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House of Commons

Monday 14 March 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Rail Links (West Wales) --

1. Mr. Denzil Davies : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will seek urgent talks with the EC Transport Commissioner with a view to improving rail links between west Wales and the continent of Europe.

The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts) : My right hon. Friend has no immediate plans to meet the Transport Commissioner. Rail links with west Wales are already included in the proposed trans-European conventional rail network.

Mr. Davies : With due respect, that does not amount to very much. Do not the Secretary of State and the Minister realise that, with an increasing amount of British trade locked into the European Union and as west Wales is on the periphery of the Brussels empire, there is a real problem in trade and investment ? Is the Minister aware that there are many ideas to improve the situation, such as upgrading the ports and providing ferry links with Poole and rail links through the north downs ? Will he sit down with the Transport Commissioner and with representatives of Dyfed county council and the local authorities to try to solve that serious problem ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : My right hon. Friend and I are most anxious to ensure that the whole of Wales, including west Wales, has first-class links with the continent for trading purposes. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there will be three inter-city trains a day running from south Wales to Waterloo, the international terminal, and one of those trains will serve Milford Haven. I am told that, certainly, the others will start from Swansea.

Mr. Murphy : Does the Minister agree that there is an urgent need for the north downs railway line from Reading to Redhill to be upgraded to provide a direct rail link between the channel tunnel and south Wales ? Since such a route would avoid congested lines through inner London, provide a direct passenger train service to Europe from Wales and put Cardiff within only four hours of Paris, will he undertake to press the case with British Rail ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend and I will ensure that that matter is given every consideration.

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Development Agencies --

2. Mr. Shersby : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to reorganise the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Welsh Development Agency.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood) : The chairman of the Welsh Development Agency has recently announced the terms of his internal reorganisation of that agency and I have recently announced the new guidelines, which I have issued. The future of the Development Board for Rural Wales is under review.

Mr. Shersby : Is my right hon. Friend aware that those announcements are most welcome ? Will he give the House an assurance that the standards followed by the Welsh Development Agency and the Development Board for Rural Wales in future will be those that the Committee of Public Accounts and Parliament have the right to expect ?

Mr. Redwood : I strongly hope that that will be the case. I have asked the chairmen and chief executives of those agencies to take full account of the strong views of the PAC and the House of Commons and of my views. We want the highest standards. I wish to see the agencies uphold them and I trust that they will do so.

Mr. Flynn : What is the point if all the work of those two bodies is negated by the actions of privatised companies, especially British Gas, where, we are told, the number of jobs in Wales is about to be reduced from 2,903 to, probably, less than 1,000 because it is pursuing a policy which is profit first and in which safety and the regional need for jobs in Wales come nowhere ?

Mr. Redwood : I have written to the chairman of British Gas saying that Wales offers a great deal and have urged the company to make full use of Wales for the location of its business activities. I have received a reply in which he admits that Wales is a good place in which to locate and assures me that there will still be a strong presence there. I am afraid that Wales cannot be exempt from the efficiency gains that British Gas will be making, any more than the rest of the United Kingdom can.

Mr. Jonathan Evans : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern expressed to me at the weekend by tenants of the Development Board for Rural Wales on the Ffrwgrech estate in Brecon ? He will know that the development board must pursue a policy of maximising its assets, but the tenants are concerned that the whole of the estate is to be sold to an outside investor. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House that he will encourage the Development Board for Rural Wales to look first to its own tenants so that we build in rural Wales an economy in which, very often, local businesses own their own factories ?

Mr. Redwood : I agree with my hon. Friend that it is better if tenants buy their own freehold premises. I wish to see the development board offer those premises to the tenants, but, of course, the tenants must make a fair offer in return. We wish to raise money by selling existing assets so that we have more money to spend on new assets to create new investment and new jobs for Wales. However, I will ensure that the chairman of the DBRW is aware of my hon. Friend's remarks. Like my hon. Friend, I want tenants to be given a fair opportunity.

