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House of Commons

Monday 28 November 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Inward Investment

1. Mr. Fabricant: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he next plans to visit north America to discuss inward investment in Wales.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood): There has recently been a large mission to the United States led by the Welsh Development Agency, the Wales tourist board and the Cardiff Bay development corporation. I myself have no immediate travel plans, as I think that my presence is required in Parliament.

Mr. Fabricant: A few weeks ago, I visited an electronics company in Maine, in the United States of America. Is my right hon. Friend aware that that company now plans to invest in south Wales? It intends to produce a new company--not just because of low inflation, sustained growth and good economic relations but because of the good labour pool that exists in south Wales.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as looking to Germany and the European Union, we should look to the United States? The Americans like doing business with us, and we like doing business with them.

Mr. Redwood: My hon. Friend is quite right. Of course we are looking to the United States, and my hon. Friend may be reassured to learn that we have been extremely successful. Between April 1983 and October 1994, we received 55 per cent. of all the money invested by overseas companies from the United States of America. We are very proud that, over many years, companies such as Ford, 3M, General Electric and British Alcan have made many substantial investments and now have many thousands of employees in Wales.

Mr. Barry Jones: Does the Secretary of State agree, however, that the benefits of inward investment from America can be destroyed when a United States company can steal 900 jobs from the Raytheon plant in my constituency? I still look to the right hon. Gentleman--I thank him for the assistance he has already given--to enable my constituents to meet the company's chairman and make their case.

May I also remind the right hon. Gentleman that Airbus announced the loss of 200 aerospace jobs in my constituency last week? I ask him to use every resource

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at his disposal to ensure that our Government order the future large aircraft and that Hercules aircraft are not ordered from America.

Mr. Redwood: First, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall use whatever powers I have to try to influence the company--even at this late stage, after it has made its decision. I shall intervene again to see whether any more can be done. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have met him, the company's work force and other hon. Members who have taken up the issue. I have assured them that I shall do all that I can to persuade Raytheon to create or maintain more jobs in Wales, where it has been well served by the work force to date and could be well served again.

As for the other matter, the Government will make a decision when we have all the necessary information. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that his points will be taken fully into account.

Mr. Brandreth: May I echo the question asked by the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones)? This matter deserves real priority, not just in north Wales but across the border in Chester. I urge my right hon. Friend to do what he can to intervene positively in the case of Raytheon Jets and the proposed transfer to the United States of America.

Mr. Redwood: I entirely agree. Let me repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), and also pay tribute to my hon. Friend: he has been equally assiduous in pursuing the interests of his constituents and people in Wales who want such jobs.

Mr. Ron Davies: Given that much American investment comes to Wales so that America can get a foothold in the European Union, will the Secretary of State confirm that he is a less than enthusiastic supporter of the European Communities (Finance) Bill, which will increase Britain's contribution to Europe by more than £1 billion over a period? Do the right hon. Gentlemen and his Cabinet colleagues feel any surprise at the contempt and derision in which they are held by the people of Britain, when the only way in which they can suppress their party's schizophrenia over Europe is to threaten collective suicide? Does the right hon. Gentleman draw any conclusions from the fact that, if his Government were to be defeated in the Lobbies this evening, the cheer that would go up throughout the country--

Madam Speaker: Order. This is Question Time, but we seem to be already engaging in an Adjournment debate. I want to hear brisk questions; I have a number of Back Benchers to call.

Mr. Davies: Does the Secretary of State draw any conclusions from the fact that, if his Government were to be defeated in the Lobbies tonight, the roar that would go up would be greater than the roar that would have gone up in Cardiff on Saturday if we had beaten the Springboks?

Mr. Redwood: The Government will win the vote tonight and the hon. Gentleman knows that well. I am proud that, when the proposals were put to him, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister negotiated down the first demands of the European Community and he reached a much better deal than that suggested by the European Commission. We accept it. I am proud that it is this Government who have campaigned against waste and

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unnecessary expenditure and who, through the member states, have given new powers to the auditors to root out the fraud. I am proud that we shall unite in confidence behind the Government tonight.

