Mr. Grist : May I urge my right hon. Friend on that occasion, and on others when suitable, to support the chairman's efforts vastly to improve the number, availability, cleanliness and visibility of public conveniences, the lack of which is a public disgrace?
Sir Wyn Roberts : I know that my hon. Friend has had correspondence on this subject with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. My hon. Friend will know that under the Public Health Act 1936, responsibility lies with local authorities which have the discretion about where and when to provide these facilities. We are certainly prepared to take the matter up with the chairman of the tourist board.
Sir Wyn Roberts : That was considered, but the hon. Gentleman will know that prime responsibility for attracting visitors to Britain lies with the British Tourist Authority. The Wales tourist board works closely with the BTA, and a report was recently commissioned on how the whole operation could be improved. I am glad to say that the report has now been received and that it envisages progress being made over the next three years. We should not underestimate the benefit that we get from using BTA facilities overseas.
Mr. Roy Hughes : Does the Minister appreciate that visitors are being sent to Scotland, London, Oxford and Stratford, but have never heard of Wales? Under the present arrangements they are never likely to.
Column 630is prominently presented. Of course, there is no accounting for foreigners' ignorance of Wales or of any other part of the United Kingdom.
Sir Wyn Roberts : Twenty-one colleges of further education in Wales make provision for students with special needs, including partially or profoundly deaf students. During the 1989-90 session, 35 students with a specific hearing impairment were studying in Welsh colleges.
Mr. Raffan : Does my right hon. Friend agree that places for the deaf at colleges of further education must be backed by a team of professionals who can cater for the full range of communication and linguistic needs of their students, and that even that is no substitute for a college that caters specifically for the deaf within a supportive and signing environment, such as Doncaster college for the deaf?
Sir Wyn Roberts : I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that, under grants for education support and training, funds are available to meet the cost of in-service training for further education staff who teach students with special educational needs, including deaf students. Some £50,000 is available for this purpose in the current financial year, and further support will be available in 1992-93. Our White Paper "Education and Training for the 21st Century" states that the new further education funding council will be placed under a duty to secure provision for students with special educational needs.
Mr. Win Griffiths : May I draw to the Minister's attention the fact that the money available at colleges of further education to cater properly for deaf students and other students with special educational needs is totally inadequate? There are cases at the college of technology in Bridgend where it looks as though students will be unable to benefit from the courses, simply because of the additional expense of making sure that they can take the courses. I ask the Minister to look into this matter urgently and to provide the money needed.
Sir Wyn Roberts : Mid Glamorgan certainly takes a substantial share of that £50,000--£11,150 to be precise. I must stress the reply that I gave : 21 out of the 31 colleges of further education provide for students with special educational needs.
3. Mr. Anderson : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what consultations he has had with Swansea city council and tenants on the nature of the tenancy and rent levels following the redevelopment of pre- cast reinforced concrete houses in Blaenymaes-Portmead and Clase estates in the city.
Mr. Anderson : The Under-Secretary of State will know that the tenants were most grateful to the Secretary of State for his readiness to see them this morning. However, they were intensely dissapointed by the lack of specific financial commitments and the apparent unwillingness to recognise the urgency and exceptional nature of the problem that faces the city. Tenants in Orlit houses are seeing their houses crumbling around them and regard them as a fire risk. Will the Under-Secretary of State consult Tai Cymru to make sure that rents are not pitched at such a level that tenancies are effectively available only to those on housing benefit? Will he also devise a formula so that the land that the city council is giving free to Tai Cymru can be taken into account in reducing rents to levels that can be afforded?
Mr. Bennett : Housing associations have a policy of setting affordable rents. It is for the housing benefit system to deal with people who are in need. Therefore, I do not accept that we ought to adjust housing association grants in this respect.
Mr. Alan Williams : Does the Under-Secretary of State recognise that the policy that he prefers means that for the next four or five years all the new housing that might be built by Tai Cymru in Swansea will be used not to reduce the housing list queue, but to provide homes for those who live in houses that will have to be demolished? In that context, and in view of the length of the housing list, does the Under-Secretary of State recognise that this, in Swansea terms, is a housing disaster which requires special financial provision?
Mr. Bennett : As I said in answer to questions at the last but one Question Time, we gave Swansea city council all that it asked for when it came to Orlit houses. I said at the time that we would sympathetically consider in coming years any further requests that were made. This year Tai Cymru is giving £9 million towards housing in Swansea. The right hon. Gentleman knows that we had a meeting about that this morning. We shall write to him further on the subject.
