European Communities (Finance) Act 1995.
British Waterways Act 1995.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood): Prospects for the Welsh economy this year are excellent. Unemployment is falling fast; output is expanding; order books are at their best levels since 1988 and business confidence is high. I look forward to a prosperous new year for the Welsh economy.
Mr. Williams: For months now, the Secretary of State and Cabinet Ministers have been talking up the growth and recovery in Britain's economy, but does the Secretary of State accept that the main reason for the recovery has nothing to do with the Government's policies but with black Wednesday and the devaluation caused by it; that the benefits of growth so far have been entirely swallowed up by the public sector borrowing requirement; that there is no feel-good factor among the people at large because during 1994 there was no rise in living standards and that that has been so for the past four or five years?
Mr. Redwood: I do not agree. Of course we are talking the economy up, because it is worth talking up and it will prosper this year and into the future. The Government's policies to control inflation, to have honest money and to develop supply-side reforms are crucial to the success of the economy, just as my policies to promote Wales vigorously at home and abroad and to attract private capital are most important. As confidence returns among ordinary consumers as well the business community, so the feel-good factor will build up, in a way which the hon. Gentleman will find disappointing.
Column 436referred will certainly not be enhanced, and may well be threatened, by the rag-bag of devolutionary plans supported by Opposition Members?
Mr. Redwood: I agree that, were those plans ever to come to fruition, they would be a tax on business and would put business off coming to Wales. It would rather go where taxation is lighter and where there are fewer new laws and regulations. But I am intrigued to see that the Islwyn Labour party is against the proposals, just as I am. I am delighted to see that the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) is against them. Perhaps he can teach the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), who wants a different kind of authority from that wanted by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies). Perhaps the hon. Member for Caerphilly will realise that he is impaled on a difficult fence and that he would be better getting off it on my side on this issue.
Mr. Dafis: In relation to training and enterprise funding, which is an important consideration in the Welsh economy, is the Secretary of State aware that the changes proposed for the coming year are likely to drive out of business some of the high-quality training providers? That is a result of the increased emphasis on output-related funding. Does he accept that scrupulous training providers who emphasise quality and long-term training programmes will be discriminated against in favour of those who sometimes cut corners and emphasise short-term programmes? Will not that be very disadvantageous to disadvantaged groups and to women, the disabled and so on?
Mr. Redwood: That is not the intention of the policy. The intention is to get value for the money that we spend, as measured by the quality of the outputs. We want training that leads to qualifications and real jobs. Those are the criteria that we shall use.
Mr. Ron Davies: The Secretary of State is anxious to talk about Labour party policies, but I wonder why he does not talk about his own, which are a positive disincentive to growth in the Welsh economy? What about his record tax increases, for example, or his cuts in regional aid? There are now record tolls across the Severn bridge into Wales--a Welsh Tory tax. In Wales, we have water bills that are twice the national average --a Welsh Tory tax. In Wales, every taxpayer now pays an extra £1 a week for the Secretary of State's local government changes--a Welsh Tory tax.
On top of that, why does he defend the waste, inefficiency, bureaucracy and political corruption of his quango system? Does he not think that there is any room for improvement in the way in which Wales is governed, because I certainly do and I believe that the majority of people in Wales do as well?
I am still waiting for the list of so-called quangos that Labour would abolish or repeal were they in office, but all that I see is a list--which grows daily--of new quangos that Labour wants to set up. The fact is that Labour would tax more and legislate more: that would be bad for British business, and for business in Wales.
Given that wind generation is only a modest performer in terms of energy production compared with other sustainable forms but has a huge visual impact on the environment and the amenity value of our countryside, will the Minister give me an assurance that when any of those applications are appealed against--if they are turned down by local authorities--his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will refuse them on appeal?
Mr. Gwilym Jones: I certainly cannot give the hon. Gentleman such an assurance. All cases must be considered individually, on their merits. We and the local planning authority will naturally seek to take into account all the relevant factors, including noise and siting. It is our policy to encourage wind power where it is economically attractive and environmentally acceptable.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Rod Richards): My right hon. Friend and I are looking at ways in which the value added to pupils' performance and achievement by schools can best be reflected in published comparative information. In the meantime, we shall be consulting on the inclusion of a simple measure in performance tables of how each school's examination achievements change over time.