Local Government Finance

2. Mr. Michael: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what steps he intends to take to ensure that local authorities in Wales are able to meet their financial obligations in 1995-96.

Mr. Redwood: I shall announce my proposals for 1995-96 total standard spending and aggregate Exchequer finance for local government tomorrow after the Budget statement of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Michael: Does not the Secretary of State realise that we shall be looking for an assurance that he will do better next year than he did this year, when he tightened the screw so tightly on the three counties of Glamorgan that a crisis exists on the streets of south Wales, not only because of the high level of crime but because of police underfunding to the tune of about £2.5 million? Having accepted that his capping criteria apply to the police as much as to any other local government services, does he realise that it is his responsibility to put matters right? Will he agree to meet the Home Office and to find some way of putting matters right in the South Wales police area?

Mr. Redwood: It is south Wales local government that has let the police down. The hon. Gentleman might be surprised when we introduce proposals that will do much better by the police than those introduced by local government. Since 1991-92, spending on local government has increased by about a quarter, allowing for functional changes. That is a big cash increase, giving local government plenty of scope. Its priorities, however, are not the same as those of many people in south Wales, which is why they feel let down by Labour local government.

Mr. Alex Carlile: Does the Secretary of State accept that, despite sound financial management, Powys county council and possibly other local authorities have had great difficulty in meeting their financial obligations in relation to care in the community? Does he further accept that the people who are most likely to suffer from that difficulty are those in the most vulnerable group, who will need some nursing care, even when the programme is complete? Will he ensure that care in the community is taken fully into account in his financial settlement for the coming year?

Mr. Redwood: Of course, that will be taken fully into account, as it has been in recent settlements, with large increases in money from the DSS general transfer and from the general grant to reflect the personal social services element in local authority spending. I look to local government to have some discipline in that spending. The other day, I was disturbed to read a copy of a letter from Tom Davies, the director of education and cultural services for South Glamorgan county council. Written on county notepaper, it was addressed to all Labour governors and it suggested that perhaps ballots were not a good idea for grant-maintained schools.

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Expenditure on that sort of thing should be stamped out and Opposition Members should get in control of their party when it goes about that sort of activity.

Mr. Ron Davies: May I take the Secretary of State back to his earlier reply when he seemed to imply that he proposes to ring-fence police expenditure? Will he confirm that that is his intention? If it is, will he reflect on the fact that, by ring-fencing one area of expenditure, of necessity he will put a squeeze on other areas of expenditure? In the current year, care in the community has been underfunded by £38 million. That is why we have mentally ill people walking the streets. Do the Government have that sort of attitude and do they want to create that sort of society?

Mr. Redwood: The hon. Gentleman has got his facts wrong again. Care in the community funding is up massively, as it should be, because it is an important new policy. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the proposals on spending generally and on the police. I still believe, however, that south Wales Labour authorities have let the police down.

Mr. Wigley: This autumn, the Secretary of State transferred over to local government certain responsibilities in relation to loans and to some grants which were previously exercised by the Welsh Development Agency. What assurance will he give that every local authority in Wales exercising those powers will have additional money available to provide the grants, additional loan sanctions, where loans are necessary, and increased money to cover the interest on such loans? Will he give a categorical assurance that that will be the case next year, otherwise our work to attract industry will be seriously undermined?

Mr. Redwood: Of course extra provision and extra money are being made available, as I promised the House. That will be reflected in next year's settlement in the way that the hon. Gentleman wants. During the period when we were not making payments in the mid-Wales area, unemployment fell from 6.7 per cent. in May to 6.2 per cent. in October. The hon. Gentleman will be relieved to know that no damage was done, but I will honour the promise that money will be made available for the grants.

Sir Wyn Roberts: I, too, have seen a copy of the letter from South Glamorgan's director of education and cultural services. My right hon. Friend will appreciate that, apart from not being a legitimate expense, the action proposed by the director was to thwart parental balance for grant- maintained schools. Does my right hon. Friend think that action was right?

Mr. Redwood: I am disturbed about a number of aspects of that letter --not least those that my right hon. Friend mentioned. I am worried that well-known Labour governors were identified and a letter circulated to them by someone who, as a director of education, should be neutral. Labour is always saying that there should not be political appointments to such bodies. Now we know that a director of education with a Labour authority is circulating a letter to Labour governors--and Labour governors alone.

