Column 1T H E
P A R L I A M E N T A R Y D E B A T E S
IN THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FIFTY-FIRST PARLIAMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND
[WHICH OPENED 27 APRIL 1992]
FORTY-THIRD YEAR OF THE REIGN OF
HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II
SIXTH SERIES VOLUME 242
TENTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1993-94
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones) : Since publication of the White Paper on local government inWales, we have received more than 280 letters, more than 4,300 pre-printed leaflets and a petition carrying 16 signatures in favour of a Montgomeryshire unitary authority.
Mr. Hughes : Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Standing Committee considering the Local Government (Wales) Bill, which voted by a significant majority to give unitary status to Montgomeryshire
Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is referring to a Standing Committee that has not yet reported to the House. I am sure that he knows that, until a Committee has reported, we do not discuss its proceedings on the Floor of the House.
Mr. Hughes : Will the Minister respond to press reports that there is now a significant majority of opinion among relevant hon. Members on both sides of the House in favour of the retention of Montgomeryshire as a unitary authority together with the other two parts of the county of Powys ? Will he ensure that that opinion is sustained as the majority opinion of the House at later stages when the matter is considered ? Those involved can then plan, on the basis of unitary status, to give the best of services to the people of that historic and significant county in the centre of Wales.
Mr. Jones : My right hon. Friends and I remain convinced that the Bill provides the best arrangements for local government in Wales, particularly for Powys and for Montgomeryshire. There will be much more decision making by local councillors in Montgomeryshire than at present, and that will be a better arrangement. Of course, we will reflect further before Report.
Mr. Jonathan Evans : Is my hon. Friend prepared to consider further the issue of financial autonomy, which causes much concern in the county of Montgomeryshire and also in the two counties that I represent, Breconshire and Radnorshire ? Will he tell members of the Committee whether he is prepared to address the issues in an open-minded way ?
Mr. Jones : We have already addressed the issues in an open-minded way, and the proposals for the shire committees--especially for Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire and Breconshire--represent a far better arrangement than exists at present. The authorities would be provided with a block grant, probably on the basis of a standard spending assessment- style arrangement, in respect of 100 per cent. of their finances. That is the best way forward.
Mr. Ron Davies : It is a pity that the Secretary of State, who has responsibility for these matters, is not answering these questions, because this is important. Any proposals that the Under-Secretary may have for strengthening financial devolution will cause considerable resentment, particularly in the boroughs, and any gain that he gets from
Column 3devolution in Montgomery will be more than offset by opposition elsewhere. May I press the hon. Gentleman on the point about Montgomeryshire ? A substantial majority of Welsh Members of all parties represented in the House are of the opinion that the proposals for Powys are wrong. If the majority view is that Montgomeryshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire should remain as unitary authorities, will the Under- Secretary accept the wishes of Welsh Members of Parliament ?
Mr. Jones : I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is factually right in his claim about the majority of all political parties wanting to go down the road that he suggests. The financial and other arrangements that we propose are far better and they are there for every part of Wales. Other parts of Wales besides the three historic counties of Powys could well choose to avail themselves of the arrangements for decentralisation that we are building in. The new arrangements will come to be regarded as much superior throughout Wales.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood) : Seasonally adjusted, the number of claimants unemployed in Wales in March 1994 was 125,300, representing a rate of 9.9 per cent. of the work force.
Mr. Hughes : Has the Minister considered the proposed closure of the Compton Webb factory in Newport, which for more than 40 years has made uniforms for the military and other public services ? Why do the Government continue to give orders to that firm, given that its production is increasingly being transferred to north Africa while our people are being put on social security ? Does it have something to do with the fact that the parent company, Coats Viyella, is a regular contributor to Tory party funds ?
Mr. Redwood : Of course not. The Ministry of Defence awards contracts on the basis of good value for money. Like the hon. Gentleman, I hope that we can make more things in Wales and meet more of the MOD's requirements. I note that the hon. Gentleman did not mention the fact that unemployment was down 5,751 in the 12 months to March 1994 or the major assistance that his area receives from the urban programme, in Welsh Development Agency cash and from the special development scheme. We are keen to promote more business in his area. I hope that he will work with us because around Wales we are having great success in generating the jobs people want. It is about time that Opposition Members welcomed that.
Dr. Spink : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that inward investment is the key to driving down unemployment in this area of the country and that the Government's policies of providing deregulation, low inflation and low interest rates are attracting inward investment ? Will he continue those policies ?
