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Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) : Will the Leader of the House arrange perhaps next week for a short debate on the timetable on the Finance Bill, as it is preventing sensible debate on the Bill, much to the dismay of outside organisations which take a close interest in it ? On some occasions, we find that we have too much to debate in the time allotted, and on other occasions we find that there is too much time. [Interruption.] Will the Leader of the House arrange for that to be dealt with ?
Mr. Newton : The House had considerable opportunity to discuss the timetable motion as a whole. The detailed arrangements would be for the Business Committee. I think that I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. Mackay), who is on the Committee, say that Labour Members did not even bother to come to the Business Committee. It seems to be an issue that perhaps the Opposition could resolve, rather than the Government.
Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth) : Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the financial affairs of the Church Commissioners, who hold public national assets ? The recent history of their activities has caused wide public concern.
Mr. Newton : I cannot promise a debate on the Church Commissioners. I see that there is a motion on the Pastoral Amendment Measure next week, but without some careful research I cannot be sure whether it would be in order.
Column 1082motion 674 and the magnificent editorial in The Independent today which argues that the main cause of increasing crime is the profits being made by people who are selling drugs, and the only practical way to decrease the use of illegal drugs and crime is to decriminalise soft drugs--cannabis and amphetamines--and treat the addicts of hard drugs as patients, not as criminals ?
[ That this House recognises the urgent need to reduce the consumption of illegal drugs of all kinds ; notes with concern the clear conflict between the proposals of the Secretary of State for the Home Department and of the Scottish Office on the use of fines for drug offences ; notes that the Home Secretary has proposed raising the maximum fine to £2,500 for all offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 ; but notes that the Scottish Office, in the consultation document, Improving the Delivery of Justice in Scotland, proposes the use of £25 fiscal fines, which do not constitute a criminal conviction, for the same offences where appropriate ; believes that the Home Secretary has displayed a complete disregard for the impracticality and ineffectiveness of imposing such severe penalties, particularly on the personal use of cannabis, which has been indicated by his own research ; welcomes the criticism of Home Office policy by the police on these same grounds ; and believes that this policy should be abandoned in favour of a more graded response towards punishing drug use and sale, so as to concentrate the limited resources in the criminal justice system efficiently and effectively on the most acute problems, and, particularly, those associated with the use, manufacture, importation and sale of the most harmful narcotics. ]
Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh) : Can my right hon. Friend find time next week for an urgent debate on the growing economic crisis in Chad, where the level of national debt is running out of control and has almost reached the level of that in Labour-controlled Camden council ?
Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to see the appalling pictures on the front page of the Daily Mirror today of the slaughter of up to 30,000 seals on the ice floes of the Caspian sea ? Can we have a debate on animal welfare in Government time, because it appears that the Russians have been slaughtering protected species such as blue whales as well ? Given the interest in this matter on both sides of the House, we should be given an opportunity to debate these issues.
Mr. Newton : I am sure that many people will have looked at those accounts with some concern. I understand that seal culling in Russia is not on a scale which threatens the species. However, the Russian authorities are well aware of British opposition to sealing, and I note the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate.
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : In considering the application for a debate from the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley), will my right hon. Friend perhaps ensure that it is pointed out that, if the
Column 1083recommendation of the Procedure Committee on the programming of legislation upstairs was considered, the problem that the hon. Gentleman had would be overcome immediately ?
Mr. Newton : I am sorry to see that the hon. Gentleman has fled before the point could come directly to his attention, but I am sure that he will read my right hon. Friend's words with the weight which they deserve.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : I do not want to cause any trouble, but could we have a statement next week on the Prime Minister's intentions in view of the new leadership bid which is being made by the President of the Board of Trade ? The House will remember what happened in 1990. Should it not be kept informed of when the right hon. Gentleman intends to make that leadership bid ?
[ That this House calls for a full investigation of environmental problems in the Staveley and surrounding areas in Derbyshire which would include within its remit close examination of asthma levels, eye defects in calves, river pollution, airborne emissions, recent experience of high dioxin levels, safety precautions and emergency plans, inadequate sewage disposal provisions and the further potential of pollution from schemes such as those from motorway road widening ; and further calls for such on investigation to draw together expertise from the Health Service, the Pollution Inspectorate, the Department of Agriculture, the National Rivers Authority, the local authorities and a wide range of other relevant statuutory and voluntary agencies. ]
Can we have a debate upon this matter next week ? It would be a fruitful debate, because it would lead to future discussions on environmental protection legislation, and the real problem which exists in that area.
