Legislative Programme and Pre-Budget Statement

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The Chairman: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his brief speech.

4.14 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I, too, shall endeavour to limit my speech to 10 minutes. [HON. MEMBERS: ``Hear, hear''.] Perhaps I should start off with ``And in conclusion.'' First, I apologise to the Secretary of State for Wales, as I was not here earlier. I also travelled by public transport this morning, on an aeroplane from New York. [HON. MEMBERS: ``Ah.''] Yes, the land of the free, but not the land of the president-elect as yet. It is still early days. It has only been a month.

I have been told what the Secretary of State said and I want to concentrate mostly on the autumn statement as my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) dealt with the Queen's Speech and the Children's Commissioner. We all wish Peter Clarke well in his new appointment. It is an important job and we wish him well.

The Government and their supporters—I point here to the Liberal Democrats—are rather complacent about the booming Welsh economy. Yes, certainly some areas of Wales are doing well: in parts of Cardiff and Swansea, advances have been made, but an article in The Daily Telegraph today refers to a survey by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Under the headline ``More people `living in poverty under Labour''', it says:

    In 1998-99, there were 14.25 million people in households with less than half average income...This is more than double the number of the early 1980s and half a million greater than the previous high point in 1992-93. The numbers with less than 40 per cent of average income have also grown.

Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evans: I will in a moment. This Government were elected on the slogan that things can only get better. What will the hon. Gentleman say to the half a million more people living in poverty in this country?

Mr. Ruane: The hon. Gentleman was not here when I intervened on the same point when it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones). If he reads on he will see that the statistics only go up to 1999 and do not include the new deal, the working families tax credit or the minimum wage.

Mr. Evans: I do not call that much of an apology. That comes from a Government who say that they listen, but when the people of Wales cry out that they want a tick box on the census, they ignore them completely. They are ignoring the plight of people who have become more disadvantaged under this Government in only three and a half years. One need look no further than the M4 corridor to see job losses running into thousands over the past six to nine months, with the prospect of losing thousands more in manufacturing. There is concern that there will be an enormous ripple effect throughout Wales. I hope that Labour Members will take that seriously. The Queen's Speech and the autumn statement were a dreadful lost opportunity to help Wales to survive some of the real problems of lost jobs in manufacturing.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): May I remind the hon. Gentleman that we all accept that there are ups and downs in jobs in various industries, but since we have been in power, the number of jobs in Wales has increased? What record does he have on protesting about the huge job cuts in the steel industry when the Tory Government were in power and more jobs were lost than from any other industry in Wales?

Mr. Evans: Again, there appears to be a lack of listening on the Government side. They say that there does not seem to be a problem and that, yes, there are ups and downs. If thousands more jobs losses are announced over the next few days, will the Government respond that those are ups and downs? The headline in the South Wales Echo on 15 November was ``Wales sees a rise in unemployment''. That was the point that I made to the Minister at Welsh Questions when I was told that there was no rise in unemployment for that month. Indeed, there was a rise. We must take this seriously. We need to establish how we can help to alleviate the problem, particularly for major industries such as the steel industry and, indeed, the new industries that are shedding jobs by the thousand in the south Wales corridor.

I was a bit bemused by the Plaid Cymru approach outlined this morning, which seemed to be to cut tax on diesel, lower corporation tax levies in objective 1 areas and increase the threshold below which people pay no income tax to £7,000. While that is a tremendous wish list, I was struck by the lack of any costing for the project. The right hon. Member for Caernarfon mentioned those three matters specifically. I do not say that those tax changes would not be of any help, but I would like to know who would pay for them.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I was here when my right hon. Friend spoke, and he mentioned something about a threshold of £7,000 in connection with what is happening in Ireland. The hon. Gentleman is not famous for listening or for comprehension, so perhaps he should be a little more careful.

Mr. Evans: I hope that the hon. Gentleman is better at reading than he is at hearing, then, because when he sees the Hansard report of the sitting, he will see that those three areas of taxation were specified by the right hon. Member for Caernarfon as needing to be tackled by the Government. He wanted to know why that was not happening.

