Manufacturing Skills

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons am 12:00 am ar 17 Mawrth 1997.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid 12:00, 17 Mawrth 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what action has recently been taken to raise the level of manufacturing skills in Wales. [18830]

Photo of Jonathan Evans Jonathan Evans Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

A great deal of action is being taken. That includes provision for a further 4,800 young people to start modern apprenticeships in 1997–98; increased funding for adult technician training; and initiatives to meet the need for skills in the electronics and semi-conductor sectors.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid

We take for granted falls in unemployment and we are beginning to take for granted the fact that Wales is becoming the silicon valley of Europe. Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to liquid manufacturers, such as Ty Nant, the water manufacturers in Lampeter? Will he also pay tribute to Swy y Mor, the Welsh whisky manufacturer, whose product is available throughout the known world? What would be the effect on those manufacturers of the imposition of European employment law?

Photo of Jonathan Evans Jonathan Evans Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

I happily respond to my hon. Friend's invitation in relation to the Welsh whisky company because it is based in my constituency. I have noted my hon. Friend's welcome for the great success of Ty Nant water. A number of water companies within the Principality have managed to develop a high international profile. My hon. Friend is right to say that that does not just happen, as Labour Members believe. It is the product of investment in the skills of the people who work in those businesses. The difference between us and Labour Members is that we understand that, whereas they do not.

Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Dwyrain Casnewydd

Is not the true answer to the question that little has been done to raise manufacturing skills in Wales? Is that not the reason why the average wage in Wales is the lowest in the United Kingdom, with some workers getting as little as £1.61 an hour? Is not the low pay unit report a fitting epitaph for this Government? On 1 May, the people of Wales and of Great Britain as a whole will say that enough is enough.

Photo of Jonathan Evans Jonathan Evans Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

I preface my remarks by saying that I anticipate that that question will be one of the last contributions made by the hon. Gentleman. Whatever political differences there have been between us, he well knows that I very much respect him. I find it rather strange, however, to see him sitting with the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) and the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). What an incongruous threesome they make. The hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) used to understand that introducing a minimum wage was a way in which to destroy jobs. It is rather sad that he is singing a different tune now.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

Would my hon. Friend care to speculate on the effect on jobs in Wales, particularly in the telecommunications industry, were BT to lose £2 billion or £3 billion in a windfall tax and the money that supports those jobs were transferred to make-work schemes and training schemes that have no jobs at the end of them?

Photo of Jonathan Evans Jonathan Evans Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the Labour party says so little about the implications of the windfall tax. Many people who work for the privatised utilities in Wales have good cause to take on board the points raised by my hon. Friend and, furthermore, the effect on jobs of the introduction of the social chapter—a matter that has been raised not only by my hon. Friends. I had the opportunity of visiting one of our biggest mid-Wales businesses and the first point raised with me expressed concern about Labour's policy in that respect.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru

If this is indeed the hon. Gentleman's last Welsh Question Time, may we wish him well in his future incarnation? May I press him on the point that the most relevant investment in manufacturing industry is often in higher and further education, which provide the necessary skills. In that context, is the Minister happy, after receiving representations from the university of Wales and other colleges concerning the reduction in the funding available for education and research? Is he aware that we shall lose considerable input into the Welsh economy unless the shortfall is found? The Secretary of State says that the money is not available for higher education because it has gone into LG, but surely we need to find money for both if we are to invest in the future.

Photo of Jonathan Evans Jonathan Evans Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

There has been a significant expansion over the years in investment in higher and further education in Wales, as the hon. Gentleman is aware. His point relates to this year's provision in respect of further education, which has increased to some £162.5 million. Against the background of some of the representations from the sector, last year there was clear recognition that the settlement for Wales was higher than that for England.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths , Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr

The Minister gives a rather belated example of conversion to sensible policies on training when it was a Conservative Government who slaughtered apprenticeship schemes in the 1980s. While we welcome his new conversion to modern apprenticeships and the additional money provided for technicians this year, is it not true that there have been cuts in the budgets of the further and higher education funding councils and in the overall employment and training budget? Manufacturers throughout south Wales remain concerned about the shortage of training skills and the Government's own target for training and skills is still woefully behind what is really needed. Will it not be a real blessing when, in May this year, we have a Government who will truly concentrate on improving skills and education in Wales?

Photo of Jonathan Evans Jonathan Evans Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

All that I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that the Council of Welsh Training and Enterprise Councils recently published an action plan for manufacturing. The hon. Gentleman tells us that he has read it, so perhaps he will have read the response from a range of agencies—the Welsh Development Agency, the Development Board for Rural Wales, the Further Education Funding Council for Wales and the Confederation of British Industry—and from their paymasters, the Trades Union Congress. They all welcomed the approach in that document and I urge Opposition Members to do so as well.