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Channel Tunnel

3. Dr. Marek: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has for passengers to and from Wales to benefit from the channel tunnel.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced the channel tunnel services between the continent and locations beyond London on 14 October.

Dr. Marek: As I thought, the Minister knows that he cannot announce any good news until the year 2004; meanwhile, the average speed of trains from Folkestone to London is 47 mph and passengers to Wales will have to change at Waterloo or face a tortuous journey around London. Can the Minister assure the House that when the new infrastructure proposals are presented at the European Union meeting in Essen in December, he will not be outsmarted by the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland--and that the line from London to Holyhead, which is the best route to the island of Ireland, will remain and enjoy the priority for development and electrification that it deserves?

Mr. Jones: All main railway lines in Wales are included in the proposed trans-European network. I do not share the hon. Gentleman's negative attitude to the opportunities presented by channel tunnel services. Everyone should pull together to serve that great opportunity. I have already taken advantage of the services--when I was in Paris 10 days ago, to speak to industrialists in promoting the interests of Wales.

Mr. Nigel Evans: In welcoming the new channel tunnel passenger service, does my hon. Friend agree that it presents a great opportunity for people from the rest of Europe who want to visit the United Kingdom to marvel at the beauty of Wales as they wend their way up the Ribble valley in north-west England?

Mr. Jones: My hon. Friend is right to promote his part of the world. In all seriousness, the west coast main line which he has in mind is very much a feature of the service to the north and mid-Wales and increasing opportunities will be taken to use it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has described the through service that will come about in a little over one year's time. We should dwell on the positive.

Mr. John D. Taylor: In view of a negative question asked earlier, and recognising the importance of transport communications between Wales and the island of Ireland, will the Minister confirm that he will do nothing to damage the important link between the island of Ireland and Great Britain through the port of Larne, which is the second largest roll on, roll off port in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Jones: I have no intention of damaging the link to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. I look forward to the greatest opportunities being taken of the opening of the channel tunnel. As to the link across north Wales, when I recently met Mr. Horton, chairman of Railtrack,

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we had the opportunity to discuss improvements to be made to the Holyhead line, which should bring 90 mph running in the next two years.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones: Will the Minister take this opportunity to squash the rumour circulating throughout Wales that when the Christopherson group makes its announcement today, to be confirmed at the Essen conference in mid-December, the north Wales route will not be a priority link for electrification? We need a categorical assurance that the Welsh Office will stand up for the interests of Wales in such matters.

Mr. Jones: I am rather surprised by that statement, because I thought that the hon. Gentleman had been on the media last Friday trying to spread that very rumour himself. I can tell him that all the main railway routes in Wales, particularly the line from Holyhead, are included in the proposed trans-European network.

Grant-maintained Schools

4. Mr. Sweeney: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many schools in Wales have so far applied for grant-maintained status; and what steps he is taking to encourage more schools to do so.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Rod Richards): Some 18 schools have applied, of which 16 have been approved. A number of measures in the Education Act 1993 make it easier for schools to become grant maintained. We have made booklets available to all schools about grant-maintained status and are providing grant aid to enable the Grant-Maintained Schools Foundation to establish an office in Wales to provide information to schools.

Mr. Sweeney: Does my hon. Friend agree that, given the successes achieved by the schools that have already acquired grant-maintained status in Wales, it is very important that the Government give every possible encouragement for other schools to apply? Will he join me in condemning those Labour placemen who are appointed by

Labour-controlled education authorities and who are only going through the motions of considering grant-maintained status for their schools each year, rather than making serious recommendations to the members of those schools?

Mr. Richards: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Conservative Members are interested in giving choice to parents and in raising standards in education. The Opposition are interested only in political dogma, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales demonstrated a moment ago in relation to the disgraceful letter from the director of education in South Glamorgan to all Labour governors. May I remind my hon. Friend of some of the benefits of grant-maintained schools? A recent survey showed that, in 10 of the 16 grant-maintained schools in Wales, there are a greater number of pupils; in 11, there are more teachers; in 14, more money is being spent on books and equipment; and in 12, more money is being spent on music.