In a debate in Westminster Hall the other day, I told hon. Members that I had spoken with several employers' representatives, including the Federation of Small Businesses. They were concerned about the supplementary business rate that could soon be introduced by local authorities in Wales, which could, over five years, add another 5 per cent. to the business rates of small employers. I ask the Government to think again about that. Are they really prepared to give to local authorities a power that would hamper some of the smallest businesses in Wales, which are working on the margins where profits are very tight? Those smaller businesses helped to create jobs in the 1980s and they will again help to create hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the country, but particularly in Wales. I ask the Secretary of State to use his influence with other Ministers to prevent the imposition, through the back door, of that stealth tax on businesses in Wales.

The climate change levy is another measure that will have an enormous, and in some sectors disproportionate, influence in Wales, because of our reliance on manufacturing. That will mean that yet again jobs will be exported from Wales, but not to England. They will go to the Czech Republic, Poland and other east European countries.

On a day when Nice is being discussed throughout the House of Commons, the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) spoke of farming, with a total lack of sympathy. I can only assume that he is not speaking for the Government when he speaks of removing all subsidies from farming unless it has no environmental impact at all. He seems to have no sympathy for farmers in Wales in the worst farming crisis for 60 years. Why was not the Nice summit used as an opportunity to consider reform of the common agricultural policy? Deep reform could be undertaken, which would help farmers in this country and elsewhere in Europe. Farmers in France and Germany, in particular, will now be suffering because of BSE. However, yet again the door is being opened to other countries to join the European Union. We shall have a real problem in Europe and our farmers will have even worse problems than now, unless we get to grips with common agricultural policy reform.

There is of course still a big question mark over joining the euro. Several hon. Members joined me today in meeting representatives of the gaming industry, some of whom came from Wales. We discussed preparations for joining the euro, which will cost the industry hundreds of millions of pounds—just in case. We know from the Labour-dominated Trade and Industry Committee that it will cost well over £30 billion for industry to prepare for joining the single currency. When will the Government have the guts to call the referendum on the single currency? Businesses are being put to enormous cost. Businesses in Wales are looking to the Government for some answers but are being given none.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): Before the hon. Gentleman moves on, I am sure that he would not want to mislead the Grand Committee. He would want to make it clear that the British Amusement Catering Trades Association, with which we dined at lunchtime, has an open mind on the euro's introduction.

Mr. Evans: BACTA does not take a position on joining or not joining the euro; it is up to the Government to take a position and explain it, but we hear nothing from them whatever. They are not a lobby organisation like BACTA, which represents many of its members. We are talking about the Government of the day and we expect them to have answers to these questions. One major question facing the country this century is whether we join the European single currency. I hope that the Secretary of State or the Minister can give us some answers.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Evans: I have only 60 seconds left, so I cannot take any more interventions, much as I would like to do so. I want to mention one aspect of the objective 1 grants being made in Wales. A batch of those grants has been announced, and we shall be considering critically their impact in Wales. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) said that there was a logjam in the Welsh Assembly and that that was part of the problem with objective 1. The Assembly's priorities are amazing: Members are giving themselves new titles, new holidays and a new building. Is it not about time that they prioritised the people of Wales, rather than its politicians? I hope that they will listen to what the people of Wales are saying: they want people, industries and services to be put first, not politicians.

I hope that the Minister can explain to the Welsh people why the Government have prioritised fox hunting. There will be a so-called free vote, but we know from the previous free vote in the House of Commons which way the matter is likely to go. Why will we spend so much time debating fox hunting when there are so many more important issues—including the national health service, education and law and order—to be dealt with in Wales? The Government's action will create a new criminal society in Wales, which will add to the costs of law and order.

It has been said that the Queen's Speech was a cut-and-run speech and the Government are ready to call an early general election. As far as I am concerned, the earlier, the better. With the support that the Government receive from the Liberal Democrats in the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and at Westminster, the Tweedledumbs and Tweedledumbers of politics are working together for one end.

A suggestion has been made, and I should like to issue the Secretary of State for Wales with a challenge. The Conservative party is keen on, and has accepted in principle, the challenge of debates between all the major political parties. We hope that they will take place in Wales. We have said yes, because we are proud of what our party has to offer the people of Wales and we have grave concerns about what the Government have done to the people and services of Wales in the past three and a half years. Constitutionally, economically and in other ways, Wales cannot afford another three and a half to four years of the Labour Government. I hope that the Secretary of State will accept that challenge. We look forward to the election and the fight. I am absolutely certain that the Conservative party will gain many seats throughout Wales at the election.

4.28 pm

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