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House of Commons

Monday 14 February 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]


Committee of Selection

Ordered ,

That Mr. Richard Tracey be discharged from the Committee of Selection and Mr. Andrew MacKay be added to the Committee.--[ Mr. Lightbown .]

Oral Answers to Questions


Tourism --

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

The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts) : Despite difficulties for the tourism industry as a whole and a reduction in overall visitor numbers, expenditure by visitors to Wales has remained constant at around £1.3 billion in recent years. Prospects for growth in the overseas market are good. The Wales tourist board's new Tourism 2000 strategy, to be launched later this year, forecasts a significant rise in overseas visitors to Wales. I am sure that, with the benefit of current efforts to improve marketing and to provide better-quality attractions and training and the industry's concern to ensure value for money, the prospects for Welsh tourism are excellent.

Mr. Coombs : I thank my right hon. Friend for that most helpful answer. Is he aware that, under the five-year development strategy for Welsh tourism which ends next month, the private sector has invested £150 million in response to public investment of £22 million ? What targets does he feel would be appropriate under the new Tourism 2000 strategy to continue that excellent work ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : My hon. Friend is right. Section 4 grants have certainly attracted a great deal of private sector money. In 1992-93, for example, some £4.9 million spent on 489 projects attracted £27 million-worth of investment. I cannot reveal the details of the new strategy, but I can tell my hon. Friend that it is estimated that it will mean an extra 10,000 visitors to Wales by the year 2000.

Dr. Howells : The Minister will be aware that in tourism first impressions are important. He will know that most people coming to south Wales come up through the Taff gorge, just to the north of Cardiff, and that Redland, which owns an extensive quarry there, plans to add an asphalt

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plant to a skyline already cluttered with industrial ruin. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the company does not build that asphalt plant on the skyline and does the best for Welsh tourism by spending a little more money on that plant and concealing it ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would also like to consider the employment aspects of the Redland development. Moreover, he will realise that, in the first instance, this is a matter for the local authority to consider.

Mr. Llwyd : Given that tourism is by far the largest single employer in Wales, may I ask whether the Welsh Office has undertaken any survey into the likely effects of the further downgrading of railway services in Wales- -especially as railway lines are vital to the rural economy in areas such as Aberconwy and the Cambrian coast ? May I urge the Welsh Office to undertake such an investigation as a matter of top priority ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman knows that the services provided are a matter for British Rail. I am sure that BR takes into account its capacity to take tourists and deal with the regular influx into Wales by rail at various points.

Public Bodies --

2. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what information he has on the political affiliations of those people he appoints to public bodies in Wales.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood) : Some of the people whom I appoint to public bodies in Wales have well-known associations with individual political parties--the chairman of the Welsh Language Board, for example. Information is not, however, available on the views of all such appointees and is not collated centrally by my Department.

Mr. Griffiths : Does not the Minister realise that, with all the attendant unfavourable publicity about the sleaze associated with many of the quangos to which public appointments are made, it is about time he recognised that in Wales those from his own party appointed to quangos outnumber by at least 5 :1 those appointed from other parties in Wales ? I refer only to the known political affiliations. He should come clean, have a proper list of political affiliations, where known, and make arrangements as soon as possible for all those quangos to become democratically accountable.

Mr. Redwood : I resent the implication that there is sleaze or that the wrong people are appointed. The chairman of the Welsh Development Agency was appointed for his business skills and is a fine asset to Wales. I hope that the Labour party will get behind his work. The Labour party forgets that, when it was in power, the Wales tourist board, for example, had two Labour parliamentary candidates as successive chairmen and that the first WDA chairman was a former national executive member of the Labour party. The Labour party forgets the many Labour and Plaid Cymru representatives whom we appoint to public bodies in Wales, where we think that their presence would help. What about the four councillors on the Cardiff Bay development corporation, the two Labour

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councillors whom I have recently announced as having been appointed to the Land Authority for Wales, and many other appointments ? There are fair shares for the other parties, but, above all, we appoint people who are right for the job, regardless of their political affiliation.

Mr. Jonathan Evans : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, irrespective of people's political views, where there is incompetence-- financial incompetence or even a lack of

accountability--it should be exposed and condemned ? Will he join me in condemning the remarks at the weekend by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, in seeking to defend the incompetence of the Labour leader of the South Wales police authority ?

Mr. Redwood : I quite agree. It is for the House and Ministers to set out the standards of conduct that we expect. In the case of quangos, it is for the accounting officers to be responsible for regularity. In the case of local authorities, it is the Labour party's duty to ensure that it enforces proper standards in every authority that it controls.

