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House of Commons

Monday 8 May 1989

The House met at half past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Unfit Housing

1. Mr. Rogers : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what measures he intends to introduce to tackle the problems of unfit houses in the south Wales valleys.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ian Grist) : Since 1979, more than 61,000 homes in the valleys area havebeen improved at a cost of over £152 million. Over the three years of the programme for the valleys, we expect, on average, to see the renovation of some 10,700 valley homes per year. The last Labour Government were unable to match that average rate for the whole of the Principality during their last term in office.

Mr. Rogers : Does the Minister accept that in the Rhondda alone, 5, 000 people are on the waiting list for improvement grants and that it is estimated that 18,000 houses in the valleys need improvement grants, at a total cost of about £200 million? It is not the juggling of money, but new resources for valley communities that we require. Does the Minister accept that the con-trick of the Secretary of State--the valleys initiative --is no more acceptable in the Rhondda than it was to the electors of Pontrypridd or the Vale of Glamorgan?

Mr. Grist : The hon. Gentleman's question is extraordinary. Clearly, he did not listen to my reply. He has not understood that 10,000 new homes will be built under the initiative, that it has been welcomed by all local authorities, industrialists and trade unionists, and that other people have rightly given it a firm welcome as bringing a new spotlight to Wales, which the hon. Gentleman seems to be willing to deny.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : Does my hon. Friend agree that if one is going to make progress with unfit houses in the valleys of Wales, one needs a policy for housing--an advantage not shared by the Labour party? What progress does my hon. Friend expect housing associations to make in dealing with unfit houses in Wales?

Mr. Grist : The progress will be considerable. Under the programme for the valleys, about £8.6 million of special funding will be made available through Housing for Wales for approved development programmes in that area.

Mr. Gareth Wardell : What provisions does the Minister intend to make for those who have already applied for

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improvement grants? Will he ensure that such people will be catered for, in addition to new people coming on to the scheme from 1 April 1990?

Mr. Grist : I am assured by the councils concerned that if applications have been approved, they will be able to fit them in before the new scheme comes into play.

Mr. Murphy : Why cannot the Minister accept that all responsible housing associations and similar bodies in Wales are saying that his means- tested improvement grants will mean that fewer people will take up the grants and that our housing stock is bound to suffer? Cannot he see that our south Wales valleys will reject this policy in the same way as they rejected the rest of the Government's policies in the county council elections last week?

Mr. Grist : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be careful in what he says on this matter. I hope that he will tell his constituents--as I hope that his hon. Friends will--that the scheme produced under our new legislation will be the most generous ever, giving grants of up to 100 per cent.--which have never been available before--to those least able to pay. That will mean that about 54,500 houses in Wales will be eligible for 100 per cent. grants.

Sheepmeat Regime

2. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on his policy towards any measures arising from the current review of the sheepmeat re gime which could disadvantage Welsh producers.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Walker) : I welcome the initiative to create a unified Community sheepmeat market, which offers the prospect of better access to continental markets. However, we will continue to resist changes that would discriminate against producers in Wales and will seek to secure arrangements that will allow free and fair competition, provide support at reasonable cost and thus enable the industry in Wales to benefit from its natural production advantages and its efficiency.

Mr. Jones : Does the Secretary of State accept that the 1988 agreement on sheepmeat stabilisers and the ewe premium was the result of short-term political expediency and was not in the long-term interests of either sheep producers or consumers in Wales? Will the Secretary of State now say to the people of Wales that he will use his good offices to ensure that the sheep sector in Wales is not damaged as the final result of the agreement on the sheep regime?

Mr. Walker : Yes. I assure the hon. Gentleman that those views on the future of the sheepmeat regime are shared by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I have no doubt that we shall reach an agreement that will secure the continuation of sheep farming on the hills of Wales on a proper viable basis.

