Column 1THEPARLIAMENTARY DEBATESOFFICIAL REPORTIN THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FIFTY-FIRST PARLIAMENT OF THEUNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND[WHICH OPENED 27 APRIL 1992]FORTY-THIRD YEAR OF THE REIGN OFHER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II SIXTH SERIESVOLUME 248 SIXTEENTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1993-94
Madam Speaker: I regret to have to report to the House the death of Dr. John Graham Blackburn, Member for Dudley, West. I am sure that Members on all sides of the House will join me in mourning the loss of a colleague and in extending our sympathy to the hon. Member's family and friends.
1. Mr. Alex Carlile: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what assessment he has made of the performance of rail operations as part of the Welsh transport infrastructure; and if he will make a statement.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood): I welcome to the Dispatch Box my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards), the Under-Secretary of State for Wales. I extend heartfelt thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) for all his assistance in the past. He, of course, knows the real questions to ask, so I shall keep a particular eye on him during our proceedings.
Column 2The rail network in Wales is in excellent order and is extensive. We need to encourage more people and businesses to use it and therefore run more trains. This evening I shall make a longer speech on ways in which rwe might do that.
Mr. Carlile: In the light of the Government's own evidence of the damage caused to the environment by the increasing use of roads for freight, what specific proposals will the Secretary of State be able to present to the House in the next Session to ensure that more freight is carried by rail in Wales, and that some freight is carried by rail in central Wales?
Mr. Redwood: I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman's aims. I shall point out this evening that our breaking of the British Rail monopoly will open up a great opportunity. Where formerly only whole trainloads of freight were wanted, there are already businesses which are prepared to offer 50-tonne load haulage, and that is a major move forward. I shall add to that with freight grants and I hope that freight proposals will be included in strategic development schemes. I have asked the Welsh Development Agency to make sure that, where possible, a rail freight option is opened at industrial parks.
Mr. Murphy: Does the Secretary of State admit that the privatisation of railways has been the most unpopular of all privatisations so far and that rural, valley and off-peak services may be threatened by no fewer than seven competing train companies in Wales? Cannot he see that the money that is being squandered on that privatisation would have been much better spent on improving and expanding our railway network, which has been subject to years of neglect under his incompetent Government?
Mr. Redwood: Labour has made that claim for every one of our privatisations, and every one has increased investment, profits and business opportunities and has strengthened competition. The hon. Gentleman does not say that the monopoly business in the post-war period was not prepared to take the rail freight of most businesses in
Column 3Wales because it wanted trainload traffic. I notice that he did not refer to the fact that we have already broken through in that crucial respect, now that our new policies are being introduced. In terms of passenger traffic, I suspect that our subsidies will go much further and will mean more trains and more satisfied passengers than if we had continued the monopoly.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Rod Richards): I understand that some 277,975 patients were removed froGPs' lists during 1993, according to family health services authority data. A further 165,944 patients were removed between 1 January and 31 August 1994. The most common reasons for the removal of 99 per cent. of those patients were moving home, emigration, adoption, death and the retirement of the GP. In 1993, only 1 per cent. or 2,769 patients were deregistered at the request of the GP. The corresponding figure for 1994 is not yet available.
Mr. Wardell: Can the Minister assist general practitioners who are facing increasing strains, especially as the scourge of drug addiction sweeps through the Principality? Can he advise GPs who are frequently threatened and harrassed in their surgeries by drug addict patients? How can they prevent such problems in future?
Mr. Richards: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government are absolutely determined to wipe out drugs--unlike the Liberal party, which is not. General practitioners should not distinguish between patients, but when a patient is behaving unreasonably and the professional relationship has broken down, a GP has the right to remove that patient from his list. However, I would expect a GP dealing with a drug user to make allowances for the fact that addiction may cause unusual patterns of behaviour. No general practitioner can be compelled to continue a relationship that has irretrievably broken down. Nor would doing so be necessarily in the patient's interests.