Mr. Alex Carlile : Does not the Secretary of State accept that a disproportionate number of any political party's supporters on public bodies in Wales diminishes the reputation of Welsh public services ? Will he consider the establishment of an independent commission along the lines of the Civil Service Commission to deal with all appointments to public bodies in Wales so that we can be sure that jobs are matched to talent, not to opinions ?

Mr. Redwood : It is a novel idea for the Liberal party to have another quango to deal with what it sees to be the problem with quangos. That is typical of the muddled thinking of the Liberal Democrats. I will not set up such a body. We have advertised and invited the people of Wales to write in with their suggestions for those bodies. Officials are involved in sifting through the talent. They produce recommendations to Ministers which, of course, we look at carefully. The purpose of those recommendations from the official system is to ensure talent and the right skills for the job. We are looking not for a group of party placemen but for talented people who believe in Wales and do a good job for Wales. If Opposition Members want to help, they can be far more constructive and supportive when a good job is done.

Mr. Ron Davies : The Secretary of State might not look for party placemen, but he always seems to find them. Does he not realise that it is his party's abuse of the quango system for self-serving party political ends--the Conservatives are a minority party at that--that now makes the case for disclosure of political affiliation so overwhelming ? The sleaze and corruption that are now the hallmark of his Government are poisoning Welsh public life.

I ask the Secretary of State publicly, will he accept the Labour party's offer of co-operation to set up new systems to ensure public scrutiny ? Forty per cent. of the Welsh Office budget is spent by quangos. They must be subject to closer democratic control and not left to the whims of party political interests.

Mr. Redwood : The biggest budgets in Wales are controlled by Welsh local government, which is why the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and

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Radnor (Mr. Evans) was relevant. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that Welsh public life is subject to sleaze and corruption, he must account for the fact that so much of the money is spent by Welsh local government. His remarks are a slur on Welsh local government, as they are a slur on the Welsh Office and on the many people working in Welsh public bodies and doing a good job.

Of course I wish to see high standards in Welsh public life. I shall offer leadership with that in mind and I ask for co-operation from all parties and from all those involved in Welsh public life to ensure that those high standards are upheld and maintained. It is the duty of each person on a board of a local authority or elsewhere to ensure that those standards are upheld. I shall, of course, look carefully at the hon. Gentleman's statement that he would like to co-operate. I am happy to talk to him privately if he wishes to co-operate in taking forward the issue.

Housing Grants --

3. Mr. Richards : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on corruption in local government in Ynys Mo n involving housing grants.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones) : It is for the police and the council's monitoring officer tinvestigate allegations of corruption or fraud.

Mr. Richards : Is my hon. Friend aware that the director of housing of Ynys Mo n borough council has delegated powers from the housing committee to allocate large discretionary grants ? Details of those grants, such as the names of applicants, the sites and the amounts, have been withheld from some committee members whereas other committee members are directly linked to beneficiaries of the decisions by the director of housing. All that is taking place with the full knowledge of the chief executive of Ynys Mo n borough council. Does my hon. Friend agree, as I do, with the view of Ynys Mo n council tax payers that that scandal has now been dubbed Angleseygate ?

Mr. Jones : I can appreciate the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend. It is, of course, for local authorities to set their own powers of delegation. I would trust and expect the council's monitoring officer most carefully to consider all such allegations.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : Does the Minister agree that any allegation of corruption against any local authority must be thoroughly investigated by the proper channels ? Those allegations have been circulating privately since 10 January. The people of Ynys Mo n would take them far more seriously if they had been made openly, without delay and without the cover of parliamentary privilege. To prevent political manipulation of the file to which the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) referred, will the Minister ensure that the allegations are handed over by the Welsh Office to the appropriate statutory authorities so that if they are proved they can be dealt with properly ?

Mr. Jones : I agree with the hon. Gentleman about ensuring that these allegations--any such allegations--are thoroughly investigated. Any evidence that is available can

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be given either to the police or to the monitoring officer. I am sure that that would greatly assist either or both in pursuing the allegations.

Welsh Development Agency --

4. Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received in relation to the post of chairman of the Welsh Development Agency.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : I have received one letter from a member of the public.

Mr. Morgan : Does the Minister agree that, as we now have more quangos in Cardiff than there are gondolas in Venice, it is high time that Conservatives agreed with us and gave assurances to the House that they can now clean up their act as regards appointments to these top jobs ? Does he agree that the Secretary of State has been exceedingly badly damaged by what has happened over the appointment of the chairman of the Welsh Development Agency ? That is, no doubt, why he has asked his junior Minister to answer this question. Does the Minister agree, therefore, that it is time that he gave us an assurance that there will be no political croneyism or nepotism in appointments to the posts of chief executive, finance director and, if there is a vacancy, deputy chairman of the Welsh Development Agency ? That would assure us all that, from now on, quangos in Wales will not used as a dumping ground for those who cannot win elections in Wales by normal democratic means.

