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House of Commons

Monday 21 October 1991

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Labour Statistics

1. Mr. Rowlands : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many people are currently unemployed in Merthyr and Rhymney ; and what estimate he has of the number of job vacancies available.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt) : Before I answer that question and with your leave, Mr. Speaker, I wish to say that our thoughts are very much with the people of Aberfan. In saying that, I know that I speak not only for the House, the people of Wales and the people of the rest of the United Kingdom, but for people across the world.

The figures are 7,394 and 519.

Mr. Rowlands : May I thank the Secretary of State for those kind and sympathetic words which will be greatly appreciated in Aberfan? It has been my privilege to represent Aberfan in this House for the best part of 20 of those 25 years. I have witnessed the determination, courage and commitment of the community to rebuild itself. Our thoughts are certainly with the many personal friends and families who have to live with those terrible memories and grievous loss. May I remind the Secretary of State that the pit was closed two years ago and that in March the deep navigation pit next door at Treharris was closed? Next month Penallta is to close, thus leaving the south-east Wales coalfield with only two pits, Taff Merthyr and Tower. Will the Secretary of State give us his personal assurance that he will not be party to any coal board privatisation which, according to the Rothschild report, would mean the complete closure of all pits in south-east Wales, thus destroying the true great mining tradition?

Mr. Hunt : I very much join with the remarks of the hon. Gentleman at the outset of his supplementary question.

Only this morning I was reflecting that in 1947, at the time of nationalisation, we had 229 pits in Wales whereas now we have five and that in 1947 we had 124,000 people employed whereas now we have just over 1,000. From those statistics people can see the tremendous transformation that has take place in Wales. Equally, it imposes an obligation on the Government not only to sustain the coal industry--

Mr. Rowlands : The Welsh coal industry.

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Mr. Hunt : Yes, the Welsh coal industry. The first pit where I went underground was Point of Air in north Wales--which sometimes we forget is one of the Welsh coal mines. We must also provide the job opportunities that will be needed in the Wales of the future.

Mr. Barry Jones : I thank the Secretary of State for his remarks about the community of Aberfan and for associating all of his Department and the people of Wales with what he said.

I welcome the Dow Corning investment in the Vale of Glamorgan, which is a credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) and all concerned. Has not the Secretary of State failed to appreciate the seriousness of the situation over which he presides? I am talking about the 12 successive monthly increases in unemployment in Wales, the 40 per cent. rise in unemployment in Wales this year and now a spate of redundancies that are causing grave concern. Will he admit that in communities such as Aberdare, Merthyr, Bridgend, Rhondda, Pontypridd and Swansea the situation is a national disgrace? Will he tell us now what is his strategy to make Wales the best and most successful economy in Europe?

Mr. Hunt : I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks. I take this opportunity to say that I am delighted today to be able to announce a major investment package of more than £14 million, involving the creation of 470 jobs. Each of the projects is backed with regional selective assistance from the Welsh Office. I hope that that communicates to the hon. Gentleman that not only are we determined to provide more job opportunities, but we are putting our money where our mouth is.

2. Mr. Ron Davies : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what proposals he has to alleviate the current levels of unemployment in (a) Rhymney Valley, (b) Mid Glamorgan and (c) Wales.

Mr. David Hunt : The range of measures operated by the Welsh Office, the Welsh Development Agency and all Government agencies are aimed at combating unemployment. We shall continue to look for and respond swiftly to opportunities that have the potential to reduce unemployment.

Mr. Davies : Many of my hon. Friends will join me in my constituency at Ystrad Mynach to commemorate the closure of Penallta colliery which means the loss of 300 jobs and the end of the coal industry in the Rhymney valley. Since even the former Prime Minister has now acknowledged that she is "painfully aware" of the destructive nature of the Government, will the Secretary of State, as an act of contrition and a public apology to the people of Wales for the past 12 years, care to join us at that commemoration next week?

Mr. Hunt : I have nothing to apologise for. It is most discourteous of the hon. Gentleman to try to lay at the door of a Conservative Government what has happened in the coal industry. I have already given the figures on that industry and he will know from them that far more pits were closed under Labour Governments than under Conservative ones. During the 1980s a series of Conservative Governments brought new jobs to different parts of Wales. They have transformed Wales with the

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biggest land clearance programme in Europe. It is about time that the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that, just as the 1980s were the decade in which Wales was transformed, the 1990s will be the decade of opportunity.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : Is not the best way in which to continue to expand the soundness of the Welsh economy not to follow the moans and groans of the Opposition, but to continue the pragmatic and enlightened approach that my right hon. Friend and his predecessor have followed? Those are not my comments, but those of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) as reported on "Wales on Sunday".

