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House of Commons

Monday 18 March 1991

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Gregory : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is his estimate for the current year of the value of tourism to Wales ; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts) : In 1989, the last year for which complete figures are available, Wales's earnings from tourism were around £1,500 million--an increase of some 25 per cent. on the previous year. It has also been estimated that the industry provides some 95,000 jobs in the Principality, approximately 9 per cent. of the total. There are, of course, other benefits--including the protection and enhancement of our culture, environment, and heritage. The tourism industry is, therefore, of considerable importance to the Welsh economy.

Mr. Gregory : I agree with my hon. Friend the Minister that the figures are most attractive, particularly bearing in mind the employment possibilities. Is the Wales tourist board co-operating with the private sector as much as possible to provide a true partnership between state and private sector? Bearing in mind the Gulf crisis, is the Wales

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tourist board doing everything possible to regain the confidence of overseas tourists and encouraging them to visit Wales?

Sir Wyn Roberts : The Wales tourist board collaborates closely with the private sector, and has the use of section 4 grants amounting to some £3.2 million this year. It uses part of that money to support its local enterprise and development programme, which is part of a wider strategy over five years which is expected to generate £73 million of investment and to create 2,000 jobs. The programme is on course to achieve that target. I confirm that the Wales tourist board is working closely with the British Tourist Authority in seeking to attract visitors to the United Kingdom.

Mr. Gareth Wardell : Will the Minister join me in praising the cleanliness of the beaches of Gower, which the recently published National Rivers Authority report gives a clean bill of health in respect of last year's bathing season? In congratulating Swansea city council, the National Rivers Authority and everyone else on their efforts in ensuring the cleanliness of Gower beaches, can the Minister tell the people of Wales how he proposes to help them to pay the higher poll tax bills that bring that particular benefit?

Sir Wyn Roberts : The Gower is a much-admired part of the country, and the hon. Gentleman is honoured to represent it. I am delighted to hear him sing the praises of Gower beaches. I would also praise the Llandudno beaches in my constituency. The proposals for bringing our beaches up to European standards of cleanliness fall within the responsibility of the National Rivers Authority and Welsh Water. The hon. Gentleman will know that the population of Wales are also most anxious that Welsh beaches should meet the highest standards, so they should be able to contribute towards achieving that.

Sir Anthony Meyer : Is my hon. Friend the Minister aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is to visit Bodelwyddan castle on 29 March for a recording of "Any Questions?" Will my hon. Friend the Minister remind our right hon. Friend of the importance

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of that cultural landmark and of the inadvisability of premature steps being taken by Clwyd county council which might put in jeopardy the viability of that enterprise?

Sir Wyn Roberts : I, too, have visited Bodelwyddan castle. It is indeed an attractive castle, with a superb exhibition of pictures from the national portrait gallery. It is the responsibility of the Labour- controlled Clwyd council and I understand that there has been some doubt about the future of the castle. It is a matter for that local authority to resolve.

Hospital Reorganisation

2. Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he next expects to meet the chairman of the South Glamorgan health authority to discuss hospital reorganisation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Bennett) : My right hon. Friend currently has no such plans

Mr. Morgan : I take it from the hon. Member's comprehensive answer that he is aware of South Glamorgan district health authority's closure decisions, which were announced last week and were followed up by his visit to the Prince of Wales hospital in Rhydlafar in my constituency. Will he confirm that South Glamorgan district health authority has quietly dropped its plans for a third large district general hospital, without which none of the closure decisions announced last week makes any sense? Does he agree that it is putting the cart before the horse for his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to confirm South Glamorgan's closure proposals? Will he agree to advise South Glamorgan district health authority to withdraw the six closure proposals that he has empowered it to carry out, as it no longer has the £70 million district general hospital--on which the whole plan depends?

