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House of Commons

Monday 19 June 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Kingston upon Hull City Council Bill

[Lords] Read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

Oral Answers to Questions


Orthopaedic Consultants

1. Mr. John P. Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the current waiting time for referrals to orthopaedic consultants in South Glamorgan and Wales as a whole.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ian Grist) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) on drawing pole position for his first Welsh question. However, no figures are available centrally--for South Glamorgan as a whole or for Wales--of the time that patients have to wait for referral to an orthopaedic out-patient clinic. Individual experience varies considerably, with urgent cases being given the priority for treatment that their condition merits.

Mr. Smith : I recognise that the Minister and many of his colleagues in Wales will not be with us much longer, and I extend my deep sympathy to them, but what does the

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Minister intend to do about my constituent Mrs. Julie Froude, aged 35, who has three young children and suffer from a crippling orthopaedic condition? She has been told that she will have to wait 18 months merely to see a specialist, and wait an indefinite time before she receives medical treatment. That is wholly unacceptable and I ask the Minister to intervene.

Mr. Grist : If the hon. Gentleman will send me details, I will most certainly intervene. He might like to bear in mind the experience of Fulham and that of a predecessor of his who also graced the Opposition Benches for a very brief time.

Mr. Denzil Davies : On the question of orthopaedic consultants, will the Minister ensure that the two new consultants who are to be appointed by the east Dyfed health authority are based in the new Llanelli hospital and not at the west Wales general hospital in Carmarthen? Is he aware that if they are based in Carmarthen, the new operating facilities at Llanelli will be under-used and the waiting list will not be reduced?

Mr. Grist : I certainly take very careful note of what the right hon. Gentleman says. When the Llanelli hospital is finished, which I hope will be later this year, I will consider precisely what the situation should be.

Mr. Ray Powell : Will the Minister reply to the question? We have had the first question from my new hon. Friend the Member for the Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith). It was on an important matter. Will the Minister talk to the Secretary of State for Wales, who is actually to blame for the result in the Vale of Glamorgan, and his right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) who will get the blame for yesterday's disastrous result? The Secretary of State could then raise the matter at this week's Cabinet meeting, get the blame put on the right person's shoulders and ask her to resign because of what is happening to the country and to the Health Service and--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The whole House wishes the hon. Gentleman a happy birthday, but his question must relate to orthopaedic consultants.

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Mr. Barry Jones : Reverting to the question of my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), does the Minister understand that there is great concern and pain throughout Wales due to the length of waiting lists for hospital treatment? Why does he not admit that our people in Wales want the National Health Service White Paper to be withdrawn and that there is massive electoral evidence for that? I remind him that even the north Wales citadel of his party has fallen. He should take note of that.

Mr. Grist : The hon. Gentleman has overlooked the fact that the proposals in our White Paper would actually cut waiting times. Of course, everybody accepts that it is a severe problem, but I seem to remember that when the hon. Gentleman was a Minister matters were often rather worse.

Advisory Body for Higher Education

2. Dr. Thomas : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales, when he last met the Wales Advisory Body for Higher Education and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. Wyn Roberts) : The Wales Advisory Body was reconstituted as a single-tier body in March. I chaired the first meeting of the reconstituted body on 7 April.

Dr. Thomas : I am grateful to the Minister for explaining to the House how the reconstituted body is operating. Will he tell us something about the relationship between the Wales Advisory Body and the sub- committee of the new Universities Funding Council? Surely it is time for us to plan our education in Wales as one.

Mr. Roberts : First, I am sure that many of us would like to welcome the hon. Gentleman back among us after his arduous campaign. Secondly, in answer to his supplementary question, I assure him that there will be a representative of the Wales Advisory Body on the Universities Funding Council subcommittee relating to Wales. I agree with him--and have always thought--that there should be a close link between local authority higher education and universities.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : In his next meeting with the advisory body, will my hon. Friend suggest that an appropriate subject for study at the higher education level could be why the Welsh nationalist and Liberal parties were beaten yesterday by the newly emerged version of Militant tendency--the Green party--and why the Conservative vote held up much better in Wales than in almost any other part of Great Britain?