Mr. Morgan : Now that the South Glamorgan health authority seems, on the quiet, to have dropped its proposals for a £70 million third district general hospital in South Glamorgan, what influence will that have on the Minister's decision regarding the proposal to expand the treatment centre at the Prince of Wales orthopaedic hospital, Rhydlafar, in my constituency which, if it were given half a chance by the Minister, would eliminate the waiting list for artificial knees and hips, and carry out up to 1,000 operations a year for the very small capital expenditure of £160,000, instead of the 250 operations that it carries out now?
Mr. Bennett : I understand that the South Glamorgan health authority is reviewing the need for a third district hospital, but that it has not yet come to a decision. I shall make decisions on treatment centres and other matters in the light of that decision, when it is made.
Mr. Gareth Wardell : Does not the Under-Secretary of State accept my hon. Friend's contention that it is a disgrace that the specialist treatment centre at Rhydlafar hospital has already used up its quota for knee operations this year? It is also close to its limit of 160 hip replacements per year. Is not there a desperate need for extra funding, so that the number of operations performed there can be increased, to make that a superb regional orthopaedic centre?
Mr. Bennett : I am always interested in improving the productivity of treatment centres and I am happy at the way that they have functioned. They have reached the target set for them. Clearly, we shall have to consider future allocations of waiting list money, but I can give no guarantee about that aspect at present. It is for district health authorities to reach agreement with treatment centres on the number of patients that are treated at any particular centre.
Mr. Gwilym Jones : Is it not desirable, in general terms and particularly in respect of the issue in question, to deal in facts? Can my hon. Friend say how much health spending increased in South Glamorgan over the past 10 or 12 years and what that has meant for improving the quality of patient care?
Mr. Bennett : In 1979, South Glamorgan health authority received in cash terms £59 million, compared with £180 million this year. That represents a 30 per cent. increase in real terms, after taking inflation into account. As to figures for the Welsh health service, there has been a 36 per cent. increase in the number of in-patients treated, a 29 per cent. increase in out-patients and a 200 per cent. increase in day surgery. Under the Labour Government, the number of out-patients fell.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : After consultation with directors of public health medicine, preliminary targets of each of our 10 health gain priority areas have been issued to the service to inform the development of local strategies for health.
Mr. Michael : Will not the Under-Secretary of State accept something that is obvious to everyone else in the health service--that the Government are not setting targets but merely describing health changes predicted in the normal course of events, without providing any new resources or fresh initiatives? Will he face the fact that the way to set and to meet real and meaningful improved health targets in Wales is in partnership with doctors, nurses, health visitors, community health councils and everyone else involved? Will he, as a first step, withdraw the Government's divisive plans for hospital opt-outs and end the crazy experiment in creating a so- called market for health care in Wales?
Column 633Mr. Bennett : The hon. Gentleman is the last person still to believe that anything in the reforms is about hospitals opting out. They do not ; they remain NHS trust hospitals, paid for out of the generality of taxation and free at the point of service to patients.
Mr. Bennett : There is no use the hon. Gentleman shouting "Nonsense". Those facts are enshrined in the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. I am only sorry that the hon. Gentleman runs down the excellent work done by the Health Promotion Authority for Wales and the strategies, which were formulated in consultation with all the people working in the health service. It is no use the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) questioning the targets. The first of them has already been reached, but as one goes further and further, such as when dealing with cancer treatment, it becomes more difficult to deal with intractable cases.
Mr. Wigley : Does the Under-Secretary of State agree that the difference in waiting times as between NHS patients and those who are treated privately--often by the same specialist offering to provide identical treatment in a fraction of the waiting time--is unacceptable? Should not the Welsh Office set itself the target of eliminating that disparity?
Mr. Bennett : I certainly want waiting times to shorten and waiting lists to be reduced. I am grateful that the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs examined the question of elective surgery. As part of my evidence to that Committee, I said that I had visited the five hospitals with the worst waiting lists, which between them account for nearly 50 per cent. of the waiting lists in Wales. My officials are currently preparing further information on how we might tackle that situation.
Mr. Hunt : It is a vital project and I am concerned that there is as yet no unified approach to it among Opposition Members. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House acknowledge that the barrage is a major flagship project for our capital city of Cardiff, and one which would put us firmly on the world map.
