Wales Questions: 30 November 2016

Aberconwy MP and Wales Office Minister Guto Bebb answered questions on Wales in the Commons Chamber on 30 November 2016.

 

Inward Investment

Alberto Costa (South Leicestershire) (Con)

4. What assessment he has made of recent trends in the level of inward investment in Wales. [907482]

 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Guto Bebb)

Wales is an attractive destination for overseas investment and the UK Government remain committed to providing certainty and stability for businesses in Wales. Our country has a tremendous opportunity to forge stronger relations with international partners. I am passionate about selling Wales to the world and continuing to increase global investment into Wales.

 

Alberto Costa

Does my hon. Friend agree that recent announcements of investment in Wales, such as the F-35 global repair and maintenance hub in north Wales, represent a vote of confidence in the UK’s economy as a whole?

 

Guto Bebb

I could not agree more. Such investment is welcome, and I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Defence for his part in ensuring that that investment came to north Wales. North-east Wales is an engineering powerhouse in the UK economy, and the investment in the F-35 project is welcome and further enhances engineering opportunities for young people in north-east Wales.

 

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC)

At the beginning of this year, FieldMaster Tractors Ltd, a tractor assembly company in my constituency, signed a joint venture agreement with Longhua, a Chinese company, that would have created 40 jobs in my constituency with aims of expanding. Last week, the owner received notification from China that the deal was off due to uncertainty about our future trading relationship with the European Union. Does the Minister recognise that the UK Government’s dithering over Wales’s future relationship with the single market and the customs union is costing jobs now?

 

Guto Bebb

I am disappointed to hear that news and would be more than happy to discuss it with the hon. Gentleman—any loss of investment in Wales is to be regretted. He is wrong, however, to talk about dithering. The Government are clear that we want strong trade relations with the European Union and with the rest of ​the world. Any Chinese investor looking at the UK knows that this country is friendly to investment from all parts of the globe.

 

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)

13. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the discussions that are taking place to bring inward investment to Wales and to create more jobs and opportunities for young and old alike, and to allow new firms to develop in Wales? [907491]

 

Guto Bebb

I agree with my hon. Friend. Investment in Wales is most welcome. We need to diversify the Welsh economy. Manufacturing jobs in Wales have increased and the engineering sector is second to none in the United Kingdom. That is based on attracting inward investment. On a recent visit to Deeside, I saw again how Airbus is acting as a catalyst for small business development in north-east Wales. We need a combination of inward investment and home-grown companies that are able to build on the expertise provided by companies such as Airbus.

 

Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab/Co-op)

Some businesses may not invest inwardly in Wales because they would have to pay two apprenticeship levies: the UK Government levy and the Construction Industry Training Board levy. Under the Barnett formula, that will not result in extra funding for Welsh apprenticeships. Will the Minister reassure potential investors that they will be able to claim all levies for training and will be able to use the money for workforce development with local further education providers?

 

Guto Bebb

I am surprised to hear that question from the hon. Lady; the apprenticeship levy is important, but the settlement between Her Majesty’s Treasury and the Welsh Government has been welcomed by the latter as both fair and comprehensive. It is therefore essential that she and other Members call on the Welsh Government to make sure that the money allocated through the apprenticeship levy is spent where it is needed.

 

Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)

Given that the UK Government and, in particular, senior Ministers are currently doing their best to offend the international community, it falls to Wales and the Welsh Government to promote inward investment. So will the Minister join me in congratulating the Welsh Government on the role they have played in promoting Wales and securing the highest level of inward investment on record? Furthermore, what support will he give to ensure that this success is sustained following the UK’s exit from the European Union?

 

Guto Bebb

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question. It is important to state that the relationship between the Welsh Government and the UK Government on this issue is very productive. I recently visited Wales with a Minister for International Trade, and the Secretary of State for International Trade will be in Wales on Friday. We work constructively with the Welsh Government to ensure that we sell Wales and the United Kingdom as a good place to do business. We have a strong relationship, which the hon. Gentleman should welcome.

 

 

Prison Estate

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab)

5. What assessment he has made of the effect of recent changes in the number of prison officers on the prison estate in Wales. [907483]

 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Guto Bebb)

We are committed to transforming prisons into places of safety and reform. We recently announced a major overhaul of the prison system, and in the autumn statement we announced funding for 2,500 extra front-line officers across the UK.

 

Mrs Moon

The Minister will be aware that it is not just numbers of prison officers, but the skill base they bring with them that is important. Parc prison has a wonderful record with its “invisible walls” scheme in building links between prisoners and their families. More than 500 children a week visit their fathers, and 69% of inmates have contact with their families. Will he work with me to get the Treasury and the Ministry of Justice to provide funding so that the scheme carries on after 2017?

 

Guto Bebb

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work she does with Parc prison in Bridgend. The relationship she has with Parc prison is indicative of the way an MP should work with such a facility. I pay particular tribute to Parc as a prison that has highlighted the importance of ensuring that family ties are maintained while prisoners are serving a sentence. The good practice shown in Parc should be repeated across the prison estate, and I would be delighted to co-operate with her in pushing this issue forward.