Mr. Roberts : Aristotle said that politics was not a proper subject for study for a young man, but I am sure that, as my hon. Friend suggested, it would be interesting for any study to begin with the fact that the Conservative vote in Wales exceeded the combined votes of Plaid Cymru and the Alliance by 40 per cent.

A55, Gwynedd

4. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what progress has been made with discussions with local authorities and others on the impact of the A55 on Gwynedd ; and if he will make a statement.

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Mr. Wyn Roberts : Tomorrow, my right hon. Friend and I will meet representatives of Gwynedd and the districts within that county. I have already had discussions with Clwyd and the majority of its local authorities. I have been very favourably impressed by the way in which some authorities have planned to secure the enormous potential economic benefits that the new A55 will bring.

Mr. Wigley : Some of us are a little surprised that there has been no reference to the fact that one person will no longer be travelling along the A55 to Manchester airport to fly out to Europe, but apparently there are no tears among Conservative Members for the lamented lady.

If the A55 is meant to be the artery which brings economic development to north Wales and especially to Gwynedd, why has there been so much delay in extending it to Holyhead in one direction and Dwyfor in the other, both of which are areas of high unemployment? Will the Minister now seek additional funds to speed up improvements to those connecting roads to ensure that any economic benefit reaches the areas that most need it?

Mr. Roberts : From having studied "Roads in Wales 1989" the hon. Gentleman will know that we have co-operated with the counties, and they with us, and that we have devised a strategic road network for Wales, which includes Welsh Office and county roads. We have received a report from consultants about improvements along the A5 in Anglesey and that report is currently under consideration.

Sir Anthony Meyer : My hon. Friend will be concerned that some of his constituents and of mine who are anxious to ride their bicycles westwards along the A55 are not allowed under the present arrangements to ride through the Penmaenbach tunnel but have to dismount and carry their bicycles across a dual carriageway. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is an unsafe arrangement and will he carefully reconsider what is involved in the proposal?

Mr. Roberts : I can assure my hon. Friend that I am constantly considering that problem which has been brought to our attention recently, but the proper place to air the matter was at the public consultation stage on the tunnel. There are all sorts of difficulties in enabling cyclists either to use the tunnel or to use their bicycles on the path provided for them.

Severn Barrage

5. Mr. Stern : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales which industries in south Wales are the principal users of ports upstream of the proposed Severn barrage.

Mr. Wyn Roberts : These ports mainly handle steel, scrap metal, aggregates, agricultural products--including imported fruit and timber-- machinery petrochemicals and imported cars.

Mr. Stern : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the prospects of those industries can only be improved now that the threat of unofficial industrial action in those ports is, I hope, coming to an end? Does he further agree that, now that those ports can look forward to greater prosperity, the threat of a Severn barrage putting an additional barrier between them and their trade becomes even more serious?

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Mr. Roberts : I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's question. On the effect on shipping of the Severn barrage, whenever it may come, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has not yet received the final report from the Severn tidal power group, so it would be premature for me to comment at this stage on that aspect.

Association of District Councils

6. Mr. Murphy : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met the Association of District Councils in Wales ; and what matters were discussed.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Walker) : I met representatives of the Welsh counties committee and the committee of Welsh district councils at a meeting of the Welsh consultative council on local government finance on 15 June to discuss local government finance matters.

Mr. Murphy : The Secretary of State is, of course, aware that the Association of District Councils is in favour of a dog registration scheme. Why, then, does he fly in the face of Welsh public opinion by not agreeing to such a scheme in Wales? Will he give a commitment to the House that he will provide sufficient finance to local authorities in Wales so that there can be proper dog warden schemes in every district in the principality?

Mr. Walker : When I met the members of the Welsh counties committee and the committee of Welsh district councils, they did not at any time raise the subject of a dog registration scheme. Perhaps they share my view that although it sounds very nice in theory, in practice it would not work.

Sir Anthony Meyer : When my right hon. Friend met the members of the committee of Welsh district councils, did they express to him their delight at the amount of investment in Wales that my right hon. Friend has been able to secure, largely as a result of Britain's membership of the European Community? Did they, like me, share not only the astonishment and delight that the Labour party has at last come round to accepting the idea of Europe, but the incredulity that the conversion campaign should be led by none other than the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould)?