Mr. Bennett : The first thing to be said is that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) has spent all his time misleading his constituents about the reorganisation proposals. I wish to put on record categorically that his statements in the newspaper Wales on Sunday in the past few weeks are completely untrue. The important thing to recall is that moving the children's ward at Rhydlafar to the Cardiff royal infirmary where there will be proper district general hospital facilities available is an improvement for the children of South Glamorgan. It is appalling that the hon. Member has spent so much time maligning the district health authority and completely misrepresenting what is to happen. Any proposals by the district health authority for its new district general hospital will be considered when it proposes them, but nothing in the reorganisation proposals is predicated on the new hospital ; they are all being proposed because they are good moves to improve the provision of health services in South Glamorgan. Most of the improvements will mean new hospitals as opposed to old buildings which have outlived their usefulness.

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3. Mr. Rowlands : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he next intends to meet the chairmen of the training and enterprise councils in Wales to discuss the numbers of people requiring youth training places and the number of employment training places available in 1991-92.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt) : I meet TEC chairman in Wales regularly and a few moments ago I was with Geoff Canning and Bob Hastie. My next formal meeting with all the TEC chairmen in Wales is on 7 May, when we shall discuss a wide range of issues, including the provision of training.

Mr. Rowlands : I hope that the Secretary of State had a good lunch. Did the chairman of Mid Glamorgan TEC tell the right hon. Gentleman that one of the major training organisations in Merthyr Tydfil is turning young people away at the moment because it has no places, and that it will have to turn away Easter and summer school leavers because there are no places? They will either have to go further afield for training or just wait until places occur. Were we not supposed to be encouraging young people to train rather than slamming the doors on them?

Mr. Hunt : The correct position is this. Total provision for training in Wales in 1991-92 is £151 million, after taking account of my recent announcement of an additional £8.41 million. That is slightly more than is likely to be spent this year and more than two thirds of that money will be directly available to training and enterprise councils in Wales to spend, which is more than they have to spend at the moment. However, it is up to the training and enterprise councils to settle their priorities.

Open-heart Operations

4. Mr. Gareth Wardell : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what information he has regarding the number of open-heart operations for adults that is needed to be carried out for people in Wales.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : We are presently developing cardiac services in Wales to reflect the advice of the Royal College of Physicians that about 560 to 660 operations per million population are required for adults.

Mr. Wardell : I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. His arithmetic will tell him straight away that, with a population of 2.5 million, Wales needs 1,200 adult open-heart operations every year, not the present abysmal figure of fewer than 700. As Wales has one of the highest rates of cardiac disease of any developed country in the world, will the Minister tell us when the promises that have been made since 1984 that the figure will be raised to 1,200 adult operations are to be kept, when the satellite unit which will perform 400 adult operations will be set up and where will it be sited?

Mr. Bennett : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes such a negative view of this important subject. [Interruption.] It is a pity that Labour Members do not want to hear the facts. In the current financial year, there have been 140 more operations. The hon. Gentleman should remember that in 1979 there were no such operations. We have recognised the need for a second cardiac centre to perform some 400 operations a year.

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Consideration is now being given to where it should be sited : it will be somewhere to the west of Cardiff, but there are competing claims from Swansea, Bridgend and elsewhere. We shall ensure that an announcement is made as soon as a proper decision can be reached, which will mean staffing with good consultants.

The hon. Gentleman should also remember that the 1,200 operations to which he referred do not represent merely the total number of heart operations in Wales. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) should listen. His hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) has asked a serious question and I am giving a serious answer. The total number of operations will not be just the 1,200 in Wales-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. It is rather a long answer.

Mr. Bennett : With respect, Mr. Speaker, it was a rather complicated question.

Patients in north Wales who are now going to Merseyside and Manchester will continue to do so. The total for Wales will be more than 1,200, but some of the operations will be performed in English hospitals.