Mr. Win Griffiths: Can the Minister tell us, then, why less than 1 per cent. of all schools in Wales are grant maintained, despite eight years of continuous propaganda from his Department, and why in his own county the worst-performing school--by the Government's

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standards--is, in fact, a grant-maintained school? If we are to regard the Welsh Office as the marketing department of Government for grant-maintained schools, with its record of the past six years, should those people not all resign or be fired?

Mr. Richards: Well, well. I hear all about new Labour; it looks like old hat to me. Last week, when the tables for the GCSE results were announced--grant-maintained schools had done very well--the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), the shadow education spokesman, wished to be identified with them and said that Labour party policy would also be to publish tables. However, when the friends of the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) in the National Union of Teachers heard that, they instructed their puppet in Bridgend to change the Labour party's education policy and he appeared on television and said exactly the opposite to his hon. Friend the Member for Brightside. Would an incoming Labour Government publish tables or not? Which is it?


5. Mr. Thurnham: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many children are adopted in Wales each year.

Mr. Richards: The number of adoption orders made in Wales by the county courts and the family proceedings courts in the years 1992 and 1993 was 709 and 620 respectively.

Mr. Thurnham: Perhaps I should declare an interest as an adoptive parent of a boy born in Wales. Does my hon. Friend agree that the whole process of inter-country adoption should be much improved? Is he aware of the good work being done to set up the new agency, Families International, to help couples adopt from abroad and give a loving home to children who would otherwise be without a family?

Mr. Richards: Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. The Government are preparing legislation in the light of the White Paper "Adoption: the Future", published in November 1993. It is hoped to introduce legislative proposals when parliamentary time permits. Our proposals would impose a duty on local authorities to help parents seeking an overseas adoption.

School Sport

6. Mr. Hain: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what extra provision he plans for school sport.

Mr. Richards: May I first congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the performance of his countrymen on Saturday, when they defeated Wales at the national stadium?

The revised national curriculum will strengthen the place of sport within the curriculum. It will ensure that games are taught to all pupils of compulsory school age including, for the first time, pupils aged 14 to 16. Substantial support for the introduction of the national curriculum, including physical education, is being

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provided through grants. Sport is not confined to the statutory curriculum. Good schools provide pupils with opportunities for sport outside lessons.

Mr. Hain: I remind the Minister that my countrymen lost on Saturday, although the Wales team played very well.

With your indulgence, Madam Speaker, I shall refer briefly to the fact that one of my constituents is struggling for his life as a result of a vicious racist attack. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to my request for an official inquiry into the rising tide of racist and Nazi violence in south Wales.

The Minister speaks with a forked tongue on school sport. The Government, through the Prime Minister, apparently wish to boost school sport. However, the number of physical education teachers in Wales has been cut by 500 in recent years, as the Government's own figures show--a saving of £12 million. How can we expect to produce world-beating rugby, soccer and other sporting sides when the Government are savaging school sport, reducing teacher morale and cutting education provision? It is not possible. The Minister should respond by providing extra funding for school sport.

Mr. Richards: We wish the hon. Gentleman's constituent well in light of the alleged attack on him.

The hon. Gentleman should try to interpret rather more intelligently the statistics which he has been bandying around the media for some time. In Wales, the reduction in the number of PE teachers almost exactly reflects the proportionate reduction in the number of pupils. In January this year, there was only one vacancy for a PE teacher in a secondary school in Wales.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the importance of sport to schools in Wales. Yes, the Government attach great importance to sport in schools in Wales, because games teach young people how to work together as a team, how to co- operate with each other, how to strive towards a common goal and how to be magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat--all attributes that are absent in the Labour party.

Employment Opportunities

7. Mr. Dafis: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to increase employment opportunities in Ceredigion.

Mr. Gwilym Jones: The responsibility of Government is to create the right conditions for the economy to grow. The latest index of production showing that Wales has gone ahead by 8.3 per cent. in the 12 months to August and a continuing fall in unemployment in Ceredigion demonstrate that our policies are succeeding there and in the rest of Wales.

