Budget Statement

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): Twenty-one.

Mr. Thomas: Twenty-one葉hat is excellent news.

Mr. Touhig: It was 21 before; we just could not count them.

Mr. Thomas: There were so many letters that he could not count them.

The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary have been on a trade mission to the Czech Republic. We asked whether they had held any meetings with Consignia on the state of the post offices, but they had not. We asked how many press releases had been sent by the Wales Office, which has three full-time members of staff. There have been 20 press releases in two months, and four publications have been issued since 2000.

I wonder how the Secretary of State and his Under-Secretary can be so under-employed, as I know that that is not what they want. They must be preparing a robust defence of the Barnett formula for submission to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry's investigation on the matter. I hope that in his reply, the Under-Secretary will give us a flavour of that submission, and will say why the formula is good for Wales.

Interesting mention has been made of defence. Several hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Aberavon and for Caerphilly and my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, mentioned what happened in France. It would be remiss and disgraceful for any member of the Committee to make a connection between the open, civic nationalism of Wales and the narrow ethnic

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hatred of Jean-Marie Le Pen in France. To reinforce that point, I add that it is not our party葉he best-known nationalist party in Wales, but not the only one葉hat has met Silvio Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini of the Italian ex-fascist party.

Chris Ruane: What about Mussolini?

Mr. Thomas: Mussolini's daughter is a member of the Italian Government葉he same Government with whom the Prime Minister is prepared to meet and share discussions. That is the truth of the matter. Our party has not been praised by Jorge Haider for being at one with him against the ''forces of conservatism''. It was not our party that today described asylum seekers as ''swamping'' local schools. That was another party. It was not this party that met Le Pen's deputy, Bruno Gollnisch, for a seminar in October 1995 and took him for a drink in the Bar at the House of Commons. It was not this party, and I leave hon. Members to decipher which party it was.

All of us must unite against Le Pen and his ilk預gainst his brand of fascism, narrow nationalism and ethnic hate-ism. All of us must do that, and it will not help Wales or the Welsh language if any hon. Member seeks to make a connection between the hatred that we see in France and the open, welcoming and forward-thinking nationalism that we want to see in Wales.

5.45 pm

Mr. Touhig: Again, we have had a high quality and spirited debate. When we last met, I told the Committee:

    ''The value of this Committee is that it provides an opportunity for the 40 Members of Parliament representing Welsh constituencies to come together and to articulate our hopes, aspirations and desires for the people of Wales. This place is a vital part of the legislature and democracy, and long may that be so.''夕Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 28 November 2001; c. 74.]

Never can that have been more evident than today.

Moreover, today we have shown the clear differences between the parties on the future of a great public service葉he NHS. One party stands squarely behind the NHS and the values that it represents葉his party, the Labour party in Wales. One party is determined to do all that it can to destroy the NHS葉he Tory party.

Conservatives say that there are better alternatives, but they will not say what they are預t least, not publicly. However, we heard the leaked words of their spokesman on health, when he told Tory doctors at their spring conference that the future of the health service was in ''self pay''. That is what they mean by changes in the health service. That is the real policy of the Tories. They believe in tradition all right葉he tradition of the rich having first class health care and the rest of us having poor quality health care. That is what they stand for.

Then there are the nationalists. What can I say10 out of 10 for whingeing, or nought out of 10 for any policy whatsoever? It is easy to complain about the health service and the other services run by the Assembly, but hon. Members in the Committee know, as I do, that our colleagues in the Assembly are making great strides in reforming public services in Wales. The nationalists have no policies whatsoever,

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except the little that we heard today about massive tax increases for the people of Wales. They have not yet learned

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): The hon. Gentleman has seen our alternative Budget. He called us economically illiterate, but will he refer to it today and explain why it is illiterate?

Mr. Touhig: I certainly will, in due course. Be patient.

The nationalists have not learned their lesson, but they will in the next election, when the people of Wales will take a decision based on the policies put forward by the parties in Wales. The only policies that they will support will be those of the Labour party.

