HC Deb 04 April 2001 vol 366 cc321-3
2. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincharn and Sale, West)

If he will make a statement on manufacturing competitiveness in Wales. [155492]

7. Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)

What discussions he has had with the First Secretary about plans to help manufacturing industry in Wales. [155498]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy)

The Government are committed to improving manufacturing competitiveness throughout the United Kingdom by helping established industries to modernise and to compete in new global markets, by encouraging enterprise and by creating a stable economic climate.

Mr. Brady

The Engineering Employers Federation has warned that 150,000 manufacturing jobs will be lost in the next year. Is it not utterly irresponsible for the Government to pile yet more costs on to manufacturing businesses in Wales through the climate change levy?

Mr. Murphy

Manufacturing productivity, output and exports are all up. The record of the hon. Gentleman's party when it was in office contrasts badly with that. On the climate change levy, I have no doubt that it is the right thing to do, ensuring that we balance the way in which we deal with the climate and the environment in general, and the way in which businesses can play a responsible part in that.

Ms Morgan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the real problem for manufacturing industry in Wales is the threat from low-wage economies, such as those of Hungary and Poland, where wages are at least a sixth of ours? Does he agree that the way ahead for Welsh manufacturing industry is to work closely with universities and institutions to develop cutting-edge technology? Federal Mogul on the Llanishen trading estates in my constituency has done that very thing.

Mr. Murphy

I could not agree more. My hon. Friend is aware that it is the Government's job to try to manage any change in the economy, and that many high-tech, knowledge-based companies are moving to Wales, bringing many jobs. That is how we must manage the economy in Wales—ensuring that, when jobs go, we replace them with other jobs.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

That may be what the Secretary of State says now, but does he realise that 20,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost since Labour took office? Referring to what the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) said, Welsh manufacturing is now so bad that it is at the bottom of the competitiveness league. It is on a par with that of Hungary, so what is the right hon. Gentleman doing? What representations is he making in Cabinet to stem the flow of jobs?

Mr. Murphy

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are 17,000 more jobs in Wales since this Government came to office? Hon. Members must understand that that figure is a real one. I represent a manufacturing constituency and I know that, when it loses jobs—for example, Corns may decide to shut down part of Llanwern—those jobs are being replaced very quickly by other jobs. On Friday this week, I am opening a factory in my constituency, where a total of 264 new high-tech jobs are being created for my constituents. That has been replicated time and again throughout Wales.

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

The Secretary of State will be aware that the reasons given by Corns for closures and redundancies are financial. Will he comment, then, on its decision in the past few days to hand out 1.6 million share options worth £900,000 to four directors, and on the fact that the two former chief executives who were sacked, seemingly for incompetence, have been awarded redundancy payments in excess of £2 million? Can he imagine the anger felt in my community that the people who destroyed the industry are getting big handouts while those who built the industry and made it the most efficient in the world are getting the dole queue?

Mr. Murphy

I can imagine the feelings of the people in Blaenau Gwent, and Ebbw Vale in particular. I do not want to comment on the individuals, because that is a matter for the company, but it is also a matter for the company that if it goes ahead with its original plans, it will bring all the uncertainties and problems of redundancy to people in areas such as my hon. Friend's, who cannot overcome those problems unless they have alternative employment. It is still the Government's belief that Corus should take a long-term view of the steel industry, ensuring that jobs are kept and the industry continues to flourish.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset)

For some time, Conservative Members have been highlighting the damage being done to the competitiveness of the Welsh economy by the high value of the pound against the euro, by over-regulation, by stealth taxes and by the climate change levy.

If the thousands of job losses at Corns were not enough, month by month there is a stream of other job losses: 65 to go at Chubb Fire in the Rhondda; 61 at Honeywell in Treforest; 79 at Arkana in Caerphilly; 88 at General Electric in Nantgarw; and the complete closure of Takiron in Bedwas. Mr. John Spencer of Chubb Fire summed it up when he said: In light of increasing globalisation and overseas competition, the company has undertaken an in-depth study of its cost base.

Farming is in crisis in Wales; tourism is in crisis; and manufacturing is disappearing before our eyes. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. No one should be shouting at the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Walter

Are the Government doing anything about this, or are they abdicating responsibility to the National Assembly and the Liberal Democrat leader in Cardiff?

Mr. Murphy

The hon. Gentleman gave us a list of companies that, unfortunately, have had problems surviving over the past few months. Let me give him a couple of alternatives: Ford in Bridgend, 640 jobs; Conduit in Cardiff, 500 jobs; small businesses in Denbighshire, 490 new jobs; Halifax Card Services in Cardiff, 400 new jobs; Toyota in Deeside, 310 new jobs; and so on, and so on, and so on.