Mr. Hunt : I take the opportunity to thank the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) for his kind remarks about the enlightened policies of myself and my predecessor.

Mr. Foot : These shameful unemployment figures are far higher than those at any time in the post-war period when a Labour Government were in power. How much is the latest increase in unemployment due to the abandonment of effective regional policies by the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors which has meant that, for Wales, the slump goes deeper and it will take us longer to get out of it? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the abandonment of those regional policies was done in defiance of recommendations from the Opposition?

Mr. Hunt : Among the package of announcements that I am delighted to be making today is one of a joint venture between Germany and Sweden in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency for the manufacture of automotive exhaust downpipes and silencers at Tredegar. There is another project relating to the tie and neckwear factory at Nantyglo. Those two projects alone will create nearly 100 jobs. I hope that that will demonstrate to the right hon. Gentleman our determination to continue to bring job opportunities to Wales and his constituency.

Mr. Raffan : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming today's announcement by Knitmesh in my constituency that it is to create 67 new full-time jobs and 58 part-time ones? Will he also join me in congratulating British Aerospace at Broughton on securing the Japanese air self-defence contract with 27 British Aerospace jets? Does my right hon. Friend agree that those announcements bode extremely well for jobs in north -east Wales?

Mr. Hunt : I am glad to respond to my hon. Friend's invitation to welcome the investment by Knitmesh of nearly £2 million, about which I am delighted. I was also extremely pleased to be present, with the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), at the opening of the new wing factory at British Aerospace and I was delighted to hear of the good news since. All that represents good prospects for the future.

Water Quality

3. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what progress has been made in implementing the EC directives on bathing water quality and drinking water quality.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Bennett) : We brought both directives int

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United Kingdom legislation and have given major investments to water undertakings to ensure that the directives are met.

Mr. Griffiths : Yes, but the Minister must be aware that we have not met the deadlines set in the directives. I had hoped that this afternoon the Minister might have been able to tell me when, as a result of discussions with the chairman of Welsh Water, he expects the bathing water and tap water quality directives to be met in Wales. Has there been any slippage, as I believe, in the investment programme announced on the privatisation of Welsh Water? Perhaps the Minister does not appreciate the seriousness of the problem, but in parts of Cardiff more than 20 per cent. of the water has lead levels above the safety limit. Does he agree that it would be far better for Welsh Water to invest money in improving water quality than in buying shares in South Wales Electricity and other such companies?

Mr. Bennett : Welsh Water is investing £1.8 billion over 10 years in the water industry in Wales--that is £500,000 every day for 10 years--and it is doing an excellent job. Its programme will mean that shortly no lead pipes will be in Welsh Water's control and it has put forward a £10 million programme to help householders to get rid of lead pipes in their homes.

Mr. Grist : Will my hon. Friend confirm that Britain is the most successful EC country in providing decent, clean water and that we are honest in our testing, we publicise our testing and we obey the directives, unlike some of our partners?

Mr. Bennett : My hon. Friend is absolutely right, because 99 per cent. of Welsh drinking water already meets or exceeds EC standards. It is distressing that the Labour party spends all its time running down Britain when our record is much better than that of our European partners. One need only smell the Rhine at Cologne or go on the beaches in the Mediterranean or Greece to see that our European partners have a long way to go to catch up with British standards.

Mr. Wigley : Does the Minister accept that it is unreasonable to fund that large expenditure, which must be met, from the charges made for water? Does he accept that the profits retained to fund such improvements in capital works have driven up the price of Welsh water to the extent that some of my constituents, pensioners living in single-bedroomed flats, pay £220 a year in water charges? Is not that ridiculous? The Government must look at means of funding general improvement work other than through the taxation now charged by Welsh Water.

Mr. Bennett : The hon. Gentleman must look at the facts. Welsh Water is spending £108--

Mr. Wigley : Answer the question.

Mr. Bennett : I am answering the question, if the hon. Gentleman would listen. Welsh Water is investing £108 for every £100 that it collects in charges. The average charge to consumers in Wales is 55p per day, which is a small charge. I admit that, to some people, it is a considerable amount to collect in one lump, but it can be paid over a period of 10 months. It is important that we get over the period of neglect of the last Labour Government, when investment fell to an all-time low.

