The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood) : The Welsh industrial economy is doing extremely well. Between 1990 and the end of 1993, manufacturing output in Wales increased by 5.3 per cent. compared with a reduction of 4.3 per cent. in the United Kingdom as a whole. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that, and its consequences for his constituency.
Mr. Jones : But there is no room for complacency, with tens of thousands of Welsh people unemployed--3,000 of them my constituents. Will the Minister therefore argue strongly in Cabinet, to help the aerospace workers, for the purchase of the future large aircraft ? Will he also, in Cabinet, consider how British Airways may be persuaded to buy the Airbus ? He might even consider talking to Mrs. Redwood, secretary to the board.
Mr. Redwood : Of course I will do all in my legitimate power to further the interests of the workers in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and in the aircraft manufacturing industry ; but he, with the rest of the House, might like to welcome the fact that unemployment has fallen by 6.9 per cent. in his constituency in the past year. Furthermore, unemployment in the travel-to-work area is now 7.9 per cent., which is well below the Welsh, United Kingdom and EC averages.
Mr. Roger Evans : Does my right hon. Friend agree that growing numbers of engineering apprentices are a classic sign of an improving industrial economy ? Can he tell us the good news on that aspect as well ?
Mr. Redwood : My right hon. Friend the Minister of State is announcing today that 550 young people will benefit from the new training package for engineering apprentices in the current year, entailing expenditure of £3.6 million on them and on the necessary related activities. We want a stronger engineering industry in Wales ; this is a positive way of achieving it.
Column 536Britain but in the United Kingdom ? In other words, we are now poorer than Northern Ireland. If the economy is doing so well, why are the figures so bad ?
Mr. Redwood : Why does not the right hon. Gentleman welcome the fact that manual manufacturing earnings in Wales are in line with those in the rest of the United Kingdom ? Why does not he welcome the 10,000-plus additional full-time manufacturing jobs ? Why does not he welcome the other initiatives that we are taking to improve the situation in Wales ?
For us, it is "better made in Wales". For the Opposition, it is "better moan in Wales".
Mr. Wigley : Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Welsh Development Agency still plays a key role in the development of the Welsh industrial sector ? If that is so, will he explain how jobs will be created in Gwynedd at a time when the WDA is taking dozens of jobs away from Gwynedd and when the commitment to decentralising from Cardiff to north Wales appears to be being reneged on ? Will the right hon. Gentleman give a commitment to the effect not only that the WDA will have a central role and the resources to do its job on an all-Wales level, but that that will apply particularly to Gwynedd ?
Mr. Redwood : Of course I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Gwynedd will benefit from the WDA's programmes in the same way as other parts of Wales that are eligible for assistance do. He knows full well that I have set out to the House guidance to the WDA making it clear that, in areas such as land reclamation and winning new investment for Wales, it has a most important job to do.
Mr. Ron Davies : Since the Secretary of State has mentioned the importance of training, will he acknowledge the work done by the WDA's Gateway Euro project, which is based at Treforest and acknowledged by the European Commission as a centre of training excellence which is vital to equipping Welsh industry with the skills needed to compete in the new European marketplace ? If he does realise the value of that institution, why is he closing it ? Is this another example of the Secretary of State, just like the Prime Minister at Corfu, putting Conservative party ideology and self-interest before the interests of the people whom he is supposed to represent ?
Mr. Redwood : I can understand why the hon. Gentleman is trying to be even more aggressive than usual today--it could be his last occasion on the Front Bench at Welsh questions. Of course, I want high-quality training in Wales and I have already made an important announcement this afternoon about how we are progressing with that aim. There are a number of ways of achieving that, but the best is through Government programmes and the training and enterprise councils, which we are supporting and expanding.
Column 537providing highways services, especially repair and maintenance, based not just on highways criteria but on certain social criteria. I hope that, as a consequence, there will not be a two- tier service and that that council will recognise its safety obligations to all the electors in its area.
Mr. Richards : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not only disgraceful but unlawful for South Glamorgan county council to discriminate against Conservative-controlled areas in the provision of services, as Mr. Russell Goodway, the leader of the council, has said it is his authority's intention so to do ?
Mr. Redwood : It would indeed be illegal to discriminate in the way that my hon. Friend suggests. I note from the report in the South Wales Echo that the council is following a policy that uses criteria in addition to highways criteria. The council must be very careful to ensure that its safety and statutory obligations are fully met.
Mr. Rogers : The right hon. Gentleman's proposals for the reorganisation of local government will create unitary authorities, but already those authorities have come together to create a second, two-tier system of local government in south Wales. An important element that has been incorporated into that is industrial development.