Mr. John Marshall: First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his promotion. Does he agree that the important facts for patients and general practitioners in Wales are that, because of the Government's health reforms, a record number of patients are being treated and waiting lists are being cut? Should not Opposition Members welcome that, which is good news for everyone in Wales?
Mr. Richards: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. He was absolutely right in the facts that he gave to the House. In addition, since 1979 there has been an increase of 363 in the number of general practitioners in Wales.
Mr. Wigley: The Minister referred to general medical practitioners. Will he confirm that dozens of general dental practitioners in Wales have removed patients from their lists during the past year? Is he aware of a case in Bangor only last week, when a dentist notified his patients that because he could not maintain standards on the national health service, he had no choice but to move
Column 4away from the NHS? Is not that a disgraceful reflection on the Government's failure to maintain NHS dental policy in Wales? Will the hon. Gentleman give a categorical commitment to the House that anyone needing NHS dental care anywhere in Wales will be able to get it?
Mr. Richards: There are more dental practitioners in Gwynedd now than there were in 1979. As the hon. Gentleman should know, the Government have allowed Gwynedd family health services authority to employ four additional dental practitioners. The hon. Gentleman should also know that my right hon. Friend has set aside £50,000 for Gwynedd FHSA to improve dental treatment.
How does the hon. Gentleman justify this year's blatant anti-Welsh discrimination against general practitioners, patients and hospitals in Wales? Unlike the position in England, the Secretary of State has decided not to fund the national pay awards to doctors and nurses in Welsh hospitals as they attempt to meet their contracts. Is that an example of the so-called English backlash against which the Secretary of State waxed so lyrical at last week's Tory party conference in Bournemouth?
The basis of pay awards in Wales is no different from that in England.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State of Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones): Decisions on military facilities are a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I am, however, pleased that the Royal Welch Fusiliers and 14 Signals Regiment will now be permanently located in Wales.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones: I join the Minister in welcoming the locating of the Royal Welch Fusiliers in Wales. I was with him at the celebrations on Saturday. However, that is only a very small way of redressing the enormous imbalance in defence-related expenditure in Wales compared with the remainder of the United Kingdom.
When the Secretary of State is making his pronouncements on cuts in Government expenditure in Wales, will he bear in mind the fact that only 1 per cent. of total Government expenditure on defence goes to Wales, despite the fact that Wales has 5 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom?
Mr. Gwilym Jones: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for joining in my welcome to the two regiments that will now be based in Wales. However, the rest of his question was somewhat remiss, in view of the fact that his party is infiltrated by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament--with all that it has done to attack the important defences of the United Kingdom, including defence employment.
Column 5questioning with the contents of the amendment to today's defence motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister? If so, he will have seen that members of the Labour party are as much at odds with each other on defence as they are on everything else.
Mr. Jones: I very much welcome my right hon. Friend's contribution. He shows that he will continue to speak with a substantial voice on behalf of all the people of Wales. How appropriate for my right hon. Friend to point out the amendment tabled by the official Opposition for debate today and tomorrow, stating that defence spending should be reduced and Trident cancelled. Despite the attempts of Labour's new leader to throw unfashionable policy overboard, the Labour party is still wedded to it.
Mr. Rowlands: To attract defence-related or any other jobs to south Wales requires selective financial assistance. Will the Secretary of State give a categorical assurance that he is not campaigning or arguing inside the Government or in Cabinet to scrap, amend or cut selective financial assistance to Wales?
Mr. Sweeney: While my hon. Friend temporarily widens his brief to cover defence, will he take the opportunity to join me in congratulating the Royal Air Force and civilian workers at RAF St. Athan on their excellent high-quality work and on their success in winning contracts in competitive tender with outside organisations?
Mr. Jones: Knowledge of the abilities of RAF St. Athan is common in south Wales and this shows what it can achieve in a competitive environment. I am glad to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the workers there.