Column 4has had. Provisional figures for 1993-94 show £190 million of investment from the rest of the United Kingdom, £356 million from north America, £130 million from the far east and £88 million from the rest of Europe. That brought about 14,000 new and safeguarded jobs to Wales. We need much more such investment and we shall continue to promote it actively. We also want more home-grown jobs. That is also a central policy which the Government are pursuing.
Mr. Ainger : Is the Secretary of State aware that this afternoon the management of the Pembrokeshire NHS trust will inform 55 members of its staff that they are redundant and that it will seek another 45 redundancies over a short period ? Does he accept what that management says--that the cause of those redundancies is the fact that the Welsh Office has not funded the 2.9 per cent. pay rise that nurses and doctors rightly received ? Will he investigate the particular circumstances that have caused those 100 jobs to be lost in Pembrokeshire and the likely impact on other trusts and health authorities throughout Wales of the Welsh Office refusing to pay for the 2.9 per cent. pay rise ?
Mr. Redwood : I do not accept the reason ; it was not underfunding of the pay rise. I believe that there will be redundancies and reductions in posts at that trust. I believe that they will be in administrative and managerial posts, not in medical care posts, as the hon. Gentleman insinuates. I believe that the redundancies are unique to that trust and are not spreading to other trusts. That implies that the redundancies are to do with the management of that trust. I am sorry that some people will lose their jobs. It is important that it is done in a way that does not damage medical care. That is the clear message that I send to all trusts around Wales. We want the maximum amount of money spent on patient care, which is what I believe the Pembrokeshire trust is trying to do.
Mr. Murphy : Is the Secretary of State aware that--in addition to the devastating news about the job losses in Pembrokeshire--130 men at the Avesta steelworks in my constituency are to lose their jobs, which will be dispersed to Sheffield and Sweden ? What advice will he personally give to my constituents and those made jobless in Pembrokeshire today, who now face either the dole or work in lower-paid, often part-time, jobs ?
Mr. Redwood : Once again, the Opposition are concentrating on the bad news and not looking at the fact that we are generating more jobs than we are losing. Of course I am sad for the hon. Gentleman's constituents, but there is a process of change under way that no Government in the world can stop : fashions and demands change. It is important that we carry on succeeding for Wales and promoting Wales. Why does not the hon. Gentleman mention TRW Steering Systems, which announced today 400 new safeguarded jobs at its plant, with a £10 million investment ? Why does not he mention the good news from Betws colliery, where a management buy-out is going ahead to bring back 90 jobs ? Why does not he mention the Calsonic research and development project, which I was able to initiate two weeks ago ? That is people backing Wales and giving Wales the jobs that it needs.
Mr. Gwilym Jones : The opportunities provided by the Housing Act 1988, together with Welsh Office support, have already achieved an 18 per cent. increase in private rented housing between 1990 and 1992.
Mr. Thurnham : Is my hon. Friend aware that private rented housing makes a much greater contribution to housing need in most other countries than it does in Britain ? Does he welcome the Opposition's somewhat belated recognition of the fact that that sector badly needs a boost ?
Mr. Jones : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The Opposition's recognition always seems to be belated ; my hon. Friend could have described it as a death-bed repentance. The difference between the two parties is that there is a recognition of reality on the Conservative Benches, but a lack of it on the Opposition Benches. I have referred to the 18 per cent. increase in private rented housing and we shall do even better than that. The last census showed that Wales is an increasingly better- housed nation, and we should make the best use of that housing.
Mr. Dafis : Will the Minister nip in the bud any idea that housing association grant should be made available to private developers and landlords ? Does he accept that that would be a misuse of public funds and would lead to increased rents in what we term social housing, where rent levels are already causing concern to Tai Cymru ?
Mr. Jones : I cannot accept such a blinkered approach to housing. We should remain open to all possibilities for making the greatest use of taxpayers' money to achieve the greatest provision of social housing. The hon. Gentleman might care to reflect warmly on what has already been achieved. Since the inception of Housing for Wales, there has been a 100,000 increase in provision.
The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts) : The United Kingdom's membership of the European Community has given Wales access to a market of more than 346 million consumers and has enhanced Wales's attractiveness to inward investors looking for a base within the Community. In the past five years' almost 400 inward investment projects from overseas have been recorded in Wales, forecasting the creation or safeguarding of more than 41,000 jobs and representing a capital investment of more than £3 billion.
Mr. Williams : Why should the people of Wales be denied the rights to consultation, employment protection and equality between men and women, as enshrined in the social chapter and adopted by our 11 partners in the European Union ? Why do the Government condemn the British work force to second-rate terms of employment ?
