It was time for Welsh questions in the Commons yesterday.
Monmouth MP David Davies was concerned about onerous rules on the use of Welsh:
"Does the Minister agree that enacting legislation that will require all companies, or at least private companies, to use the Welsh language in all forms of business could prove very detrimental not just to the rural economy but to the rest of the economy in Wales, at a time when, tragically, we are seeing hundreds of jobs lost?
Mr. David: The hon. Gentleman should choose his words carefully. I am sure that the last thing any Member would want to do is be seen to be against the Welsh language. It has developed over the past few years, and we want to ensure that it continues to develop with the consent of all the people of Wales.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the draft Welsh language legislative competence order is due to be published next week. I hope that, as a result, there will be full discussion among all the people of Wales about what is the best way forward."
Mr Davies might appreciate people knowing that he is himself a Welsh speaker.
Preseli Pembrokeshire MP (and Opposition MP) Stephen Crabb is eager to see a new power station in Wales:
"Does the Minister agree that one significant boost to the rural economy of west Wales at this time would come from the construction of the new gas-fired power station at Pembroke, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger)? The project has taken four years to reach this point. It has passed its environmental consents, and merely awaits a decision from the Minister’s colleague the Energy Minister. Will he speak to the Energy Minister and unlock this important project? The United Kingdom needs the generating capacity, and my constituents need the jobs.
Mr. David: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right: this is an important project. We are mindful of that; discussions have taken place with my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger), who represents the constituency where the new installation will be based, and I am sure that, across all Departments, we are absolutely committed to ensuring matters are expedited as quickly as possible, but also in a proper manner."
Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan asked about job losses:
"Major job losses in Wales, such as those at Corus, understandably make the headlines, but the Minister must know that the consequential impact on small businesses can be just as catastrophic, if not more so, for families and individuals. Can he explain why, despite all his summits, he and the Welsh Assembly Government are not helping businesses more directly by bringing in our proposals, such as those for a six-month VAT holiday, a cut in corporation tax and a cut in payroll taxes for companies with fewer than five employees?
Mr. David: Forgive me for smiling, but it is important for Labour Members, at least, to recognise that a tremendous effort has been made. The Wales Office recently published a document that itemises all the efforts that have been made and all the initiatives that have been taken by the central Government, in co-operation with the Wales Office, and by the Welsh Assembly Government. I would be more than delighted to ensure that the hon. Lady has a copy, so that she is able to avail herself of all the information that it contains. It clearly sets out the umpteen initiatives that have been taken, which have been well appreciated and, most importantly, are having a direct positive effect to help businesses in these difficult times.
Mrs. Gillan: I am not smiling, and I happen to have had a copy of that list, for which I am very grateful. Forgive me if I am sceptical about the Minister’s warm words, his summits and his lists. How can businesses rely on a Labour-Plaid Welsh Assembly Government who during this dreadful recession have taken decisions to cut further education budgets that would retrain workers; to hand back to Europe, because of their own bad planning, £77 million of aid for the poorest regions; and to inflict an above-inflation rise of almost 5 per cent. on business rates from April this year? The Minister may be smiling but business in Wales is not. How will such moves help small businesses or, indeed, any business in Wales?
Mr. David: The hon. Lady’s jokes are in bad taste and her mock humour is inappropriate. Over the past few months we have seen a strong partnership between the Welsh Assembly Government and central Government. European funds have been effectively accessed as far as the ProAct and ReAct schemes are concerned. Those programmes are in place and they have had a direct effect.
The hon. Lady might not like it, but the Welsh Assembly Government have led the way in helping small and medium-sized enterprises. Europe is playing a critical role and the best action that the Welsh Assembly Government could do is to reinforce that partnership with the European Union to ensure that money comes through the structural funds and through the European Investment Bank. The single most important thing that the hon. Lady could do is listen to her shadow Business Secretary on VAT, for example. He recognises the importance of the VAT reduction and the importance of Europe. It is a pity that the rest of his colleagues do not do the same."
Mark Pritchard, who represents the Wrekin, wanted an assurance that a Government programme would provide jobs in Wales:
"The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith) has claimed many times that hundreds of jobs will come to Wales as a result of the defence training review programme, but the programme has rising costs and increasing delays. Indeed, in his desperation, the hon. Gentleman visited the Prime Minister this week, even though the latter has given no assurance that the defence training review will go ahead in Wales. Do we not need an early statement from the Secretary of State giving us the truth about the project and its rising costs?
Mr. Murphy: I have had no indication at all that there will be any change of plan as far as that huge investment in Wales is concerned. The Government are committed to it but I am sure that, when the time comes, there will be a proper statement to this House of Commons."
And Macclesfield MP Sir Nicholas Winterton asked about manufacturing:
“will play an important role in bringing us out of recession”—[ Official Report, 26 November 2008; Vol. 483, c. 710.]
Mr. David: The short answer is a heck of a lot. The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that manufacturing is still important in Wales—it is—and the last available figures show that some 13 per cent. of the work force were employed in that sector. That is why we have seen central Government and the Welsh Assembly Government being so proactive to ensure that policies are in place not only to help manufacturing but, importantly, to plan for the future. It is absolutely vital to give the greatest possible assistance and investment regarding skills and training, so that when the upturn comes, we are well placed to ensure that we take the maximum benefit of it."