Mr. Redwood: I intend to promote young people's employment by urging higher school standards, continuing the system of new apprenticeships that we have launched, strengthening and increasing vocational qualifications, continuing our successful programme of youth training and promoting a better careers service--among other measures.
Mr. Jones: In addition to the unacceptably high number of young people who are unable to find permanent, well-paid work, I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that there is a particularly acute problem in respect of young graduates this year. Will he examine that problem, to ensure that the talents of a whole generation of young people in Wales are not wasted? Will he urgently introduce measures, such as bringing the careers services and training and enterprise councils together to identify job opportunities, and one-off grants to companies to recruit graduates in specialist areas? Will he also examine ways of encouraging students,
Column 6particularly graduates, to enter management training, in view of the acute shortage of managers in many parts of rural Wales?
Mr. Redwood: I believe that graduates do have better job opportunities and I will certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. The House should note that in the United Kingdom there is 10 per cent. youth unemployment, compared with 35 per cent. in Spain and 23 per cent. in France. The fact that we do not have a minimum wage is extremely important in that respect. The Labour party has a lot to answer for, with the job-destruction policies for which it voted at its annual conference, against the advice of its leader.
Mr. Jonathan Evans: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the employment prospects of young people in Wales would evaporate as quickly as socialists seem to be evaporating from the new-look Labour party if we were ever to see the establishment of a separatist Welsh assembly in Wales, wedded to the job-destroying minimum wage policy supported by all those on the Opposition Benches, to which my right hon. Friend referred?
Mr. Redwood: I agree, and that is material to the prospects for youth employment, which is the subject of the question. When I watched the Labour party conference, I thought that it was an episode from "Gladiators", with Labour's gladiators making sure that every time their leader proposed a policy, he bit the dust.
Mrs. Clwyd: Does the Secretary of State agree that one method of improving youth employment prospects would be concerted action at European Union level--or does he agree with the former Chancellor of the Exchequer that there is not one economic benefit to be derived from Britain's membership of the European Union?
Mr. Redwood: Of course, the Government believe that there should be concerted action at the European level as well as at national level, which is why we put on the agenda, through my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others, many items that we think will make a great improvement in employment prospects throughout Europe. If only more people in Europe were prepared to listen to our points, we think that they, too, could have lower youth unemployment. But we are not satisfied with our level, which is why we are continuing the policies that I have identified.
Mr. Nigel Evans: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way to discourage prospects for youth employment would be to pay 16 to 18-year- olds unemployment benefit, and that it is far better to target those resources to ensure that young people get proper training, therefore increasing the prospect that they will seek employment after training?
Mr. Redwood: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That was a fatuous comment from a sedentary position, saying that it is a big dipper to offer young people training and better education. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think better of that silly remark.
Column 7Of course, the way to get more employment for young people is to have better training and better education opportunities. That is our policy. The Labour party does not seem to agree.
Mr. Ron Davies: The Secretary of State should not be so complacent. He should realise that the young people of Wales have been let down both by his Government and by the free market system. In Wales one in five of our 16 to 18-year-olds drops out of the system entirely. They have no employment, no training and no further education. In addition, some 40,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 25 are long-term unemployed. The economic and social consequences of that evil should be the highest priority of any Government. I urge the Government and the Secretary of State now to set up a special unit in the Welsh Office to co-ordinate all the instruments, all the agencies and all the departments that are at his disposal to start to tackle the problem.
Mr. Redwood: I am attacking the problem and I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that we do not want anyone dropping out. We want to raise the sights and the ambitions of young people, because there are jobs available, there will be more jobs available and we have policies that can help those young people. I hope that the Labour party, which has such influence in local education authorities and in school governing bodies throughout Wales, will heed the advice of its leader, who said that if there are bad teachers they should be removed from office. He went further than I did, but I am just waiting to see action from the Labour-controlled education authorities in Wales. Of course it matters. We want better education and better results. The Labour party must answer.