Mr. Caton: I shall ask, in a different way, a question that I would have asked about the hon. Member for Ceredigion. Does my hon. Friend find it a surreal experience to hear Plaid Cymru putting forward a United Kingdom Budget rather than a Welsh Budget, in which it would have to show how it would provide high quality public services from the Welsh tax take? Plaid Cymru Members have never answered the question best put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies)擁f their goal is self-government, how would they make up the difference between what we take in Wales and what we spend in Wales?

Mr. Touhig: My hon. Friend makes the point powerfully. The nationalists lack credibility, both in Westminster and Wales. Plaid Cymru seems to have one clear policy葉hat of independence, full national status or a seat in the United Nations, whatever they want to call it. It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr say today, ''While we remain in the United Kingdom''. No doubt we shall soon have a timetable published by the nationalists for when they plan to take Wales out of the United Kingdom. That is what they have led us to believe today. The nationalist party夕Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ceredigion says from a sedentary position, ''The people of Wales won't let you.''

Plaid Cymru cannot welcome the Budget, because it would have to admit a key truth葉hat Wales benefits from being part of the UK and the fourth largest economy on the face of the planet. That is a shame for the Welsh nationalists, because while every day they attack England and English, they are happy to take the money in a Budget for the entire UK. They have no credible policies, as we shall see in the Assembly elections, when they will be swept aside.

Fiscal and public expenditure matters remain the responsibility of the Government and Parliament. It is the Government, in the person of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who are responsible for presenting the Budget, and it is our responsibility as the House of Commons to scrutinise and vote on it. It has been the Committee's duty to scrutinise the Budget, and we have done that well, on both sides. I give that credit. We have done a good job, and I hope that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire will pass

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that on to one of his Assembly Members, who believes that we could be cut back to five Members to represent the whole of Wales.

Devolution has put the Assembly in the driving seat on policy on key devolved matters. Devolution works best through partnership. No one is writing any blank cheques for the national health service in either England or Wales. We shall have to account for every penny. My colleagues in the Assembly want to ensure that they deliver good-quality services, and they want to work in partnership, as we are doing now, to reform the national health service in Wales. The Labour Members know that reform is necessary. Those who are opposed to reform are enemies, not friends, of the national health service.

The Government's first step has been to build on the macro-economics, our economy, the Assembly on which we want to capitalise, and economic performance in Wales. The economic stability that our country now enjoys has been delivered by this Labour Government. Unemployment is falling, and the number of people in work has grown. Indeed, full employment is now within our grasp. The underlying strength of our economy has allowed us to invest in public services. The renewed confidence in Wales and her people is a direct result of the Government's policies. For too long, even at home, we have thought of ourselves as the sick part of the United Kingdom, both figuratively and literally. We have a mission. We must change that perception and ensure that people understand that Wales is not a failing country. If one listens to the nationalists, everything is bad. Wales has much to commend it, and we have a great opportunity. Working in partnership with our colleagues in the Assembly will ensure that the investment is put to good use.

Several hon. Members mentioned that investment must be accompanied by reform, and nowhere is that more important than in the national health service. The NHS has not failed Wales, but it must meet the challenges that the people of Wales will put on it in this new century.

The NHS exists for the care and cure of patients. When we consider new practices and review existing practices in the health service, we must ask what they do for the patient. We must focus on patient needs. It is therefore vital to monitor the NHS and ensure that it meets the targets that we set, a point that was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central. As he reminded us, the Wanless report made it clear that we need an independent audit of the way in which the health service operates.

The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr, who speaks on behalf of the nationalist party, made it clear that he prefers income tax to fund public services. That is fine. I hope that he will explain that to the 565,000 Welsh pensioners who under his policy would pay more taxes to fund the health service. What about those who rely on their savings to produce an income? Increasing income tax would have hit them, too.

The hon. Gentleman also said that the Budget contained nothing for manufacturing. My right hon.

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Friend the Secretary of State referred earlier to the report in this morning's edition of The Western Mail. The steps taken by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will benefit companies in Wales. I saw the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr on television immediately after the Budget announcement, and he said that the increased spending would be swallowed up by inflation. God being ever-merciful, I am glad that he is not an economic adviser to Labour; he can stay with Plaid Cymru.