Mr. Jones : No, I certainly do not agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's question. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State sought to respond earlier this afternoon on that very issue. He has not been damaged by the allegations. It is the sleazy who perceive sleaze in everything. My right hon. Friend always seeks to appoint the best person to the job.

Labour Statistics --

5. Mr. Luff : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what are the most recent figures for unemployment in Wales ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Redwood : The December 1993 seasonally adjusted figures show 126,100 unemployed--7,900 fewer than in January 1993.

Mr. Luff : What does my right hon. Friend think would do more to continue the reduction of unemployment in Wales--the continuation of the Government's policies of open markets and free trade, resistance to the imposition of the social chapter, which would have done so much to boost inward investment in the Principality, or the continuation of the rather unpleasant witch hunts of quangos in Wales that we have seen from Labour Members and the implementation of proposals in the European Socialist party manifesto ?

Mr. Redwood : That was not too taxing a question. I agree that it is the continuation of our policies of low interest rates, low inflation, going for growth, backing Wales and believing in Wales that will deliver the jobs that we need and the prosperity that we want. It is exactly the failed policies that we hear from Labour Members that will cause trouble, run Wales down and do damage. The

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European Socialist party manifesto would destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs across Europe if it were ever adopted.

Mr. Rowlands : Although many good things have been done in the valleys initiative over the past five years, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that during that period there were 3 per cent. fewer people in employment in the valleys, although the number went up by 4 per cent. in Wales as a whole, 6,400 fewer manufacturing jobs and more than 20,000 fewer mining jobs ? Whatever good has been done, much more needs to be done. What will the right hon. Gentleman do to improve the situation in our communities ?

Mr. Redwood : I agree that more needs to be done. The hon. Gentleman would also agree that there has already been a massive transformation in the valleys and that the employment position is a lot better than it would have been without those initiatives and without the action that we have taken over several years. I have launched the next phase of the valleys initiative. I wish to see more land cleared, more investment attracted and more action taken to create jobs in those valleys communities, and that is exactly what I pledge to continue doing.

Mr. Wigley : Does the Secretary of State accept that one of the most important factors in attracting more jobs to Wales is to maximise the benefit that we get from the European Community ? In that context, does he recall the article in last Monday's Glasgow Herald in which it is reported :

"Among his other nutty notions is a fancy for shutting down the Wales European Centre" ?

Can he give a categorical assurance that he has no intention whatever of closing down the Wales European centre in Brussels ?

Mr. Redwood : I agree that we need to get the most out of our membership of the European Community. I certainly have not asked to close that centre, which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will visit later this week.

Mr. Murphy : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, during the past year, more than 1,000 of my constituents have lost their manufacturing jobs at Parke Davis, Du Pont, Royal Ordnance, Ferranti and Lucas-Girling ? Does he realise that the prospect of those people returning to full-time employment has been dramatically reduced by his Government's planned tax increases in April, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already admitted will damage the British economy and, therefore, the Welsh economy ?

Mr. Redwood : The Treasury has forecast good growth for the United Kingdom as a whole and, within that, for Wales. Of course, those figures took full account of the tax rates that will apply across the year of that forecast. The good news is that Wales and Britain are leading Europe out of recession. We are growing when other countries are not growing and we are generating jobs when they are not generating jobs. I regret any loss of jobs and I am sorry for the hon. Gentleman's constituents, but we are creating new jobs to replace them. There are good signs, and the best news of all is that since 1986 long-term unemployment in Wales has fallen by 40 per cent.

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Employment --

6. Mr. Flynn : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what new proposals he has to increase the percentage of the Welsh work force who are in full-time employment.

Sir Wyn Roberts : The best means of increasing employment in the longer term is through low inflation and sustainable growth, which are being achieved by the Government's economic policies. The number of full- time employees in employment in Wales increased between March and September 1993 by 3,000. The number of self-employed people in Wales increased by a massive 14,000 over the same period.