Mr. Llwyd: I am not encouraged by that answer. Is the Minister aware that there is a crisis in the dairy industry in Wales? Recently, the price of milk has gone up by 3p a litre, which means that at least one Welsh creamery will be in some difficulty during the next fortnight. Indeed, its continued existence is in the balance. I urge the Minister to consider intervening to prevent even more cheese imports from coming in and to ensure that that important Welsh industry is looked after and propped up.
Mr. Jones: The hon. Gentleman will have to appreciate that European competition law places severe restrictions on any interventions that my right hon. Friend or my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food might contemplate. I appreciate that an ending of the rigid marketing arrangements that were set up many years ago is bound to bring changes, but I am convinced that short-term difficulties will be greatly outweighed by longer-term advantages, both to the industry and to consumers.
Mr. Richards: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be receiving a report on the international Eisteddfod's financial position, prepared in conjunction with the Eisteddfod's organisers, and will consider any proposals for financial support in the light of that report.
Mr. Hughes: When that happens, I hope that the Welsh Office will recognise that the international Eisteddfod has the potential to be the leading international singing festival not only in the Celtic world but in Europe. It has huge potential in terms of revenue as well as culture for Wales and the United Kingdom. I ask seriously that the report be given as much support as possible and that Ministers take the lead in trying to build up the potential of Llangollen to be one of the leading arts events in the international calendar.
Mr. Richards: We recognise the excellence of the international Eisteddfod and, indeed, congratulate the organisers of the event, which annually attracts about 2,000 competitors from about 50 countries across the world. As I said, we will definitely look carefully at the proposals contained in the report.
7. Mr. Win Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will ask the Local Government Boundary Commission to consider whether it would be more appropriate for the communities of Ewenny, Saint Bride's Major and Wick to be part of the Bridgend or Vale of Glamorgan unitary authorities.
Mr. Griffiths: I thank the Minister for moving at least an inch. I wonder if he will now move a mile, and say that the boundaries of all three communities will be examined in relation to their position between Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan, rather than only one small aspect being considered. May we have the whole lot, please?
Mr. Jones: I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I have not moved an inch. I am saying exactly what we have said before in a number of debates, both here and in another place. We appreciate that there is a possibility of anomalies in regard to the industrial area in the Ewenny community and I imagine that the Local Government Boundary Commission will need to examine that area in particular.
8. Sir David Knox: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how much was spent per pupil in secondary schools in Wales in the most recent year for which figures are available; and what was the figure for 1978-79 at constant prices.
Column 9it had risen to £2,372. That is a real increase of 63 per cent. We do not have the figures for the previous year, 1978-79.
Mr. Redwood: Not enough. As I have often told the House and the Welsh Grand Committee, money on its own is not sufficient; we require a great deal of commitment from governors, teachers and all involved in schools, as well as help from parents. Let me repeat my plea for Labour authorities in Wales to take their duties in regard to quality and performance more seriously, and do what their leader is instructing them to do.
Mr. Hain: What proportion of the expenditure went on school sports, about which the Prime Minister made a great deal of noise last week? How does that compare with the attacks that his Government have mounted on the teaching profession, which have undermined the ability to provide school sports throughout the system, although they are--or should be--such a vital part of education?
Mr. Redwood: I do not have the exact breakdown by category or subject matter. I will let the hon. Gentleman know what my office knows after Question Time. He may wish to know, however, that there has been a 57 per cent. real increase in teachers' pay and that the increase per pupil has been even greater. That means that extra money has been available for books, materials and school sports. The hon. Gentleman is entirely right: competitive team games are very important and we intend to pursue that policy vigorously in Wales.
