HC Deb 07 March 2001 vol 364 cc277-9
3. Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

What discussions he has had with the Secretary for Economic Development of the National Assembly for Wales to secure the future employment of the employees at the former BSK plant in Llanidloes. [151050]

The Parliamentary Under"Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State regularly meets the First Secretary, and I hold regular meetings with Assembly Ministers, in which we discuss a wide range of issues, including employment in Wales.

Mr. Öpik

The closure in Llanidloes will mean that one in four members of the town's work force will be out of a job. In that context, will the Under-Secretary consider visiting Llanidloes to discuss employment, and commit himself to working with me and the Assembly's Secretary for Economic Development to do all that we can to replace those jobs and keep mid-Wales working?

Mr. Hanson

The news at Llanidloes was devastating for the BSK work force. I share and understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman, who will be aware that every effort is being made through the Employment Service to find alternative work for those affected by redundancy. That includes ensuring that they receive the training that they need to secure other employment. Following the announcement, the team from the Assembly and the Welsh Development Agency is to meet regarding the problems. The Deputy First Minister has also visited the area.

I shall be happy to consider the hon. Gentleman's request for a visit, but I remind him that his constituency will still have the lo west unemployment in Wales—a rate of some 2 per cent. I do not underestimate the difficulties that are faced, however, and I shall consider the issues that he raised.

Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd)

We have already had a question on the impact of racist comments made about investment by Seimon Glyn. What impact does my hon. Friend believe that Anne Robinson's racist comments will have on the image of Wales and its ability to attract investment?

Mr. Hanson

I presume that Anne Robinson's comments about Wales, which I understand were made on a forthcoming programme, were intended to be humorous. I can only say to Anne Robinson that she will have her point of view and that many of us in Wales will ultimately think that she is the weakest link.

Mr. Dafydd Willey (Caernarfon)

As I have family roots in the Llanidloes area, does the Under-Secretary accept from me that the loss of the jobs from Llanidloes could be as devastating as the loss of the steel jobs from the steel-making communities? In those circumstances, what approaches have been made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that operating aids are available for stimulating new job opportunities in Wales?

Mr. Hanson

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been in constant contact with my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and colleagues from other Departments, about the impact of Corus job losses on Wales. Obviously, we are waiting for Corus' final decisions, and there are on-going discussions in government about a range of issues regarding any ultimate financial package. I hope, as I am sure he does, that Corus will reconsider its decision to announce the closures and that in due course, following representations from the company and the work force, the proposals will be withdrawn.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

What representations has the Minister trade to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor about business friendly policies, especially towards manufacturing in Wales, where more than 4,000 jobs have been lost this year alone? The climate change levy will deal manufacturing another heavy blow. Farming is in deep crisis, and the countryside needs help, not a further body blow from the Government. It is important for someone with a strong voice around the Cabinet table to argue for Wales. The Secretary of State refuses to fight for a strong position. Is not that another reason why Labour will lose the next general election? The people of Wales will turn their backs on Labour just as the Secretary of State turns his back on them.

Mr. Hanson

First, Labour has no intention of losing the general election—in Wales or else where. As someone whose party has no Members of Parliament in Wales, the hon. Gentleman can tell us a lot about losing elections. Long-term unemployment is the lowest ever in Wales, where there is massive job creation.

The hon. Gentleman knows through numerous discussions on the subject that there are no plans for changes to the Secretary of State's position, which is part of the devolution settlement. The hon. Gentleman has made a U-turn today by announcing his party's plans for a part-time Secretary of State for Wales, tagged on to some other Department.

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