The hon. Gentleman criticised the use of PFI. My colleagues in the Assembly have made it clear that when it is appropriate to use PFI, they will do so, and when it is appropriate to use other sources for funding public capital expenditure, they will do that. It is clear from today's debate that he regards raising taxation as the way forward. We shall put that to the test when we go to the polls next spring.

The hon. Gentleman ended his speech by saying that Britain was now more divided than when the Government first came to power. The ironic thing about that is that his party wants to divide us more. It wants to tear Wales out of the United Kingdom. How much more divisive can one get?

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central mentioned the problems in the national health service and how we must ensure that standards are driven up. Basic things such as cleaning are important, and we must take steps to ensure that improvements are made.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Ribble Valley does not take much notice of what the public say about the Budget, but 54 per cent. of his party's supporters believe that it was a good Budget, and 76 per cent., according to The Daily Telegraph溶ot a paper that is renowned for supporting the Labour cause預pprove of the Budget. He complains about public spending, but week after week, and only today in Prime Minister's questions, we hear Conservative Members asking for more public expenditure. Yet when we put in more public expenditure, they complain about it. He mentioned inputs and outputs. I hope that when we introduce legislation to measure improvements in the health service, he will back us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon made some important points about the social solidarity that underpins the Budget and how it is intended to help us create a fairer and more just society. I hope that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire feels a little better than he did this morning. He made a thoughtful contribution on the Budget, but said that all the good things seemed to be Liberal Democrats' ideas. I now know the problem that my colleagues have in the bay, in Cardiff, in the Assembly. All the good things, the Liberal Democrats lay claim to; all the difficult things, they blame the Labour party for. The Liberal Democrat party faces two ways at the same time耀omething that it has done for a long time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Mn spoke about the importance of funding the national health

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service. He is right. He mentioned funding for schools. We must ensure that money goes to schools. He contrasted the way in which schools are funded in England and Wales. In Wales, the view is that money goes to schools via local authorities. We must be certain that all the money goes, unlike in the case of Plaid Cymru-run Caerphilly county borough council, which creamed off 」1 million of the extra money given to schools in our area last year.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire spoke about taxes on business. The Government have a good record of cutting taxes for business, throughout the time that we have been in office. The hon. Gentleman said that initially he welcomed the aggregates tax, but when he met people opposed to it, he backed off. That is a typical Liberal Democrat approach.

My hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) spoke with feeling against discrimination. She was right to speak as she did. It is right to link employment difficulties to helping the Welsh language. We do not want any more headlines such as ''Town daubed with racist graffiti'', which we saw in newspapers in north Wales. We will not help the language in that way. We will help the language only by ensuring that there are jobs and affordable housing in areas in which it is the first language耀ome key parts of Wales.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) welcomed the fall in the number of jobless people. In every Welsh constituency, unemployment has fallen since the Government came to power.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore. We almost did not make it; we were both locked in a lift a few minutes before 4 o'clock. He made an important and worthy speech, and we look forward to hearing more from him in due course.

Other comments were made by my hon. Friends the Members for Monmouth and for Caerphilly (Mr. David). I do not mind where it is based, whether in his half of the borough or mine, but let us make sure that we get a new hospital.

Today's speeches have shown that the Budget makes an important contribution to Wales, the Welsh economy and the health service in Wales. Wales has a huge amount to gain from the Budget. It offers the possibility of revitalising our public services and achieving full employment, and ways of encouraging economic activity and moving people out of poverty and into work. It is based on the fact that we have a stable economy. I commend the Budget to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the matter of the Budget Statement and its implications for Wales.

Committee rose at Six o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Griffiths, Mr. Win (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Anderson, Mr. Donald
Brennan, Kevin
Bryant, Mr.
Caton, Mr.
David, Mr.
Edwards, Mr.
Evans, Mr.
Howarth, Mr. Alan
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jones, Mr. Jon Owen
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Knight, Mr.
Lawrence, Mrs.

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Llwyd, Mr.
Lucas, Ian
Murphy, Mr. Paul
ヨpik, Lembit
Owen, Albert
Price, Adam
Ruane, Chris
Tami, Mark
Thomas, Gareth
Thomas, Mr. Simon
Touhig, Mr.
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mr. Roger

 
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Prepared 24 April 2002