Column 1084found in the soil in the Staveley area have been investigated fully, and they do not give cause for concern on public health grounds.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) : Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to come to the House to make a statement on a report published last week by his office called "The Rising Tide" ? The report concerns women in science, engineering and technology and has several excellent recommendations, including encouraging firms to have family-friendly policies, and also tax allowances for child care. I am sure that every hon. Member would be interested to know what the Government are going to do about it.
Mr. Newton : My right hon. Friend clearly is in much demand, and he will be answering questions on Monday next. There is also an Opposition debate called "Strengthening the Sex Discrimination Act" on Thursday. Without seeing the Opposition's motion, it is difficult to know what ground can be covered, but it does not sound as if the debate will be a million miles from the sort of ground which the hon. Lady is seeking to touch on.
Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate at an early date to discuss the duplicity of the Allied Irish Bank, which has led to the closure of the Belmarda company in Oatlands in my constituency, with the loss this week of 240 jobs ?
The bank originally told the company that it could extend its borrowing limit to £300,000, but restricted that to £150,000 without notice. The bank served notice on the company on Monday that it wanted to call in that debt, which led to the immediate liquidation of the company. It is a disgraceful state of affairs. The company has assets of some £10 million, and a £1 million order book. It is willing to continue trading, but is unable to do so. Will the Leader of the House take into account the fact that 240 jobs are at stake ?
Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman will understand that, without notice, it is simply not possible for me to comment on the case. I will certainly bring his concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friends.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I first wish you a happy St Winwaloe's day ? The matter that I wish to raise with you is connected with that subject, and with your ruling that starred questions get a greater priority now than they did in the past.
I had a question selected for answer next Monday, but it has been transferred--quite irrationally--to the Secretary of State for Wales. The question was addressed to the Secretary of State for National Heritage, and concerned Cornwall. The Government may be now saying that Cornwall is a part of Wales, and I can understand that decision.
I have had many conversations with the Department of National Heritage since then, and have pointed out that the matter concerns national heritage. The question related to the heritage and the language of Cornwall, which is the responsibility of that Department, and not the Welsh Office. I have had conversations with the Table Office as well, and there seems to be no way to re-star a question which has been removed, which is of great disadvantage to those hon. Members fortunate enough to have questions selected.
Madam Speaker : I hope that the hon. Gentleman has pursued or will pursue the matter with the relevant Minister. It is within the Minister's discretion to decide whether a question is within his responsibility. I have no authority to intervene in that. It is up to the Minister to determine whether the question relates to him or to some other Department.
Mr. Flynn : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I have raised the matter on a daily basis with the Department involved since Monday. The only conclusion is that the Government have decided that Cornwall is a part of Wales, which is a matter of some celebration on St. Winwaloe's day.
Mr. David Hanson (Delyn) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance on what I hope is a genuine point of order-- [Interruption.] The point of order of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) was also a genuine point of order. Is it in order for demonstrations such as that which took place during Prime Minister's Question Time today to take place ? I for one was shocked at the demonstration. If that sort of behaviour had taken place in the Strangers Gallery, it would have resulted in the removal of people from that Gallery.
Mr. Hanson rose
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Often, when there are outrageous scenes on one side, it is difficult for you as Speaker always to intervene when there is a large number of hooligans on the Conservative Benches at once. I am sure you would agree that that is often corrected in the Chamber by people on this side taking retaliatory action. If that sort of action continues, we shall have no compunction about bringing in a large number of copies of the current issue of Scallywag .
Madam Speaker : I am sure that that is not at all necessary. I dealt with the matter today, and I do not wish to see any other form of demonstration from either side of the House. As I say, argument and debate are what we are about here.
Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance on the implementation of Standing Order No. 42, particularly as it relates to the disgraceful attack by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) on my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) during business questions.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Robert G. Hughes.]
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood) : I should like to clarify for the House following those points of order that I have no territorial demand for Wales today, just a good story to tell about how well Wales is doing. I want a more prosperous Wales. In the past 15 years great strides have been taken. Incomes have risen. Many new jobs have been created. Whole new industries have been established. Wales has gained a worldwide reputation for good work, few strikes, success in manufacturing and skill at services. Long-term unemployment in Wales has fallen by 40 per cent. since 1986. Unemployment has fallen by 6,500 since 1993. That is more than 500 additional jobs a month every month. Wages have been rising faster than the United Kingdom average since 1990 because productivity is good and rising. I hope that, during the debate, Opposition Members will make some reference to the good news as well as to the other things that they wish to fasten on in their speeches.
Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside) : The right hon. Gentleman has taken a close interest in a success story in my constituency--the factory making an executive jet. I invite him to visit that factory because I am seriously concerned about the long-term future of the production of the Raytheon-Hawker executive jet in my constituency. A constant threat that appears to hang over the work force is that production facilities may be withdrawn from my constituency and located in America. Will the Minister and his colleagues in the Government take a keen interest in the matter and do all that they can to keep production facilities in Broughton in my constituency ?
Mr. Redwood : I willingly give that assurance, as my interests are the same as the hon. Gentleman's. As he knows, I have been in touch with the management and asked the Welsh Office and the Welsh Development Agency to do everything in their power to assist the company, as I wish to see it continue to provide good jobs in his constituency.
None of us can rest content with one in 10 of the Welsh work force out of work and incomes still below the UK average, so the important task before us is to build on the enormous progress made in the past 15 years in attracting still more business and growing more enterprises at home.
My strategy rests on four firm foundations. The first is the strength that Wales draws from general United Kingdom economic policy. Low inflation, flexible labour markets, low interest rates, deregulation and low corporate taxes are all crucial to business success. The second is our policy of educating and training the work force of the future. Rising educational standards and more qualified people are helping recovery. As we debated last week in the Welsh Grand Committee, more must be, and will be, achieved.
The third foundation is ensuring a good supply of development land and facilities for industry and commerce. Our programme of land reclamation has cleared another 700 acres for use this year and much more is planned. The fourth is improving our access to markets through our transport and communications policies. Many
Column 1088companies are attracted by the excellence of Manchester airport, linked by the A55 and M56 to north Wales, and by Heathrow airport, linked by the M4 to south Wales. I also wish to see more progress with Cardiff airport and services there.
Companies are also impressed by the sophistication of our telecommunications and the convenience of the world's main business language. Five export missions in the past year have won jobs and contracts for Wales : three were led by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and two were led by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, all with great distinction. The business that they won is good business for Wales. I hope that Opposition Members will get behind business men who are trying to win business abroad and will not knock them and make their task more difficult.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : We certainly applaud any orders won overseas. On the example set by business men, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has asked the leaders of private industry, including those of the privatised monopolies, to moderate their emoluments, whereas the Prime Minister has said that it is nothing to do with him. On whose side is the Secretary of State ?
Mr. Redwood : My two right hon. Friends do not disagree. It is for shareholders to decide, to discipline and to ensure that boards of directors do the right thing over pay. We all want people to be well paid and to earn it. Nobody minds good pay if it is performance linked, which is exactly what both my right hon. Friends have been saying in their own ways.
Mr. Redwood : Discipline is exercised on behalf of shareholders in all companies. They decide which directors to put on the boards and are responsible for ensuring that there are proper remuneration committees or other systems to control those matters. I believe in shareholder democracy. If the hon. and learned Gentleman does not like what is going on in some of those companies, he should become a shareholder and go to those meetings and make his point in the right democratic context.
Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke) : The Secretary of State mentioned remuneration committees for the privatised utilities. Does he know of any NHS trust in Wales that has a proper remuneration committee looking at the management and executive costs of its employees ?
Mr. Redwood : I said, committee or other arrangement. I have asked them all to ensure that they have proper arrangements for guaranteeing value and supervising the contracts. I would be happy to take up any case if the hon. Gentleman thinks that any of them are falling down in that respect.
I hope that during the debate we shall learn
something--anything--about Labour's policy for Wales. In the past year, we have had a Trappist silence from Opposition Members about what they would want to do. The Labour Front Bench has been an idea-free zone. Let us see, one more time, whether we can get some answers to the questions that we and the people of Wales have been asking about Labour's policy.
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) : One thing that Labour would do is offer part-time workers the same protection as full-time workers. Does the Secretary of State welcome the judgment in the House of Lords just two hours ago in the case between the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Department of Employment ? The ruling was that the Department of Employment was acting illegally and that part-time workers must be given the same protection as full-time workers. I am glad that the Minister is now briefing the Secretary of State and I hope that the Secretary of State will welcome that important ruling this afternoon.
