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House of Commons

Monday 21 June 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Labour Statistics

1. Mr. Spellar : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the latest figure for the number of long-term unemployed in Wales ; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood) : The long-term unemployment figure in the April 1993 quarter was 46,690. This is a big decline of over 40 per cent. since the peak of January 1986. I hope that Opposition Members will welcome that decline.

Mr. Spellar : Half that total of long-term unemployed is 23,000. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to condemn and repudiate the statement made in this Chamber by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), that half the long-term unemployed had no intention of working again and could be termed layabouts? Will the Secretary of State condemn and repudiate that statement now?

Mr. Redwood : I want to see as many people as possible back to work as quickly as possible. For that reason, the Welsh Office has strong training programmes and many other routes that are designed to help people back to

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prosperity and employment. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that all will be done to ensure that all those who seek jobs are given help to find them.

Mr. Jonathan Evans : Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to see the manpower survey that was published today in the Western Mail? Sadly, it was tucked far behind the gloom that we hear from those who sit on the Opposition Benches. It describes Wales as the region that is most optimistic in terms of new job opportunities. Does my right hon. Friend share my view that it is particularly pleasing to see that the areas where there are likely to be the greatest job opportunities are the manufacturing areas? Does that not show that Wales, under this Conservative Government, is leading the way out of recession, not only in the United Kingdom but throughout the whole of Europe?

Mr. Redwood : My hon. Friend is right. Wales is leading the way. I wish Opposition Members would get behind Wales when it is leading the way, instead of Opposition Front-Bench Members laughing, as if to say they do not believe it. The trouble is that Labour is whingeing for Wales, while the Government are busily winning for Wales. That is what we intend to go on doing. Opposition Members might like to read a few more of the headlines in the Western Mail.

"Jobs--Welsh area most optimistic."

"CBI praise for Welsh lead."

"Wales at the top."

Quite right, Madam Speaker, and more of it.

Mr. Wigley : Is the Secretary of State aware that the implications of his remarks in Llangollen--that the development of new jobs in Wales has been prejudiced by hostility towards incomers and by an all-protective attitude towards the environment--has caused considerable dismay in Wales? Is the Secretary of State also aware that, over the years, industry in Wales has grown, with people coming to Wales from all parts of the world?

Is the Secretary of State further aware that a new company in Llanberis in my constituency that went there last year is exporting 96 per cent. of its products, and that one of its employees, who went to that company from

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Oxford, has said that there is less racism in Gwynedd than was evident in Oxford? Will the Secretary of State reconsider his remarks and not base his policies on the prejudices of the Tory party conference?

Mr. Redwood : I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads the speech, which made it very clear that it is the job of Government to balance the different pressures. The speech said that there are important things in the Welsh landscape, language and history that need to be protected. It also said that there needs to be more investment, more jobs and more activity. The speech did not say that I thought that attitudes in the past had been too restrictive. It said that, in my job, I have an important role to play in achieving the right balance between protection and conservation on the one hand and new jobs and a new spirit on the other.

Mr. Richards : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, on these occasions in the past, his predecessor had some good news to impart to the House and to the people of Wales? Does he intend to continue in that vein? Does he have some good news for us today--perhaps something to do with inward investment?

Mr. Redwood : These unscripted questions are always dangerous, but it so happens that I do have something that my hon. Friend might welcome. I hope that the Opposition will welcome it, too. Aiwa Japan is going to announce today a £27 million expansion of the Penyfan industrial estate at Crumlin in Gwent.

Where are the cries of support now from Opposition Members? That represents 480 possible new jobs by 1996. The Welsh Development Agency will be helping by providing a custom-built factory extension. Let us have some support for that, for it means more manufacturing jobs in Wales and better hi-fis and compact disc systems for customers.