Mr. Rogers : Despite the grave danger of being subjected to yet another party political broadcast, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that many of the referrals for open-heart surgery are from chest clinics, especially those scattered throughout the valleys, where there is a good deal of residual ill health caused by mining? The chest clinics are still desperately needed, despite the substantial rundown of the mining industry that has taken place under the present Government.

In the light of that, what does the Minister think of Mid Glamorgan health authority's arbitrary decision to close the chest clinic in Pontypridd without any consultation with the community health council, Members of Parliament or anyone else who might have an interest? Given that 60 per cent. of patients at the Pontypridd chest clinic come from the Rhondda, I am very much alarmed by the methods adopted by the new type of health authority and the failure to consult anyone.

Mr. Bennett : It is clear that the hon. Gentleman has not heard about this morning's announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about improvements to the health service in the valleys. A further £5.65 million is to be provided and 13 more projects will be helped. All of that will help the people of the valleys to improve their health service.

Labour Statistics

5. Mr. Ray Powell : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what the increase in unemployed 16 to 18-year-olds and males and females over 18 years has been since he last answered oral questions.

Mr. David Hunt : As the figures are collected quarterly, no new figures are yet available.

Mr. Powell : I hope that I shall be given the same latitude as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett).

Mr. Speaker : No--please.

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Mr. Powell : As we do not have the figures, it is important that we get the facts right. I will give the Secretary of State my estimate. In my constituency, about 200 people will join the unemployment register as a result of the closure of CATO--Community Activities and Training in Ogmore. When the right hon. Gentleman meets the chairmen of the training and enterprise councils, as he has told my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) that he will, will he ask them to carry out an investigation of the financial circumstances of Mid Glamorgan TEC in particular? I understand that, among all the millions of pounds to which the Secretary of State has referred, about £1 million has gone astray in Mid Glamorgan TEC alone. That could have kept in operation the five agencies which have been made redundant since they were set up, and provided training for 400 or 500 trainees.

Mr. Hunt : I believe that the development of training and enterprise councils has been generally welcomed by the House. I also believe that they have sufficient resources. It is for the TECs to determine their financial and management decisions, including the selection of training providers. The TECs have made it clear that the contracts that are signed must satisfy the quality standards criteria. This is a matter for the training and enterprise councils.

Mr. Livsey : What advice would the Secretary of State give to one of my constituents, aged 18, who completed a two-year course and then discovered that he was applying with 81 others for a job? He failed to get it, although he was well qualified. Would the Secretary of State say to that young person, as was said to me when I was aged 18, that his only opportunity lies outside Wales?

Mr. Hunt : The hon. Gentleman's question gives me a great opportunity to blow the Welsh Office's trumpet and say that 17 new industrial projects, involving investment of more than £63 million and creating more than 1,260 jobs, have been announced by me from this Dispatch Box in the past month. The opportunities available are increasing. A number of very large industrial concerns, including Toyota and Bosch, are recruiting staff. I am determined that the number of opportunities will increase.

Mr. Raffan : In view of the recent announcement of a total of 400 new jobs in north Wales--at W. A. Turner in Flint, Breger Gibson in Greenfield and Mita in St. Asaph--does my right hon. Friend agree that that demonstrates not only the underlying strength of the local economy in north Wales but the job opportunities for young people there?

Mr. Hunt : I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I am grateful to him for giving me this opportunity to demonstrate that all those announcements are positive proof that Wales, and particularly north Wales, continues to act as a magnet for industrial investment from both home and abroad. Some Opposition Members do not like good news, but this is very good news for Wales.

Mr. Barry Jones : I congratulate the Department on any of its success stories, but they are being undermined by the current deep recession. Has the Secretary of State overlooked last week's loss in Pontypridd of 125 valuable electronics jobs? The Conservatives tell us that they have solved Wales's problems and engineered an economic

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miracle, but do not the unemployment figures tell a different story? For example, has not unemployment in Neath increased by 12 per cent. during the last year? Was not the right hon. Gentleman's press statement in Neath this morning a grotesque travesty of the facts?