Mr. Ron Davies: The Secretary of State should spend a little less time attacking the Labour party and a little more time addressing his own responsibilities as Secretary of State. He should realise that the education system in Wales is still grossly underfunded. It is an absolute disgrace that he is wasting money that should be spent on our schools--on improving education--in forcing the re-running of ballots on opt-outs, just because he does not like the result of those ballots.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, when he ordered the re-running of the West Mon ballot last month, he did so because he thought that the ballot had been influenced by misleading information? Given that solemn pledges made at the last election have been broken daily by the Government, how long does the right hon. Gentleman think that he and his Government would have lasted had they applied to themselves the test that they are now applying to West Mon?
Mr. Redwood: Money is given in great quantities as a result of the Government's recommendations and the votes of the House. As I have explained, each secondary pupil is enjoying 63 per cent. more in real terms than when Labour left office. Does not that mean that when Labour was in office education was chronically underfunded? We have more than put that right and we have more than matched the substantial increase in teachers' pay, so I reject that part of the question implicitly. As for not liking the results of ballots, I like any fair ballot result, whether it is yes or no because I believe in local choice and local democracy, which Labour is always running away from in this case. Were the hon. Gentleman a little more fair-minded, he would
Column 10agree that that particular ballot was not well conducted because of the information put round. May there now be a fair result, whether it is yes or no.
Mr. Redwood: The male unemployment figure in September 1994 for Newport travel-to-work area was 12.6 per cent. and for Gwent 13.2 per cent. That compares with 15 per cent. for Gwent a year earlier and 14.1 per cent. for Newport--a very good result.
Mr. Hughes: Does the Secretary of State appreciate that those figures are still very high, particularly for a town like Newport which has such favourable geographical advantages? Does he further realise that the whole area will be blighted if he gives the go-ahead for the proposed Browning Ferris waste disposal plant? Why does not he veto that application without delay and join Newport and Gwent in their quest for new jobs?
Mr. Redwood: I am happy to join in the quest for new jobs. Indeed, I do that every working day when I go about my business for Wales. I am pleased to see unemployment falling and I think that the hon. Gentleman was a little churlish in not recognising an extremely good fall when we see one, but of course I agree with him that there are still too many people out of work. I will take on board his representations on the issue, but he will understand that I cannot answer them across the Dispatch Box and that I have to take into account all the representations and issues in that particular case. He can rest assured, however, that we are working hard for Newport and for Gwent, as we are for the rest of Wales. He and other hon. Members might like to know that by 7 November we want proposals in to the Welsh Development Agency for a new freight terminal in south Wales which could help business throughout that area.
Mr. Richards: During the two-year period between 1 October 1992 and 30 September 1994, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State received 142 written representations about the provision of dental services in Wales, 13 concerning services in Clwyd.
Mr. Jones: I thank the Minister for that reply, but his predecessor may recall that I wrote at least three years ago to the effect that no dentists were accepting new national health service patients in Denbigh, a town of 10,000 people. The nearest dentist practices were at Ruthin, eight miles away. That position has not changed in three years. What will the Government do about that and is not it the case that the NHS is not safe in Tory hands?
Mr. Richards: I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman could make that remark at the end of his question having heard the Prime Minister's brilliant speech at Bournemouth last week committing his party to
Column 11the national health service. Furthermore, more dentists now practise in Wales than ever before. There are 811 dental practitioners, representing an increase of more than 34 per cent. since 1979. There are 109 dentists in Clwyd, representing an increase of 56 per cent. since 1979. If any of the hon. Gentleman's constituents are having difficulty receiving dental treatment on the NHS, he should take the matter to the family health services authority. Having been a member of the FHSA until recently, he should have known that.
Mr. Redwood: We are taking many steps, but I should like to report to the House that democracy is alive and well in Wales. We are creating more powerful, all-purpose unitary authorities; I have recently transferred some economic development powers to local government; and we are creating true local participation through our policies on schools and hospitals. We are very keen on a vigorous debate; I only wish that its vigour was sometimes matched by its accuracy and the Opposition parties' helpfulness to Wales.