Mr. Rowlands : But does the right hon. Gentleman realise that last Friday's premature closure of Taff Merthyr colliery wiped out fourfold all the new jobs that we have managed to create in our community in the past 12 or 18 months? In addition, 20 per cent. of men are out of work and 20 per cent. of men are economically inactive in our society. What new initiatives will he take to create new jobs for men in communities like mine, instead of penalising poor people and invalids?

Mr. Redwood : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take a more positive attitude. All our policies are geared to encouraging prosperity and more jobs. I have already instanced some manufacturing jobs that are going to a hard-pressed area of Wales as a result of another initiative. We need more, and I promise to do more because it is extremely sad to see the loss of jobs with more pits closing and I hope that some people can look to see whether there is any way of rescuing some of the pits that have been scheduled for closure.

Regional Development Policy

2. Mr. Llwyd : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met representatives of Welsh local authorities to discuss regional development policy.

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The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts) : My right hon. Friend has met a number of local authorities since taking office and looks forward to continuing the close dialogue that was maintained by his predecessor.

Mr. Llwyd : I commend to the Minister the report of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, "Wales 2010", and remind him that one of the key reasons why inward investment has been attracted to Wales is assisted area status. I urge the Secretary of State and his colleagues to acknowledge that we need to preserve those areas in Wales. I also urge him to prioritise the Aberconwy case for objective 5b status, not least because it qualified last time. It has a stronger case now and it will experience a knock-on effect from the fact that neighbouring Merseyside has had objective 1 status.

Sir Wyn Roberts : Of course, assisted area status can be very important in attracting inward investment, but its importance should not be exaggerated. Although assisted area status may assist companies in establishing themselves initially, they must be successful to perpetuate themselves and to expand, in the way that Aiwa is doing, as my right hon. Friend has just announced. The hon. Gentleman will know that we went out to consultation on the assisted area map, and on 15 June it was submitted to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, whom I am sure we all wish a quick recovery. Once it has returned from the Commission, we hope to announce our proposals before the summer recess. The status of Aberconwy will be considered.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Diolch Yn Fawr, Minister. Is my hon. Friend aware that members of the Conservative group in the European Parliament are pressing very hard to enable tourist areas to receive assistance, even though they are not in objectives 1, 2 or 5b? If they succeed, the coastal areas of Wales, despite not being assisted, may be able, like Morecambe and Blackpool, to avail themselves of this facility.

Sir Wyn Roberts : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, tourism is very important to us in Wales and we can assist it through section 4 grant. Obviously, European assistance would be very welcome.

Mr. Ron Davies : There appears to be some confusion between the view now being expressed by the Minister of State and that expressed previously by the Secretary of State. Does the Minister of State endorse the views expressed by his Secretary of State in the Llangollen speech, which I have read and which I found profoundly depressing? It seems that the view of the Secretary of State is that all we have to be prepared to do is to sacrifice our environment and leave it, in his words,

"to settlers with strange accents"

to take the necessary steps to regenerate our economy.

Since there is now widespread dissatisfaction with the lack of coherence in the Government's policy, will the Minister of State join me in pressing the Secretary of State to convene an early and urgent meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee so that we can discuss the economy of Wales?

Sir Wyn Roberts : I wish that the hon. Gentleman had been at the Welsh Conservative party conference in Llangollen to hear the speech ; It is clear that he has not read it in any detail. My right hon. Friend rightly said

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--and, if he will forgive me for saying so, there was nothing new in it--that conflict can of course arise between economic development and environmental considerations, and a balance must be struck between them.

Labour Statistics

3. Mr. Hain : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many (a) men and (b) women were in (i) part-time and (ii) full-time employment in 1979 and at the latest date for which figures are available.

Mr. Redwood : In September 1981, there were 521,000 full-time and 26,000 part-time male employees and 231,000 full-time and 158,000 part-time female employees. Part-time male employment was not separately identified in 1979.

In March 1993, it is estimated that there were 415,000 full-time and 59,000 part-time male employees, and 237,000 full-time and 224, 000 part-time female employees.