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Mr. Alex Carlile : Will the Secretary of State give his unequivocal backing to the public statement made today by the chairman of the DBRW that the interests of economic development in rural Wales are best served by having a separate organisation, the DBRW ?

Mr. Redwood : I am reviewing the best way to deliver those services, so I wish to complete that review before answering that question.

Mr. Llwyd : Although I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) said about the British Gas situation and would very much like to associate myself with his comments, if there is to be a reorganisation of the DBRW will the Secretary of State consider the rent reviews ? That has been a matter of grave concern, especially in my constituency where one third or more of the units are empty simply because the rack rents asked may be reasonable in Birmingham but are not in rural Wales.

Mr. Redwood : I quite agree that rents must be related to market circumstances. I have asked all the agencies with empty property to put at the top of their list the need to find tenants for those properties and, therefore, to find a market-clearing level of rent that enables those tenants to come forward. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. If hon. Members have other points that they would like to be taken into account in my review of the DBRW, they have a good opportunity to do that now or in writing this week.

Mr. Morgan : Notwithstanding the public admonition from the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) to the Secretary of State in his supplementary question earlier, as the senior-ranking Tory member of the Public Accounts Committee, does the Secretary of State agree that the executive reorganisation at the top of the Welsh Development Agency to which he referred in his answer is in clear breach of the undertakings given by him to the House on 19 October when he introduced the report by Sir John Caines and said that those recommendations would be accepted in full by the top management of the WDA ? Does he also agree that, until the mess of that reorganisation is sorted out, it is unlikely that the WDA and the DBRW will be able to repeat the amazing sporting achievements of Colin Jackson and Steve Robinson over the past weekend ?

Mr. Redwood : The hon. Gentleman did not say how he thought that was out of line with the Caines report. Of course, I will consider any allegation that the hon. Gentleman wishes to make specifically on that point. The chairman has announced his reorganisation. I believe that it will deliver more service for less administrative cost, which is something I should have thought that hon. Members would welcome.

Unemployment --

3. Mr. Hanson : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the current level of unemployment in Clwyd.

Mr. Redwood : The level in January 1994 was 16,739 unadjusted out of work or 9.1 per cent.

Mr. Hanson : Is the Secretary of State aware that, in the past two weeks, 80 potential jobs have been lost from Clwyd to Merseyside and a similar number have been placed under threat by the deliberate actions of the Welsh

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Office in respect of the mishandling of a planning application at Mostyn in Clwyd ? Will the Secretary of State please explain to the House why he took those actions and why he allowed that to happen, despite repeated warnings to the contrary ?

Mr. Redwood : I should be delighted to have this opportunity to put the record straight. The hon. Gentleman well knows why I took the action that I did. I had wanted the local authority to settle the issue. I thought that that was the best way forward. I thought that it would be able to take full account of the environmental objections, the jobs and the economic case.

I then received legal advice that stated that, because the application impinged on a European special protection area, I had to call it in. I had no choice. Had the local authority gone ahead and made the decision, it would have been subject to legal challenge and might not have stood up. I acted as I did because of that legal advice. It would have been better if the local authority had been asked to determine the matter. I cannot comment now on the substance of the application because I have to approach it with an open mind.

Mr. Heald : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the policies of the Government, and especially the Welsh Office, have led to a huge increase in the number of new jobs in Clwyd replacing the jobs lost in traditional industries ? Would he care to pay a tribute to the work of Chwarae Teg in getting women into the work force in Clwyd, and especially in helping them with training ?

Mr. Redwood : I should, indeed, like to echo my hon. Friend's comments : there has been a massive expansion in investment and job opportunities.

Dr. Howells : The right hon. Gentleman wrote those comments.