Mr. Walker : Again, the two committees did not raise those matters as a major topic of our discussion, but I am sure that they are delighted at the very considerable record of inward investment that Wales has enjoyed over the past few years--towards which, if I may say so, they made an important contribution.

Mrs. Clwyd : Given the massive public concern about the environment and the decisive rejection of the Government's policies, shown by yesterday's election results, has the right hon. Gentleman discussed with the Association of District Councils the problems posed by the worst industrial polluter in Britain--the Furnacite plant in my constituency? Is he aware that continuing uncertainty about the future of that plant means that people in the Cynon valley are being subjected to unacceptable levels of pollution? Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that unemployment is still rising there?

Mr. Walker : The hon. Lady knows better than anyone else in the House that, since I have been Secretary of State, I have had some rather conflicting advice from political

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leadership in the valley as to exactly what it would like to be done about that plant. As the hon. Lady knows, the local authority is currently concerned with certain planning powers on which it has to make judgments.

Mr. Livsey : How many proposals has the Secretary of State received from the district councils in the past 12 months about low-cost starter homes and low-cost housing to rent? Are not the district councils pressing him hard on this?

Mr. Walker : Obviously, it is a subject that has come up with local authorities and individuals, but I cannot give the number of actual representations. At present, discussions are going on both with the Housing Corporation in Wales and with district councils to see what sensible and practical plans can be developed.

A55 (Link Roads)

7. Mr. Raffan : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales whether he has yet had discussions with Clwyd county council concerning the need to provide link roads to the A55.

Mr. Wyn Roberts : I attended a presentation given by the county council on its highway strategy on 14 April. The question of link roads to the A55 was covered.

Mr. Raffan : Is my hon. Friend aware of the serious concern in Clwyd among members of all political parties that the county council has got its road priorities wrong and their belief that link roads between the A55 and the A548 should be constructed before a third Dee crossing is even contemplated? If the county council refuses to change its priorities, will my hon. Friend do what the former Secretary of State said that he would do and designate such link roads as trunk roads, so that the Welsh Office can build them?

Mr. Roberts : My hon. Friend is right to say that there is some disagreement about priorities on the development of county roads in Clwyd, but it is up to all those concerned to get together with the county council. I visited my hon. Friend's borough council of Delyn last Friday and urged it to have discussions with the county council. We are talking about county roads which, as far as I know, will remain county roads. This is a local matter on which agreement should be reached, just as it has been reached, I believe, on the link from the A55 through the Rhuddlan bypass.

Welsh Farming Unions

8. Mr. Martyn Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met the Welsh farming unions ; and what matters were discussed.

22. Mr. Ron Davies : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met representatives of the Farmers Union of Wales ; and what matters were discussed.

Mr. Peter Walker : I last met representatives of the Farmers Union of Wales on 20 October 1988 to discuss the hill livestock compensatory review.

Mr. Jones : Given the superb result for Labour in north Wales and the massive rejection in Europe of Tory policies, will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that his colleagues in the Council of Ministers ensures that the

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views of farmers in north Wales are properly represented, as they are not represented among farmers as a whole in Britain?

Mr. Walker : Nothing delights the farmers of north Wales more than the sheepmeat premium regime, which I introduced and which they now want to save. When I introduced it, I did not receive great acclaim from the Opposition, but I am glad to say that they are now all eager to defend it. I am delighted to say that the sheep- meat regime is working well, with £56 million of benefits to Welsh farmers last year. We have heard of the great pleasure of the farmers' unions at the considerable increase in the beef suckler cow premium.

Mr. Ron Davies : I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that his office did not manage to comply with the normal courtesies and inform me before Question Time that my question was linked with question No. 8.

Will he confirm that every county in Wales has had recorded outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy? Will he publicly acknowledge that Welsh consumers are eating beef products derived from infected cattle? That statement has been acknowledged by the farmers' unions, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the British Veterinary Association. To protect the health of the people of Wales and the economic livelihood of Welsh farmers as stockmen, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the only effective way of keeping infected animals out of the food chain is by increasing compensation to realistic levels? Will he give an undertaking that he will do just that?

