Legislative Programme and Pre-Budget Statement

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Mr. Ruane: Absolutely, just as they surcharged London councillors.

The Tories say that they want to match Labour's policy on pensions. Now that we are coming up to the election, they are saying that they will match like for like and ensure that people receive the same. They had 18 years in which to do that, and they did not do it. Let us contrast that with Labour's record. Under Labour, we have an insulation programme. The Tories had an insulation programme in the cold winter of 1985, but the following year, it was abolished. It was for the poorest pensioners. Those who had less than £500 in savings could apply for it. My own 76-year-old mother was lucky enough to receive it. However, the following year it was abolished.

Let us consider the cold weather payment—£200 for every pensioner household in the country. Pensioners need not fear turning on their gas or electricity to keep warm this Christmas. We have given free television licences to the over-75s, and the minimum income guarantee is critical in ensuring that our pensioners do not experience the poverty that they experienced under the Conservatives. I have already mentioned my mother. In 1997, she was on the lowest income possible—£68 a week. Next year she will be on £92; the following year, £100. That makes a real difference to a pensioner. It is a massive rise, and pensioners in my constituency appreciate it.

I was with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales in Denbigh last Thursday, in Bryn Seion, and the pensioners there were grateful for what we have done. They said, ``Thank you, Christmas has come early because of that £200 cold weather payment, and we are thankful for free TV licences.'' I do not believe that that is enough. I was embarrassed by their gratitude. They deserve more. Many of them fought, or brought up families, in the war. My constituents on council estates and in sheltered accommodation know what they will receive if the Conservatives get in next year. [Interruption.] Increases like that in 1986? Any help will be abolished, and any replacements will not match what Labour has proposed—and they will be taxed.

We are doing an excellent job on the two issues of reviving the Welsh economy and treating pensioners in Wales fairly. They are under direct threat from Plaid Cymru, with its negative attitude to the Welsh economy and its talking Wales down, and from the Conservatives, with their measly and niggardly attitude towards pensioners in Wales. Let us be careful. We have been warned.

4.43 pm

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): The barefaced effrontery that we hear from supporters of the previous Government never ceases to amaze me. They need to be reminded of their legacy. I am sure that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley would admit that Baroness Thatcher is one of his great political heroines, but let us briefly consider what happened in Wales and one or two key and stark statistics of the care and concern that the Conservative Government supposedly had for Wales.

In 1980, claimant count unemployment in Wales was slightly more than 84,000. By 1988, it had increased to nearly 124,000. It started to come down, but when Baroness Thatcher left office, unemployment was several thousand higher than when she came to office. We shall take no lectures from the Conservative party about the fact that some industries are experiencing difficult times. We must examine the Labour record this time around, which is about more people in work, employment increasing and unemployment coming down. When we face the electorate, whether it be in May or June next year, or even as late as May 2002, we can be happy. We can point to a Wales that has recovered. We should remember that every day of the week.

We must also remember that this Labour Government, unlike most in the past, have learned some lessons about the way in which Labour Governments governed in the past. Unfortunately, Labour Administrations have tended to view government as a sprint, in which they have to do as much as possible as quickly as possible for the people who have suffered in Tory years. This time, we can see that after the marathon 18-year Tory disaster, a marathon 18-year or more Labour success is needed. We are pacing ourselves very carefully.

I am sure that everybody in the Committee knows, whatever pastimes or sports they may have indulged in, that when one moves from one arena to another—from the first division to the premier league—one wonders how well one will do. To achieve success, the right level must be found. In the three and a half years of this Labour Government we have found that level. We have not rushed things: we have developed them. We took a lot of criticism for promising not to make any major alteration to the spending plans of the previous Government in the first two years. When one looks at the record, however, we did tweak things a little to get some more money into health, for example—more than £12 million in the first year and more than £99 million in the second year. We managed to get some extra money in, but not to the point at which the economy would be endangered.

As the Tories often used to preach, the important point is that nothing can be done unless the economy is strong. We now have a strong and stable economy, and we can see the difference that that is making in Wales. For example, there is the money that has been and will be transferred to Wales under the Barnett formula. In year one, under Tory spending plans, the amount went up by only 0.4 per cent., but in the second year it went up by 2.7 per cent., just above inflation. In the third year, the figure was 8.2 per cent., well above inflation. In 2000-01, the current year, it is more than 6 per cent., again well above inflation. For the next financial year, it is planned to be 10 per cent.; the following year, 8.2 per cent.; and the year after that, 7.1 per cent. Given our record on inflation, we know that, every year, the amount coming to Wales will be two to three times more than the rate of inflation. That money will go into improving services in Wales.

We can be confident—both this side of the election and the next—that the Welsh economy will grow and more people will find jobs, although we must admit that there are some parts of Wales where that is much more difficult. Objective 1 status has been achieved to enable us to tackle problems in those difficult areas. We cannot give any credence to any criticism from Conservative Members.

Many hon. Members have already mentioned the significant, history-making Children's Commissioner for Wales and the speed with which the Government have shown how the devolution settlement is working. Some people might have liked rather more than we received, but it is working. There was and is a quick response. We will have a Children's Commissioner for Wales of whom, I am sure, we will be proud. I am sure that Peter Clarke will make a good job of it. When the Bill is presented to Parliament, that will be the time to debate fully how the post will operate.

The Bill on special educational needs and disability is another critical measure. Some advances were made in the Tory years, and although there were some difficulties, a code of practice was set up. We supported the Government in that respect and appreciated the need for clear guidelines on how help would be provided. I am confident that the Bill will deal with the remaining problems, but I accept that the then Government took a significant step forward when they established the special needs tribunal.

Unfortunately, because of disputes about whether the money for special needs under the formula will go to schools, whether it will be the responsibility of the local authority and whether it will apply in stage three and four, parents still have tremendous battles to obtain the help that they need. I hope that the new Bill will ensure that parents of children with special needs in the United Kingdom will receive that support.

Let us consider the criminal justice Bill. Although the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy implied that it was part of an English agenda, it is not. It is part of an England and Wales agenda. All of us can think of a few places in our constituencies through which our constituents do not feel safe walking at night and where special measures are required. The Bill will help to solve some of those problems. Extra police will be on the beat. In my area, the South Wales police are using the new resources in the most effective and efficient way possible, not just putting a few people here and there but focusing on the problem areas. I look forward to matters improving, not worsening as they did under the Tories, when crime doubled but the number of convictions dropped by a third. The chances of being a victim of violent crime trebled and the chances of being a victim of burglary more than doubled. The Bill will help us to tackle that legacy.

I welcome the opportunity to vote on hunting. I certainly hope that we shall get rid of it in Wales. The measures concerning homes are important.

Mr. Öpik: I am sorry for intervening each time hunting is mentioned, but will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that a significant proportion of the rural world believes that it is a matter not of whether we kill foxes, but of how we can do it most efficiently?

Mr. Griffiths: There is an issue about how foxes are killed, but I am confident that the least efficient way is by hunting on horses with hounds.

I look forward to the national health service plan being implemented in Wales in the most efficient manner possible. There are savings to be made and I am confident that, under the Government, in partnership with the National Assembly for Wales, we will see a steady improvement in our public services and the prosperity of our people, and that is thanks to the way in which the Labour party has managed the economy and provided additional funding for public services.

4.54 pm

 
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Prepared 11 December 2000