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Labour Statistics

4. Mr. Roy Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the most recent unemployment figure for Wales.

Mr. David Hunt : On 12 September, the latest seasonally adjusted figure for unemployment was 120,200.

Mr. Hughes : Does the Secretary of State appreciate that it will cost £21 billion to keep 2.5 million people on the dole this year, 120,000 of whom are in Wales? In the Newport travel-to-work area, the unemployment rate is now 11.7 per cent., with 27 people competing for each vacancy. Is not that a disgraceful record for the Government after 12 years and is not it time for the people of the country to be allowed to give their verdict on that record?

Mr. Hunt : The hon. Gentleman will recognise that five years ago the figure was 180,000. One area where there has been a substantial reduction has been in the long-term unemployed. I am sad that the hon. Gentleman did not take the opportunity to highlight the successes that have taken place in and around his constituency through new investment and the marvellous news about Imperial park. Imperial college has decided to set up a science park in the area around the hon. Gentleman's constituency. That is marvellous news for the future of Wales.

Mrs. Clwyd : If the Secretary of State is so proud of his record, will he explain why, under three successive Secretaries of State, unemployment in the Cynon Valley has been the highest in Wales? If he and the Coal Board have nothing to hid on privatisation, why was I denied access to the only remaining pit in the Cynon Valley, Tower colliery, the week before last? Will he give the men at Tower colliery, which is now making a profit, a categorical assurance that, despite two or three previous redundancies in the coal industry, they now have a secure future in the Tower colliery in Cynon Valley?

Mr. Hunt : Whether or not the hon. Lady can gain access to the colliery is a matter for British Coal, not me. I regret that she failed to repeat the words of the chief executive of Cynon Valley council who said that Cynon Valley was rapidly becoming the land of high-tech investments. It is exciting that we are now seeing a number of new investments--

Mrs. Clwyd : Come on!

Mr. Hunt : The hon. Lady should not downgrade the achievements of her council, which is doing extremely well in attracting new investment. I am delighted about the investment--the joint venture of the Gooding Sanken group--which is to take place next year.

Mr. Geraint Howells : My colleagues and I would like to be associated with the sentiments expressed earlier this afternoon. I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that the people of Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire are disappointed that, after 12 years of Tory rule, Fishguard is at the top of the unemployment league with a rate of 18 per cent. and Cardigan has 17 per cent. That is not a very good Government record and my constituents are disturbed.

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How long will they have to wait before unemployment levels move down the league and the average rate is closer to that of other constituencies--6 per cent?

Mr. Hunt : I much appreciate the hon. Gentleman's first remarks. As for Fishguard and Holyhead, I greatly regret that there are some traditional pockets of high unemployment in Wales and we must use every way possible to feed new opportunities through to those districts. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will pay tribute to the substantial investment being made in north Wales, through the A55 corridor of opportunity. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will be present at the opening of the Conwy tunnel. I am also delighted at the M4 development in the south, towards west Wales, which will open up many opportunities in south and west Wales.

Mr. Murphy : Bearing in mind all the talk that we have heard this afternoon about the appalling level of unemployment in the Principality, is not it exactly the wrong time for the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to be asking for major cuts in the training budget? Now that the Secretary of State has responsibility for training in Wales, will he confirm that, in Wales, career development loans and business enterprise training will continue? Most importantly, precisely what proportion of the £100 million cuts in youth training and the £100 million cuts in employment training will be borne by the people of Wales?

Mr. Hunt : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised the subject of training. As he will know, resources are a matter for discussion within government and the House will be informed about that subject in the autumn statement. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned training, because I regard a key move to be the Prime Minister's transfer of the responsibility for training from the Department of Employment to the Welsh Office. It gives us a marvellous opportunity in Wales and I have set up a training, enterprise and education unit within the Welsh Office which seeks to bring together those three key sectors of responsibility to formulate future training policies with the training and enterprise councils--the first of which in the United Kingdom was set up in Wales. Those are exciting developments.

Job Losses

5. Mr. Flynn : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is his estimate of the total number of jobs that have been lost by outward investment, or the export of existing jobs overseas, in the past 12 months.

The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts) : We do not hold those figures, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that nine inward investment projects have been secured for his constituency in the past 18 months, promising some 450 jobs and that the magnificent Imperial science park being established there will create many hundreds of top-quality new jobs in addition to those provided by the new Patent Office.