 

Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab/Co-op)

Over the past five years, the number of violent attacks on prison officers in Welsh prisons has risen by more than 138%. What discussions have Ministers had with the Justice Secretary about tackling violence in Welsh prisons?

 

Guto Bebb

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has regular discussions with the Department in question on this issue. No member of staff working on behalf of the state should be threatened or subject to violence in their workplace, so it is essential that we support prison officers in that context and crack down hard on anybody who is responsible for violence within or outside the prison sector.

 

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)

I speak as the co-chair of the cross-party justice unions parliamentary group. HMP Berwyn is due to open in less than three months’ time. Given that the National Offender Management Service is committed to ensuring that it gives equal treatment to English and Welsh in Wales, will the Minister tell the House how he is monitoring the language skills of staff in Wrexham? The MOJ has told me that:

“Data on the number of bilingual Welsh and English speakers…is not collected centrally.”

 

Guto Bebb

First, I hope that the hon. Lady welcomes the fact that the prison in Wrexham is being built, as it is a significant investment in north-east Wales and a significant opportunity for the north Wales economy. ​On the Welsh language issue, it is fair to say that the Department responsible has made it clear that the number of jobs being created at Wrexham will reflect the demographic realities in north Wales, and as a result there will be Welsh-speaking staff in the prison at Berwyn. That will be a great improvement on the current situation, where Welsh-speaking prisoners end up in the estate in England.

 

Mr Speaker

Order. A lot of very noisy private conversations are taking place. I must advise the House that we have many distinguished visitors here today, not only from across the country, but from Iraq and Egypt. We wish to show them that in our ancient democracy we can, when we try, conduct ourselves with due decorum, which will now be brilliantly exemplified by Mr Nigel Huddleston.

 

 

Leaving the EU

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab)

7. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK exiting the EU on businesses and employees in Wales. [907485]

 

The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury (Guto Bebb)

I recognise that many businesses in Wales have an important relationship with the EU, but, as a whole, Welsh businesses export more to countries outside the European Union. In leaving the EU, we will seek new opportunities for businesses across the UK, including in Wales, as we build on our strengths as an open, dynamic trading nation.

 

Susan Elan Jones

The Minister will know full well that he has not really answered my question. Can he tell us whether his officials have made any estimate of how many jobs in Wales will be lost if the UK leaves the single market and what he and his Government are planning to do about it?

 

Guto Bebb

I am somewhat disturbed by the hon. Lady’s comments. Time and again, I hear Opposition parties talking down the Welsh economy. I want to talk up the Welsh economy, as do the Welsh Government. As we start this process, we have fewer people out of ​work in Wales now than since 2010, and our economy is growing faster than many parts of the UK. She should be talking up Wales, not talking it down.

 

Mr Speaker

I am happy to hear the voice of North East Hampshire on question 7. Mr Jayawardena, get in there.

 

Mr Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire) (Con)

9. North Wales, which is home to the wings of the Airbus A380, has significant opportunities for trade with Europe and the rest of the world. Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that efforts will be dedicated to ensuring that north Wales and its northern powerhouse links will be trumpeted by this Government? [907487]

 

Guto Bebb

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. North Wales has a huge contribution to make in terms of employment not just in North Wales but throughout the UK. The Government’s emphasis on having a north Wales growth deal is dependent on linking north Wales to the northern powerhouse. To develop that link, I was pleased to visit north-east Wales and Chester recently with the Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse. There is an appetite in north-east Wales to work on a cross-border basis for the benefit of our local economies.

 

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)

Will the Minister confirm the completion date of the rail electrification and all the work that needs to be done between Cardiff and Swansea, please?

 

Guto Bebb

My understanding is that the work is progressing well. Again, I highlight the contrast between the situation under this Government and the lack of investment in any railway infrastructure between 1997 and 2010.

 

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab)

What is the Minister going to do with preposterous suggestion that the priorities for future support for farmers in Wales should be decided on the basis of the UK, where there are many millionaire and billionaire farmers, rather than on the basis of Wales, where there are small farmers? Will he stand up for Welsh priorities, made in Wales for Welsh small farmers?

 

Guto Bebb

I was at the winter fair yesterday in discussions with farming unions and other interested parties in relation to the Welsh agricultural sector. The agricultural sector in Wales wants a settlement that will be good for the sector in Wales and good for the UK. We know that we can produce the best food in all the world, and we need to ensure that we have opportunities to sell it not only to the rest of the European Union but on a global basis. We are confident we can do that with support from this Government.

 

 

The full debate is also available online at https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2016-11-30/debates/9166FE05-E543-4446-9B94-37D3206E9409/OralAnswersToQuestions.

Image credit:  Diego Delso  Available at:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Palacio_de_Westminster,_Londres,_Inglaterra,_2014-08-07,_DD_030.JPG