Mr. Hunt : I am a little mystified as to why the hon. Gentleman should mention Neath, of all places. I should hate to think that he was trying to make party political advantage out of the very serious challenge that faces Wales. Since 1979, there have been a large number of inward investment projects in Neath, creating 1,200 jobs. To rehearse what I said earlier, the medium to longer-term prospects for Wales are still as good as ever.

Overseas Companies

6. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many inquiries the Welsh Office have answered during the current financial year from overseas companies interested in developing new manufacturing jobs in (a) Gwynedd and (b) Wales ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Hunt : I am delighted to be able to say that in the current financial year there have, to date, been 189 visits to Wales by potential inward investors. Increasing interest is being shown in investment in Gwynedd and, indeed, throughout Wales.

I am particularly delighted to be able to announce today that Euro/DPC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Los Angeles-based Diagnositc Projects Corporation, is to relocate to Gwynedd with an investment of nearly £10 million at Llanberis, which will create 200 jobs. I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman for his help in securing that marvellous inward investment project.

Mr. Wigley : I welcome the Secretary of State's statement and thank him for his positive commitment to the project. I also thank the Welsh Office, which rapily expedited these matters, the Welsh Development Agency and Gwynedd county council for the role that they played. In particular I thank Arfon borough council, whose ability to attract inward investment was exemplary. Does the Secretary of State agree that for a leading American company to have chosen Gwynedd as its European base for this major project gives the lie to those who say-- [Interruption.] --that inward investment will not come to counties such as Gwynedd? Does he also agree that it is the prelude to a much happier future, with more industrial investment and more jobs?

Mr. Hunt : I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It was outrageous of Labour Members to shout "Tory friend", as though this good news were bad news for the Labour party. In fact, it is indeed bad news for the Labour party. It gives a marvellous boost to the economy of north Wales and will further help to stem the tide of bright young Welsh men and women who, traditionally, have left the area to find opportunities elsewhere. An industry at the leading edge of technology has chosen to locate in an area where the Welsh language and traditions thrive. I am sure that that decision will be seen as a milestone in the economic development of Gwynedd.

Mr. Grist : Does my right hon. Friend agree that flat production and pay and earnings increases of 9 or 10 per cent. are bound to result in falling employment and to lessen the attractiveness of Wales to inward investors? As

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the cost of living has barely risen in the past six months, those rises are quite unnecessary to counter the rise in the cost of living.

Mr. Hunt : I agree that high wage rises are a disincentive. None the less, I am able to announce the creation of further jobs at Swansea enterprise park, where a Japanese company, Shimano UK, is establishing the European headquarters of its fishing equipment division. Another Japanese company, Aiwa UK, will invest nearly £4 million in extending operations at its factory near Crumlin in Gwent, and Therapeutic Antibodies Incorporated of Nashville, Tennessee is to establish a biological manufacturing facility in Dyfed, with financial support from the Welsh Office. I cannot hear cheers from Labour Members, but I can hear them from elsewhere in the House.

Mr. Barry Jones : Our inward investment record is very good, and the right hon. Gentleman's news on Gwynedd will help the county very much. Given last Thursday's news that unemployment last month was the highest since June 1981, does the Secretary of State accept that the Welsh economy is suffering from the same political incompetence, mismanagement and dithering that we saw from the right hon. Gentleman on the poll tax? Does he agree that we need a budget for investment, and is he aware that according to the latest available figures there has been a cut of almost 60 per cent. in full-time manufacturing jobs in the Neath and Port Talbot area in the past 10 years? The right hon. Gentleman's press release in Neath this morning was a travesty of the facts and he should be ashamed of it.

Mr. Hunt : I have a horrible feeling that the hon. Gentleman wrote that before he was aware of the contents of my announcement. Since our previous Welsh Question Time, I have been able to announce 17 projects supported by the Welsh Office involving investment of more than £63 million and creating more than 1,260 new jobs. I was delighted to give regional selective assistance of more than £10 million towards those new job opportunities. Although I greatly regret any increase in unemployment, that is why I say that the medium to longer-term prospects for Wales are still as good as ever and the Labour party should stop talking our country down.