Mr. Ron Davies : Did the Minister see Commissioner MacSharry on BBC Wales yesterday? The Commissioner made it quite clear that the variable premium would have to be phased out by 1992. Does the Minister accept that if that happens, it will be a hammer blow to the small family farms which form the basis of the economic and social life

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of much of upland Wales? If he accepts that those will be the consequences of the loss of the variable premium, will he press in Cabinet for the adoption of the measures that are available to the United Kingdom Government under the structures programme to assist by some means of direct compensation?

Mr. Walker : Whatever Mr. MacSharry said, I remember the immense hostility expressed by the Opposition when, as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I introduced the variable premium scheme. I am glad that they have at last paid tribute to that scheme. Having introduced that scheme, I wish to ensure that if there are to be changes in it, it continues to secure the viability of sheep farming in Wales.

Labour Statistics

3. Mr. Wyn Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what were the numbers of people in full-time employment in Wales in June 1979 ; and what are the present figures.

Mr. Peter Walker : The information is not available in the form requested.

Mr. Griffiths : I am sorry that the Secretary of State does not feel able to give us that information. The figures that I have secured from the Library show that more than 100,000 fewer full-time jobs exist in Wales than existed in 1979. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that it is because of that poor record on creating jobs that the electors of Pontypridd and the Vale of Glamorgan turned their backs on, and voted so resoundingly against, his vice-regal progress?

Mr. Walker : I assure the hon. Gentleman that the figures are not available. He asked for the full-time employment figures, and there are no separate figures available for full-time male employment in Wales. That is why I could not meet his request, although I am delighted to answer the question. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should make such remarks about a Government under whom unemployment has fallen by 54,000 in the past two years and, given that inward investment is at an all-time high, I can understand the Opposition's discomfort at our success.

Sir Anthony Meyer : Can my right hon. Friend give figures to show the improvement in the strength of the work force during the past two years?

Mr. Walker : The civilian work force has increased by 35,000, with a substantial increase both in the numbers attending places of higher education and in those on Government training programmes. Moreover the number of self-employed people is now rising sharply.

Mr. Foot : If the comparative figures for people in full-time employment are available for England--as they are--why are similar figures not available for Wales?

Mr. Walker : The figures for those in employment, as opposed to the unemployed, are given in a survey that does not give separate figures for part-time and for full-time employment.

Mr. Raffan : Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that Wales is holding its share of inward investment, as compared with other parts of the United

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Kingdom? Will he give us the latest figures for the number of jobs created by overseas companies that have set up in the Principality?

Mr. Walker : Yes, Sir. Wales's share of inward investment in the United Kingdom, in terms of related new jobs, was 20 per cent. in 1987. I am pleased to say that we have just received the provisional figures for 1988, which show that our share has increased to 22 per cent. of all inward investment in the United Kingdom. That compares with 6 per cent. in 1979.

Mr. Barry Jones : Is it not the case that Wales now has 10 per cent. fewer jobs than in 1979, while East Anglia has enjoyed a 25 per cent. increase, and that economic growth and industrial investment in Wales has grown by only 1.4 per cent. per annum since 1979--only half the growth rate in the prosperous south-east of England? That does not amount to the economic miracle proclaimed by the Secretary of State. How does the Cabinet Minister, with supreme trumpeting skills, explain the Labour party's magnificent victories in the Vale of Glamorgan and in the county of Clwyd? Is the right hon. Gentleman to blame, or is it the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the NHS White Paper or the privatisation of water? I note the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in yesterday's Sunday Times to the effect that NHS issues were a factor. But, on St. David's day, he openly boasted in the House that, in Cabinet Committee, he himself helped to fashion the NHS's approach.

Mr. Speaker : I remind hon. Members that these questions are about employment.

Mr. Walker : Rumour has it that the Vale of Glamorgan result was totally due to the enormous impact which the hon. Gentleman made on the campaign. [Interruption.] I remind the hon. Gentleman that the fall in the Conservative vote in the 1986 Fulham by-election was rather larger than the fall in vote in the Vale of Glamorgan. We still won back the Fulham constituency by a large majority at the next general election.