Sir Wyn Roberts : Our exemption from the social chapter, which was negotiated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, is most important to the Welsh economy. The imposition of the social chapter would cause unemployment. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, what the Welsh economy needs is more inward investment to provide more jobs. Wales has done well in that respect in the past and will do so in the future.
Mr. Roger Evans : My right hon. Friend has dealt with the importance of inward investment. How much assistance is Wales obtaining from the European Union structural funds ? Can he give us an indication of the importance of that assistance ?
Sir Wyn Roberts : I am glad to assure my hon. Friend that we have done well under the new structural funds. As he knows, industrial south Wales has objective 2 status and can expect £146 million between 1994 and 1996. Rural Wales has secured objective 5b status and can expect £143 million over the same period.
Mr. Morgan : Does the Minister nevertheless agree that the evidence given to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry--that low wages do not make an economy competitive--is exceptionally important to Wales, as we are so dependent on multinational companies with headquarters in mainland Europe ? Does he also agree with observations that formed part of the evidence to the Committee--that there are weaknesses in basic literacy and numeracy in Wales, with German school children aged 15 two years ahead of our children in mathematics ? We cannot go on relying on low wages or we will be condemning our workers to permanent pauperdom in Tory sweatshops.
Sir Wyn Roberts : But the hon. Gentleman will know that many factories are in Wales precisely because it is the best place in the European Community for them to invest. The fact that our wages are low compared to those in the United Kingdom and Europe is certainly taken into account in decisions about the location of factories and investments from overseas. Many countries in Europe envy us because production costs in Wales are lower than theirs.
5. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received from farming unions on the implications of general agreement on tariffs and trade reforms for the future of agriculture in Wales.
Sir Wyn Roberts : My right hon. Friend and I are aware of the assessment of the implications of the GATT agreement published by the National Farmers Union, but have not received any direct representations on the matter.
Mr. Wigley : Does the Minister accept that GATT is about free trade and that the future of Welsh farming is about getting Welsh products into markets without any discrimination ? In those circumstances, will he make it clear to our German colleagues that there is no evidence to show that any beef from Wales has entered the markets affected by BSE ? Indeed, the safeguards that we have put in place prevent that from happening. If the Germans persist in going down that road, will the Welsh Office initiate legal action over unfair trade practice ?
Sir Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and others have pointed that out to the German Government on more than one occasion. Of course, GATT is intended to facilitate the promotion of free trade, and we are likely to do rather well under the agreement in Wales. Welsh lamb is already doing well : one quarter of the lamb exported from this country is Welsh lamb.
Mr. John Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the prosperity of Welsh agriculture is dependent on the prosperity of its customers ? Does he also agree that the GATT agreement will lead to greater prosperity in the world, the United Kingdom and Wales and that it is therefore good for Welsh agriculture ?
Sir Wyn Roberts : I fully agree. That is why the GATT agreement was so important for this country : it is designed to increase world trade, and we will benefit from it. In Wales, we stand to gain, and we certainly do not share the NFU's somewhat gloomy view of the prospects. We share the Commission's view, which is far brighter.
Mr. Denzil Davies : This question may be about GATT and agriculture, but has the Welsh Office studied the effect of GATT on Welsh manufacturing industry, bearing in mind that wages in the far east are much lower
Mr. Davies : The Minister mentioned the fact that customers are very important. If Welsh manufacturing industry is destroyed by GATT, there will be no one around to buy the Welsh lamb to which he referred. So--in view of the importance of Welsh manufacturing industry to Welsh agriculture--what studies has the Welsh Office carried out into the effects of GATT on Welsh manufacturing, bearing in mind the difference in wage levels in industry in Wales and the far east ?
Sir Wyn Roberts : We certainly stand to gain from the GATT agreement, as I said. The right hon. Gentleman will know that that is why the agreement was negotiated and why it was so important for us and for other countries. Any analysis of prospects is inevitably complex because it involves certain anticipations and assumptions about the course of world trade prices in coming years.
Mr. Ron Davies : I think that the Minister understands that there is widespread apprehension in the Welsh farming community about the GATT agreement signed last week and about future common agricultural policy reform. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that strong environmental and social, as well as economic, reasons exist for maintaining Welsh agriculture ? Does he accept that the decline in the traditional family farm and the numbers of young people entering Welsh agriculture are symptoms of the failure of his Government's policy ?