NHS Resources

7. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales whether he has any plans to provide additional resources to the NHS in Wales.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Planned expenditure has been increased to £1,719 million in 1991-92 which, with expected cost improvements and income generation schemes, will provide an increase of 13 per cent. over the original provision in this financial year. Additional resources will be made available for review bodies' pay awards.

Mr. Griffiths : Has a comparison been made between the rise in inflation in the health service and in inflation generally? How much extra money is required for the growing care of all our people? Does the Minister agree that, despite the welcome increases in funding, waiting lists in many areas are still increasing? Will he call in the capital

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programme of Mid Glamorgan health authority to reconsider the need to develop phase 2 of the Princess of Wales hospital at Bridgend, as promised six years ago?

Mr. Bennett : The hon. Gentleman should look at the figures. He will find that, between 1974 and 1979, there was a 9.3 per cent. increase in real terms. That has been far exceeded under the present Government, who have increased expenditure by 55.7 per cent. in real terms.

The hon. Gentleman referred to waiting lists. I, too, have looked at the matter carefully. Waiting times are as important as waiting lists. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that, with an increase in the elderly population and a larger number of patients being seen, there will be further demands on the service. I am happy to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the number of in-patients as a percentage of total throughput has fallen from 10.9 to 10 per cent. in the past 15 years. For acute sector patients, the figure is down from 13.7 to 12.8 per cent.

There is an improvement, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the fact that more people are being seen makes it difficult to tackle the problem of waiting lists, but we are trying to do that through the waiting lists initiative and the regional centres.

Rail Services

8. Mr. Raffan : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he next expects to meet the chairman of British Rail to discuss investment in rail services in Wales.

Sir Wyn Roberts : My right hon. Friend has regular meetings with the chairman of British Rail. They last met on 8 February.

Mr. Raffan : Does my hon. Friend share my concern that British Rail cannot at present spare the £2 million needed to upgrade the north Wales line so that it can take trains travelling at 90 mph, which will be necessary if we are to gain the maximum benefit from the introduction of 125s on 30 September? Will my hon. Friend press the Treasury to provide that relatively small sum, and ask British Rail in return to stop the 125s at Prestatyn rather than Lichfield?

Sir Wyn Roberts : That is a matter for British Rail and I know that BR is anxious to upgrade the track along the north Wales coast. My hon. Friend will be aware that British Rail has chosen to invest £10 million in additional and improved stock, and that will improve the service. We shall have three high-speed 125 InterCity trains running from Holyhead to London. We shall also have the 158s operating on that line. In all, we shall have 12 trains running to London as opposed to the 10 that we have now.

Mr. John P. Smith : Has the Minister read the excellent report of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs on Cardiff-Wales airport--in particular the recommendations on a rail link for the area, to bring the airport into line with all the premier regional airports in the country? Will the Minister now take whatever steps are necessary to provide such a link--especially as we could do it at such little cost?

Sir Wyn Roberts : I am certainly aware of the Select Committee's recommendation. The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed the matter before, but it is for

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Labour-controlled South Glamorgan county council to discuss the project with British Rail and agree it or otherwise but, so far, the body has not decided to go forward with it.

Welsh National Opera

9. Mr. Gwilym Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he next expects to meet the board and management of Welsh National Opera to discuss their financial and artistic plans.

Mr. David Hunt : I look forward to my next meeting with the management of the Welsh National Opera. Wales owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to that centre of excellence. I was therefore pleased to be able to find £842,000 to put the company on a secure financial footing. I was also pleased that the Arts Council decided to increase the company's touring grant.

