Pre-Budget Statement (Implications for Wales)

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9. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): What recent discussions he has had with the Health Secretary in the National Assembly for Wales regarding the provision of out-of-hours pharmacy services in south Wales. [16517]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I regularly meet the National Assembly First Minister and the Minister for Health and Social Services to discuss the national health service in Wales. We cover specific subjects such as pharmacies when appropriate.

Mr. Bryant: May I urge my hon. Friend to push the issue of the availability of out-of-hours pharmacy services in south Wales? In my constituency, no pharmacy is open on bank holiday Mondays, at weekends, in the evening or through the night. That means that many people who have been to hospital and been told that they must get a prescription—for a seven or eight-year-old child, for example—have to make a 15 or 20-mile round trip to Nantgarw or Llantrisant to find an out-of-hours pharmacy. All the out-of-hours pharmacies in south Wales seem to be based in Tesco's and nowhere else.

Mr. Touhig: I am aware of my hon. Friend's sustained campaign on this matter. I think that he posed questions on it to my right hon. Friend during Welsh questions in the House in October.

Health authorities are responsible for approving pharmacists' contract hours. In the case of the Rhondda hospital that my hon. Friend talks about, Bro Taf health authority is in discussions with local health groups and NHS contractors to see whether the hours can be extended to give patients greater access to pharmacies. The matter needs to be resolved locally.

My hon. Friend has been pushing us hard, and no doubt my right hon. Friend will give him every help and support when he discusses the subject further with the Assembly's Minister for Health and Social Services. This difficult problem is not confined to the Rhondda; it exists in many other valley communities. We are working to try to find a successful solution that enables people to access pharmacies at different times when they want to.

Tir Gofal

10. Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): What representations he has received on the effects of Treasury clawback on the moneys allocated to the Tir Gofal scheme in Wales.[16518]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): None.

Adam Price: The Secretary of State has been brief—but he will be aware that European Union receipts can be drawn down from the Intervention Board by the Countryside Council for Wales for Tir Gofal. The Treasury can claw that back from the Assembly. In other member states, however, European funds for similar schemes are used not to compensate central Government but to increase the budgets for those schemes. Wales is losing out to the tune of millions of pounds because of the Treasury clawback. What action will the Secretary of State take to ensure that funding for Tir Gofal in Wales is genuinely additional?

Mr. Murphy: It is probably wrong to use the term ``clawback''; advance payment is a better description. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Countryside Council for Wales, which operates the scheme, allocates a grant at the start of the year to cover its full cost. That is to cover both the part that will ultimately be met by domestic taxation and the element that will ultimately be covered by the European Union. That is an efficient way to proceed, because it allows the CCW to allocate its budget in full, without having to wait for the EU element to be claimed and processed. When, retrospectively, the EU contribution arrives, it is repaid to the Assembly, which in turn repays central Government. That is the normal arrangement.

Energy

11. Albert Owen (Ynys Môn): What discussions he has had with the Minister with responsibility for energy with reference to the performance and innovation unit's remit with regard to Wales.[16519]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): I am a member of the PIU energy review advisory group and I regularly discuss the review and its impact in Wales with the Minister responsible for energy. In addition, a PIU seminar was held in Wales on 27 September to take the views of Assembly representatives, Assembly-sponsored public bodies and representatives of the energy industry in Wales.

Albert Owen: My hon. Friend will be aware that the aim of the PIU review is to set out a long-term strategy and policies, including a policy for renewable energy. Does he agree that that provides an excellent opportunity for additional jobs in the energy sector, and will he press the Minister responsible for energy to seek the views of Welsh Members of Parliament, particularly those whose constituencies have major employers in that sector?

Mr. Touhig: I have sought to inform my contributions to the PIU discussions. I recently had meetings with Scottish Power and I was at Tower colliery on Monday, listening to the co-operative owners speak about the important role that they must play in the future of our energy supply. The PIU is gathering its final evidence, and a report will be sent to the Prime Minister and published before long. It would not be proper for me to comment on the contents, but I take note of my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I am delighted to hear that the Under-Secretary is on the review working party. He will know that Wales contributes 40 per cent. of renewable energy to the United Kingdom grid from wind energy, and that we have a huge potential for job creation. Looking forward to what the PIU report is likely to say, will he take the opportunity to reject the idea of any new nuclear power station in Wales?

Mr. Touhig: It would not be proper for me to make any commitment on that until the PIU report is published. When it has been published, people will be able to debate its contents and make submissions to the Government as appropriate. I note the hon. Gentleman's point about renewables. There have been problems with planning consent, and I hope that they will be addressed when the report is published. On the subject of nuclear power, it would not be appropriate at this stage for me to give any comment or commitment.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): Following my hon. Friend's visit to Tower colliery, he will be aware that the next three years' production of coal has already been purchased by the Aberthaw power station. Will he assure the Committee that he will make representations to ensure that any review considers the strategic importance of older coal-fired power stations such as Aberthaw? That is especially important in relation to the security of the energy supply to south Wales industry.

Mr. Touhig: I take note of my hon. Friend's point. Indeed, I recommend a good debate held in the other place on cleaner coal technology about a week ago. I had some chance discussions last week with Lord Ezra, who made a major contribution to the coal industry and continues to take an active interest in its future. I am aware of the importance of coal to our economy in terms of our energy needs and supply. I will take my hon. Friend's points on board, and I believe that they will be reflected when the PIU report is published.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Does the Under-Secretary accept that the best way to reduce pollution is to reduce the energy requirement? Does he agree that it is incumbent on us to work with the Assembly to find creative solutions that reduce the need to produce energy, however clean it may be?

Mr. Touhig: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I will be taking part in a ``Warmer Homes'' event in my constituency in the next week—it is possible that other hon. Members will be doing the same in their constituencies—and we must do everything possible to increase the insulation of our homes and buildings, and thereby reduce our energy demands.

Rural Businesses

12. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): What recent representations he has received from small and medium-sized rural (a) businesses and (b) sub-post office operatives; and if he will make a statement.[16520]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): During our visits to Wales over the summer, my hon. Friend and I met many representatives of small and medium-sized rural businesses, in addition to receiving regular representations in the Department.

Mr. Llwyd: I have already had a response about sub-post offices. The Secretary of State will know that about 90 per cent. of unemployment in Wales is in the smaller and medium-sized business sector. Many people feel that more should be done to expand the sector, and yesterday's reference to simplifying VAT for that sector is a good move forward. Will he build on that and ensure that we concentrate on a sector that is of extreme importance to Wales and the Welsh economy?

Mr. Murphy: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of small and medium-sized businesses to the Welsh economy. We work in partnership with the National Assembly for Wales, which deals with small businesses, Business Connect Wales, Finance Wales and objective 1 funding on several issues. I will refer to other matters during my address later.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): My right hon. Friend may recall a meeting of sub-post office representatives in Gwent, which took place before the performance and innovation unit report on the future of the post office network. Will he give an assurance that the PIU recommendations will be implemented, and does he agree that sub-post offices could provide many more Government services, including, for example, tax discs for car drivers? Should we not welcome such simple innovations?

Mr. Murphy: Yes, we should. My hon. Friend has already touched on the question of post offices in more detail, and the £270 million that has been invested in post offices in the country. I know my hon. Friend's constituency well, and he rightly points to the importance of small post offices in the rural parts of Monmouthshire.

 
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Prepared 28 November 2001