Mr. Soames : When it comes to trumpeting, will my right hon. Friend take up a suggestion which may help employment in Wales? Is he aware that this is the first time for many hundreds of years that there is no full- time regular battalion of soldiers stationed in Wales? Will he have a word with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and make sure that the military are properly represented in Wales, as they always have been and should be?

Mr. Walker : Yes. My right hon. Friend is taking this matter fully into consideration. I hope that he will be able to make some proposals.

Wales Tourist Board

4. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales whether he is undertaking, or plans to undertake, any review of the work of the Wales tourist board, analogous to the review of the tourist industry currently being undertaken in England ; whether he has received any representations concerning the future structure, responsibilities and powers of the Wales tourist board ; and if he will make a statement.

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The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. Wyn Roberts) : I have no such plans. However, a number of interested bodies and individuals have made representations about the review in England and its possible implications for Wales.

Mr. Wigley : Does the Minister recall that, last June, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched a development strategy for tourism in Wales on the basis of considerable investment over a five-year period, based on section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969? Is he aware also that, from March of this year, there has been considerable agreement between local authorities in Wales and the Wales tourist board on investment of over £8 million for the Wales tourist board, to trigger a total investment of £73 million over the coming five years? Given that, will he give an assurance that the basis of that investment--section 4 of the Act--will definitely remain for the future?

Mr. Roberts : Of course. That is one of the reasons why the review was confined to England. As the hon. Gentleman said, a five-year development strategy has been evolved by the Wales tourist board, and it is expected that it will trigger off about £73 million of private sector money and create 2,000 jobs. Therefore, there is every reason for us to continue as we are.

Labour Statistics

6. Mr. Roy Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest unadjusted figures for unemployment in (a) Newport, (b) Gwent and (c) Wales ; and if he will give the equivalent figures for 1979 on the most nearly comparable basis.

Mr. Peter Walker : On 9 March 1979, the number of unemployed claimants in the Newport district, Gwent and Wales were 5,697, 17,480 and 107,696, respectively. Unadjusted figures for 1979 are not available on a basis that enables a valid comparison to be made.

Mr. Hughes : Does the Secretary of State appreciate that, if he blows that trumpet much louder, we shall all suffer from industrial deafness? Is not the reality just a little different, considering that over the past decade, there has been a fall in investment of 2.7 per cent., compared with a 22.6 per cent. increase in the south-east of England, that our regional aid has been cut from £209 million to £104 million, and that our growth rate was only 1.4 per cent. over the decade, compared with double that in the south-east of England? Is it not time that we had a bit of modesty from the Government spokesman? Mr. Walker : When it comes to modesty about Wales, there is nobody better than the hon. Gentleman. He plays down the place the entire time. I am delighted, in spite of playing a different tune, that as a result of what is happening at the moment, unemployment in the hon. Gentleman's constituency has dropped by 40 per cent. in the past two years. Inward investment has been at a record high. I shall continue trumpeting around the world to improve the situation still further.

Mr. Livsey : Will the Secretary of State explain why unemployed people in my constituency received a document through their letter boxes this morning entitled :

"Your guide to the community charge"?

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Why did it arrive this morning, and not last Monday morning before the county council elections? Was it an unacceptable election manifesto for Conservatives at county council elections?

Mr. Walker : I am sorry about any depression that the hon. Gentleman may have as a result of the county council elections. I recognise that in parliamentary and county council elections his party is having a pretty rough time at present. I am sure that that distribution was arranged by an office, but I do not know whether it is bringing good news or bad news, because I have not read the leaflet.

Mr. Rowlands : Will the Secretary of State pay particular attention to the problems of one group of workers and staff who are facing redundancy --the disabled people in Remploy factories in south Wales? Is he aware of the proposal that a number of staff who have been made technically redundant will have to reapply for their jobs? I remind him that we are talking about disabled people. If the Secretary of State has not heard about that proposal, will he call for a report and ensure that a bit of compassion is shown towards those employed in Remploy factories.