Column 634to whom I have spoken who have studied the project's job potential disputes the total of 30,000 jobs or the fact that this is a marvellous project for Wales.
Mr. Burns : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a spectacular own goal for the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) to seek to block the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill and stop the creation of those 30,000 jobs, some of which could have been created already if the Bill had made progress as planned?
Mr. Hunt : The hon. Gentleman shouts from a sedentary position, "Ask my constituents". I hope that everyone who represents our capital city of Cardiff will recognise the project's tremendous potential for Wales, particularly for Cardiff. It is about time that people studied the detailed assurances that have been given. Whenever I have referred to that project, I have said that it will go ahead provided that there is a satisfactory outcome to the groundwater studies. I repeat those words today.
Mr. Jones : When the right hon. Gentleman publishes his objectives, I hope that he will explain why £400,000 of the £5 million, about which he bragged to the Welsh Grand Committee on 19 June, is being spent in inner-city Bangor on a floodlit plain? Will he explain whether and, I hope, deny that that has anything to do with the fact that the area is in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts)?
Mr. Hunt : I am appalled at that comment. It is a libel on the people of Bangor. The project was put forward not by Ministers but by the local authority on behalf of local communities. All the projects that came before me were important and of direct benefit to rural areas. On that basis, therefore, I confess that I found selection difficult. I congratulate everyone concerned on drawing up those imaginative and innovative projects.
Mr. Livsey : Given that only about 36 out of nearly 250 applications in central Wales have been approved, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, such is the crisis in agriculture--with farm incomes at their lowest since the war--he should consider introducing legislation to ensure that the Development Board for Rural Wales brings agriculture within its remit?
Mr. Hunt : Last month I prefaced my announcement with the promise that I would find £5 million, and I fulfilled my undertaking. I agree that there were many exciting projects. In considering the objectives of the rural strategy, I shall wish to think about how best to take the matter forward in the light of some exciting schemes which are still to be put into effect. As the hon. Gentleman
Column 635knows, agriculture is a matter for the Welsh Agriculture Department. Welsh Office Ministers answer on agriculture matters.
Does the Secretary of State accept that the sums that will be available to help the rural economy of Wales will be greatly affected by the hundreds of millions of pounds that will be poured into the development of a barrage in the Cardiff bay system? [Interruption.] Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that those who live in rural areas and those of us who live in the valley communities completely support the principle of the Cardiff bay development? Our only objection is to wasteful expenditure on a barrage that will not create one extra foot of land or one extra job in Cardiff.
Mr. Hunt : I have been waiting with great anticipation. I strongly support rural Rhondda's claim to put forward views on rural policy. However, I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the project proposed for Cardiff will not only do much to sustain Cardiff into the next century, but will be a tremendous fillip for the whole of Wales.
Mr. Barry Jones : All of us want to build a sound economy for rural Wales. I remind the Secretary of State that recruitment to Her Majesty's forces is one way in which the people of rural Wales can get employment and training. I want a commitment from him that he will fight hard for the Royal Welch Fusiliers even though he represents a Cheshire constituency. I want an unambiguous commitment that he will fight for the Royal Welch Fusiliers to remain a free-standing regiment.
Mr. Hunt : With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall try to respond to that question. First, I represent not a Cheshire constituency, but a Merseyside constituency which has nothing to do with this subject. Secondly, as soon as I returned from north America, I contacted my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence about the future regimental structure of the Army. The Minister of State kept in close touch with all Ministers at the Ministry of Defence in my absence. I was assured by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence that he had not yet received any specific proposals from the Army about reductions in the number of regiments. He assured me that no final decisions had been taken. He is aware that many people have extremely strong feelings about the future of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to influence his party's Front-Bench defence spokesman who recently said that there was no future for the regimental structure in the Army.
Sir Wyn Roberts : My right hon. Friend met ICI representatives on 23 January when he visited the plant at Pontypool. We are always ready to discuss assistance towards any investment project which ICI may wish to put forward.
Mr. Murphy : The Minister of State is aware that more than 1,000 Welsh men and women work for ICI and that many thousands more are ICI pensioners, all of whom are deeply suspicious of a possible Hanson bid for ICI. As the Secretary of State has been untypically silent about what should happen about the bid--as he is again today--does not the Minister think that either he or his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should make a statement in the House condemning such a bid, or do they both continue to play the role of Pontius Pilate while a vital aspect of Welsh industry is under threat from such a predator as Lord Hanson?