Mr. Redwood : No. My hon. Friend speaks for himself. He seems to know better than Labour Members what is good news in Clwyd and how much has been arrived at because of the Government's policies and the agencies that have been assisting. I hope that Labour Members will also welcome that news because, although there are still too many people out of work, there have been many major new projects, particularly in the energy field in that part of Wales, and there is much more good news to come.

Mr. Ron Davies : It is a truly appalling figure for Clwyd, as indeed it is for the whole of Wales. We now have 10 per cent. unemployment in Wales, and under this Government we have seen the loss of 113,000 manufacturing jobs. What action does the Secretary of State advocate to tackle those critical weaknesses in British industry, which were identified in a recent Royal Society of Arts report as

"chronic underinvestment, a lack of commitment, inflexibility and the failure to focus on long term goals" ?

Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that he has any responsibility at all for what is happening to the Welsh economy ?

Mr. Redwood : Unemployment is falling and I look forward to further falls in the months ahead because of the economic policies that we are pursuing. It is a bit rich for Labour Members to come up with that criticism, because they have no ideas, no new money to offer and only one gag--the gag from the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East

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(Mr. Brown), who stops them saying anything that they want to say. What is the point of being a socialist if one cannot spend more of other people's money, or offer to spend more of other people's money ? Our policies are based on labour market flexibility, encouragement for investment, low inflation and sound economic fundamentals.

4. Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the current level of unemployment in Wales.

Mr. Redwood : In January 1994, the seasonally adjusted unemployment figure was 127,500--a fall of 6,500 since January 1993 or an average fall of 500 a month.

Mr. Coombs : What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the impact of a high-spending, high-taxing Welsh assembly and the European social chapter on unemployment in Wales ? Would not the Labour party's policies and those of their European cronies be disastrous for Wales and lead to a reversal of the trend in unemployment which my right hon. Friend so warmly welcomes, as I do ?

Mr. Redwood : I am afraid that my hon. Friend is right. An assembly that taxed more and regulated more would put businesses off going to Wales and drive out some of those already there. I understand that Labour Members are getting worried about that. They think that maybe the assembly should not have taxing powers. But surely it would have spending powers ; that means that it would end up taxing more, which would be bad news for business and bad news for jobs.

Mr. Roy Hughes : With reference to the question on the Order Paper, are not the figures far too high, especially in the male sector ? Does the Secretary of State recognise that part-time jobs for women will never replace the thousands of jobs lost in coal and steel ? Will the Government and the Welsh Development Agency step up their efforts to bring new enterprises to Wales ?

Mr. Redwood : That is exactly what we are doing. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the news today, which I just heard, of up to 600 new jobs over a three-year period from the Goodings satellite television receiver venture in Mid Glamorgan. That is extremely welcome news and means that there are likely to be further falls in unemployment which I, like Labour Members, sincerely wish to see. Of course, one in 10 out of work is far too many, but our policies of low inflation, good economic growth and attraction of investment will deliver jobs.

Mr. John Marshall : Has my right hon. Friend estimated the impact of inward investment on unemployment in Wales ? Does he believe that inward investment would be encouraged by a national minimum wage, the adoption of the social chapter and the nonsenses from Brussels which are advocated by the Opposition ?

Mr. Redwood : I have, indeed, looked at the figures. More than 11, 000 new and safeguarded jobs in the first 10 months of this year have been attracted, as recorded by Welsh Development International, and there may have been more. Those jobs are extremely beneficial. The worry is that if the policies of the Opposition were followed, Wales would no longer be attractive for many of those

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companies that come, they say, because they want to benefit from being in the EC and have the added benefit of not having the same social arrangements as are enjoyed by some continental countries.

Mr. Wigley : I welcome those 600 new jobs and any other new jobs which come. Does the Secretary of State realise that 2,000 jobs are about to be lost in the gas industry, and that 400 or 500 of those are in Clwyd ? On the point made by the Secretary of State a moment ago with regard to Mostyn docks, does he realise that the loss of that infrastructure project will affect not only Clwyd but my county of Gwynedd ? Why was it not possible for the Welsh Office to turn that around within five weeks, as in the case of Cardiff ? If that had been done, would not the project be alive and would not we be looking forward to the jobs that came with it ?