Mr. Flynn : While the loss of jobs from Newport and Llanelli to firms overseas is serious enough, what is more worrying is the loss of jobs from Newport to other parts of the United Kingdom. Is the Minister aware of the claims made by the previous Secretary of State for Wales that the Toyota jobs were in the bag for Wales until the previous

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Prime Minister called in the Toyota boss and told him that she wanted the jobs to be located in Derby because of the large number of marginal seats in that district? She also promised to match the grant available in Wales for Derby.

Is the Minister further aware that the Prime Minister flatly denied the claim and told me that the Government neither encouraged nor discouraged Toyota in its choice of site? Will the Minister guarantee today that should future jobs bonanzas come to Wales they will not be stolen by Huntingdon man using the Huntingdon charter to site such jobs in Huntingdon?

Sir Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman has revealed himself as rather smaller-minded than I had thought. Of course I have seen the Prime Minister's reply to him--it contains what I have already said. The eventual decision was for Toyota itself to take. There were competing claims within the United Kingdom and overseas. That is entirely credible and, bearing in mind the fact that Toyota did not require Government financial assistance, it is inconceivable that any pressure could have been brought to bear on it.

To listen to the hon. Gentleman one would think that we in Wales had some God-given right to every investment. We do not.

Mr. Dickens : Does my right hon. Friend accept that inward investment in the United Kingdom in general and in Wales in particular was outstanding last year? What have been the investment opportunities in the first six months of this year?

Sir Wyn Roberts : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have done extremely well with inward investment. Last year about 147 projects were secured, promising 15,000 new or safeguarded jobs and capital investment of about £585 million. In the first six months of this year we have had 102 projects, promising 10,800 jobs and about £735 million worth of investment. It is incredible that one has to go to a rival region such as Catalonia, which I visited last week, to hear just how well we are doing in Wales.

Mr. John P. Smith : It is true that I will always warmly welcome good news for my constituency wherever it comes from, especially good news relating to public money being used to pave the way for investment. It is a pity, however, that many of my colleagues cannot enjoy such good news because of what is happening in Wales. In the light of the announcement about Barry, may we look forward to an early decision on the establishment of a rail link to Cardiff-Wales airport which will further increase investment opportunities in Barry and the rest of south Wales?

Sir Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman and I have been over this ground on a number of occasions and I know that he knows only too well that this is primarily a matter for South Glamorgan county council to put forward in conjuction with British Rail. Then, if such a proposal is made, we can consider it.

Citizens Charter

6. Mr. Hind : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the numbers of representations he has received from the people of Wales on the implementation of the citizens charter in Wales.

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Mr. Nicholas Bennett : So far we have had more than 70 representations, we have published 28,000 copies of the citizens charter in Wales and we have already published the education charter for parents. Shortly, we hope to publish the tenants and patients charters.

Mr. Hind : Will my hon. Friend take every opportunity to remind the parents of Wales that through the parents charter they will have greater choice, a vastly increasing flow of information from schools and a much- improved say in the running of those schools and the education of their children? That contrasts with what the Labour party would give them : a reduction in say and choice and a great reduction in the powers that they as parents would enjoy.

Mr. Bennett : I could not agree more. Not only would the Labour party ensure that parents did not get information about exam results--it opposed the idea when the relevant Bill was passing through the House--but it would abolish city technology colleges, do away with grant-maintained schools and get rid of the assisted places scheme. The whole policy of the Labour party is to scrap, demolish and oppose. It has no constructive suggestions on education.

Mr. Anderson : Will the aggrieved private citizen in Wales be able to complain about evasions and delay by the Welsh Office? The aggrieved people of west Wales have been waiting three years since they were promised that the second cardiac unit would be sited in west Wales. Will they be able to complain about that delay in spite of the Welsh Office promise?

Mr. Bennett : If the people of Wales have a complaint about the Welsh Office they can complain to the parliamentary ombudsman. My job is to ensure that all the policies of the Welsh Office are put forward as speedily as possible for the people of Wales.

Mr. Alex Carlile : Will the Welsh Office publish a railway sufferers charter for Wales pointing out that the considerable investment in industry between Shrewsbury and Aberystwith has been met by British Rail by the withdrawal of all InterCity services west of Wolverhampton? Will that railway sufferers charter also ensure that people can not only complain, satisfying though that is, but can see some improvement in the abominable rail services west of Shrewsbury?