Mr. Redwood : Of course I needed briefing as I have not had a chance to study the judgment. However, my hon. Friend tells me that the practices referred to in the judgment were introduced by a Labour Administration, so perhaps the hon. Lady should get her facts straight before trying to make clever points in the Chamber. Would Labour put any limit on the taxing powers of its proposed Welsh assembly ? We do not know. Would Labour increase spending on education on training ? We do not know. Would Labour increase spending on the disabled and care in the community above the large increases I have announced ? We do not know.
Will Labour ever stand up and praise the many fine achievements of Welsh business men, sportsmen and salesmen ? We do not know. Will Labour say sorry for undermining our businesses in places such as Malaysia when it should be supporting them ? Again, we do not know. Would Labour rule out higher taxes ? Of course it would not, because that is what it really believes in. We can and will have to work out for it what the Labour party stands for.
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly) : I shall be more than happy to address those questions at the next general election. Perhaps I can turn the Secretary of State's mind back to the last general election and refer specifically to a manifesto commitment that his predecessor gave. The Conservatives' Welsh election manifesto said that the Secretary of State would establish a Welsh economic council, which would "ensure . . . a more united effort on the part of the Principality's major employers' and employees organisations." When does the Secretary of State intend to implement that manifesto commitment ?
Mr. Redwood : I shall be implementing it shortly and I shall let the hon. Gentleman know when the arrangements are completed for the first meeting and the people invited to join it, as I wish to make progress in the way that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. The Labour party is out of touch ; it is permanently out to lunch. Given the choice, it would spend more on extra layers of Government and bureaucracy, not less. Given the chance, it would tax more, not less. The Opposition are discredited by the few things that they say. At the time of the local government settlement, they told me that it meant a minimum of 15 per cent. council tax rises.
Mr. Donald Anderson rose
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) rose
Mr. Redwood : I shall finish the point before I give way. Today we learn that the average so far is not 15 per cent., not 10 per cent. and not even 5 per cent. At the time of our last debate, they threatened that Labour local
Column 1090government would cut teachers, when my priority--as Labour's should be--is better education. Why do they not look at spending on public relations, corporate affairs and the army of advisers that they retain in county halls ?
Mr. Anderson : Might not the Secretary of State reflect on one reason for caution in giving costed increases possibly three years from the next election ? When my party gave an honest shadow Budget shortly before the last election, it was pilloried by the Conservative leading press. We may well have lost the election as a result of that shadow Budget, whereas the Conservatives, despite their election promises, have put up taxes substantially more than we suggested in our shadow Budget.
Mr. Redwood : I think that the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Labour party wishes to mislead the electorate, because it does not want to come clean about its plans. The truth is that the hon. Gentleman and the shadow Cabinet cannot get permission to announce the policies that he wants to announce. His hands are tied and he is gagged as well.
Mr. Win Griffiths : Has the Secretary of State calculated how much more in taxes Welsh people will pay in the coming two years ? Will he tell us the amount of the publicity budget of the Welsh Office ?
Mr. Redwood : There has been extensive discussion about the impact of tax changes in the previous Budget. That is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I can tell Labour Members that, when they left power, income tax was 33p in the pound. Today it is 25p in the pound. I know what people in Wales would rather be paying.
It is no wonder, with them all out to lunch, that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) have decided to steal away for good. They sense another defeat and do not want to be around for the recriminations. It is no wonder that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), that great paragon of socialist virtues, that scourge of any Conservative who falls short of high standards, cannot face it today and has gone out to lunch--or has gone out to something in Belgravia. He can see that it is time to go upmarket if one is to get on in the modern Labour party. It is time for designer suits and public school accents. It is time to trade in the working class life for something more middle class. I am with my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) with his "back to Janice" campaign. For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that he goes back to Janice and I go back to my own home.
The Government attach great importance to improving public transport.
The railway network is an underused asset. There is a need to attract customers. Better marketing and better services, comfort, reliability and frequency are all necessary. I use the trains as often as possible. I hope that more will do so. Our competition policy for the railways is
Column 1091designed to put passengers first and to woo more people on to the trains. The tracks will remain in public hands, as now, and franchising offers opportunities, not threats.
Mrs. Clwyd : I hope that the Secretary of State will take the debate a little more seriously than he has so far. Will he give some assurances on the future of the valleys lines, particularly under the unitary authorities ? For example, as he knows, were it not for the intervention of Mid Glamorgan county council, some of those lines would not exist.