Mr. Hain : Those figures show that there has been a massive haemorrhage of well-paid, skilled full-time jobs into part-time work, as Wales is transformed into a low-skill, low-pay, casualised economy. Is not that another reason why areas of Wales should have their assisted area status protected by the Secretary of State? Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account the economically inactive totals, because Wales has higher figures for economic inactivity than anywhere else in the United Kingdom? For example, in the south Wales valleys, is it not the case that four out of 10 adult men are out of work if one takes into account not only those on the official register but the economically inactive totals?

Mr. Redwood : Of course we want more male employment, and that is one of the targets I have identified for the Welsh Office under my leadership, as it had been identified under that of my predecessor. Why does the hon. Gentleman not tell the House that, in his constituency of Neath, unemployment in 1986 stood at 19.1 per cent., whereas it is now 9.9 per cent.--it has almost halved. Surely that is something of which we should be proud. Does he not recognise that many of the jobs that have been created are skilled jobs in manufacturing in which people are making things and adding value to the process? Why does he not welcome the Lucas investment, which has created more than 150 jobs since November 1992 to make parts for the Rover 200 and 400? I hope that he is proud of those vehicles and wants more sold throughout Britain.

Mr. Sweeney : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his first appearance at Welsh questions in his new post, and wish him every success in promoting the interests of Wales? Instead of Opposition Members selecting figures, as the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) has done, is it not time that we heard figures which will sell Wales positively, such as those which my right hon. Friend has given? Is not that the way to promote Wales and further Welsh interests?

Mr. Redwood : I agree with my hon. Friend. We must be positive ; much is going right in Wales. Policies are in place which will improve matters further, and I look forward to support from all sides and from all the people of good will in order to attract the investment and create the jobs.

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Mr. Ron Davies : I am sorry that I could not make the conference in Llangollen, but I did not receive an invitation--perhaps next time. The Secretary of State cannot have much confidence in his policies, as he is running away from defending them in the Welsh Grant Committee. Will he at least guarantee that he will fight in the Cabinet to retain development area status for the areas in south Wales and Deeside which are currently threatened? Will he also guarantee that, when a decision is taken, he will come to the House to defend it before Welsh Members of Parliament?

Mr. Redwood : Of course I give a guarantee that I shall speak up for Welsh interests in the Cabinet. That is my job, and I would do no less. There will be proper opportunities to debate the proposals in Parliament after they have been viewed by the European Community and when we have the Commission's decision. They are a legitimate matter for debate, and, one way or another, I am sure that they will be debated. I am happy to discuss with the hon. Gentleman through the usual channels the future business and sittings of the Welsh Grand Committee.

Agri-environmental Policy

4. Mr. Dafis : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received concerning agri-environmental policy in Wales.

Sir Wyn Roberts : We have received 54 responses to the consultation papers entitled "Agriculture and Wales's Environment".

Mr. Dafis : I am sure that the Minister recognises that an agri- environmental programme supports agriculture at reduced costs, provides more jobs and strengthens the rural economy. But if that is to be brought about, we need to move away from the kind of non-zonal approach advocated by the Welsh Office to the type of integration of the programmes that we have under the ESA and the Tir Cymen approach. That must be on an all-Wales basis, rather than available to some parts of Wales only.

Does the Minister agree that we do not want the privatisation of Forest Enterprise, which would threaten the valuable environmental work that is being done and public access to the countryside of Wales?

Sir Wyn Roberts : I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman understands our policy on agri-environmental developments. We intend to work through the environmentally sensitive areas, and the hon. Gentleman may know that Ynys Mo n and Radnor have been declared ESAs. New ESAs, at preseli and the Clywdian range, will be designated in August, and other measures will be announced before the end of the year. We are already working along the lines that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Labour Statistics

5. Mr. Roy Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the level of male unemployment in Newport, Gwent and Wales at the latest available date.

Mr. Redwood : The unadjusted numbers of male unemployed claimants for the borough of Newport, Gwent and Wales for May are 6,084, 16,978 and 102,056 respectively.