Mr. Walker : Yes, I shall certainly look into that. My last association with a Remploy factory was to open a new one, which meant a major extension for Remploy's activities. If there is a problem, I shall look into it.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Does my right hon. Friend recall the winter of discontent in 1979 and its effect on jobs in Wales? What does he think will be the effect on inward investment prospects in Wales if the policy of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) of scrapping the Conservative Government's industrial relations legislation and allowing secondary picketing were to become law?

Mr. Walker : Wales, which has 5 per cent. of the population, currently gets 22 per cent. of all inward investment, which is a remarkable record and one which will not be helped or assisted in any way by the suggestion that what Wales wants to do is to return to nationalisation and to control by the trade unions.

Mr. Barry Jones : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Thatcherite single economic dogma has left significant weaknesses in the Welsh economy? I refer, for example, to the utter failure of the Government's training measures as instanced by the CBI in Wales, and to the fact that unemployment stands 45,000 higher than it did in 1979? Was not Lord Crickhowell correct in stating that there are no new policies, no new initiatives and little change in the scale of public spending?

Mr. Walker : We currently have record investment in the valleys by a long way and we are spending £1 million per week on training programmes in the valleys. Expenditure by the Welsh Development Agency is 50 per cent. above what it was two years ago. I am glad that as a result of all that and of the higher production and the fall in unemployment, Wales is the most successful region in the United Kingdom.

Patient Statistics

7. Mr. Knox : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many (a) in-patients and (b) out-patients were

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treated in National Health Service hospitals in Wales in the most recent year for which figures are available ; and what were the figures in 1979.

Mr. Grist : In 1987, 448,716 in-patients were treated and 516,861 new out-patients were seen in NHS hospitals in Wales. Comparable figures for 1979 were 349,695 in-patients and 428,739 out-patients. Those figures represent increases of 28 per cent. and 21 per cent., respectively, since 1979.

Mr. Knox : Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures, above all others, show the improvement in the National Health Service since 1979?

Mr. Grist : They certainly do, and they show the strain under which the Health Service is placed by an increase in demand and its success in meeting that demand. It is worth noting that during the period of the last Labour Government, in-patient cases increased by only 6 per cent. as opposed to 28 per cent. under this Government and that the number of new out-patients fell by 3 per cent. as opposed to rising by 20 per cent. under this Government.

Mr. Denzil Davies : Will the Under-Secretry of State look at the out -patient figures because there is a crisis in the dermatology service in south Wales? In my constituency it now takes up to two years to get an appointment to see a consultant dermatologist. Will the hon. Gentleman look at the figures again and provide some more money to ensure that dermatology does not remain the Cinderella service of the Health Service?

Mr. Grist : I am not sure about it being a Cinderella service, but we are certainly aware of the shortages in that area and are addressing them urgently.

Mr. Raffan : Does my hon. Friend agree that that dramatic increase in the number of patients treated in Wales has been made possible by the massive increase in Government spending in Wales on the NHS, which has increased from £11 per week for every household in Wales in 1978-79 to £36 per week for every household in Wales in 1989-90? Does he also agree that the NHS White Paper proposals, such as the appointment of more consultants and giving GPs their choice of hospitals, will ensure that that trend continues and that more patients are treated more quickly in the future?

Mr. Grist : That is our precise intention--to give patients the choice, to give doctors the ability to offer the choice to their patients, and to provide the spur to the hospital services to make sure that choice is a reality. It is worth noting that under this Government the number of consultants has increased by 22.5 per cent., the number of registrars by more than 11 per cent., and the number of those directly concerned with patient care by more than 17 per cent. That is this Government's record.

Mr. Alan W. Williams : What advice does the Minister offer my constituent who is 83 years old and needs an eye operation? That gentleman has had severely deteriorating eyesight for many years, and now he cannot read a newspaper or watch television. His quality of life is being severely jeopardised. All he needs is an operation to remove scar tissue from the eye and a slight cataract for which he has been told by his consultant he will have to wait seven months. He is 83 years old, and there is a seven- month waiting list for what is really a minor

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operation. The same consultant told him that, if he had it done privately, he could do the operation for him straight away at a cost of about £1,000.