Mr. Redwood : I should like to turn it around as quickly as possible and come to a fair decision, but I must take legal advice. There is no point in acting illegally, because the decision would be overturned in a court of law. A proper environmental assessment is needed so that a proper judgment can be reached, given the special European designation in that area. That is the problem, and why progress takes time. It must be done carefully so that people can see that it is done fairly.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome other good news, such as that from Amcor Packaging, where there will be 150 new jobs during the next three years, from Control Techniques in Newtown and from Stevens and George in Merthyr Tydfil, which recently announced new jobs.

Energy and Transport Strategy --

5. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has for a co-ordinated strategy for (a) energy and (b) transport for Wales.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones) : Plans are set out in "Sustainable Development--The UK Strategy", "This Common Inheritance", annual progress reports, the 1994 Welsh Office departmental report and various policy planning guidance notes and in my right hon. Friend's announcement to the House on 3 March on strategic road plans.

Mr. Hughes : May I encourage Ministers to make sure that there is a clearly separate energy and transport strategy for the Principality that fits in with the UK and European framework ? Given that one of the things that would benefit both would be the transfer of freight from road to rail in Wales, will Ministers consider whether there can be an increase in subsidy for that purpose ? Would not that take traffic away from the roads, increase the use of the railways, save energy, reduce pollution and reduce congestion at the same time ?

Mr. Jones : I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend and I will make sure that the interests of Wales are fully safeguarded in the UK's consideration of the matter. It is not possible for Wales to be considered in isolation because of the obvious relativity involved.

On the hon. Gentleman's point about freight traffic on the railway, I think that the principle is absolutely sound.

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I look forward to the opportunities that I am sure the channel tunnel will bring for an increase in freight traffic in Wales carried on the railways.

Mr. Roger Evans : Will my hon. Friend join me in being careful of the phrase--the cant, humbug phrase--"co-ordinated strategy" when used by the Opposition ? Is that not normally a code for more state interference, more bossiness from Whitehall and less listening to what the people of Wales really want ? Does he agree that, these days, proposals to build new railway lines would be open to considerable environmental objections ?

Mr. Jones : My hon. Friend makes a fair point. There are enough examples in the past of left-wing and Labour Governments--including those supported by the Liberal party--trotting out plan after plan. We know full well that the one thing centralised planning is sure to do is fail.

Mr. Llew Smith : On energy, will the Minister inform me as to what proportion of the non-fossil fuel levy goes to renewables and what proportion to nuclear ?

Mr. Jones : That is a rather detailed question for which I had better provide the hon. Gentleman with a detailed answer.

Deregulation --

6. Mr. Jonathan Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what are his plans for extending the deregulation initiative to the work of his Department.

Mr. Redwood : The deregulation initiative runs across Whitehall. The Welsh Office is co-operating fully.

Mr. Evans : Will my right hon. Friend ensure that he includes in his review of the regulations the appalling complexity that now seems to pervade every aspect of agricultural administration, which supposedly requires every farmer to have a double first in legal interpretation and accountancy ?

Mr. Redwood : I agree with the sentiments that my hon. Friend expresses. Of course, we shall work with our European partners and urge simplification and a more accessible system. Where we have powers ourselves, I shall make sure that they are properly used, as I have done in simplifying the integrated administration and control system forms recently.

Mr. Rogers : Does the Secretary of State agree that, in view of what has happened in the past six to nine months in Wales, what we have is not deregulation in the Welsh Office but the Welsh Office out of control ? Rather than accepting the proposals suggested by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), it is about time that the Secretary of State got to grips with the unelected bodies in Wales and the corruption that pervades right through the system.