Mr. Bennett : I have considerable sympathy with what the hon. and learned Gentleman says about British Rail, and I have recently had cause to complain about the west Wales lines. The best thing that can happen to British Rail for the passengers is a move towards privatisation so that passengers can have more say and more control over their services.

Health Service

7. Mr. Denzil Davies : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he next intends to meet the chairmen of the health authorities to discuss the future of the health service in Wales.

Mr. David Hunt : On 20 November.

Mr. Davies : When the Secretary of State meets those chairmen, will he discuss with the chairman of the East Dyfed health authority the proposal to close the Mynydd

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Mawr hospital in my constituency? That hospital is for the elderly chronically sick, and there is a great danger that services for those people, along with the phrase itself, are beginning to disappear. Is the Secretary of State aware that however good acute and rehabilitation services, and whatever the expectation of life, unfortunately in the last three years of their lives many people will need to be looked after in hospital? Will the right hon. Gentleman look with disfavour upon that proposed closure and on any proposal to close a hospital for the elderly chronically sick?

Mr. Hunt : I understand that East Dyfed district health authority is consulting on the transfer of services for the elderly and that consultation ends on 2 November. If the community health council objects, the proposals will be decided by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Rogers : When the Secretary of State meets the chairmen of the health authorities will he discuss with the chairman of Mid Glamorgan health authority the delays in hospital reorganisation in the Taff Ely-- Rhondda area, which have led to considerable underprovision? Although a new hospital is opening, there will be a substantial loss of beds in the area. I know that the Secretary of State has made arrangements for a meeting on 24 November and I am sure that he will receive with sadness, as will Opposition Members, the news that Mrs. Mattie Collins, the leader of Rhondda borough council for many years, died yesterday. At that meeting, which I hope to attend in her place, will the Secretary of State have an answer about this hospital reorganisation?

Mr. Hunt : At that meeting I look forward to discussing these issues with the hon. Gentleman. I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the life of Mrs. Mattie Collins, who did such a tremendous amount for her area. I know that the news of her death will have been received with great sadness in all parts of the House.

Mr. Raffan : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the doctors, nurses and ancillary staff at Glan Clwyd and Wrexham Maelor hospitals on treating 1,000 more patients this year than originally expected? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is yet further evidence of the excellent national health service available to those living in the Clwyd health authority area?

Mr. Hunt : I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The health service in Wales is now treating a record number of patients, it has a record level of funding and the proposed reforms are receiving enthusiastic support from a number of health service managers because they will ensure that the record level of funding is spent in the best possible way for the patients.

Mr. Gareth Wardell : When the Secretary of State meets the chairmen of the health authorities in Wales, will he make three things abundantly clear to them? First, will he make it clear that they are responsible, with a continuing role, for looking after the long-term intensive care of the elderly? Secondly, will he ensure that funds are available so that general practitioners can refer their patients to the hospital that they deem to be appropriate for their treatment? Thirdly, will he look again at the position of the orthopaedic hospital Rhydlafar, in Cardiff, to ensure that money is made available so that those arriving for major hip and knee operations are not referred back to their

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general practitioners? The money ran out before the summer recess, which is a cruel deception when that centre is available.

Mr. Hunt : On the hon. Gentleman's third point, he will know that we received a tremendous number of bids for waiting times for 1991-92, requiring funding of about £5 million against the £1.3 million that was available. Against that background, we were unable to support the bid in full. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman knew this, but I am happy to tell him that a further £64,000 to support 40 additional operations in 1991-92 will be made available. I will respond to the hon. Gentleman on his other points.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about funding. I do not want any impression to be given--I want only the facts to be made clear. They are that in 1979 in Wales the health service received £481 million. At 1991 prices that is £1,113 million. We are spending £1,769 million, so we are funding at record levels.

Mr. Livsey : Does the Secretary of State realise that wards in psychiatric hospitals are still being closed despite the fact that there are inadequate facilities for community care and that the Mid Wales hospital in my constituency, at Talgarth, is the subject of a feasibility study? Will the Minister give us an assurance that no psychiatric patient will be discharged into the community without proper facilities being made available?

Mr. Hunt : I am happy to give that assurance. I thought that all- party support had been given to the policy of moving people into the community, with the requisite support services. We in Wales should take pride in the fact that, although admittedly we are not so far forward as many of us would like to be, we have made considerable progress under the mental handicap strategy.