In considering the powers that might go to those local authorities, will the right hon. Gentleman make a little more effort on behalf of his Government ? They have been in power for 15 years and have effectively destroyed the economy of the south Wales valleys. That is manifest in a survey published today which shows that, unfortunately, my constituency has the lowest incomes of any part of the United Kingdom. The valley communities of south Wales earn only about 64 per cent. of the national average wage. Is not that an absolute disgrace and will the right hon. Gentleman now admit that his policies and those of his predecessors--the so -called valleys initiatives--have fallen into disrepute and must be replaced ?
Mr. Redwood : Of course not. The valleys initiatives have achieved a great deal. I fully accept that much more needs to be done and that is what I and my colleagues are working to achieve. I hope that Labour Members will offer some support. They would be shocked if I announced the withdrawal of the valleys programme, but I hasten to reassure them that I have no intention of doing so. It is a fine programme which can offer a great deal.
On the hon. Gentleman's point about local government, unitary authorities will offer good-quality services where the right councils are elected. It is the right framework for them. I just wish that Labour would stop messing about with its policy on regional assemblies, especially as the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is in considerable difficulty over whether he wants one immediately. But then we know that there is much less to the hon. Gentleman than meets the eye.
Mr. Martyn Jones : Have not the Government inflicted two-tier services on local authorities, especially in community care ? I remind the Minister of Welsh Office circular 30/94, which specifically says that community care should not be given to individuals if it is too expensive.
Column 538members of our community to get decent care. We are backing local government and giving it the necessary money and I want to see high-quality services for all in need.
Mr. Jones : The Minister is aware that we are awaiting a report later in the year on a major European study on the potential for freight traffic along a number of routes, including the north and south Wales main lines. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, even before the completion of that report, Railtrack is actively considering investment in the track, especially in north Wales, so that it can improve the efficiency and maximum use of trains on both Regional Railways and InterCity ? Will the Welsh Office now give a commitment to back that investment by Railtrack, to improve not only our economic performance in north-west Wales but our environment ?
Sir Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman is right, and I am glad that he acknowledges that investment is a matter for Railtrack, which has received the MDS Transmodal report on electrification of the north Wales line. I have received assurances from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport that Railtrack will continue to maintain the north Wales line to a fully functional standard. Of course, we shall assist Railtrack when it puts investment proposals before us.
Mr. Matthew Banks : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there have been improvements to main line services in the Principality in recent years, particularly in respect of journey times between London, Chester, Llandudno and Holyhead ? Does he further agree that the greatest improvement that we could see this week would be the early resumption of talks in the present rail dispute ?
Sir Wyn Roberts : My hon. Friend is probably aware that the dispute is before ACAS. I am sure that he, like me, wishes those negotiations to proceed and that the strikes that have damaged travellers and rail staff should cease.
Mr. Alex Carlile : Will the Minister ask Railtrack's chairman to restore main line status to the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth line, and tell him that it is totally unsatisfactory to build a brand-new station such as Welshpool with no communications system, no telephone, no information provision, an out-of-date timetable and not even a lavatory for people who are waiting for late trains ? Is the Minister aware that once a train has left Shrewsbury, Railtrack is unable to identify its location until it reaches Machyllneth ?
Sir Wyn Roberts : I have learned to accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's statements in a somewhat quizzical spirit. The running of the railways is a matter for British Rail, Railtrack and the north-west train operating unit.
Mr. Murphy : Does the Minister agree that there would be much more investment in the railways if Railtrack had not spent £7 million on new offices in the City of London and millions of pounds trying to persuade a sceptical public of the so-called benefits of privatisation, and if it had settled the rail dispute earlier, instead of provoking and prolonging it because of constant interference ?
Sir Wyn Roberts : On the latter point, the hon. Gentleman knows that the dispute's settlement and the current negotiations are very much a matter for Railtrack. Investment in Welsh railways is also a matter for Railtrack, but of course my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will discuss those matters when we meet Railtrack's chairman.
4. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many of the bodies outlined in the Welsh Language Act 1993 have submitted schemes to promote the Welsh language to the Welsh Language Board.
Sir Wyn Roberts : None. The Welsh Language Board will begin serving notices on those public bodies required to prepare Welsh language schemes after Parliament has approved the guidelines that the board is required to prepare under section 10 of the Welsh Language Act 1993. The guidelines are currently being drafted by the board.
Mr. Hughes : Does not the fact that, although the Act has been on the statute book for a year, there are no guidelines as yet and nobody has come up with schemes for advancing the Welsh language prove that all that was said from these Benches and others last year was true--that the 1993 Act was a lot of English words which did little for the Welsh language ? When will the Government do something that delivers the goods ?