Mr. Redwood : It is a grotesque calumny to say that there is corruption right through the system. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think again before saying that and realise that such serious allegations require evidence to back them. Of course, I wish to see the high standards that he desires ; I have made no secret of that. I have also set out guidelines and guidance to ensure that high standards are observed.

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Hospitals --

7. Mr. Jon Owen Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has made to take Welsh hospitals into the next century ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : Since 1979, £1.4 billion has been spent on improving the national health service estate in Wales : 60 major hospital schemes have been completed or are under way. I am to announce shortly details of the new capital programme. My right hon. Friend and I regularly visit hospitals throughout Wales. I look forward this coming Wednesday to launching the new magnetic resonance imaging scanner in Cardiff at the University hospital of Wales.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones : I hope that the Minister is aware that there is an increasing fashion among hospital administrators to locate all the facilities that they possibly can under one roof, regardless of the convenience or feelings of the local community or of the use that it makes of those facilities. Does he have any sympathy with older hospitals, much loved by their patients, which face closure as a result of that misguided policy ? I should like an answer, particularly on Cardiff royal infirmary.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : The interests of the community clearly ought to be considered on every occasion. The movement towards trust status, whose popularity in Wales is increasing rapidly, emphasises exactly that point. That is what we look for in every application for trust status. There must be greater benefits to the local community that the hospitals serve.

On the point about Cardiff royal infirmary, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already placed it firmly on the record, and I fully subscribe to his view, that the closest consideration must be given to any question of closing a hospital in Wales. The case must be fully proved before such action can be justified.

Mr. Richards : Will my hon. Friend confirm that the proposed cancer treatment centre at Glan Clwyd NHS trust hospital, which will benefit cancer sufferers throughout north Wales and beyond, will go ahead as planned, despite attempts by Opposition Members to stop the plan ?

Mr. Gwilym Jones : I know that my hon. Friend has been stalwart in campaigning for the new facility at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. It is absolutely right that we should have that new cancer treatment facility in north Wales. It has been most carefully researched and the decision has been given the go-ahead. I look forward to the centre being set up as soon as possible.

Local Government Reorganisation --

8. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will visit Ewenny, St. Bride's Major and Wick to discuss his proposals for local government reorganisation.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : I have no plans to do so.

Mr. Griffiths : Does the Minister realise that my constituents in Ewenny, St. Bride's Major and Wick will be angry and disappointed with that reply because they believe that the continuing failure of the Welsh Office to single out that one area--where, in an Electoral Reform Society ballot with a 75 per cent. turnout, almost 90 per

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cent. voted in favour of staying with Bridgend--will bring democracy into disrepute and turn to ashes anything that the Government have ever said about respecting the will of the people ?

Mr. Jones : I am disappointed to realise that my presence is so sorely missed in Ewenny, St. Bride's Major and Wick. We have already carefully considered the matter in the proposals that we are putting to the House. There will be the fullest opportunity to debate it in the Second Reading debate tomorrow afternoon on the Local Government (Wales) Bill. I am sure that in Committee we shall give the most careful consideration to where the three communities should be located. I must say that they appear to be much more rural in character and more appropriate to the Vale of Glamorgan.

Mr. Ron Davies : Does the Under-Secretary of State realise that there is widespread concern throughout the length and breadth of Wales, and not only in the Vale of Glamorgan, the heads of the valleys, Meirionnydd and Montgomery, at the boundaries contained in the Local Government (Wales) Bill ? The Minister referred to the Bill, which will receive its Second Reading tomorrow. May I take it from the reply that he has just given that he is prepared to be flexible ? If so, will he tell us the extent to which the Government are prepared to be flexible on boundaries, should the Bill receive a Second Reading ?

Mr. Jones : It is, of course, for Parliament to consider that.

EC Commission --

9. Mr. Rowlands : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last visited Brussels ; and when he next intends to visit Brussels to discuss with the Commissioner matters relating to his departmental responsibilities.