Mr. Dafis: Having directly caused the loss of 60 well-paid and secure jobs in the Aberystwyth area by the removal of the Welsh Office agriculture department from Trawsgoed to occupy space that happened to become available in the Cathays Park Welsh Office in July, will the Minister undertake to look carefully at a report being prepared by a local campaign group on the future of ADAS--the Agricultural Development Advisory Service--with a view to making Aberystwyth the Wales headquarters of ADAS, an organisation whose future is under review? Does he accept that that would be some

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attempt at recompense for the damage he has done by the closure of the office of the Welsh Office agriculture department in Trawsgoed?

Mr. Jones: Much as I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern, I remind him that we have a duty to husband the taxpayer's money as carefully as possible. To indulge in other office accommodation when there was vacant office accommodation would have been a rather ungreen gesture and I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman in that respect. I shall study very carefully any report about ADAS, although, of course, its use for offices and laboratories is essentially its own responsibility.

Regional Policy

8. Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the Government's policy on the concept of Europe of the regions.

Mr. Redwood: Diversity is Europe's strength. We believe that that can best be enhanced by leaving as many things as possible to local and national decision taking.

Mr. Jenkin: Is my right hon. Friend aware that his Department disbursed some £6.4 billion throughout Wales last year while the European Community disbursed only £50 million? Is it not worth remembering that the European Community is seeking to harness regional sentiment against national Governments so as to centralise power and not necessarily to improve the condition of the regions?

Mr. Redwood: It is very important that that should not be the aim, although I think that there are probably some in Europe who are centralisers rather than having a sincere belief in more regional and local independence and autonomy. We should resist that very strongly, because diversity and choice are crucial to successful trade, friendship and co- operation. It would not be helped by the latest Labour proposals for a senate for Wales, which again would probably end up taxing people for the privilege of being Welsh, spending more of their money and asking them to obey more laws for the privilege of being Welsh.

Mr. Morgan: Will the Secretary of State confirm that if he is to maintain his credentials as one of the Cabinet's leading Euro-enthusiasts, at least relative to his hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), he will provide the funding for research back-up for the Welsh Euro-forum, which he and his party helped to set up, and for the six members and alternates from Wales on the European Committee of the Regions?

Mr. Redwood: I cannot make that promise. The reporting-back system has been set up by Welsh local government. I and other hon. Members hope that invitations will be forthcoming to some Members of Parliament and to Members of the European Parliament because we think that that may help their deliberations. However, it is a local government initiative and therefore can be paid for out of the very generous total funding and grant from the Welsh Office to local government.

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Local Government Reorganisation

9. Mr. Hanson: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the latest estimate of the cost of the reorganisation of local government in Wales.

Mr. Gwilym Jones: The local authority associations have asked my right hon. Friend to make a provision of £49.5 million in 1995-96 and he will announce his decision very shortly.

Mr. Hanson: Does the Minister think it fair that charge payers in Clwyd and, indeed, other counties in Wales, should have to bear the burden of local government reorganisation when counties in England, such as Cheshire and Shropshire which border my county, will retain two-tier government? Is it not a scandal that £49 million has had to be requested to cover the cost of reorganisation? Will he make strenuous demands on the Treasury to ensure that additional funding is given to local authorities to meet the cost of a reorganisation which is not happening in England?

Mr. Jones: The hon. Gentleman's hypothesis anticipates the result that he has not yet heard. I suggest that he should remain patient.


10. Mr. Donald Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what assessment he has made of the adequacy of the resources made available to combat the drug threat in Wales.

Mr. Richards: It is a high priority of Government to combat the misuse of drugs. The provision of services is the responsibility of the relevant local statutory agencies.

Mr. Anderson: The Minister suggests that it is a high priority, but it is clearly a lower priority than cutting the number of customs offices and a lower priority than preventing the South Glamorgan police from having adequate resources to do their job. Will the Minister consider in particular the proposed withdrawal by the Home Office of the grant to the west Glamorgan drugs prevention team at the end of March? It is the only such initiative in Wales. If it is transferred to the Welsh Office and reinstated, will the Minister give an undertaking that this will be done without taking money from other Welsh Office initiatives in the county?