Mr. Grist : I cannot give individual advice on such a case. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me with details, we will look into the matter. It is worth noting that under our proposals the general practitioner of the hon. Gentleman's constituent would be able to look around for other waiting lists that very often would be a great deal shorter, but about which at present he may be entirely ignorant. The hon. Gentleman describes precisely the sort of situation that we wish to bring to an end.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : Are not the very creditable increases in the number of patients being treated the real measure of the Government's commitment to continuing the expansion and improvement of the Health Service? Does my hon. Friend agree that that refutes the spurious claims about bed numbers? Because of the deployment of resources, under-utilised beds can reduce the number of people being treated.

Mr. Grist : Certainly the enormous rise in day cases under this Government, which is a part of modern medicine, has made a tremendous change in the use of beds. As I know myself, people can go in and out of hospital under modern medication at a speed that was almost undreamed of when most of us were young.

Mr. Michael : Rather than repeat statistics that he must know are misleading, will the Minister recognise that the health record of the Government, of which the Secretary of State has been a Member for 10 years, and their future health policies, which have been drawn up by a Cabinet Committee of which the Secretary of State was a member, were wholeheartedly rejected by the voters of the Vale of Glamorgan? Will the Secretary of State, therefore, exclude Wales from the proposals set out in the Health Service White Paper?

Mr. Grist : The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends gave misleading statistics. I believe that they will find, when the general election comes, that they have been rumbled. When we have a population with increasing health benefits, with more centenarians, with people living longer, better and more healthily, with more people being innoculated and vaccinated, and with people keeping their teeth longer, it staggers me that any hon. Member could say that the Health Service is failing under this Government.

Single Market

8. Mr. Nicholas Bennett : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what preparations are being made by his Department for the introduction of the single European market on 1 January 1993.

Mr. Peter Walker : My Department is actively engaged in a vigorous campaign to encourage Welsh businesses to prepare for the single European market. It provides information and expert advice on the key issues, and access to a wide variety of practical assistance, including the consultancies available under Enterprise Wales.

Mr. Bennett : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most important decisions concerning 1992 are now being taken in Wales? What is the latest figure for inward

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investment and what effect does my right hon. Friend expect that to have on exporting prospects for Wales in 1993?

Mr. Walker : I agree that action is needed now. I am pleased to say that throughout the Principality a whole range of decisions is being taken by commercial concerns. Inward investment is transforming the Welsh economy as an exporting country. In fact, the five biggest inward investments of the past few years, when completed, will produce about £1 billion of exports per year.

Dr. Thomas : Would the Secretary of State care to explain how the attitude of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the Lingua programme is helpful to Welsh prisoners as they approach 1992?

Mr. Walker : That is of no basic disadvantage ; nor will it affect them.

Regional Development

10. Mr. Anderson : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what new proposals he has for changes to his regional development policy particularly in relation to Swansea and south-west Wales.

Mr. Peter Walker : I am always looking to ensure that the Government's various mechanisms to sustain and stimulate development are effectively deployed. Over the past year unemployment in the Swansea and Llanelli travel-to-work area has fallen by nearly 3,800. I welcome the development of the Swansea bay partnership and the exciting link announced 10 days ago between British Urban Development and Swansea city council.

Mr. Anderson : Will the Secretary of State examine the reasons why there is no significant Japanese investment in the area covered by the Swansea bay partnership and why we cannot attract Toyota? Would not he conclude that it is related to the removal of our regional development status and a failure to give adequate infrastructural investment to the area, by which I mean adequate access to the Channel tunnel and the quick completion of the Baglan-Lonlas motorway?

Mr. Walker : I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman's question. He gave Toyota as an example, but he will know that because of European Commission regulations on Toyota no country in Europe could give regional aid. Our offer to Toyota--the same one as was made in Derby--was devoid of regional assistance because of that. By Commission agreement, the motor industry is not subject to regional aid. General developments to improve the infrastructure in Swansea are on a considerable scale. I do not believe that the enormous potential investment that was announced 10 days ago would have been announced unless that were the case.