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Mr. Hughes : Does the Secretary of State appreciate that many people in Newport seek employment outside the borough? Many of them were employed at the Parke-Davis pharmaceutical concern at Mamhilad, Pontypool, but recently the concern has suffered massive redundancies. Those were due, apparently, to the Government's policy of promoting generic drugs which has benefited Germany and France. Can the right hon. Gentleman look into that matter, because we cannot afford to lose such a valuable employer in Gwent?

Mr. Redwood : Of course I will look into the matter, and I am sorry about the job losses that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. But is he aware that 18,000 people came off the unemployment register in May? A total of 14,000 joined the register, leaving a net gain of 4,000 job losses. I would have thought that Opposition Members would welcome that. Does the hon. Gentleman welcome the fact that there are 9,000 vacancies available? I hope that some of those can be taken up by his constituents.

Will Opposition Members welcome the major new jobs announced by a number of companies recently, including 320 jobs at Boots Properties at Caerphilly, 38 at Wrexham Wire, 70 at Grayman Tooling, 150 at Delta Dairy Food in Wrexham and 60 at the Friendly hotel in Cardiff. I could go on, Madam Speaker, but I know that you would get impatient if I did.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the level of unemployment in Wales has benefited from inward investment? Does he think that inward investment would be encouraged by the adoption of the social chapter or by a national minimum wage?

Mr. Redwood : No, I do not, and that is one of the reasons why this country and Wales are going ahead while other members of the European Community are not. People thinking of investing in the European Community know that here in Britain--here in Wales--they will find both opportunities and protection from the more absurd elements of the EC's job destruction programme, which socialists in the Community seem to favour. I am glad that my hon. Friend has drawn attention to one of the reasons why Welsh unemployment is now below the national average and why we can be proud of the Welsh efforts to attract inward investment.

Mr. Barry Jones : May I tell the right hon. Gentleman that the remarks of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) about the long- term unemployed have been received with anger and scorn in my constituency, where there are some 820 people so described, all of whom would like a job? So that more of my constituents may be employed, may I urge the right hon. Gentleman to begin the urgent building of the new River Dee crossing? If he did that, he would end the traffic agony and blight that have existed for a generation. Does he accept that that traffic problem is unrivalled elsewhere in Wales and that, if he tackled it urgently by building the new River Dee crossing, he would also make inroads into the widespread unemployment in north-east Wales?

Mr. Redwood : The hon. Gentleman offers me good advice. It is a county project ; the Government are happy to support it for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has identified.

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Mr. Murphy : When the Secretary of State refers to 150 jobs having been gained in Lucas in south Wales, does he not realise that 150 jobs were lost in the same company in my constituentcy last year? When he talks about 500 new jobs coming to Aiwa in Gwent, does he not realise that 500 jobs have been lost in Parke-Davis, also in my constituency? Does he not accept that the loss of those jobs was due largely to the Government's policy on limited prescription drugs? The right hon. Gentleman is the Health Secretary as well as the Economy Minister for Wales. What does he intend to do to safeguard the remaining jobs in the pharmaceutical industry in the Principality?

Mr. Redwood : I know that I can always rely on the Opposition to give us the bad news. It is my job to give the good news and the positive face of Wales, and to point out to the House that unemployment has been falling for several months, which we welcome, and that many investors are coming in and creating jobs, which the Opposition should welcome, as we do. I have already answered the other part of the question. I told the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) that I would look into the question of the pharmaceutical company.

Canada (Trade)

7. Mr. Fabricant : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what action he is taking to improve bilateral trade between businesses based in Wales and those in Canada.

Mr. Redwood : My right hon. Friend the Minister of State will lead a trade mission to north America from 14 to 28 September, when he will visit Vancouver and Toronto in Canada.