Mr. Redwood : Of course I want them to have a good future, but I can tell the hon. Lady that the best way for them to have that is to woo enough people on to the trains to use those excellent services. The Government are fully behind those lines. I am trying to outline to the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends the policy that we are putting into effect, which I think will make a difference. It will make the trains more attractive and give us more passengers on them.
Mr. Redwood : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his important point. Our franchising idea offers opportunities, not threats. It means that if a private company comes forward and can do a better job, it will be able to do so. If no one comes forward, BR will continue, as now. The services will be better and customers should be attracted in greater numbers.
A better complete service could be provided. For example, safe, convenient and secure car parking could attract more customers to stations--most people travel to the station by car in the first instance. There is scope for other facilities at stations, such as car servicing and better retail facilities for customers to make it a more attractive proposition.
I intend today to announce my plans for strategic roads in Wales to show how they will link all the main parts of Wales to the markets of the future. As I have travelled the length and breadth of Wales over the past nine months, I have made a point of visiting the sites of many road schemes to see for myself. I have decided that Wales needs three strong strategic east-west links. These are, or will be, the M4 in the south, the A465 heads of the valleys road and the A55 in the north. They will be dual carriageway standard, designed to carry large volumes of traffic safely at a good speed.
Following representations, I am bringing forward work on the A465. I hope that Opposition Members who wanted that will welcome the proposal. The Glynneath-Aberdulais contract is now under way, and I have asked officials to accelerate the dualling of the 25 miles between Abergavenny and Hirwaun. I shall be consulting the public on route options this year. Progress now depends on the speed of design work, consultation and statutory procedures. I see the A465 bringing prosperity to the northern valleys as surely as the M4 is doing in the south and the A55 in north Wales. The A55 on the mainland will be completed this year, and I attach importance to extending it across Anglesey as quickly as possible.
There is a need to improve capacity on the M4 in south-east Wales. The second Severn crossing is to open in
Column 10921996. I have added a scheme to the programme to increase capacity by widening the section between Magor and Newport at about the same time. Congestion at Newport will be alleviated when the Brynglas tunnels/Malpas relief road opens next winter. In the longer term, additional capacity will be needed between the second Severn crossing and the west of Cardiff. I am considering responses to the consultation on the route options for the M4 relief motorway, and a planned widening of the M4 to three lanes around Cardiff is already in my programme.
I expect those roads to cater for the foreseeable growth in heavy lorry traffic and long-distance east-west car traffic for at least the next decade. There is no general need for increases in capacity on other routes. The A40 in mid-Wales and the A5 on the mainland of north Wales traverse beautiful scenery and go through pretty towns and villages. I do not see those roads as the primary routes for heavy long-distance traffic.
I have been persuaded by the environmental arguments in several cases. For that reason, I am deleting the A40 Crickhowell bypass and the A5 Bonwm bends schemes. I am deferring the Corwen and Bethesda bypasses and the A40 Pontargothi diversion. I shall be considering the Abergavenny western bypass in the light of the inspector's report and my policy on strategic routes.
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North) : Talking of the A40, will the Secretary of State bear in mind the importance of relieving congestion in the Fishguard area, to provide better access to the port, the route 6 bypass and the southern bypass ?
Mr. Redwood : I shall deal with the A40 links to the M4 from the extreme west a little later. I think that that is a different issue from the route of the A40 across mid-Wales. I wish to send a clear signal that the mainland A5 and the mid-Wales A40 are not destined to become major highways and that improvements to them will be made only where the safety case is compelling or there are special local needs.
Mr. Jonathan Evans : I thank my right hon. Friend for his announcement about the Crickhowell bypass. I am sure that it reflects the substantial representations that he received from those in the locality and, more widely, from people in Wales who know and value the area well.
My right hon. Friend will know, however, that there are still considerable traffic problems in many of the towns and villages of mid-Wales. Will he give more impetus to some of the traffic-calming measures that I know that his Department has been considering to deal with many of the problems that arise in some of our more beautiful villages ?
Mr. Redwood : Of course I shall consider that point. I shall also consider individual needs for bypasses, road improvements or alignment improvements when they are required for local traffic reasons. The signal that I wish to send at this stage, however, is that those are not the key strategic routes and they will not be taking the main heavy traffic flows across Wales.