As the green box and the CAP reform compensation measures are exempt from GATT, why does not the right hon. Gentleman take advantage of the fact that his Department is responsible for agriculture, the environment, rural affairs and employment ? Using the opportunities presented by his office, why does not he develop a long-term strategy for the future development of the Welsh countryside ?
Sir Wyn Roberts : We do, indeed, take advantage of every opportunity afforded to us by the special standing of the Welsh Office and the fact that we are responsible for agriculture, the economy and the environment. It is very much in our own interests and in our mind to devise a secure, long-term future for agriculture, involving support for the environment. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that that is why we established the Countryside Council for Wales and why we are involved in agri-environmental support. He will also be aware that the hill livestock compensatory allowance and so on exist not simply to offer agricultural support, but for the well-being of the environment.
6. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many representations he has received from people and organisations in the communities of Ewenny, Saint Bride's Major and Wick in favour of his proposals to put them in the proposed Vale of Glamorgan unitary authority.
Mr. Griffiths : Does the Minister accept that the fact that there were five responses in favour as compared with more than 100 against, and that 75 per cent. of the residents of the three communities responded to an electoral ballot in which about 85 per cent. said that they wanted to stay with Bridgend, should be enough to persuade the Government to accept the premise of their own White Paper about taking local wishes into account ? Does the Minister therefore accept that the three communities of Ewenny, Saint Bride's Major and Wick should be allowed, even at this late stage, to have their overwhelming demands to stay with the Bridgend unitary authority met ?
Mr. Jones : I would also mention that we have had substantial representations from the Vale of Glamorgan borough council, Colwinston community council, Llandough community council and Penllyn--essentially, the other members of the family, who are looking forward to being joined by those three communities. The communities will not lose any facilities and I believe will feel at home in a more sympathetic authority that is much more in tune with rural communities.
Mr. Sweeney : Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that there is considerable support for the Government's proposals in the Vale of Glamorgan and that the Vale of Glamorgan will warmly welcome those three communities ? In the light of the comparative records of the different unitary authorities, it is likely that those three communities will benefit from significantly lower council tax charges under a Vale unitary authority.
Mr. Jones : My hon. Friend is right about the warm response for those three communities from the Vale of Glamorgan. He is probably also absolutely right when he says that, in future, the residents of those communities will enjoy a lower council tax.
Mr. Hanson : I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. That figure will undoubtedly rise. Will the right hon. Gentleman be happy for an increasing number of people to be paid for as part of the unelected state when the money could be diverted to provide democratic control of the services in question ? Several people are now earning in excess of £50,000 to £60,000. Is the Secretary of State happy with that ?
Mr. Redwood : The hon. Gentleman's attack has backfired on him. I welcome the fact that the Labour party is campaigning, in its new guise, for fewer quangos, but I find that about as credible as the Welsh rugby team saying that they are now teetotal. The Labour party has never opposed quangos in its life--and has usually recommended the establishment of many more. I also reject the idea that the Labour party is putting around that it is my aim to have more people on quango boards than elected councillors. That is quite untrue. It also shows how much scorn the Labour party has for community councils. It has ignored 730 of those as well as miscalculating the figures so as to try to suggest that there are or will soon be more quango members than there are elected councillors. That is also quite untrue. I believe that elected people have a strong role to play in our democracy, but local authorities and central Governments of all persuasions from time to time delegate functions to boards of experienced people. We ensure that they are properly monitored and we report back to the House or they report back to their
Labour-controlled council chambers.
Mr. Richards : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in spite of the clamour on the Opposition Benches against quangos, the Labour party has never once voted against the establishing of a new quango and neither has it indicated that, in the unlikely event of a Labour Government ever being formed, it would wish to abolish any quangos ?
Mr. Redwood : I think that my hon. Friend is right and I look forward to the proposals to abolish quangos. I hope that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) will send me a little list because we might be able to find that we can do business across the Floor of the House.
Mr. Llwyd : Does the Secretary of State realise that the Conservative party in north Wales has sunk into fourth place in the race for the European election ? In spite of that, does he deplore, as I do, the political statements being made by the chairman of the Gwynedd area health authority, who has suddenly come out in his true colours ? Is not it disgraceful that the only qualification that he had to do that job was his affiliation to the party ?
I was amused that the hon. Gentleman's original question backfired, because it shows that the amount that
Column 10we spend on Welsh quango board members is less than it is said that a single Member of the European Parliament costs.
Mr. Evans : Can my right hon. Friend inform the House of the proportion of the overall housing budget that is accounted for by housing benefit ? Is he happy with that proportion and the growing proportion that goes towards housing benefit ? What steps can be taken to ensure that more goes towards new housing provision rather than creating a situation in which many people on low wages find that they may well be priced out of housing association dwellings ?
