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Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): At the start of this long list of Government achievements, the hon. Gentleman gave three headline figures for poverty in Wales which were the legacy of the Conservative Government when the Labour party took over. Will he give the current figures, so that the people of Wales can see what has been achieved in the past four years--not what will be achieved?

Mr. Bayley: The hon. Gentleman may have stopped concentrating for a minute. I gave him the unemployment

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figures for May 2000. [Interruption.] He asks me a question, then he will not listen to the answer. He asked for figures for May 1997.

Mr. Thomas: No.

Mr. Bayley: Yes. The hon. Gentleman asked for figures for May 1997 and for more recent figures. I have given him the figures that are available, which are the unemployment figures. Unemployment has come down in Wales.

Mr. Thomas: I fear that I may have misled the Minister, although not deliberately. I referred him to the three headline figures that he used at the start of his list of Government achievements. They had nothing to do with the unemployment figures. He referred to the number of children in fatherless, unemployed households, and the number in pensioner poverty. What are those figures after four years? He has not given them.

Mr. Bayley: Those figures for Wales, as opposed to the United Kingdom as a whole, are not yet available because of the way in which the statistics are collected. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that the number of children growing up in workless households is down in Wales as it is elsewhere in the UK. That is good. Some of the other figures will take longer, because they are produced two years after the event. They will be published, and we should and will be judged by them. Progress is being made, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that more is needed. We cannot wipe out 20 years of increasing social exclusion and deprivation under the previous Government in just a few years. It is a long haul, but we have started.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): While the Minister is rattling through this glorious Government's wonderful list of achievements, will he give some attention to the farming industry, which is suffering greatly under this Government? Will he tell us how many people have left farming, and the levels of income in the industry under this Administration?

Mr. Bayley: The hon. Gentleman ignores his party's lamentable record on farming. The level of support for farming, in Wales and elsewhere, is higher than the level of support for all other industries put together. I do not deny for a minute that smaller farmers have real problems, but our Government are addressing those problems.

To encourage people to move from welfare into work, we need to ensure that work pays. We have introduced the national minimum wage, which is helping about 90,000 workers in Wales. As I have said, we are doing more to give extra help to pensioners: the minimum income guarantee has already helped around 95,000 of the poorest pensioners in Wales.

Over the weekend I read the Select Committee's report. It is a very good report, but let me be clear about one thing. Those 95,000 pensioners who benefit from the guarantee would not have gained at all from an earnings uprating of the basic state pension, because every penny that they received on the basic pension would have been taken off their income support.

The Tories may have different plans, but let me make it crystal clear that under this Labour Government the basic state pension will remain the foundation of

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retirement income. For most people, however, the best way to secure a good standard of living in retirement is to contribute to a good second pension. As a result of our reforms, more people than ever will retire with better second pensions, and some will be able to receive such pensions for the first time ever.

As we promised, we are building on SERPS through the new state second pension, and 18 million people will have significantly better second pensions as a result. For the lower paid, the state second pension will in some cases more than double what they would have received under SERPS. That means that someone earning £120 a week will be £40 a week better off in retirement than he or she would have been under the Tories.

Moreover, for the first time, full-time parents, carers and disabled people will receive more money in retirement. For example, a state second pension of £50 a week, on top of the basic state pension, will be available to someone who has been a carer throughout his or her adult life. For people who cannot have access to occupational pensions and for whom personal pensions are inappropriate, we have introduced stakeholder pensions, which are flexible, secure and good value for money. They are revolutionising the way the pensions industry does business, by cutting charges, although they are coming on stream only from April this year. Those reforms mean that more and more people will retire on decent incomes. We will ensure that people who save during their working lives are rewarded.

More recently, my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Social Security announced further help for vulnerable groups. We are tackling pensioner poverty by aligning all the rates of the minimum income guarantee with the highest rate. The winter fuel payment has been increased from £150 to £200 for this winter only, as part of a bridge to our new pension credit. We have abolished capital limits in the sure start maternity grant and funeral payments, to ensure that families on low incomes with small amounts of savings receive support to help cover the costs associated with the birth of a baby or the death of a close relative.

We have introduced a package of measures to help carers and the severely disabled on low incomes. That means that from April this year there will be an extra £10 a week for carers on income support, increasing the rate from £14.15 to £24.40. The disabled child premium, within income support, will rise from £22.25 to £30, a real-terms increase of £7.40. The new disability income guarantee will increase the weekly incomes of the poorest and most severely disabled people by £7.25 a week for single people and children and by £11.05 a week for couples, which means that a single person on DIG will receive £142 a week while couples will get £186.80.

These policies are already making a difference to people's lives, but we are developing more. By 2003 we shall be introducing the integrated child credit, a new employment tax credit and a pension credit to reward pensioners who have worked and saved hard during their working lives.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Bayley: No, I shall not.

We are already witnessing real change as a result of our policies. The close consultation and co-operation between the United Kingdom Government and the

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devolved Administration lie at the heart of our joined-up strategy. We are determined to continue to make a difference to people who live in Wales by providing real opportunity for all.

4.30 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I am grateful to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate.

Mr. Ruane: Where are the hon. Gentleman's mates?

Mr. Evans: Plenty of my mates will be here after the next general election. We will be sitting on the Government Benches, not on the Opposition Benches. We look forward to that and we will miss the hon. Gentleman.

I have been told that the Secretary of State cannot be here because he is having a meeting with the Prime Minister today about the steel job losses. I accept that fully. I hope that considerable progress can be made at that meeting. I urge the Minister to encourage lobbying for the traditional 1 March debate, so that we can discuss Welsh issues on a much wider scale.

This is a vital debate on social exclusion, poverty and job losses in Wales. I welcome the Minister, with his particular remit on social security. As we have heard, he knows his statistics well, although many people living in Wales will be scratching their heads and wondering how much of that relates to them. I think that he will understand what I mean when I refer to certain sectors in Wales that he failed to mention.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said that there were many interpretations of social exclusion. He referred to the rural economy, although the Minister made scant reference to it. It plays a dominant part in Wales. We need a vital rural economy to ensure that many people, particularly those living in west, mid and north Wales, can benefit from any growth in the economy generally.

Mr. Öpik: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the rural economy is affected by the on-going loss of manufacturing jobs in places such as mid-Wales? For example, uncertainty surrounds 200 jobs at the firm formerly known as BSK, in Llanidloes. Does he agree that it is incumbent on the Government to work with the Assembly in Wales to ensure that those rural jobs are not forgotten, despite the situation at Corus, which naturally gives rise to concern?

Mr. Evans: I rarely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but on this occasion I do. Manufacturing jobs are vital: if jobs in rural areas are lost, it will be incredibly difficult to attract industry back to those areas. Infrastructural and service problems exist there, so losing 200 jobs in a rural area has a greater impact than it would in an urban area. Long-term problems of attracting jobs back to rural areas is that much more difficult.


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