Mr. Richards: The team in Swansea is part of a Home Office-funded pilot project. Funding for that pilot comes to an end in March 1995. I know that the team has done a lot of good work in Swansea, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is looking to the new Welsh drug and alcohol unit to replicate that good work throughout the whole of Wales.

Inward Investment

11. Sir Wyn Roberts: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what assessment he has made of the adequacy

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of the arrangements and incentives for attracting inward investment to Wales and for encouraging indigenous businesses; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Redwood: I can reassure my right hon. Friend that we intend to continue the vigorous promotion of Wales as a first-class place in which to invest.

Sir Wyn Roberts: In complimenting my right hon. Friend on the record number of applications for project grants in 1993-94, a total of 314, and the fact that a high proportion of them have been processed as far as the offer stage so that 8,000 new jobs have been promised and nearly 5,000 safeguarded, may I nevertheless urge my right hon. Friend to preserve the top priority that I know he gives to the development of the Welsh economy and to disregard the carping criticisms which masquerade as Opposition policy?

Mr. Redwood: Winning for Wales is the No. 1 objective of the Welsh Office, and we intend to carry on winning. I am delighted that unemployment is down to 9 per cent. and still falling, with a very large fall in October. I hope that Opposition Members will have the courtesy to acknowledge that that is good news.

Mr. Llew Smith: Does the Secretary of State accept that his policies have failed dismally in south Wales, especially when we consider the report sponsored by the Government's research council which shows that male unemployment levels in former coalfield areas are now running at 33 per cent. rather than the 16 per cent. that is published--and fiddled--by the Department of Employment?

Mr. Redwood: I agree that there are still pockets of unemployment which we intend to tackle very vigorously. However, the overall totals are coming down and the overall percentage is much more reasonable, although of course we want to get it much lower. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will co-operate in the big task that I have now set for the whole of Wales--to raise the private finance to add to the public money that we are spending so as to finish the job and ensure that the towns and valleys are regenerated.

Mr. Gill: My right hon. Friend will be aware that the constituency of Ludlow adjoins Wales. He will also be aware of the many representations that I have made to him and to his predecessors about the unfairness of the grants available to companies operating in Wales which are not available to companies operating in Shropshire. What has been the effect of the Welsh Office moratorium on grants in aid through the Development Board for Rural Wales? I am sure that the House will be interested to know what my right hon. Friend's experiences have been in that direction.

Mr. Redwood: I am delighted to report to my hon. Friend that unemployment continued to fall rapidly in mid-Wales even though we were not paying grants, although the grant system has now been restored through local authorities.

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Town Centres

12. Dr. Howells: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what assistance his Department is giving to regenerate town centres in Wales.

Mr. Gwilym Jones: A range of Welsh Office responsibilities in conjunction with local authorities, development agencies and other public bodies are being used to promote the successful regeneration of Welsh town centres.

Dr. Howells: Is the Minister aware that many towns in Wales are suffering very badly as a result of out-of-town shopping developments? Welcome though the employment is in many of those developments, they are having a very serious effect on town centres and the commercial hearts of towns. In Bridgend, 37 shops have closed, in my constituency of Pontypridd 12 have closed, and 27 have closed in Tonypandy. That experience can be replicated all over Wales. What does the Minister intend to do to provide a strategic lead to ensure that local authorities have some sense and to make it clear that the Welsh Office wishes them to look after the commercial hearts of our towns and to stop that rundown going any further?

Mr. Jones: I must direct the hon. Gentleman to planning policy guidance note No. 6, which relates to the provision of town centres. I can also point to an announcement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made on 21 November when he repeated the advice in planning policy guidance and expressed the desire that there should be restraint in granting planning permissions for out-of-town food supermarkets. If the hon. Gentleman considers our strategic development scheme, he will find that £10 million--17 per cent. of the total--has been allocated to assist with the regeneration of town centres, and similar schemes will continue to receive a significantly high priority in next year's round.


13. Mr. Simon Coombs: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the current level of unemployment in Wales; and what was the level in October 1993.

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