Mr. Barry Jones : Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that Pembroke health authority was given £50,000 by the Welsh Office to pay for its application for NHS status? Will he rule out, here and now, any further such bribes to get NHS hospitals to opt out of local health authority control? The people of Wales reject the handling of our health service by the Under-Secretary of State and they do not support the Secretary of State's policies on our health service.

Mr. Hunt : The answer to the first point is yes. The answer to the second point is that it was not a bribe--it was finance to fund the preparation of the first application for NHS trust status in Wales. I make it clear that neither I nor my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will entertain applications for NHS trust status unless we are convinced, first, that the hopital concerned will stay within the NHS, secondly, that it will be financially viable and, thirdly, that the change will result in better patient care. I can put that across clearly to the hon. Gentleman.

We are still being criticised on NHS funding. Let me put it in simpler terms. When we came into power in 1979, the health service was spending £171 for every man, woman and child in Wales. That was not a bribe-- that was the level of spending that the Labour Government had reached. Uprated to 1991 prices, it would be £396. We are spending £614 for every man, woman and child.

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Urban Renewal (Holyhead)

8. Dr. Marek : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales, pursuant to his answer to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) of 10 June, Official Report, column 456, what action he has taken in connection with rail services under his responsibilities for initiatives for urban renewal in Holyhead.

Sir Wyn Roberts : The provision of rail services in Holyhead is the responsibility of British Rail. I have granted supplementary credit approvals of £250,000 to Gwynedd county council in the current financial year to fund the high-speed train refuelling facilities at Holyhead.

Dr. Marek : What else does the Minister intend to do to ensure that Holyhead retains its position as the centre for freight travelling to and from the Republic of Ireland, especially in view of British Rail's stupid decision to use the route from Liverpool to Belfast and then transfer freight by lorry to Dublin? Also, what does the Minister intend to do to reinstate the InterCity service between north Wales and Euston? The 9 pm train from Holyhead was withdrawn a few weeks ago by British Rail, and between 100 and 150 people had to stand all the way to Crewe, packed into a four-car sprinter unit.

Sir Wyn Roberts : On the last point, I am sure that British Rail will be glad to hear of the heavy demand for its services. The hon. Gentleman knows that there has been an increase in the number of services available to take people, if not to Euston from north Wales, to Manchester and Crewe where they can take connecting trains for London. As for freight, we must make the services from Holyhead more competitive. The more I study the question, the more I realise that we lose freight traffic because we are not so competitive as we should be.


Clergy Stipends

27. Mr. Ian Taylor : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what recent consideration the Church Commissioners have given to the current stipend of a vicar.

Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners) : The Commissioners, as the central stipends authority, review stipends regularly and will consider them again at a conference with dioceses in November, and at the annual stipends conferences which take place each spring. The current average stipend of an incumbent is about £12,100 per year. In addition, he receives some benefits in kind, including free accommodation and a non-contributory pension, the average value of which is estimated by the Commissioners to be £7,260.

Mr. Taylor : Will my right hon. Friend carefully consider taking £1 off a vicar's stipend every time that vicar uses the new Prayer Book which has been published by one of the oldest publishing houses in the country and in which the Lord's Prayer refers to God as "Our Mother and Father"? Is it not sensible that curates who are themselves confused about bisexuality should not try to confuse their congregations about whether Jesus was a hermaphrodite?

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Mr. Alison : My hon. Friend makes a serious point, albeit in a light -hearted style. The liturgy of the Church of England is approved by Parliament and therefore has a statutory basis. It would be unlawful to make any unauthorised liturgical change of gender in the Lord's prayer or in any other authorised liturgical service. In that respect, the restraint of the law is even more potent than pay restraint. My hon. Friend refers to the identity of Jesus. He will know from the Gospel that His most popular self-designation was "Son of Man", which is a double positive--or a double negative, depending which way one looks at it.

Church Urban Fund

28. Ms. Hoey : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, whether the Church Commissioners have reconsidered their contributions to the church urban fund for 1991.

Mr. Alison : The Commissioners board of governors will review the position with regard to a grant for the church urban fund towards the end of this year.

Ms. Hoey : Will the right hon. Gentleman convey to the board of the Church Commissioners the concern that will be felt in inner city areas if the grant of £1 million given in the past four years is not fully restored? It will be seen as a downgrading of the great work that the Church has done in the poorest areas in the inner cities and among the disadvantaged. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to remind the Church Commissioners of the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury who said last week of the church urban fund :

"It brings hope where none seemed possible."

Will the right hon. Gentleman convey those thoughts to the governors?

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