Mr. Walker : I do not think that Welsh farmers would be pleased at the way in which the hon. Gentleman has endeavoured, totally without justification, to scare the consuming public about Welsh beef. I regret his exaggerated remarks.

I apologise for the bad mistake that my Office made in failing to inform the hon. Gentleman that his question would be linked. That should have been done.

As for compensatory arrangements, they are constantly under review.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the anxiety among potato farmers in Pembrokeshire about the possible abolition of the Potato Marketing Board? Will he confirm that the Welsh Office has made representations to the review being carried out by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food?

Mr. Walker : I can confirm that we have played a full part in the review mechanisms.

Mr. Geraint Howells : In his discussions with the leaders of the farmers unions in Wales, did the right hon. Gentleman discuss the Government's proposals for financial cuts in research and development establishments in Wales? Will he give farmers in Wales an assurance that the future of the Trawsgoed and Pwllpeirian experimental farms and the Welsh plant breeding station at Gogerddan, Aberystwyth, will be safeguarded in years to come?

Mr. Walker : I assure the hon. Gentleman that the reviews are currently taking place. We have discussed the matter with the farmers' unions in Wales and stressed the

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importance of ensuring that the grass-growing areas of the United Kingdom, of which Wales is a prominent part, have the appropriate research facilities.

Labour Statistics

9. 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 11 May 1989, the number of unemployed claimants in the Newport district, Gwent and Wales were 5,293, 16,156 and 97,818 respectively. Unadjusted figures for 1979 are not available on a basis which enables a valid comparison to be made. In the last 12 months, Wales has experienced a larger fall in the percentage rate of unemployment than any other region of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hughes : Is this to be the Secretary of State's last hoorah? Does he appreciate that no amount of trumpeting on his part can hide the fact that unemployment in Wales is 8.3 per cent., bottoming out at double the figure that it was under Labour, the country faces a massive balance of payments problem, interest rates are 14 per cent. and the inflation rate is 8.3 per cent. and rising? Surely, far from being a success, the Government's record is a disaster of the first order. That has been recognised by the electorate in the past few days.

Mr. Walker : If this were my last appearance, my one regret would be that I should no longer be getting questions from the hon. Gentleman, who is always helpful. I am grateful to him for continuing to ask this question and I hope that he will go on doing so. He considered that unemployment was bottoming out at 150,000, 140,000, 130,000, 120,000, 110,000 and 100,000. I am glad to say that as it goes down to well below the average for the European Community, the hon. Gentleman remains consistent in putting questions which show that last year Wales had the best record in falling unemployment of any region in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Rowlands : Is the Secretary of State aware that within the past week there have been announcements in my own community of 150 possible redundancies at Thorne, 600 at the Merthyr Vale colliery and more than 100 at Hoover? According to the company, the job losses at Hoover were as a direct result of interest rates. In those circumstances, what does the Secretary of State say to his Cabinet colleagues about the impact of high interest rates on the mature manufacturing sectors in our communities?

Mr. Walker : There is another question on this matter, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes, I can list a set of good announcements which took place last month. In the hon. Gentleman's constituency, there is much investment and expansion--

Mr. Rowlands : We are losing more than the new jobs coming.

Mr. Walker : That is not true and the hon. Gentleman knows it. Merthyr has a very good record on unemployment, and continues and will continue to do so. The impression that the hon. Gentleman seeks to give that there is some great depression in Merthyr is not the case.

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We are about to embark on the biggest derelict land clearance programme in Wales in Merthyr, and the sites are all sites that the local authority wishes to use for further industrial development.

Mr. Raffan : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the dramatic reduction in unemployment in Delyn in the past two years--a fall of 50.1 per cent. between May 1987 and May 1989? Does he agree that this remarkable achievement is due to the fact that the Government gave my constituency the highest development area status, which the Labour party never did, and gave it the Delyn enterprise zone, which the Labour party opposed?