Mr. Flynn: Does the Secretary of State realise that, rather than being alive and well, democracy in Wales is in a deep coma because the Conservatives rule everywhere although they are a minority of a minority Opposition, having won only 32 of the 500 county council seats and only 14 per cent. of the votes in the European election? Why are the democratically elected representatives of the people of Wales overruled by a Conservative nomenklatura of unelected, sleazy quangocrats plus lords lieutenant, high sheriffs, the least democratic second Chamber in the world and a discredited and dying monarchy? Is not it time that democracy was given a chance in Wales?
Mr. Redwood: Many of us will wish to dissociate ourselves from the hon. Gentleman's very unpleasant remarks about the monarchy. Members of the Opposition may have been in a coma all summer, but I suspect that they will wake up soon, although it is a pity that the hon. Gentleman woke up to make that ridiculous intervention. He does not understand the first thing about politics in Wales. He said that the Conservatives ruled everywhere in Wales but went on to say that Labour controlled most of the councils. Labour does, indeed, have a strong hold on councils in Wales, and the councils spend a great deal of money and have a great deal of discretion. That, too, is an interesting matter for political debate.
Mr. Dafis: Is not the Secretary of State deeply embarrassed by the fact that he has no democratic mandate to occupy his present office? Is not he especially ashamed of his attack last week on European regional policy and its relevance to Wales? Is not it time that he accepted that the only way we can ensure that Wales takes its place as a nation in the European context is to have a Parliament of its own and to no longer be left to the tender mercies of people like him?
Column 12in Brussels, far from getting a stronger Welsh language, a stronger Welsh nation or a stronger Welsh policy, he would find that powers and money were siphoned out of Wales to Brussels. That is what the centralisers want, and it is very odd that his party should be in alliance with them.
Mr. Bruce: May I thank my hon. Friend for his reply and the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) for mentioning the wonders of Dorset? Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the great cards that Wales and Britain in general can play is our heritage and that people come for that and often because of our monarchy? They certainly come more for that than to see the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn).
Mr. Jones: I very much agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend's question. Indeed, I have acknowledged that some parts of Dorset, especially that which he represents, are as attractive as Wales. We shall continue to make the most of all our natural advantages, especially our heritage. The Welsh tourist board and Cadw are playing an important role in that.
Mr. Richards: In the 12 months to March 1994, the percentage of people waiting more than three months for a first outpatient appointment fell to 39.6 per cent. and the proportion of patients waiting more than a year for treatment fell to 14 per cent., the lowest percentage ever recorded in Wales.
Mr. Ainger: The figures reveal a slight drop in waiting lists in Wales in general, certainly not in the Pembrokeshire area. The latest document produced by the East Dyfed and the Pembrokeshire health authorities, which contains details of their purchasing plans for 1995-96, makes it clear that, because of the need to spend a large additional sum on cutting waiting lists, they will have to make cuts elsewhere in their budget, especially in community hospitals, the community services in general and the ambulance service. Instead of preaching about waiting lists through their patients charter, when will the Government start providing health authorities with sufficient resources so that they can tackle the problems rather than having to cut vital services?
Mr. Richards: This Government are putting resources into the national health service--in fact, sufficient resources, I must remind the hon. Gentleman, so that in-patient and day cases in Wales since 1979 are up by 77 per cent. and new out-patients are up by 40 per cent. In the hon. Gentleman's own county of Pembrokeshire, in-patients and day cases are up by 95 per cent. and new
Column 13out-patients are up by 32 per cent. There have, indeed, been problems meeting the guarantees of the patients charter in Pembrokeshire and we are aware that measures are in hand which we are, obviously, monitoring carefully to ensure that the guarantees are met. Those include extra theatre sessions, alternative venues for treatment and a new system to identify all patients approaching three months from the guarantee. The hon. Gentleman would be better spending his time congratulating the doctors, the nurses and all those involved in health care in Pembrokeshire who are doing their best for his constituents.