Sir Wyn Roberts : There has been no occasion for my right hon. Friend to visit Brussels since his appointment. He has, however, renewed invitations to key Commissioners to visit Wales and we hope that they will be able to do so.

Mr. Rowlands : I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that that is a neglect of duty, considering that so many decisions taken in Brussels affect our communities. For example, is he aware that, during the past five years, all four pits in my constituency have closed and more than 2,000 miners' jobs have been lost ? Will there be a repeat performance of the charade and farce that accompanied the first RECHAR programme, when the second programme is introduced ? How much money is available under the second phase of RECHAR and will it go directly to those communities affected directly by pit closures, such as mine ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that his constituency did especially well under the RECHAR programme. Merthyr has had about 10 projects with a value of £1.3 million and Wales has had about 170 projects, valued at £21 million. I am glad to be able to tell him that the RECHAR programme is one of the initiatives that will be continued and that 0.4 billion ecu will be devoted to it.

On the hon. Gentleman's more general point, United Kingdom interests are well represented by my right hon.

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Friends and the Welsh Office is very much in touch with the Commission through its officials and through Ministers when necessary. I had the privilege of attending an informal council in Lie ge just before Christmas.

Mr. Fabricant : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the 600 jobs that the Secretary of State announced earlier have been created to produce transceivers for the satellite industry, which are destined for the Dutch and German market ? When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visits Brussels, will he resist all the trans-European, pan-socialist dogma which has driven business out of Germany and Holland and brought it to south Wales ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no doubt about it--many companies in south Wales are operating with machinery that was once in Europe and has been drawn back to Wales because it is more productive there.

On our relationships with Europe, my hon. Friend the

Under-Secretary of State has been leading an export mission to Europe and this evening I am going to Barcelona to lead another export mission. My hon. Friend is right-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members simply do not realise how much progress Wales has made as a gateway into Europe.

Public Bodies --

10. Mr. Ray Powell : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many appointments to unelected bodies in Wales are his


Sir Wyn Roberts : My right hon. Friend is currently responsible for 798 appointments to public bodies in Wales. The quarterly list updating the details to 1 March will be available in the Library of the House shortly.

Mr. Powell : I wonder whether the Minister will give us some information. He is aware of the fight that the Conservative party put up against quangos and unelected bodies. Why have the Conservatives changed their minds ? Can he give details of the political affiliations of those appointed ? Can he also give due consideration to ensuring that when the chairman of Mid-Glamorgan health authority is appointed, he or she will have the political affiliation that is shared by all the Members of Parliament who represent Mid-Glamorgan ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman must realise that we do not know the political affiliations of a great many of those appointees. They are not asked that question, although they are given an opportunity to instance a position that they have held in a political party. I am sure that there a great many members of the Labour party, the Liberal party and Plaid Cymru among those 798 appointees to whom I referred in the answer.

Barry-Rhoose Railway Line --

11. Mr. Sweeney : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans there are for the opening of the railway line between Barry and Rhoose for passenger traffic.

Sir Wyn Roberts : I understand that South Glamorgan county council is in the lead with Regional Railways in an investigation into the feasibility of introducing a limited passenger rail service on the Vale of Glamorgan line with a stop at Rhoose.

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Mr. Sweeney : Will my right hon. Friend note the warm welcome that has been given in the Vale of Glamorgan to the announcement by the Welsh Office that grant aid is likely to be available for an improved road link between Culverhouse Cross and Cardiff Wales ? Will he join me in urging the highway authority, South Glamorgan county council, to take up that offer of help ? Is any grant aid likely to be available for the rail link to which my right hon. Friend alluded ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : I very much appreciate my hon. Friend's kind remarks about my right hon. Friend's announcement about the road link to the airport at Rhoose. With regard to the rail link, it is possible for us to assist such a scheme if it is submitted to us as part of the strategic development scheme.

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