Mr. Jones : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his remarkable generosity towards this jewel in our artistic crown. May I put it to him that the WNO plays no small part in helping to secure inward investment, and urge him to lose no opportunity to take advantage of that?

Mr. Hunt : I could not agree more. I had the privilege and honour to be present in Tokyo at the closing performance of the Welsh National Opera. A very large number--

Mr. Barry Jones : Encore!

Mr. Hunt : I will give an encore if the hon. Gentleman wishes. At that performance, a large number of Japanese business men were tremendously impressed by Welsh quality. The Welsh National Opera has put Wales on the world map as representing quality.


10. Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the development of the Welsh tourism industry.

Sir Wyn Roberts : The Welsh tourism industry has made very considerable progress in recent years. Better marketing and provision of the infrastructure essential to tourism development have undoubtedly improved the quality of our tourism product. For this I must give credit to the roles of the Wales tourist board, the development agencies, local authorities and of course the private sector, which is the main engine of wealth and job creation.

Mr. Coombs : I invite my hon. Friend to join me in emphasising the importance of tourism in rural Wales. Does he agree that a significant feature of the rural tourism industry in Wales is the availability of section 4 grants long after they have been done away with in England? How much is being spent in the current year on section 4 grants? Can he assure the House that those grants will continue to be available throughout Wales in future?

Sir Wyn Roberts : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to state that section 4 grants are important to Wales. We are spending £3.2 million on them this year through the Wales tourist board. As I said earlier, the grants are essential to the development strategy of the Wales tourist board, which ends in 1994. I am aware that my hon. Friend was a member of the Employment Select

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Committee which took a view on section 4 grants. However, I believe that tourism projects in England are legiible for regional selective assistance and grants from other sources.

Dr. Marek : Will the Minister accept that the development of the tourist industry depends on efficient train services, particularly into north Wales? Will he impress two things on British Rail? First, there should be no back-up buses should trains be full in the summer when reorganisation comes--instead, there should be adequate rolling stock for all services in north Wales. Secondly, north Wales needs a third high-speed train set to provide the standard of service that we have at the moment. I hope that the Minister recognises that the proposed two sets will provide the boat train services and that there will be only one service in each direction between north Wales and Euston as a result of the proposed reorganisation.

Sir Wyn Roberts : I am impressed by the fact that British Rail is only too anxious to meet demand. It lays considerable stress on demand. The new timetable and new rolling stock which it will provide for the service to north Wales will obviously have to be justified by its use. I do not hesitate to say that if the services that British Rail is to provide prove that it is meeting a market need and that further developments in the service are required, I am sure that British Rail will consider that.


11. Sir Anthony Meyer : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the total number of persons self-employed in Wales at the latest available date ; and what it was in 1979.

Mr. David Hunt : The latest available figures show that there are 184,000 self-employed people in Wales. When compared with the figure in 1979, that represents an increase of 50 per cent.

Sir Anthony Meyer : That is excellent news. Does not it give the lie to the notion that the Welsh are not good at setting up businesses? Is not it a great tribute to this Government? Does my right hon. Friend believe that the rather churlish reception given to this and other good news by the Opposition suggests that they are a little nervous and that, whoever wins the Neath by-election, it probably will not be the Labour candidate?

Mr. Hunt : I agree. The figures are a tremendous tribute to entrepreneurs in Wales. The real issue in Neath is whether the electors of Neath want to continue through the 1990s under the progressive policies of this Prime Minister or return to the failed socialist policies of the 1960s and 1970s.

Community Charge

12. Mr. Alan W. Williams : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received about the impact of the community charge in Wales.

Mr. David Hunt : Several.

Mr. Williams : Does the Secretary of State, as one of the Ministers heavily implicated in the introduction of the poll tax, now admit that it was an awful mistake? If, following their review of the poll tax, the Government announce on

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Thursday that they have decided on its abolition, can the Secretary of State confirm the view of the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley)--that the process will take three years? Can the hon. Gentleman--

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