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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): How will the hon. Gentleman's proposed cuts in public spending help the national health service in Wales? How will his opposition
Mr. Evans: The Government trot out the line that the Conservatives plan to cut expenditure, but they fail to recognise that we may well plan to cut the proposed enormous increases in expenditure by £8 billion overall, which will be returned to the people in tax cuts that they can spend themselves; but we also intend to ensure that we spend money more effectively and efficiently.
The cost of government has gone up by £2 billion a year, for example. In Wales, we now have MEPs, MPs, Assembly Members, local authority councillors--where does it all stop? This all costs an enormous sum. Are the people of Wales getting a better service? No. At a time of crisis in the national health service in Wales, the Welsh Assembly is to spend £42 million on a new building, when people who voted in the referendum were told that it would cost between £12 million and £17 million. Surely it would be better to stay within budget and spend the difference on the health service. Does anyone here believe that the money should be spent on the Assembly building? The silence at least indicates some consensus. [Hon. Members: "No."] Plaid Cymru may have something to say.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): My hon. Friend will have heard the Under-Secretary referring to the working families tax credit. Does he agree that it shares with the child care credit and the student loan repayment administration regulations, whatever their intrinsic merits or demerits, the characteristic of shuffling responsibility from central Government to beleaguered businesses, forcing them to become unpaid tax collectors and benefit distributors? Would not it be sensible, instead of creating the deepest sea of regulation that businesses have ever had to negotiate, if the Government eased the burden and allowed them to breathe, to grow and to prosper?
Mr. Evans: I had no involvement in the costs of that building and have gone on the record to condemn its extortionate cost. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the people of Wales, who were told that the new building would cost between £12 million and £17 million, but who now face a bill of £42 million--and no one seriously expects it to be built for much under £60 million; at least, I do not--would rather have the money spent on a palace for self-styled Ministers than on the NHS, he is more out of touch than I suspected.
The hon. Gentleman cannot deflect me from the excellent points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). I attended the launch of "Barriers to Survival and Growth in UK Small Firms", a document produced by the Federation of Small Businesses in November 2000 following responses from 927 small businesses. I own a small business in Wales, but I am not a member of the federation so have no interest to declare. Small businesses make the economy grow, and we must look to them to expand it in all parts of Wales, particularly rural Wales.
Some 95 per cent. of respondents said that they were dissatisfied with fuel costs, a fact that should not be lost on the Government. Some 71 per cent. said that they were dissatisfied with local council business charges, and 76 per cent. were dissatisfied with the amount of local business. On the very point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham, table 28 on page 25 refers to dissatisfaction with legislation. Some 81 per cent. were dissatisfied with the volume of legislation; 83 per cent. with its complexity; 79 per cent. with the rate of change in legislation; 79 per cent. with the interpretation of legislation; 59 per cent. with the ability to employ staff--
Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman may make light of the problems that small businesses face, but steelworkers in his constituency are losing their jobs and will seek new jobs from small businesses. If I were he, I should not treat so lightly the concerns of 927 small businesses in Wales. He should listen instead of making cheap comments.
Some 65 per cent. of respondents were dissatisfied with the cost of compliance, and 66 per cent. were unhappy with the implementation of European Union regulations. The Minister may already have read this excellent document; he is giving half a nod, so I shall ensure that he is sent a copy and will highlight the tables to which I hope he will pay some attention. Small businesses want to grow but the Government are stifling them.
Mr. Evans: Of course unemployment has gone down, as it did towards the end of the period of Conservative government. The trend left as part of the previous Government's economic legacy has been continued, but we fear that the legacy will be destroyed. If job losses rise, I am sure that the Government will say that it is not their fault--"it's not me, guv.com." Nothing is ever the responsibility of the Government, but the United States of America is in fear of job losses and a recession, and the same thing is happening in Wales.
Manufacturing industry is Wales's bread and butter, and more important, proportionally, than it is elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire spoke of fears of job losses in his constituency, which I am certain are real. I applaud the announcement of 600 new jobs made today by Ford; the £240 million investment in Wales comes as a welcome tonic for us all. However, it cannot be taken in isolation.
As I listened to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry making his statement on the job losses at Corus, it was almost as though he were making a speech about how wonderful manufacturing is in Britain; but we know that there are real problems. We cannot hide the fact that there are severe job losses in manufacturing: at Courtaulds Textiles in Wrexham, 167 jobs were lost; we know exactly how many jobs will be lost at Corus--on top of job losses at the company last year; at Dewhirst, the women's clothing factory in Pembrokeshire, 300 jobs were lost--
At Scottish Courage, 1,300 jobs were lost. There were also job losses at Hitachi, Sony and Panasonic. The announcement about Corus was made the day after Dairy Crest announced 500 job losses and the creation of 250 jobs--a net decrease.
Mrs. Lawrence: The hon. Gentleman again makes a fundamental mistake about my constituency. No job losses have occurred at Dewhirst in my constituency. Hopefully, with the help of the Assembly and Members of the House, there will be no such losses. Negotiations are at a sensitive stage; the matter depends on commercial considerations. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman got his facts right for once.
On the job losses at Corus and elsewhere, we all have to recognise that part of the problem relates to who is speaking for Wales on the economy--that came out on Thursday when the job losses were announced. Is it the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry? Is it the Secretary of State for Wales? Is it the First Minister? Is it
People who are losing their jobs realise that the one great growth industry in Wales is politics--there are far more politicians and assistants for politicians. However, it certainly did not help the workers at Corus to hear the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry say at the Dispatch Box that he knew nothing about the job losses. If only the right hon. Gentleman read the Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Times or any other newspaper, perhaps he would have had an inkling.