Mr. Fabricant : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a bilateral trade agreement exists between the United Kingdom and Ontario? Is that not especially appropriate, given the many Canadian companies that invest in Wales? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that investment is not only because of our non-signing of the social chapter, and not only because of our low inflation, our low interest rates and our low taxes, but because of excellent industrial relations in Wales and because of the very special skills in Wales in audio-electronics?

Mr. Redwood : My hon. Friend has been a more eloquent advocate of Wales than Opposition Members have been today. That is a great pity ; we should like to hear more from them in defence of Wales as a place for investment. My hon. Friend is right. There is a trade agreement, and we think that it is important to develop ever better relationships with Canada, not least because there are 2,500 employees in 12 companies from Ontario that already operate in Wales.

Regional Development

8. Mr. Denzil Davies : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to meet Commissioner Millan in the near future to discuss regional development assistance for Wales.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones) : The former Secretary of State met Mr. Millan in Brussels on15 March and invited him to

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south Wales. My right hon. Friend intends to pursue that application and to meet other Commissioners when he visits Brussels later this year.

Mr. Davies : Since the ultimate power and authority in granting regional development aid now reside with the Commission and not with the United Kingdom Cabinet, is it not remiss of the Secretary of State still not to have been to Brussels to see his paymaster, Mr. Bruce Millan?

Will the Under-Secretary tell the Secretary of State that when he goes to Brussels and meets Mr. Millan, he should leave the propaganda behind in the Welsh Office and tell him that Wales is the poorest area in Britain, with the lowest income per head, and that it is the lowest economically active area--indeed, lower than many areas in Europe with objective 1 status? If he tells Mr. Millan the truth, perhaps the European Commission will not agree with the British Government, and will not devalue the assisted area status of Wales.

Mr. Jones : I will certainly leave the right hon. Gentleman behind to keep on peddling all his negative propaganda about the Principality. I have already told him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will see Mr. Millan shortly, and the right hon. Gentleman can be assured that my right hon. Friend will fully and properly represent the interests of Wales.

Mr. Alan Williams : Does the Minister realise that the Secretary of State will not be readily forgiven in Wales because of the nonsensical, bombastic claims that Wales is leading Britain out of the recession? As a result of those claims, we lose all our regional aid. Is he aware that we have already lost regional development grants, that the special development areas have been abolished, and that those areas that still receive regional aid receive a much reduced sum? The Secretary of State is leading us into further trouble, not salvation.

Mr. Jones : That is not my claim or the claim of my right hon. Friend. It is the claim made by the CBI and the National Westminster bank. A variety of independent and expert commentators are pointing out that Wales is leading Britain and Europe out of recession. The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) would do far better for Wales if he welcomed that.

Mr. Ian Bruce : When does my hon. Friend the Minister expect to hear from the European Commission the results of our application for assisted area status? Can he confirm that that scheme is beset by many rules and that the more successful regions, which have succeeded under regional development in the past, are quite likely to lose their assisted area status, not because of anything that Her Majesty's Government have done, but simply because they have succeeded in improving those areas and their relative position within the United Kingdom?

Mr. Jones : It would be premature to speculate on the outcome or to indicate the likely date. However, I can reassure my hon. Friend and the House that my right hon. Friend has built on the work of his predecessor as Secretary of State in fighting hard for the interests of Wales in this matter.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : Will the Minister comment on reports that circulated at the weekend that the map that was submitted by the Department of Trade and Industry on behalf of the United Kingdom on assisted area status

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has been sent back to the United Kingdom because the Commission in Brussels would not accept the redrawing of that map in favour of the south-east of England? When the map is sent back, will he ensure that Wales is not sold down the river this time?

Mr. Jones : The hon. Gentleman must content himself and be patient a little longer. He can be assured that my right hon. Friend has lost no opportunities to fight Wales's corner in this matter.