Mr. Neil Hamilton : Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are much more likely to secure jobs and prosperity in Wales by encouraging private sector investment than by trying to recreate the museum of industrial archaeology which would have been maintained had the Labour party been in power these past 10 years? May I say to my right hon. Friend that his trumpet is in every respect far preferable to the Opposition's tin whistle?

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Mr. Walker : Enormous diversification is taking place, for example the enormous growth in financial services in Swansea, Cardiff and elsewhere, and the great diversity in new manufacturing. The fall in unemployment in the past two years has been on a scale which will produce a Wales which enjoys full employment in a diversified, free enterprise economy for the first time.

Hon. Members : When?

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Denzil Davies : Does the Secretary of State realise that the decision in 1979 by the Government, of whom he was a member, to remove special development area status from south-west Wales has had a damaging effect? We needed that status and assistance to compensate us for being further from the markets. If he is genuinely interested in regional development will he try to get it restored?

Mr. Walker : The right hon. Gentleman, who has understandably raised his considerable anxiety at the closure of the Austin-Rover plant, will be pleased with the developments that have taken place since as a result of our flexible methods of assistance through the Welsh Development Agency. The saving of a considerable number of jobs and a whole range of other investments are taking place in his constituency.

Aluminium (Water Supplies)

11. Dr. Kim Howells : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will provide a detailed record of the aluminium levels in domestic water supplied in mid and south Glamorgan by the Welsh water authority in 1988- 89.

Mr. Grist : This is a matter for the Welsh water authority and the information is not held by my Department.

Dr. Howells : Is the Minister aware that a great many of my constituents are extremely worried about the high levels of aluminium being recorded in domestic water supplies from Welsh Water? Will he agree that the people of Wales pay a high enough price for water without having to worry about ill health? If he agrees, will he have a word with his noble Friend Lord Crickhowell about putting matters right?

Mr. Grist : The hon. Gentleman and his constituents can at least be comforted by the fact that the Welsh water authority's programmes have improvements in hand which will remove the aluminium by 1992 at the latest. Although it has been concluded that there is a link between Alzheimer's disease and aluminium--I think that that is the hon. Gentleman's point--it has not yet been proven and further studies are being undertaken. There is no absolute proof.

Mr. Morgan : Will the Minister explain why it is that when improvements are sought in the quality of water supply, the Welsh water authority says that money is limited for capital expenditure, yet when politics and its relationship with the Government demand, it is able to find £2 million, this year alone, for advertising its corporate existence? There never seems to be a shortage of money then.

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Mr. Grist : It is worth pointing out that the Welsh water authority has 35 remedial work schemes, which are estimated to cost £96.7 million, which makes the figures that the hon. Gentleman mentioned look small beer.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my hon. Friend agree that the Welsh water industry will be able to increase its capital expenditure once it is able to tap the private market for funds?

Mr. Grist : Absolutely, and with a flexibility and capacity to think in the long term which a state enterprise does not have because it has to answer to the Exchequer's needs in running the total economy.

Rural Schools

12. Mr. Martyn Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to maintain small schools in rural areas.

Mr. Wyn Roberts : It is for local education authorities to determine how to preserve and enhance the quality of education in rural areas. The Government have given help through education support grant to improve the quality and range of the curriculum provided in rural schools. The measures included in the Education Reform Act 1988 are intended to improve the quality of education in all schools, including small rural ones and my right hon. Friend will be monitoring the effects of its implementation.

Mr. Jones : In view of his reply will the Minister ensure that the Fron school in my constituency remains open? If it does not, many very young children will be travelling up and down the A5, which, as he knows, is a dangerous and busy road. I know that this matter is the responsibility of Clwyd county council, but it needs the funds.

Mr. Roberts : I am aware of the case of Froncyslyllte school, which has 16 pupils and five primary pupils. The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that it is a matter for Clwyd local education authority. No proposal is as yet before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

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