Mr. Flynn : How will that process be helped by the decision at the weekend to throw to the wolves and auction off to the highest bidder the jobs at the Accounts Services Agency ? In the darkness, not of the implications but of the proof of the sleaze and corruption in Welsh society, why are the Government commercialising an agency that handles £10 billion of public money ? Why do they persist in wrecking the civil service and vandalising and degrading the civil service ethic, which can never be replaced once it is destroyed ? It is not "back to basics" but forward to degradation. Have the Government gone mad ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman discussed the matter with me last week, and we also discussed the Patent Office and other matters concerning his constituency. Not once during that encounter did the hon. Gentleman refer to sleaze in Wales or attribute any possible change in the status of those establishments to such factors. He knows, as well as I do, that matters concerning the Accounts Service Agency are for the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr. Ian Bruce : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the percentage of women and men in the work force in work throughout the UK, particularly in Wales, is high ? Is it not probably the second highest percentage in the European Community ? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that comments about sleaze in Welsh employment will do nothing to create jobs in Wales ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : I whole-heartedly agree with my hon. Friend's final point. He is absolutely right in saying that women play a far more important role in the work force than they did formerly. We have seen a transformation in the economy in Wales and, as a result of the new economy, women are more prominent in the work force.

As for Gwent, a great deal is being done in the constituency of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). The Imperial Park development is in his constituency, and the WDA is also active there. There has been investment of some £925,000 in the urban programme and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has allocated some £1.9 million for next year under the strategic development scheme. There is no doubt that the economy in Wales is recovering and the pace is quickening.

Mr. Ron Davies : There is really no excuse at all for the Government's complacency on the matter. There are 150,000 fewer men in employment this year than when the Conservative party took office. Does not the Minister understand that the cost of lost production and the tax and insurance revenues forgone through the Conservatives' basic policy of high unemployment are themselves holding

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back economic recovery ? Taking into account indirect taxes, the average family in Wales will be paying £14 a week more in taxes from April this year and will be paying a total of £19 a week on unemployment alone. How does the Minister expect the Welsh economy to recover when it must shoulder such waste ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : The Welsh economy is recovering, and the hon. Gentleman need only read the business section of this morning's Western Mail to see that there has been yet another forecast of the quickening pace of recovery.

I well remember 1979 when the Conservative party came to office. One of our major concerns at that time was the number of people who were in jobs in Wales and who were subsidised in those jobs. As for taxation, it is absolutely clear from what the hon. Gentleman says that his Government would increase spending, and that the day would come when they would have to increase tax to pay for that spending.

Mr. Flynn : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I give notice that I wish to raise this subject on the Adjournment because of the amnesia of the Minister of State.

Madam Speaker : I do not need any reasons from the hon. Gentleman, but I have taken his point.

Religious Education --

7. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on religious education in Welsh schools.

Sir Wyn Roberts : I shall shortly be issuing a circular on the provision of religious education and collective worship in schools, which incorporates guidance on new measures introduced by the Education Act 1993 and consolidates guidance issued since 1989.

Mr. Greenway : Did not Dylan Thomas, Gwyn Thomas and other Welsh writers-- [Hon. Members :-- "George Thomas."]--and not forgetting George Thomas, teach us that the Baptist Chapel, the Church of Wales and the Roman Catholic Church were the heart of religion in Wales and that Christianity should be central to children's religious education in Wales ? Does my right hon. Friend agree that a whirlwind tour of the major world religions, in an attempt to teach children aged between five and 16 about five or six of them, would leave them knowing nothing about anything ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : Of course I agree with the poets and those whom my hon. Friend has mentioned, some of whom were great friends of mine. Let me remind him that the statutory requirement is clearly set out in the Education Reform Act, which states that the syllabus "should reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain."

Of course we shall place proper emphasis on Christianity when we issue our circular in Wales.

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Housing --

8. Mr. Gareth Wardell : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what has been his Department's expenditure on housing through the basic credit approval for each of the last five years ; and what proportion has been directed to disabled facilities grants.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : Between 1990-91 and 1994-95, the total provision for housing provided through basic credit approvals amounts to over £283 million. The provision for disabled facilities grants for the same period will be £35.9 million.

Mr. Wardell : What advice does the Minister have for people throughout Wales who are being discharged from hospital back into their homes without basic provisions such as showers, toilets and handrails ? What advice does he have for them to ensure that the deprivation that they face will end ?

Mr. Jones : I hesitate to give direct advice to individuals in the hypothetical situation that the hon. Gentleman has described, but I draw his attention to the action that we are taking in the forthcoming financial year to increase the amount of money available for mandatory renovation grants and the other steps that we have already put in place. We expect to see more people being helped and more grants being given to those who need them and our provisional target for the year is 9,600 further grants.

Inward Investment --

9. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the latest estimate of the level of inward investment in Wales in the past five years.