Sir Wyn Roberts : I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is critical of our parliamentary procedures and legislation. The 1993 Act lays down precisely what must be done. We established the Welsh Language Board under that Act : it has been appointing staff, is consulting, is in charge of £581,000 worth of grants and is preparing guidelines. Frankly, it is not an easy task to bring to the House guidelines that will secure the full approval of Parliament.
5. Mr. Jon Owen Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales whether the Welsh Office received legal advice concerning the payment of grants from the Welsh Development Agency to the Development Board for Rural Wales ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Redwood : The Department received appropriate legal advice in 1982 and decided that the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 and the Development of Rural Wales Act 1976 provided an acceptable statutory base for the payment of grant.
Mr. Jones : Will the Secretary of State tell us why, over the past 12 years, the Welsh Office has found no opportunity to inform the WDA of the basis of its legal opinion, or to clarify the difference between the two legal
Column 540opinions taken by the agency ? Will he now apologise to the BBC journalists who brought the matter to his attention ? He should be very thankful that they did so.
Mr. Redwood : That is a bit rich, coming from the hon. Gentleman. The BBC's allegation that a member of my staff had said that the issue was technically flawed was simply untrue : no member of my staff said any such thing, and it is not the Welsh Office view. A number of other serious allegations were made in the programme, which suggested that my predecessors had deliberately broken the law to further political ends. That, too, is quite untrue.
The hon. Gentleman should recognise that the legal issues surrounding the 1982 policy are very similar to those surrounding the February 1979 policy allowing the issue of loans to companies. That question was settled by officials and Ministers in the Labour Administration. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that those actions were illegal, as he has suggested that ours were ?
Mr. Jonathan Evans : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in mid-Wales there is a strong feeling that the amount of grant aid made available to that region in the past 12 years is inadequate, when contrasted with the billions of pounds that have been poured into Opposition Members' constituencies ? Has my right hon. Friend ever received any complaints from Opposition Members about any specific grant ? Does not their conduct, and that of the BBC, provide a clear example of the bitter pill that people in mid-Wales would have to swallow if there were ever another Labour Government ?
Mr. Redwood : I certainly do not recall being advised by the Labour party that we should not make the payments. I do not recall Labour Members querying any of them, or suggesting that they were not doing good. My hon. Friend has made his point extremely successfully ; he is also right to infer that when Labour passed the legislation for both the Welsh Development Agency and the Development Board for Rural Wales, it had in mind wide-ranging activities to assist industry and commerce in both parts of Wales.
Mr. Morgan : Will the Secretary of State finally come clean and tell us the basis of that legal advice ? Perhaps at the same time he will make clear when the formalities were explained to the House. He will know that in June 1982 the Minister of State said that the formalities would be announced later. Even by the Minister's "Lightning Gonzales" standards, to leave the matter until 1994 and give the House no further explanation is to take a somewhat lackadaisical attitude to the legalities of parliamentary accountability for public money.
Mr. Redwood : We have made the basis clear. It is in section 3 of the 1975 Act, which deals with the general powers of the agency, and I made it clear in my statement that legal advice was taken at the time. We have never denied that some members of the WDA took a different view at the time ; I understand that that was discussed with Welsh Office officials in 1982. I am also told by my officials, who have looked very carefully at the files, that the counsel's opinion that the agency then took had not been passed across to the Department. I have now asked for that opinion, and am studying it.
6. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many representations in favour of his proposals to remove Ewenny, Saint Bride's Major and Wick from Bridgend into the Vale of Glamorgan he has received from people or organisations with these communities ; and how many he has received against.
Mr. Griffiths : Will the Minister refer to my question again ? I believe that the five representations in favour were all from organisations outside those three communities. May I inform him of the deep bitterness felt by all voters--especially Conservative supporters, members and elected councillors--about the way in which the Welsh Office has completely ignored the weight of opinion resulting from the consultative process, and the way in which it has slapped democracy in the face ?
Mr. Jones : No. I gave the answer strictly in terms of the hon. Gentleman's question. If I had wanted to expand it, I could have said that the number in favour had increased almost threefold, taking into account those outside the three communities, who recognise the affinities in the three communities and want them to be part of the wider Vale of Glamorgan. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is only going through the motions. If he had wanted to do more than that, he would have pressed his amendment on the subject to a vote on 15 June.