Mr. Walker : Yes, I am delighted with the developments in Delyn. I recently visited it and saw what was taking place. I was also delighted the other day to hear the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) say how staggered he was at the speed of the transformation of the Deeside economy.

Mr. Wigley : In view of the possibility of the Toyota engine plant coming to Clwyd, will the Secretary of State take advantage of his opportunity tomorrow to tell Gwynedd county council what steps will be taken to ensure that any spin-off jobs associated with the development, which we greatly welcome, come to areas such as Gwynedd, so that the benefits arising from the scheme are spread as much as possible?

Mr. Walker : I never predict investments which may or may not come to an area, and no decisions have been made-- [Interruption.] --I have never predicted the investments that might come to any part of Wales until the deal is completed and signed because it would be silly to do so. One of the main purposes of my discussions tomorrow will be to see how we can take advantage of all the considerable economic developments in the county.

Mr. Barry Jones : The right hon. Gentleman must not be complacent about unemployment in Wales. How will the privatisation of the four remaining skill centres reduce skills shortages in south and north Wales? Does he still believe that the economy has been mismanaged? Does he agree with the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) that the Government's Euro-campaign was disgraceful?

Mr. Walker : I am delighted to say that during the course of the next 18 months we shall be getting the new training and enterprise councils into place throughout Wales. They will involve considerable Government investment and will use all the training facilities that are available. So training in Wales in the coming years will, to a greater degree, meet the needs of a new and diversified economy ; this will be greatly beneficial to the whole future economy of Wales.

NHS Reform

10. Mr. Rogers : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has had welcoming the Government's proposals for reform of the National Health Service.

Mr. Grist : My right hon. Friend and I have received a substantial number of representations welcoming the Government's objectives, as outlined in the White Paper

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"Working for Patients", to build on the achievement of record levels of patient care which our record levels of investment in the NHS have made possible, so as to bring all areas of the NHS up to the standards of the best and provide even better health care for all.

Mr. Rogers : I find it extraordinary that the Secretary of State has received

"a substantial number of representations"

welcoming these proposals. That is almost as vague as his answer to the first question this afternoon, when he said that it was impossible to obtain ordinary statistics within the National Health Service. I wish the Minister would give us a precise figure rather than talking vaguely about "substantial". Opposition Members have received large postbags against these proposals. I want to know who sent these letters to the Minister.

Mr. Grist : The hon. Gentleman complains about the weight of letters that he may have received. Like other hon. Members, he has passed many of them on to us. We, too, are constituency Members, and we also receive letters directed to the Welsh Office from members of the public and the various professions involved. To count them all out and dissect them would involve a waste of money which would be better spent elsewhere. Had Opposition Members not wilfully gone around scaring people we should not have had to waste so much time answering so many letters.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : Given that the Government spend almost half as much again on the Health Service in Wales in GDP terms as compared with their average European counterparts, does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that he pursue his discussions on the improvements to the Health Service, so that what we all want to happen will happen and average performances will be brought up to the level of the best?

Mr. Grist : I very much agree. Apart from the White Paper, there is also the GPs' contract, the aim of which is to ensure that we in Wales, who do not always receive the best of treatment by certain parts of the Health Service, receive the very best treatment. I should have thought that that was the desire of the constituents of every hon. Member.

Mr. Win Griffiths : Would the Minister care to name any doctors or consultants who approve of the Government's proposals? Will he admit that doctors and consultants across Wales are far more typically wholly opposed to them? A doctor wrote to me saying that he believes in three quarters of what the Government are doing and usually votes Conservative in general elections, but he believes that these proposals are, to quote him, "dishonest".

Mr. Grist : I think that that doctor will find, as will many other people--perhaps including Opposition Members, as they learn a little more during the passage of the legislation and see the results of the consultations that have taken place--that our proposals will form the basis of the Health Service well into the next century--a modern Health Service, which is not based on the 1940s.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my hon. Friend agree that these proposals will lead to greater efficiency and choice in the Health Service and should be warmly welcomed? Does

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he agree that it is high time that the vicious and misleading propaganda campaign by the BMA was brought to an end?

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