Mr. Redwood : In the past five years, there have been 800 inward investment projects, creating or safeguarding 70,000 jobs and accounting for more than £4,000 million of investment.

Mr. Marshall : I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that firms come to Wales because they have access to the European Community, without suffering the handicap of a national minimum wage, a social charter or the suggestion of a four-day week ? Does he agree also that another attractive factor is that corporate taxes in Wales are lower than in other European Community countries ?

Mr. Redwood : That is absolutely right. Firms come to Wales for the low taxes and the good environment for carrying out business activity and because they welcome the flexibility and skills of the Welsh work force. They have always told me that. It is the absence of the sandbags that the Labour party would place on the Welsh economy which is particularly attractive to them. That just shows how important it is to carry on with our methods for greater progress.

Mr. Ainger : Does the Secretary of State accept that, if the hypothesis of the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) was correct, the county of Dyfed, with the lowest earnings in the whole of Wales--some would argue that it has the lowest earnings in the United Kingdom--would be filled with Japanese factories ? It is not. Is not it a fact that the communications problems of rural Wales and its problems with rail and motorway links, are a disincentive

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to inward investment and that, over the past few years, the Government have failed lamentably to improve those communications ?

Mr. Redwood : People do not come for low earnings ; they come for good value from the work force, unencumbered by high social taxes and other impositions. They certainly would not come if there were a special tax on being Welsh, imposed by a Welsh assembly. It is important to bear that in mind.

However, I accept that more remote regions need special assistance, especially help from the Government in improving transport links. That is exactly what I intend to provide.

Mr. Biffen : What is the most recent assessment that my right hon. Friend is able to make of the likelihood of the New Zealand firm Fortex establishing a meat processing plant on the

Montgomeryshire-Shropshire border ?

Mr. Redwood : I have no recent intelligence, but I was aware of the project some weeks ago. I believe that discussions are continuing.

Training and Enterprise Councils --

10. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what recent representations he has received regarding the resources allocated to training and enterprise councils in Wales.

Sir Wyn Roberts : I have received no recent representations on that matter.

Mr. Jones : The Minister will be aware of the contents of the London School of Economics report on the future of training and enterprise councils in England and Wales. Is he also aware that although the budgets of TECs have overnment's policy to ensure that direct training programmes are properly funded ? Will the Minister persuade his colleagues in the Government to change the rule whereby newly unemployed people receive training in the first six-month period but not after six months have expired ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that my right hon. Friend announced a training and enterprise package of more than £147 million for next year. That compares favourably with the planned figure for this year. This year, the outturn will be rather greater and that is in part because of the Budget measures. I assure the hon. Gentleman that sufficient moneys will be allocated to meet the youth training guarantee. We also want better-quality training. There will be money for engineering apprenticeships and an extension of the youth credit scheme. I remind the hon. Gentleman--I am sure that he will be aware--that the numbers of people entering training are now decreasing because more young people are staying on at school.

Tax Increases --

11. Mr. Alan W. Williams : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what assessment he has made of the impact of the tax increases due in April on economic recovery in Wales.

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Mr. Gwilym Jones : I share the judgment of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who calculated that the recovery in the economy that has been under way since the middle of 1992 would not be prejudiced by the tax increases that are necessary to bring the public finances back into balance in the medium term.

Mr. Williams : In the context of the Government's "back to basics" policy, does the Minister agree that one of the basic virtues should be honesty ? The Prime Minister said in the 1992 election campaign that there was no need to raise value added tax and spoke of tax cuts year on year. How does that square with the tax increases that are due in April, which will cost the average family £10 a week--the largest tax increase in our history ? Were those promises at the time of the last election just lies ?

Mr. Jones : I will take no lectures on honesty from the high-taxing, high-spending Labour party. It would not come clean with the electorate at the last general election. It still will not come clean with the electorate. It will never be believed on that subject.

Mr. Roger Evans : Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a simple explanation for the necessary tax increases in my right hon. and learned Friend's Budget--a recession which went on a great deal longer and was much deeper than anyone forecast, including every Opposition Member ?

Mr. Jones : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The taxation that we are imposing is the minimum necessary because only the Conservative party is committed to the lowest possible level of taxation.

Mr. Llew Smith : Does the Minister accept that the recession referred to by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) was created by the Conservative Government ?

Mr. Jones : I am amazed. There speaks a Member of the European Parliament. One would expect someone who travels so frequently outside his country at public expense to know that it was a world recession.

Roads --

12. Sir David Knox : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what has been the total spending by central Government on roads in Wales since 1979 ; and how many miles of motorway and trunk roads have been laid since that year.

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