§ 1. Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
What recent discussions he has had with (a) the Ministry of Defence and (b) National Assembly Secretaries regarding job losses in West Wales. 
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Peter Hain)
It is a great privilege for any Welsh MP to be Secretary of State for Wales, and I am especially delighted at having that honour. I pay tribute to my predecessor, now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who did an excellent job. He had regular discussions with ministerial colleagues at the Ministry of Defence and Members of the National Assembly for Wales.
§ Mr. Thomas
I welcome the new Secretary of State to his place on behalf of Plaid Cymru and wish his predecessor well in taking on his new responsibilities, which are also of great importance. We look forward to the right hon. Gentleman making some jinking runs down the left wing in the next few Question Time sessions.
I draw the Secretary of State's attention to the imminent loss of jobs at Dewhirst in Cardigan and to the rundown in Ministry of Defence facilities at Aberporth. The loss of more than 400 jobs in one small market town over the next year could, at least temporarily, double the unemployment rate in the Cardigan travel-to-work 852 area. Will he now redouble his efforts and those of his Departmentߞhis hon. Friend the Under-Secretary already knows about Aberporthߞto ensure that there are more constructive debates, especially with the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Diversification Agency, about new commercial opportunities using the excellent site and resources that we have at Aberporth?
§ Peter Hain
Those are the first best wishes I have ever had from Plaid Cymru. I am not sure whether I should thank the hon. Gentleman for them, but I shall do so in the spirit of chivalry.
I acknowledge the hard work that the hon. Gentleman has done on behalf of his constituents in respect of the matter that he raises. I know that he is very concerned about it and so are we. However, plans are afoot to create new opportunities in his area, including, for example, plans for a technology park at Aberporth. Those plans are still proceeding and are capable of creating more than 200 well-paid high-quality jobs. In Ceredigion, unemployment is at an all-time low; the 2.5 per cent. claimant count is one of the lowest in Wales, thanks to this Labour Government.
§ Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy)
I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his promotion and I look forward to working with him very closely in the months and years to come. Is he aware that the unemployed claimants figure for Conwy in west Wales has fallen from 2,240 in September 1997 to 1,178 in September 2002? Does he agree that that is a considerable tribute to the Government and local business?
§ Peter Hain
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I agree that that reduction is a tribute to the sustained work that the Government have put into Wales in the past five years. We are now working in close partnership with the National Assembly for Wales to deliver Wales as a world class economy and as the top area for investment. Some 18,000 more jobs have been created in the past year and we intend to continue along that path.
§ Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)
It is great to see the right hon. Gentleman back in Wales. We have missed him and I wish him every success in his role in the run-up to when I take on the job myself in 2006. In the meantime, does he agree that one way of creating jobs, especially in north and west Wales, is the development of a strategic plan for airport development, perhaps along the lines of the consultation that was recently published for Wales? If so, is he willing to meet me and a delegation of interested groups that want a hub and spokes approach to Welsh airport development to see what we can do in working with the Assembly to achieve such a result?
§ Peter Hain
I suspect that such generosity from all parts of the House is a one Question Time only experience. I remember well the hon. Gentleman's interest in regional airways and especially the route from Welshpool airport to Cardiff, which I was keen to promote when I was previously in the Welsh Office. Indeed, I took a flight with him from Welshpool, although I declined his invitation to pilot the plane. Given what happened to him a few weeks later, I am pleased that I did so. The matter is an important priority 853 for Wales and I intend to speak to the First Minister about it, especially after the hon. Gentleman's intervention.
§ Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire)
In my area of west Wales, there are potentially 360 temporary jobs at Powergen, which has stepped in to replace the ITV Digital losses. Will my right hon. Friend work with Assembly Ministers to try to make those jobs permanent? Does he acknowledge that the 1,000 jobs that were lost when ITV Digital went to the wall had as great an impact on west Wales as the collapse of Corus on east Wales? Will he do everything possible to ensure the same amount of investment in west Wales as in east Wales?
§ Peter Hain
Indeed, as a south-west Wales Member of Parliament, I understand my hon. Friend's arguments. We shall continue to work hard with the National Assembly and as a Government to create the conditions for generating more jobs in west Wales. I am sure that I do not need to point out to my hon. Friend that unemployment in her constituency has fallen by almost half since we came to power in 1997.