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House of Commons

Wednesday 10 December 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the change in the number of police officers in Wales since 1997. [142069]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): On 31 August, there were 7,354 police officers in Wales, an increase of more than 12 per cent. since 1997. In addition, Welsh police forces have received funding for 113 community support officers.

Mrs. Williams : I thank my hon. Friend for that encouraging answer, and should like to declare that my eldest son is now part of those statistics.

Does my hon. Friend agree that such an increase in the number of police officers will assist individuals such as my constituent, Mr. Noel Kennerley of Dwygyfylchi, in tackling his neighbour from hell, Richard Lloyd, as the antisocial behaviour route took such a long time? Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating PC Mike Clements for his co-operation in dealing with that case?

Mr. Touhig: I am aware of the case of Mr. Kennerley and I pay tribute to him for his bravery and for his commitment to tackling the scourge of antisocial behaviour. I also pay tribute to the police officer involved.

The Government are determined to introduce measures that will overcome the problems of antisocial behaviour faced by many of our communities. Increased funding for the police service is part of that, and I am delighted that we have put so much extra funding into police numbers and that we have a record number of officers on the beat in Wales.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Morriston hospital in Swansea has already made it clear that some of the extra police officers will be used to police its accident and emergency unit during Christmas to deal with any drunks who turn up. Will the Minister make it absolutely clear that if anybody—especially someone

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who is drunk—turns up at an accident and emergency unit over Christmas and attacks a nurse or a doctor, they will receive a hangover that lasts well into 2004?

Mr. Touhig: I endorse the hon. Gentleman's point, especially given the efforts to provide care and attention in our hospitals, particularly in accident and emergency departments. I have witnessed situations in London where staff have had to take considerable abuse from people who were much the worse for drink, so I endorse his remarks. If anybody is involved in an incident that brings harm to doctors or nurses caring for the public, I hope that they are punished with every severity.

Aerospace Industry

2. Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the First Secretary regarding the importance of the aerospace industry to the economy of Wales. [142070]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): Both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I hold regular discussions with colleagues in the Assembly on a range of issues, including the aerospace industry in Wales.

The Government recognise the value of the aerospace industry to the Welsh economy. With significantly high levels of investment, we are seeing a new age of assertiveness, development and innovation that is increasingly taking the industry to new levels of success.

Mark Tami : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that he recognises the success and importance of Airbus at Broughton, so will he help to build on that success by using the short delay on the future air tanker, which the Ministry of Defence is expected to announce, further to press the case for the Airbus-AirTanker project that will help to secure many thousands of jobs in Wales?

Mr. Touhig: I am aware of my hon. Friend's strong commitment to Airbus and to the work at Broughton in north-east Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have already visited that world-class facility several times. I certainly join my hon. Friend in welcoming the strong Airbus bid for the MOD contract to provide air-to-air refuelling aircraft, and I hope that it is successful. It will underpin our commitment to the continuing development of that important manufacturing industry in north-east Wales.

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): Given the importance of the aerospace industry not only in Wales but throughout the United Kingdom, there is no doubt that it must not go overseas. Airbus Industries has made a long-term commitment in this country, so will the Minister guarantee, on behalf of the British people and especially the Welsh, to press his right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister to ensure that no aerospace jobs are moved overseas?

Mr. Touhig: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman need have any worries about the efforts made by me, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or any of my

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colleagues, as we shall be exerting all the pressure that we possibly can to ensure that the industry in north-east Wales goes from strength to strength. Much public investment has already gone in: £500 million for the Airbus project at Broughton and £77 million for the Red Dragon project at the Defence Aviation Repair Agency in St. Athan. The Government are committed to that development. That important manufacturing base in Wales has a strong future and we want it to succeed.

Barnett Formula

3. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions he has had with the First Secretary about the impact of the Barnett formula on the economy of Wales. [142071]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): Regular ones. The Barnett formula is a means of calculating changes to the Welsh block from its historic base. Welsh gross domestic product per head increased by 15.6 per cent. between 1997 and 2001.

David Taylor : The Barnett formula has now reached its quarter century, and its eponymous creator has said that it has become terribly unfair. Does the Secretary of State agree that that deeply unsatisfactory way of distributing Government grant should be replaced by a needs-based formula throughout the United Kingdom—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]—as that would be more equitable for the people of the English regions such as my own, the east midlands, as well as for the people and the economy of Wales?

Mr. Hain: I thought it interesting that my hon. Friend was cheered by the Welsh nationalists—he might want to reflect on his position—but I understand the very fair point that he makes on behalf of his constituency, North-West Leicestershire, and what I want and what the Government are delivering is record investment right across Britain, rising employment and improved public services. He is nodding his head in agreement. Of course he will understand that Wales has much higher deprivation historically and ill-health problems. There were 35 per cent. more incapacity benefit claimants in Wales than in the east midlands, despite the fact that the population of the east midlands is 1 million higher. So those problems have to be tackled, and the Barnett formula was designed to address that.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Is the Secretary of State aware of a large, possibly Barnett-related deficit in mid-Wales health provision? For some years, the Royal Shrewsbury hospital has generously subsidised its services to Welsh patients. Does he accept that, with the best will in the world, that cannot continue? Is he willing to discuss whether the extra funding needed to remedy the problem should rightly come from the Welsh Assembly's existing budget, or possibly result from an adjustment to the Barnett formula?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman will understand that there is record spending on health provision in Wales, including in his constituency—I am grateful to him for nodding his head in agreement—and that the Welsh

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health budget has nearly doubled. I understand, however, that the subsidy in his constituency in respect of patients who are treated in Shrewsbury is an issue. I will certainly look into that and discuss it with the Secretary of State for Health and the First Minister.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be well aware that, apart from the national health service providing excellent care for people in Wales, it makes an important contribution, through employment, to the Welsh economy. What consideration has he given to the fact that it has now been established, through the Yvonne Watts case, that there is such a thing as a waiting time that can be regarded as too long? What implications does that have for the health service and the Barnett formula, given the fact that waiting times in Wales are generally longer than in England?

Mr. Hain: These matters are being addressed. Of course the health budget that comes from applying the Barnett formula and the consequentials that flow across from the Treasury to Wales are now funding health services, reducing waiting times and improving health services in Wales. That should encourage my hon. Friend to say that things are improving under Labour, both here in Westminster and down in Cardiff as well.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC): Professor Maclean of Nuffield college has recently estimated that the Welsh Assembly Government would receive £620 million a year extra under the needs-based allocation. Since there is a range of views on this subject, will the Wales Office consider commissioning an independent study, so that we can have an objective assessment of whether Wales would be better off under a needs-based formula or the present arrangements?

Mr. Hain: We will continue to keep these matters under review. I note that the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in them, but he will agree, because this is demonstrated by the facts, that wealth per head, spending and employment have been rising in Wales since 1997, and that Wales has been doing much better than most other parts of the United Kingdom and, indeed, most other parts of the world. He will also be aware that, partly because of the higher deprivation and need, total identifiable Government spending in Wales is 13 per cent. above the equivalent UK average and 18 per cent. above the English average. If the nationalists got their way, as he would wish, and Wales broke away from Britain, it would be plunged into poverty. That is the price that nationalism would have to pay.

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