Mr. Redwood : The best way of tackling that problem is to encourage more jobs and higher incomes because they lift people out of housing benefit. On the supply side, obviously the right answer is to do what the Government are doing, which is to promote actively more housing schemes in suitable places, so that there is sufficient supply to meet the requirements for new family formation. The figures that I gave were figures for the amount of money available for those prime housing programmes of new build and improvement.
Mr. Barry Jones : Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that I have presented to his Department a series of petitions calling for investment in aging housing stock ? Will he therefore give a generous extra allocation to Alyn and Deeside district council, to enable it to modernise a series of aging council estates ? Does he also realise that in cold weather many bedrooms are not habitable for young children, and that young mothers in my constituency are asking for central heating and new windows so that their homes may be fit to live in ?
Mr. Redwood : Of course I want to see decent homes and I want to encourage councils to maintain and improve their stock, just as I wish to see a high-quality stock in the private sector and among the housing associations. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we work out the amounts of money by a formula that tries to take into account the requirements of each council and I, like him, am impatient to get on with the work. Many homes in Wales have been improved in the past 15 years. More homes need improvement and my hon. Friend can rest assured that money will be made available.
Mr. Redwood : Some will be able to through the low-cost housing for sale programme that I am currently beefing up along with the housing institutions that operate in conjunction with the Welsh Office. It is the best form of tenure. It is so much better for people to reach retirement owning their home, knowing that they do not have to meet
Column 11an increasing rent bill out of their pension and, wherever possible, we encourage them to buy, because that is true social housing. Where that is not possible, we will ensure that there is subsidised housing for rent available or decent housing for rent with housing benefit.
9. Sir David Knox : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how much was spent per pupil in primary schools in Wales in the most recent year for which figures are available ; and what was the figure for 1978-79, at constant prices.
Mr. Redwood : In 1992-93, current expenditure per pupil in primary schools in Wales was £1,590. The equivalent constant price figure for 1978-79 was £1,067. That is an increase of a massive 49 per cent. in real spending per pupil.
Sir David Knox : Does my right hon. Friend agree that those figures show an impressive increase in expenditure for primary school pupils in Wales ? Is he satisfied that that increased expenditure is reflected in an improvement in standards ?
Mr. Redwood : My right hon. Friend is right to say that it is a big increase. It reflects generous increases in teachers' wages and decent educational provision in our primary schools. Like him, I want even higher standards, and I am not happy that 28 per cent. of seven-year-olds in primary schools in Wales are achieving only level 1 in arithmetic whereas they should be achieving level 2, which is the right standard for seven- year-olds. That means that we are still letting too many seven-year-olds down and I have asked inspectors to pay attention to teaching methods, to see what succeeds and what does not so that we can spread best practice more widely.
Sir Wyn Roberts : Figures for 1993 are not yet available, but the most recent figures show that, for Wales as a whole, the volume of domestic business in 1992 amounted to 8.3 million trips by United Kingdom holidaymakers, just over 40 million overnight stays and a total value of £930 million. The volume and value of overseas tourism in 1991 amounted to 0.62 million trips, 4.8 million overnight stays and a total value of £128 million. In addition, day visits accounted for 0.32 million trips with a value of £229 million.
Mr. Coombs : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that information. But when will the 1993 figures be available, given that the last of the 1993 visitors must have gone home by now ? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the number of visitors from outside the United Kingdom is of the greatest importance to Welsh tourism ? What steps is the Welsh tourist board taking to increase the number of overseas visitors ?
Column 12take a bit of gathering and analysis. On overseas visitors, the tourist board's overseas marketing strategy has identified some 10 countries to be targeted and, once that has happened, we hope that the number of overseas visitors to Wales will increase by about 8 per cent. per annum in the next three years. We shall spend more next year than we spent this year on attracting visitors from overseas.
Dr. Howells : Does the Minister think that visitors to Wales will be encouraged by the sighting of a stinking asphalt cording plant on Little Garth in the Taff's Well gorge, where most people who go up into the valleys of south Wales start their journeys ? Will he do what he can in the Welsh Office to help local authorities to overturn the old development orders that chain them to allowing companies like Redlands to put those unnecessary plants in those beautiful places ?
Sir Wyn Roberts : I understand that that matter is being considered by Mid-Glamorgan, which is the planning authority. When I last went up the Taff valley, I looked carefully at the surroundings and I found them most attractive, despite some of the industrial development in the area.