Legislative Programme

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Mr. Jon Owen Jones: In his talks with the Welsh Assembly, will my right hon. Friend warn against the possibility of the Assembly's walking down the path laid out by the Scottish Parliament? The abandonment of tuition fees and the introduction of graduate endowment in Scotland has resulted in the students from the poorest backgrounds inheriting a larger debt than they would under the present system. Some straight talking is needed, but unfortunately some politicians indulge in a great deal of crooked talking in order to gain political benefit.

Mr. Murphy: It is not up to me to warn the Assembly about anything, but I shall bring to its attention the points that my hon. Friend has rightly made. He referred to the claim that student fees in Scotland have been abolished; they have not. The coalition Government in Scotland considered the issue and decided that they wanted a different system, whereby fees have to be paid afterwards rather than up front. That is generally misunderstood in the rest of the country.

Miners' Compensation

7. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): Will the Secretary of State for Wales make a statement on progress in settling miners' compensation claims for respiratory disease and vibration white finger in Wales? [2234]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): To date in Wales there have been 16,041 compensation payments, totalling £75.5 million paid out; £38.7 million was paid to claimants for respiratory diseases and £36.8 million to those claiming compensation under vibration white finger schemes. Much remains to be done but I am encouraged by what has been achieved so far, especially by co-operation with the coal health claims monitoring group, set up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, which met yesterday. It has made progress in speeding up claims for compensation in Wales.

Ann Clwyd: Everyone acknowledges that the Labour Government are delivering; the previous Tory Government and British Coal resisted miners' claims for years. Nevertheless, there is much frustration and annoyance in my constituency. Some of the angriest scenes I encountered during the election campaign involved ex-miners. One, a man of 92 asked, ``Where is my money?'' I would not argue with a man of that age who asked such a question; one has to ask, ``Where is his money?''—and the answer is that his money is caught up in a bureaucratic mess.

I realise that the claims are enormous and that no one has had to deal with such large amounts before. I have a letter about a man with white finger, which states:

    ``It is noted that in December 2000, the Minister said an offer would be made within two weeks. The process was set in motion that was unfortunately delayed when the DSS did not supply a Certificate of Recoverable Benefits.''

Another case concerns a man who died; his widow is waiting for compensation, but I was told that the local health authority was being obstructive in allowing access to hospital scans and other records. That is bureaucracy. Surely there is some way of ensuring that Departments are joined up and bureaucratic bungling is eliminated, so that the miners who are waiting for their compensation get it as soon as possible.

Mr. Touhig: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's steadfast support for the mining community, not just in the great battle to keep Tower, but over miners' compensation. She has worked extremely hard. She has been diligent and has given huge support to everyone who has campaigned throughout the coalfields. The unions in particular value that.

The Government are totally committed to meeting their responsibility to pay compensation under the lung function disease compensation scheme and the vibration white finger scheme. Indeed, one in three of all claimants in Wales has now received a payment of some sort: a bereavement payment for widows, full and final settlement or an interim payment. I share my hon. Friend's concern, particularly for the most elderly miners, who feel that the system is taking far too long. I have not met a miner yet who wants this for the money; they simply want their suffering to be recognised.

The priority as set down by the monitoring group in Wales and supported by the Department of Trade and Industry is that compensation should be given first to the oldest miners, those who are most ill, and widows. We are pressing ahead with that as fast as we can. There are awful glitches in the scheme; we heard about some instances yesterday. However, the forum that my right hon. Friend has set up in Wales is making a difference. If my hon. Friend gives us the details of the particular cases that she mentioned, we will take them to the monitoring group to see whether we can overcome the difficulties and move things forward.


9. Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): If he will seek additional funding from the Treasury for the National Assembly for Wales to provide support for Powys tourist businesses affected by the foot and mouth crisis. [2236]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): Both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and Wales Office officials maintain regular contact with the Treasury, particularly concerning consequential funds for the National Assembly arising from UK Government initiatives to help deal with the impact of the foot and mouth crisis.

Mr. Williams: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that answer, but it brings little relief to small tourist businesses in Powys. I met two groups over the weekend, the Beacons Trust and the Powys Rural Business Campaign. They both made it clear that some small businesses will not survive the lean winter that lies ahead, and are taking advantage of the extra promotion being promised by the Welsh tourist board. They also noted that the Treasury has made extra funding available to regional development agencies in England to deal with the crisis in Cumbria and Devon. They would like similar allocations to be made for Powys. Powys is a special case. We have no coastline to compensate for the countryside. Our tourist attractions are very good, but they are few and far between. The countryside is all in Powys, and unless we have some help many businesses will not survive the winter.

Mr. Touhig: I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about what has been happening to the tourist industry, in our rural areas in particular. Securing adequate funds for Wales is one of the top priorities of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and he has a proud record of delivery. In June this year the Wales Office claimed consequential funds of about £750,000 for the Assembly as a result of additional funding provided by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to help rural businesses to recover from the impact of foot and mouth disease on tourism. In addition, the Assembly will receive a further £350,000 from a £6 million fund announced by the English Tourism Council and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

The spending of those funds is a matter for the Assembly, but the UK Government have taken a number of initiatives, including providing support under the small firms loan guarantee scheme. There have been arrangements for deferment of tax, VAT and national insurance payments, all without penalty, to help small rural businesses. I also remind the hon. Gentleman of the Assembly's own £12 million initiative to help local authorities to provide business rate relief in rural areas. The Wales tourist board has announced a further £1.1 million to help relaunch tourism in Wales.

Those initiatives are building blocks to try to rebuild confidence within the community in tourism in Wales, and they also recognise the particular difficulties that constituents such as those of the hon. Gentleman suffer as a result of the outbreak of foot and mouth. I came down through his constituency from north Wales this week, and I urge as many people as possible to visit our beautiful countryside wherever it is possible and safe to do so. The area has much to offer, and I hope that we can do much more to help the businesses to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Livestock Sales

10. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): What representations he has made, and what discussions he has had with, the First Secretary on the subject of livestock sales in Wales; and if he will make a statement. [2237]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales regularly meets the First Secretary to discuss a variety of issues. Conventional sales at livestock marts are unlikely for some time because of the foot and mouth problems. I understand that the National Assembly, the Scottish Executive and officials from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are in discussion to determine how a form of regulated trading might be created.

Mr. Llwyd: I thank the Minister for that refreshingly full and useful answer. The point of my question is that livestock markets will not be available in the next three months, and unless we are careful there will be a huge fall-out in the autumn. I am mindful of what the Minister says, and I am pleased that the initiatives are being pursued.

Mr. Touhig: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman raised that point. I have also heard it from hill farmers in my constituency, who do not know how they will dispose of their stock in the autumn. The Government recognise the enormous difficulties of farmers, but foot and mouth disease poses real risks and veterinary advice must be paramount in the Government's decision making. I hope that, through the discussions that are taking place, we can find innovative ways of allowing farmers to trade during the awful problem of foot and mouth.

Legislative Programme

11 am

The Chairman: I remind hon. Members that we have until 1 pm and from 4 to 6 pm for the debate.

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