Draft National Health Service (Wales) Bill

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Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): I am delighted at the news. Betws colliery paid for my

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university education, and as a result of this statement, more than 100 families in my constituency will continue to have employment. The investment aid will create the potential to expand that to between 250 and 300 jobs in the near future. I am glad that, on this occasion, the Government have listened and understood the logic of the case that Plaid Cymru and others have been putting since the beginning of the year.

I should like to raise with the Secretary of State the urgent issue of the availability of employer liability insurance in the mining sector. That matter has already resulted in the closure of one mine in the north of England and is a problem for Betws colliery, too.

Mr. Murphy: I take the hon. Gentleman's point and shall certainly relate it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's other points, he has, quite rightly, made representations on behalf of his constituents in Betws, as indeed have other hon. Members in Committee and in the Assembly. The joint effort made by all of us has obviously paid off. It is important, not just symbolically but in real terms, that there are hundreds of people who still work in the coal industry in Betws, Tower—in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd)—and elsewhere. The announcement is bound to be good news for them.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): This news will be welcome throughout coal-mining areas, and particularly those that still exist in Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales came to the launch of a book on Tower called ''Tower of Strength'' last week. We were pleased to see him there.

Tower is a viable pit. It has made a profit year in, year out, since the miners became its owners. Everyone pays tribute to its success. This scheme, which will be very much welcomed, shows the Government's commitment to continuing to support a source of energy that is indigenous to our country. Unlike the previous Government, whose main aim seemed to be to close every pit in sight, this Government are continuing to invest in those pits that have a viable future, such as that in my constituency which has a work force of 400, and might have even more if the scheme is extended. I remember going to Europe with people from Tower colliery some years ago. The Energy Minister there said that he would like to support us, but that the rules prevented him from doing so. I hope that we shall see some developments when the talks continue with the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr. Murphy: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As well as going down the pit for 24 hours, she has played a uniquely important role to ensure that Tower colliery remained a viable proposition. In fact, it has gone from being viable to a highly successful company in its own right. She was right to remind the Committee that Tyrone O'Sullivan came to the House of Commons last week to launch his book. It is a shame that he will not be in the Welsh Assembly, but he wants to ensure that Tower colliery goes from strength to strength. The

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investment aid scheme may be of use to the colliery, but my hon. Friend was also right to point out that the Government believe that there is a future for mining in Wales, which is why one scheme has been extended and another has been introduced.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): I, too, congratulate the Government on their success in obtaining the funding that will ensure the continuation of the coal industry in Wales and give it confidence over the years to come. It is particularly significant that that accomplishment has been gained through partnership and working together for the benefit of the people we represent, rather than through pulling things apart. Tower colliery is important to my constituents. At one time, the surrounding communities of Hirwaun and Penderyn were part of the Brecon and Radnor constituency and we still maintain links.

The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) referred to the difficulty that certain operations in Wales have in obtaining employer liability insurance. I do not mean only small pits and drift mines, but quarries. During the past few weeks, quarries in my constituency have had to make people redundant. They are in a state of suspended animation, wondering whether they can renew their employer liability insurance. Anything that the Government can do to assist them will be gratefully accepted.

Mr. Murphy: That point was made by the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr and I shall certainly pass it on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I welcome the remarks of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams). We all agree that it is appropriate for a Welsh Grand Committee still to be discussing the future of the coal industry in Wales, despite the problems that we have experienced in the past. It is important to our constituencies. We must remember our heritage and the fact that we owe a great debt to the miners of south and north Wales for what they have done over the years. If we can go some way to ensure that we repay that debt, all the better.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. He said that there have been problems in the mining industry, not only in Wales, but throughout the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) referred to mine closures under the Conservative Administration. That has continued under the current Administration and we have heard sad news today about the closure of the Selby complex with the loss of 2,000 jobs.

Given that the European Coal and Steel Community treaty will end after a 50-year run, the statement on coal state aid is timely. It will give security to the industry. I do not suppose that the Secretary of State has the answer at his fingertips, but the announcement from Europe affects not only this country, but several other coal-producing areas of the European Union. I should be interested to know how Wales and, indeed, the whole of the United Kingdom,

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compares with other countries, especially Germany, to see if we are receiving a good deal. Because of the flexibility that will come about as a result of the ending of the ECSC treaty, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the Committee what action he has taken on steel, especially in light of the announcement about Allied Steel and Wire Ltd. in Cardiff going into administration? If the same pressure could be brought to bear on the steel industry—it is the same treaty—surely we could get short-term support for that industry as well.

Mr. Murphy: On steel, the big issue that has exercised the minds of Governments is the United States' tariffs. It was important for the European Union as a whole to deal with that because it has a serious impact on steel, although it did not particularly affect ASW. I take the hon. Gentleman's general points, and I shall write to him about what other European countries are doing with regard to the European Coal and Steel Community treaty.

We have negotiated the flexibility to which the hon. Gentleman referred to pay investment aid at up to 30 per cent. of the cost of viable investment projects in the new European coal state aid regime, which he rightly said replaces the current regime that expires next week. That is why there was urgency. The operating aid scheme extends to the end of the year, but the investment aid scheme is new and will be introduced in the new calendar year.

The Chairman: We now come to the main debate. I remind hon. Members that we have from now until 1 pm, and that the debate can continue from 4 pm until 6 pm.

Draft National Health Service (Wales) Bill

[Relevant document: The Third Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 2001–02, on the draft NHS (Wales) Bill, HC 959.]

11.37 am

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the matter of the draft National Health Service (Wales) Bill.

I shall not detain the Committee for much longer with my voice—it is disappearing among other things—but I will remind hon. Members what the Bill says. It will provide powers for the National Assembly for Wales to create regulations to implement three elements of policy for the national health service in Wales. First, the Bill will allow a reform of community health councils in Wales, which will retain and strengthen them with extended powers and responsibilities. Secondly, the Bill will establish the Wales Centre for Health, which will provide a forum for multidisciplinary advice on health hazards and risk assessments of threats to health, and will disseminate research and other evidence to support decision making and multi-professional training. Thirdly, the Bill will establish Health Professions Wales, which will be a body to provide quality assurance for training and education of health-care professions in Wales and will continue other work

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formerly done by the Welsh National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting.

The Bill is short, with 10 clauses and four schedules. It was given advance drafting authority in the Queen's Speech on 20 June 2001 to allow for early publication. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will listen carefully to what hon. Members say, and he will wind up for the Government as far as he can because, of course, this is a unique opportunity, and my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones), who is Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, will contribute to the debate. This is the first time that a draft Wales—only Bill has been given pre-legislative scrutiny in such a way. It is unique because both we and the Assembly are scrutinising it.

We have said that we shall see how things go and decide whether the experiment—or pilot scheme—has been successful. If it has not, we shall have to try other methods. It strikes me that the scheme has been successful and that the Welsh Affairs Committee has come up with interesting ideas, suggestions and proposals on the Bill's measures. At the same time, the Health and Social Services Committee in the National Assembly for Wales is meeting and will report tomorrow to the Assembly in Tenby. The Minister for Health and Social Services, Jane Hutt, will write to me to set out the Assembly's conclusions.

The Bill has been discussed in another place with the Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services and the Under-Secretary. I shall meet an all-party delegation from the House of Lords tonight to discuss this and other measures and to find out whether the scrutiny has progressed in the way that the Lords would like. Additionally, the Welsh Affairs Committee has taken evidence, worked well with our colleagues in the National Assembly for Wales and reached conclusions, which my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South will outline if he catches your eye, Mr. Griffiths.

 
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Prepared 16 July 2002