Mr. Sweeney : Does my hon. Friend agree that, in 11 of the past 12 years, electors in the Vale of Glamorgan have enjoyed lower local government taxation than their counterparts in Ogwr and that there is widespread support in the Vale for the Government's proposals ? Will my hon. Friend join me in urging the hon. Member for Bridgend to acknowledge that the Local Government (Wales) Bill has completed its passage through the House of Commons and that it is high time that he adopted a positive attitude by urging the merits of the Bill on those of his constituents who will benefit from moving into the Vale of Glamorgan ?
Mr. Jones : My hon. Friend makes his points very well. Vale of Glamorgan borough council has a record of providing better services at lower cost. We have approached the question on the basis of where the areas would be more appropriate. They are more rural in character and they will have a far better future in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Column 542the figures for all of Wales. That is being done, and when we have finished refining the process, consideration of housing investment will be far better informed.
Mr. Rowlands : Is the Minister aware that at every Saturday surgery hon. Members are hearing heartbreaking cases of people having to wait for up to two years or more for home improvement and renovation grants ? At the same time, hundreds of building workers are out of work in our constituencies. Would not it be a good idea to match the two, to the benefit of both, by making new investment in housing improvement and renovation ?
Mr. Jones : That confirms, again, the desirability of our policy of seeking to make home renovation grants as widely available as possible and as closely targeted on need. Another £149 million is being provided this year, which should produce almost 10,000 improved homes.
Mr. Alan W. Williams : Will the Minister consider in particular the problems of Dinefwr borough council, whose recently commissioned survey showed that things are much worse now than they were in 1986 ? The number of unfit homes has risen from 1,938 to 2,463 and one house in six has been designated as unfit. Meanwhile, there is a five-year waiting list for mandatory grants.
Mr. Jones : Yes, we will continue to consider the problems of Dinefwr and, of course, of all other councils in Wales. Since the present grant regime was introduced in 1990, we have made available £850 million, which is a major contribution towards achieving our policy objective of improving homes in Wales.
Mr. Dafis : Does the Minister accept that housing policy must be made in Wales to meet Welsh needs ? Does he accept that there would be no justification for shifting emphasis in the Tai Cymru budget from houses for rent to various forms of assisted ownership, which is happening under the Housing Corporation in England ? If the Government propose to make such a shift, will he ensure that it is announced to the House in good time so that it can be strongly opposed ?
Mr. Jones : I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman's attitude, since all surveys of Welsh people have clearly shown that ownership of their own homes commands a high place in their ambitions. We should be seeking to respond to that, and we are doing so.
Mr. Jones : I am truly amazed by this claim by a valley local authority, albeit a Labour one. I am glad to say that it is not the Labour party which is in control of housing policy in Wales. We are providing substantial sums. Despite such obtuse attitudes, we shall carry on doing that.
8. Mr. Ainger : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he next intends to meet the chairman of the Welsh NHS trust chairmen's group to discuss relations between the Welsh Office and the NHS trusts.
Mr. Ainger : Will the Minister take the opportunity when he meets Mr. Derek Morgan, the chairman of the group of chairmen of NHS trusts in Wales, to apologise to him and to the other trust chairmen for the total inadequacy of this year's financial settlement and for the lateness of the announcement, which came only two weeks before the beginning of this financial year ? Will he also take the opportunity to explain to Mr. Morgan and his colleagues why the percentage cash rise in England is twice that in Wales and why the announcement was made to the English trusts two months before it was made to the Welsh ones ?
Sir Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman made much the same point during the Welsh Grand Committee debate on 15 June. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State increased the moneys available to the hospital and community health service in Wales by 4.3 per cent., and announced that in December. A similar announcement was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health with regard to the regions in England. There is no need whatever to apologise for that increase, which has resulted in more than one third more in-patients and out-patients being treated in Wales last year than were treated in 1979. That is our record and we are proud of it.
Mr. Hain : When the Minister responds to the proposals put by the local health authorities in West Glamorgan on the future of the east unit of the West Glamorgan trust, will he listen to local opinion about the future of Neath and Port Talbot hospital ? Will he ensure that it has proper accident and emergency facilities and that its maternity facilities are fully fledged, and not the midwife unit that the Secretary of State has proposed ? People locally regard their hospital in Neath as a precious resource. They do not want to see it downgraded when the new hospital is eventually built on Baglan moor.
Sir Wyn Roberts : We will of course carefully consider all the representations made to us about that particular hospital, just as we always listen to representations made about new hospitals, of which we have set up quite a number in Wales. Again, that is a record of which we can be proud.