Sir Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman knows only too well that no takeover bid for ICI has been made. It would be wholly inappropriate to make a statement about a hypothetical situation. The hon. Gentleman referred to pensioners, and that issue is very much a matter for the trustee company and its directors who administer the fund under the trust deed. On 3 July my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry replied extremely well to the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam), and I can add nothing to what he said then.
Dr. Howells : In view of the Secretary of State's habit these days of claiming credit for just about every job created in Wales, including the appointment of a rat catcher in "Under Milk Wood", does he realise that there is a great deal of suspicion about today's announcement that 15 jobs are to be created in my constituency in a chlorofluorocarbon refrigeration recovery plant? There is a general suspicion that Wales is being regarded increasingly by other countries as a convenient place to which their poisons can be shipped and in which they can be treated and dumped.
Mr. Hunt : I am very surprised that the hon. Gentleman raised the matter in this context. I should have thought that he would welcome the £2.6 million investment in his area. It is an exciting development which will help to stem the escape into the environment of potentially damaging gases. The protection of our environment has never been as important as it is today and I am delighted that the project, for reclaiming packaging and distributing refrigerant gases, will create new jobs in the area.
Column 637Mr. Raffan : Does my right hon. Friend agree with the Fabian Society and with such leading trade unionists as Gavin Laird and Eric Hammond that the introduction of a national statutory minimum wage would be disastrous for employment in the United Kingdom, including the Principality? Does he further agree that the introduction of such a statutory minimum wage could destroy as many as 55,000 jobs in the Principality, including 1,400 in my constituency?
Mr. Hunt : My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important subject about which the Opposition have been distinctly silent. There is no doubt that there is a great deal of disquiet about Labour's proposals for the statutory minimum wage and there is evidence to show that it would bear unduly harshly on the Principality. My hon. Friend's figure of 55,000 jobs is probably an underestimate. I shall bring my estimate of the losses, which will probably be higher, before the House at the earliest opportunity.
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : The Secretary of State will be aware that this has been an extremely difficult year for young people in particular to obtain employment. In fact, if the evidence of local technical colleges and other colleges of further education is taken into account, it is the worst year for five years. Is not this, therefore, another opportunity for us to consider how we educate and train our young people? The Secretary of State knows that I have made strong representations to ensure that the whole responsibility for education and training is transferred to the Welsh Office. Will he consider that again?
Mr. Hunt : I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is precisely the moment at which we should look carefully at our education and training policies to ensure that we give every possible job opportunity to people and especially to the younger members of the Principality. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give credit to the training and enterprise councils. The first network was set up in the Principality, ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom. It is addressing the matter in practical terms and I strongly support its efforts.
Mr. Rowlands : If the past 12 years have seen such an economic miracle in Wales, why are the Government still having to squeeze out inflation by destroying more and more jobs in our economy, especially as our communities could scarcely be said to be enjoying high wages or making high wage demands? We are the lowest wage economy. If low wages mean more jobs, we should have many more jobs than we have at present.
Mr. Hunt : I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are more people in employment now than there were in 1979. He sometimes forgets that statistic. We in the Principality cannot isolate ourselves from the recession elsewhere in the world. I have recently returned from north America. The United States is in its 10th successive month of recession and Canada has just completed a 14-month period in recession. The hon. Gentleman cannot say that the difficulties are unique to Wales or to the United Kingdom. We cannot isolate ourselves from the rest of the world.
Mr. Barry Jones : Those answers will not reassure Welsh business men who see the economy lurching downwards. Is not it time for an immediate cut in interest rates to stem what is becoming a frightening recession? Does the Secretary of State agree that Wales needs interest
Column 638rate cuts, investment in our schools, investment in training and investment in industry so that we can have real jobs to face the challenge of the next century?
Mr. Hunt : Sometimes I wish that the hon. Gentleman would recognise that although we have serious difficulties in Wales with the recession, the medium to longer-term prospects for our Principality are still as good as ever. I am sorry that he did not welcome the package of £33 million of investment which I announced today. Fourteen separate industrial projects will create 300 new jobs and will safeguard many more. That is further good news for the Welsh economy and the sheer size of the investment demonstrates clearly that international and home-grown companies in Wales are confidently committing themselves to a better future.
10. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales with whom he consulted, and over what period of time, before concluding that there is no case for an elected Welsh assembly ; and whether he will consider any further representations that any all-Wales forum should have some directly elected component.
Mr. David Hunt : My discussions with the local authority associations began in January. I have received a number of representations since then which I have been considering. The hon. Gentleman will know the conclusions that I have reached. With regard to any further representations, I hope that he will accept that I have not tried to stop him making representations to me.
Mr. Wigley : I am grateful for that answer. I assure the Secretary of State that I would make any representations that I felt were appropriate. Does not he consider it very odd that when £5,000 million is spent by the Welsh Office, when there are 70 or 80 quangos and when he appoints 1,200 people to nominated bodies, we do not have any directly answerable structure in Wales? When will there be an end to the Secretary of State's role as governor-general? When will we have what every other country has--elected democracy?
Mr. Hunt : The fact that the hon. Gentleman asked me that question and that I must stand here in the mother of Parliaments and answer it shows that I am democratically accountable for what happens in Wales. With regard to the assembly, I must confess that I considered it very carefully. There is a very wide range of proposals. However, none of them explains satisfactorily what would happen to the position of the Secretary of State for Wales. There is a deep suspicion that if Labour's proposals were implemented--the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) may or may not support them--that all-important seat in the Cabinet might be denied to Wales.
Mr. Grist : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the calls from the Opposition Benches for a Welsh assembly and for a guided economy and the opposition to service industries are reminiscent of the 1970s and show that the Opposition parties have learnt absolutely nothing during their period in opposition? Should not they learn some lessons in the future?
Column 639the concept of an elected assembly by a four to one majority. I agree with my hon. Friend : the Opposition do not learn the lessons. People do not want to return to the policies of the 1970s and to that shabby Labour Government who were propped up by an equally shabby Lib-Lab pact. They do not want to return to socialism at a time when the USSR is removing the word socialist from its title and the rest of central and eastern Europe is throwing off socialism. It is remarkable that the Labour party wants to return to just that.
Mr. Ron Davies : Is not there a more recent example of what the Secretary of State has just told us about? Is not the poll tax a better example for him to cite? The Government were trying desperately to hold a line against the overwhelming majority of public opinion and against the views of all the Opposition parties in Wales and a sizeable minority in the Conservative party. Given that the poll tax was ultimately swept away, will the Secretary of State be as consistent in opposing devolution as he was in advocating the poll tax?
Mr. Hunt : I certainly will not support a return--as the Labour party would have us return--to an unjust and inequitable domestic rating system and then to proceed to a revaluation. I strongly condemn the Labour party for failing to enter into consultations, unlike the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, on the future of local government structure, functions and finance. The door is still open and will always be open. It is about time that the Labour party valued the results of consultation.
Mr. David Hunt : For inward investment, the 12 months ending March 1991 was a record year with 147 projects secured, promising 15,000 new and safeguarded jobs and an investment of £585 million. I have recently returned from what I believe to have been a successful inward investment mission to north America, following which I was able to announce a further four projects. I expect a number of other projects to flow from the visit.
Mr. Jones : My right hon. Friend could be forgiven for being somewhat exasperated at the way in which, every time he announces good news, the Luddite left in the Opposition reacts most contemptuously to it. Is not this the opportunity to say that Wales has been very successful in securing inward investment? Would my right hon. Friend care to suggest why he and everybody else involved in securing that investment have been so successful?
Mr. Hunt : I suppose it is because Opposition Members are trying to make party political points that they do not recognise the important progress that has been made. Since January alone, I have been able to announce support by the Welsh Office for more than 4,500 new jobs and nearly £352 million of investment for the Principality. I believe that the figures represent not just our outstanding record in attracting investment and jobs from overseas, but the setting up and expansion of many home-grown
Column 640businesses. With the partnership that we have in Wales, I am confident that we will continue that winning record into the mid-1990s and beyond.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : The requirements on public consultation are set out in section 5(3) of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. Local residents, health service staff involved and community interests would be consulted before any decision was taken.
Mr. Williams : Is the Minister aware that, in his constituency, Pembrokeshire health authority intends to carry out a leaflet drop to persuade people that a hospital trust is a good idea? Is not it improper for a health authority to pay for a leaflet drop that obviously has strong political connotations? Should not the money for that leaflet drop come from the coffers of the Conservative party or, better still, from the Minister?