HC Deb 19 February 1996 vol 272 cc7-8
7. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement about inward investment levels. [14163]

Mr. Hague

Inward investment into Wales continues at high levels and I expect this trend to continue. Already this financial year, almost 8,000 new and safeguarded jobs have been promised with associated capital investment of almost £600 million.

Mr. Marshall

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that, if this country were to sign up to the social chapter or adopt a national minimum wage or a Welsh Assembly, which would make Wales an over-governed country, inward investment would dry up?

Mr. Hague

I fear that my hon. Friend is right. What attracts companies to the United Kingdom, and to Wales in particular, is good industrial relations, lower tax on companies and less regulation than in other parts of Europe. None of those would obtain if the Labour party was in power.

Mr. Llew Smith

If inward investment has been so effective under the Government, can the Secretary of State explain why, according to the Library, since the Government came to power in May 1979, we have lost 500 million days through unemployment? Will he comment on the likely effect of those lost days on the economy and on the individuals and families who have been destroyed by it in communities such as mine in Blaenau Gwent?

Mr. Hague

Over the past 18 months, unemployment in Wales has been at or around the United Kingdom average. We are the first Government since the 1920s to be able to say that. What is more, unemployment in Wales is lower than it is in Italy, France and Spain and our major international competitors across Europe. It is continuing to fall and it will continue to fall if we maintain our present policies.

Mr. Barry Porter

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one reason for that high level of inward investment is the cultural facilities offered in Wales? If so, would he take a sympathetic look at the future funding of Theatr Clwyd in Mold when the new authorities come into being?

Mr. Hague

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that, 11 days ago, I announced that the Government would be prepared to write off the £1.3 million debts of Theatr Clwyd if local authorities would guarantee that it would continue to run as at present for the foreseeable future. I am pleased that, since then, the Arts Council of Wales has announced additional help for the theatre and I hope that its future can be secured.

Mr. Ron Davies

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the Labour-controlled Merthyr borough council and the Labour-created Welsh Development Agency on their recent success in bringing the Halla investment to Merthyr Tydfil? Will he confirm that, since the last general election, total inward investment in Wales up to and including the current financial year has fallen by 40 per cent.? Does he agree that at least part of that fall is due to the Welsh Office's failure to fund the Welsh Development Agency properly, its failure to support local authority initiatives, its failure to secure available European Union investment and its failure to protect our development area status? Would the Secretary of State like to set an example to some of his less fastidious colleagues and admit to some responsibility for the consequences of his Department's policies?

Mr. Hague

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. Wales has done well to maintain a high level of inward investment against increased competition from the rest of the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe. I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the Merthyr Tydfil council and other local authorities which have helped to attract inward investment. It is a team effort, involving local authorities, the Welsh Development Agency and my colleagues and me in the Welsh Office—as did the investment by Halla Industries of Korea, with which I had three meetings when I visited Korea last September. It is a team effort involving all of those people, and it is clearly working.