Mr. Morgan : Will the hon. Gentleman tell the Secretary of State for Wales that he is not doing Wales any good by simply trumpeting regional development successes without balancing that with the news about pit closures and factory rundowns which would produce the true, balanced picture? Will he tell him that he must not confuse his hwyl with his hype and that he does Wales no good, and will send all the wrong signals to the European Community's regional development people, if he tells them that everything is going well in Wales? There is still a long way to go and he must not expect the Commission to come in and keep regional development status in certain areas if this Government abandon areas like south-east and north-east Wales.

Mr. Jones : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already anticipated that question by pointing out that we hear all the bad news from the Opposition Benches and that my right hon. Friend brings the good news. Quite frankly, if overseas investors listened only to the news from the Opposition Benches, they would never consider investing in Wales.

Environment 9. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what are his environmental priorities for the remainder of 1993.

Sir Wyn Roberts : The environmental priorities for the Welsh Office are set out in chapter 7 of its departmental report, published in February 1993. Action is being taken on many fronts with particular emphasis on the removal of dereliction, on urban improvement and on a range of environmental protection measures--all designed to protect and enhance the environment of Wales.

Mr. Hughes : Given the at least worryingly ambiguous words of the Secretary of State in his Llangollen speech, will the Minister assure us that his Department's priorities in the remaining six months will be to ensure that no road schemes are approved which do not have acceptable status in the communities through which they pass and that no mineral extraction schemes are approved around the coast which are unacceptable to the communities living on the land adjoining those proposed developments? Above all, given the recent flooding once again in north Wales, will he assure us that protection against flood damage, particularly on the coast and also in the valleys, is given a high priority in both north and south Wales in the remaining six months of this year?

Sir Wyn Roberts : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made his point very clearly. It is quite possible that economic development can lead to pressures on the environment, but we are accustomed to dealing with that in Wales. It is a matter of achieving a proper balance.

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As for the various developments to which the hon. Gentleman referred, of course they are always considered from an environmental viewpoint as well as from the point of view of their economic benefit. If necessary, inquiries are held, assessments are made and regulations are called into play. As for coast protection, the hon. Gentleman will know that it always has priority in our allocation of funds.

Mr. Matthew Banks : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that we continually reassess our priorities in relation to environmental policy? Will my right hon. Friend consider reassessing his priorities and, if necessary, find extra resources for the railway lines which were recently affected by flooding in north Wales, so that the burden of such work as is necessary does not entirely fall on regional railways? Just how much is the Welsh Office spending this year on its environmental policy?

Sir Wyn Roberts : To begin with the last part of my hon. Friend's question, our current action on the environment is backed by resources of £198 million this year in our environmental services programmes. That comprises £66 million spent by the Welsh Development Agency on land reclamation and urban renewal, £34 million spent under the urban programme and urban investment grant, and £122 million spent by Housing for Wales. I should add that our agri-environmental programmes will consume twice as much in terms of resources, at £12.6 million in 1995- 96, than they consume in the current year.

Mr. Win Griffiths : With respect to environmental considerations and road building, did the Minister see reports over the weekend that people in the town of Builth Wells do not want the bypass to desecrate the countryside around them? Will the right hon. Gentleman transfer the money set aside for that project to the cross-valley link in Bridgend? That would enable a new, badly needed road to be built, and it would give the county and the borough councils the opportunity to consider the challenge of redeveloping an area of dereliction around the town centre in Bridgend.

Sir Wyn Roberts : There is hardly a road scheme in Wales that does not attract some environmental criticism, but I doubt whether the majority of people of Builth Wells would support the view that was reported over the weekend that no bypass is needed. The Welsh Office would not be proposing a bypass were it not to be needed in future. I regret to say to the hon. Gentleman that it is most unlikely that we shall transfer the money destined for the Builth Wells bypass to his part of the world, although, of course, we always give considerable attention and priority to developments that will lead to the economic revival of the valleys.

Local Government (White Paper)

10. Mr. Hanson : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is his proposed timetable for legislation to implement the White Paper on local government in Wales.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : My right hon. Friend intends to introduce legislation allowing elections to the new authorities to be held in 1994 and for them to assume responsibility for their services in April 1995.

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