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The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): In 1999 there were 38 Assembly-sponsored public bodies. This followed the merger of the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Land Authority for Wales with the Welsh Development Agency, and the abolition of Tai Cymru. At the end of May 2002 there were 36 such bodies.
Llew Smith: Does the Minister remember the commitment given to the people of Wales that if they voted yes to a Welsh Assembly, the Assembly would make a bonfire of the quangos? Bearing in mind the figures that he just announced, does he accept that there has been no bonfire? Instead, it has been very much a damp squib. When he next meets the First Secretary of the Assembly, will he request that he apologise on its behalf for that publicity stunt, and for its failure to make
Mr. Murphy: I have no intention of making any such comment on the Welsh Rugby Union. However, I reassure my hon. Friend that his robust views will be reported in full to the First Minister. What has happened is that those bodies are now much more locally accountable in Wales than they ever were, and appointments to them are much more open and transparent than they ever were under the previous Administration. I am sure my hon. Friend agrees with that.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have regular discussions with my ministerial colleagues on a range of issues, including manufacturing, which has of course experienced difficulties this year. However, I am pleased to note that the fall in unemployment in Wales is one of the fastest of any region or country in the United Kingdom, and Wales now has lower unemployment than Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Canada and the United States.
Paul Flynn: My right hon. Friend will agree that part of that success story has been the brilliant record of local entrepreneurs, particularly in the high-tech sector and especially in the city of Newport. Does he realise that one very successful high-tech companyalthough still in its embryo stage, it will certainly sell its unique product throughout the worldis in some difficulty because it is outside the objective 1 areas? Alcan had a similar problem in Newport, and is it not true that the present objective 1 map distorts priorities, to the detriment of places such as Newport?
Mr. Murphy: I understand what my hon. Friend says, but he knows that Newport now has an urban regeneration corporation, which is the work of the Welsh Development Agency and the local authority. There will be opportunities to help firms such as Alcan because of the moneysome £20 millionthat the corporation will be able to generate. I also think that the new city of Newport is a great place for companies to invest in, and I wish it well.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): After the right hon. Gentleman's Freudian slip in which he said that he had abolished Plaid Cymru, although we are unabolished at the present time, will he ensure that the £170 million public expenditure cover is allowed for in
Mr. Murphy: I did not make any Freudian slip about Plaid Cymrubut the hon. Gentleman should be careful over the next 11 months, because we might well see, if not the abolition, the demise of his party.
As for the hon. Gentleman's question, I have said that I am in discussion with my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary regarding the spending review, and he cannot expect me to comment on the detail of those discussions at the moment. The Government and the Assembly are not complacent about objective 1. We regard it as vital in regenerating two thirds of the land mass of Wales. We believe that it is working well, and that after seven years Wales will be a much better place because of it.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the proposed closure of Federal Mogul in my constituency, which would lead to the loss of 75 jobs, mainly in manufacturing? Although the economy in Cardiff is buoyant, as my right hon. Friend said, it will be difficult to replace those jobs because of the loss of employment in manufacturing. Will he do all that he can to assist manufacturing in the area?
Mr. Murphy: Of course I will. I am well aware of the matter to which my hon. Friend refers. She knows that we have to manage a changing economy in Wales and that there are unfortunate cases of firms having to close down and move away. She will also be aware that there are now 3,000 more people in work in Wales than there were this time last year, so the overall picture is good. Of course that does not help her constituents, and she can rest assured that I will raise the matter with the Economic Development Minister in the Assembly and the First Ministeralthough she might get there first.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): Does my right hon. Friend welcome the independent report in the Financial Times yesterday that shows increased productivity in manufacturing? Is not that recognition that the sector is moving forward?
Mr. Murphy: Of course I welcome that. We are now seeing an increase in manufacturing activity in Wales, including in my hon. Friend's constituency, where unemployment has come down by nearly 44 per cent. since 1997.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): The Secretary of State and I have regular and wide-ranging discussions with ministerial colleagues in DEFRA and the National Assembly for Wales. Our officials also maintain contact
Mr. Wiggin: Today Members of the European Parliament are investigating foot and mouth and its handling in Wales. Wales now faces a similar crisis with the bovine tuberculosis microbacterium. Does the Minister agree that it is a disgrace and a display of contempt for the rural community that the Labour Administration have appointed Mike German, a Liberal Democrat, to handle their rural affairs brief?
Mr. Touhig: The hon. Gentleman had trouble keeping a straight face when he was asking that questionwhereas the Government take the problem of bovine TB in Wales very seriously. In partnership with our colleagues in the Assembly, we are making available extra resources and extra staff to tackle the problem. As for the appointment of Mr. Mike German to his position in the National Assembly, that is a matter for the First Minister, not for me.
Mr. Jones: The Minister, along with other south Wales MPs, will recently have got a letter from South Wales police saying that heroin and crack cocaine in south Wales have never been as available or as cheap as they are at present, that there are 7,700 problematic heroin and crack cocaine users, and that a conservative estimate is that in 2000, more than 270 people died of drug abuse in south Wales alone. Is that evidence of a drug policy that is working, or one that is failing? Will the Minister note that in Holland, which has a population of 17 million, just 61 people died in the equivalent period? Does he agree that that is testimony not only to the evil of drug pushers but to the cowardice of British politicians from various parties, who prefer to have drugs policies that sound tough rather than ones that work?
Mr. Touhig: I recall that during a debate in Westminster Hall on 22 May, my hon. Friend made a similar point when he said that we should be treating heroin users as a drug problem, not a criminal problem. I can tell him that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already said, in response to the Home Affairs Committee report on our national drugs strategy, that he wants an appropriate extension of the prescription of heroin, but there are no plans for injecting rooms. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will respond to that report before the summer.
I share my hon. Friend's concern about the explosion in the use of crack and heroin in the Welsh valleys. The crime reduction director for Wales, David A'Herne, recently met Welsh MPs and warned of the severe dangers and problems that that will cause. It is important that all
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Does the Minister accept that it is becoming perfectly obvious that simply attacking the drug pushers does nothing to reduce drug usage in a demand-led industry? Many Liberal Democrats and members of other parties believe that it is now time we tried an alternative approach of prescription to recorded addicts, which would undermine the drug pushers and improve the prospects of treatment. Is the hon. Gentleman willing to speak to the Home Secretary about setting up some sort of experiment to test such a policy where it matters mostin the communities that are suffering the most?
Mr. Touhig: As I said in answering my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), the Home Secretary has made it absolutely clear that where appropriate he would consider the extension of prescribing heroin, but that is a matter that will be considered when he responds to the Home Affairs Committee's report. We have to wait for that.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) mentioned drug pushers; drug pushers are parasites on our society who exploit our young people and change them from the sort of children we knew into the sort of children we do not want to know, and it is important that we take a tough line against them. At the end of the day we need a co-ordinated approach, or we will end up with a society that most of us do not want to live in.