Members would be likely to change.

Mr. Ron Davies

In reply to my previous supplementary question, the Secretary of State referred to a report in this morning's Western Mail about the delay in processing European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund—FEOGA—applications. That was not the question that I asked, although I am grateful for the answer. If the Secretary of State shares my concern about the need to get inward investment to rural Wales and to improve the economy of rural Wales, will he undertake to examine the further delays in his Department's processing of FEOGA applications? Will he confirm that Wales has been denied some £56 million of expenditure from the programme because of his personal failure to make available matching funding? Given that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food makes the payments in England, and that the right hon. Gentleman's constituents in Richmond are therefore eligible for them, what justification does he have for denying them to my constituents in Wales?

Mr. Hague

As I mentioned earlier, press coverage on the point is misleading. There is no question of Wales losing out on these resources. The overwhelming majority of applications in the first round, which were spoken of in the press, have secured the necessary public sector funding. I recognise, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, that the programme is a valuable opportunity for Wales and I am aware of the arrangements that operate elsewhere in the UK. If I think that any additional action is necessary to ensure that the most can be made of the resources, I shall make an announcement on Wednesday.

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