Mr. Ron Davies : The Minister just referred to the Neath and Port Talbot district general hospital. He will be aware that that hospital was closed on 90 separate occasions last year because of a shortage of beds. Yet the Government propose to reduce the number of beds available in that catchment area by 200. That is typical of what is happening in planning, so when the Minister meets the chairmen--the original question refers to that meeting--will he apologise for the chaos that has been caused for those who are trying to plan the national health service in Wales ?
The Minister's own research, the Welsh health planning forum's study, which was published last week, flatly
Column 544contradicts the pronouncements by the Secretary of State for Health. She maintains that hospital beds can be reduced by 40 to 60 per cent. The Minister's research suggests that the minimum figure of 40 per cent. would "permanently damage" health provision. Will he now give us a clear answer ? Which figure should Welsh health planners use, his figure or her figure ?
Sir Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman should know that there has been an increase in throughput at hospitals and in the use of beds simply because of the advances in medical science and treatment. There will be further advances, of that I have no doubt. I can give the hon. Gentleman this certain assurance--there will be sufficient beds in Wales to deal with accidents, emergencies and such requirements as patients have, and no patient will be forced into day treatment.
Mr. Redwood : I have met many electronics companies over the past year, including Sony, Assat, Aiwa, Pilkington Electronics and Panasonic. I shall see companies over the summer to discuss inward investment, including another visit to Sony.
Mr. Fabricant : Is not it the case that, despite the Opposition's love affair with the social chapter and the on-costs that that would bring about, and despite the Opposition's love affair with the idea of stripping away our democratisation of the trade unions, we have seen a huge amount of inward investment in that region and that, as a result, we have a large pool of electronics expertise in south Wales, which is possibly unique in Europe ? What is my right hon. Friend doing to promote that ?
Mr. Redwood : My hon. Friend is quite right to say that Opposition Members support policies that would damage Wales and her competitiveness. We are proud of the fact that Wales is now largely strike free. [Interruption.] We are proud of the good value that it offers to investors. We are proud of the skills and the talents of the Welsh work force. All Opposition Members can do is jeer at my hon. Friend's great tie because they can think of nothing better on which to comment.
10. Mr. Llwyd : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many representations he has received over the last six months on the future role of community and town councils in Wales ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Llwyd : The Minister will know that, during the passage of the Local Government (Wales) Bill, I tabled an amendment to the effect that town and community councils should be better consulted in the role of planning. I have now received almost 300 letters in support of that amendment from various councils in Wales. The Minister said at one stage that the purport of the amendment would be included in guidelines soon to be issued to the new
Column 545unitary authorities. When will those guidelines be in place and will they contain, as he has already said, the proposals in the amendment ?
Mr. Jones : We are working on those guidelines. They are important, and they need to be in response to the exact concerns that the hon. Gentleman has expressed. I cannot give him a precise date at this point. They will be brought forward as early as possible and, yes, I am looking forward to their fully covering the important subjects that we have discussed.
11. Sir David Knox : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many (a) in-patients and (b) out-patients were treated in NHS hospitals in Wales in the most recent year for which figures are available ; and what the figures were in 1979.
Mr. Redwood : In the year to 30 June 1993, NHS Wales treated 480, 000 in-patients and 580,000 new out-patients, compared to 350,000 and 429,000 respectively in 1979. That represents increases of 37 per cent. and 36 per cent.
Sir David Knox : Does my right hon. Friend agree that those figures show, above all else, the improvement in the health service during the past 15 years ? What is the scale of the improvement since the health service reforms were introduced ?
Mr. Redwood : There has been an acceleration in the pace of improvement in treating patients in the past couple of years, which I welcome. It has been related to more day-care surgery, as well as to improved efficiency in all parts of hospital and health management. My hon. Friend is quite right to say that there has been a massive expansion of health facilities and health care over the past 15 years in Wales. It is high time that Opposition Members, as well as the public, welcomed that.
12. Mr. Hanson : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will meet representatives of Clwyd county council to discuss the effects of the current rate support grant settlement on educational services in the county.
Sir Wyn Roberts : Neither my right hon. Friend nor I have any plans to do so. Clwyd received the highest increase in standard spending assessment of any Welsh county council in 1994-95. It is for individual local authorities to decide their spending priorities.
Mr. Hanson : Is the Minister aware that some 200 teaching jobs are still being lost this year in Clwyd county council and that much of my postbag is related to the loss of teachers and the lowering of educational standards in the county ? It is not good enough to say that we have received a higher level of grant when the Minister knows that the grant has been cut by £6 million this year overall, that much of that grant is ring fenced and that Clwyd has had to make deep cuts. Will he now review the capping criteria, meet the council to review how the grant is set and ensure that there is an improvement in the situation ?