Mr. Greenway: Does my hon. Friend agree that value added, in whatever terms he can produce it, will show the achievement of both children and teachers in schools in difficult areas, which is valuable and right? Is it not also part of my hon. Friend's policy to give parents information so that parental choice can be improved? Is not parental choice crucial in education, in Wales and elsewhere? Has not the Leader of the Opposition exercised precisely that choice, using published information about schools to choose a school for his son-- [Interruption.] -- although he denies that choice to others, whatever Opposition Members may say?
Column 438Conservative Members are not clear about the Opposition's education policy. Opposition Members say that their leader believes in grant-maintained schools, but others do not. They are making up policy on the hoof; the trouble is that the left hoof does not know what the right hoof is doing.
Mr. Win Griffiths: I am surprised that the Minister has not taken the opportunity to issue a generous withdrawal in the House of the disgraceful and untrue slur on Labour councillors that was made before Christmas. I was, however, pleased to hear that the Government are considering value added, and ways of achieving a better assessment of how schools perform.
Which of the six systems on which there has been a great deal of research so far strike the Welsh Office as the best to use in future? May I underline our own commitment to the publication of results by schools--not just raw and value added tables, but other information that will tell parents what sort of school they may be sending their children to?
Mr. Marshall: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that that inward investment has taken place because Wales boasts a low corporate tax regime and does not have the incubus of a minimum wage and because the country did not accept the advice to leave the European Union when it was proffered by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)?
Mr. Redwood: Those are three very important points which influence investment in Wales. I would add one other, which is the quality of the work force. That emphasises the importance of the work that we are all doing to improve education and training standards in Wales to continue the drive towards lower unemployment and more inward investment.
Mr. Denzil Davies: Does the Minister agree that for major investment projects in Britain, which includes Wales, the lead Department is the Department of Trade and Industry and the lead agency is the Invest in Britain Bureau? Is the right hon. Gentleman not concerned about the fact that there seems to be evidence that more and more major projects are being steered away from Wales by the DTI and the bureau?
Mr. Redwood: There is no evidence of that and, of course, the Welsh institutions are important in their own right in attracting business to Wales. That has been demonstrated by the recent run of announcements about investment in different parts of the United Kingdom, including Wales. The most recent large one is by the important NEG Schott and it looks as if that will come to Wales when all the details are sorted out. I hope
Column 439that they will be sorted out shortly. We are proud of Wales, which continues to attract more than its fair share of inward investment.
Dr. Spink: Does my right hon. Friend agree that inward investment in Wales would be destroyed if the Government followed policies on a minimum wage or implemented the social chapter--socialist policies which are advocated by the Labour party? What impact has inward investment had on the Welsh economy and particularly on jobs?
Mr. Redwood: My hon. Friend is right. Destroying flexibility for manufacturers and employers in general would put them off. We do not want a low-wage economy: we want employers to have the right to manage sensibly, as they do in Wales. Employers are increasingly attracted to Wales and often create good jobs with good salaries, which is what we are after. There are now 280 foreign manufacturers in Wales and they account for many tens of thousands of jobs.
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones: Does not the Secretary of State recognise that the kind of Thatcherite policies that he espoused in his article in today's issue of The Guardian would be extremely damaging to Wales's prospects of getting more inward investment in future? His analogy between the proper use of public expenditure and a spoilt child begging for more sweets is entirely inappropriate, bearing in mind the fact that young people are desperate for jobs in Wales. Does he not realise that what Wales wants is not an obsessed ideologue but someone who is prepared to fight for us in Cabinet?
Mr. Redwood: I regularly fight for Wales in and outside Cabinet and the results are there for all to see in more jobs, more investment and better public services. I shall carry on because there is still room for improvement. Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise that all Wales's success in attracting inward investment has come about since 1979 under successive Conservative Governments following the policies that I outlined in The Guardian ?
Mr. Sykes: My right hon. Friend is right about the past 15 years. Does he agree that, in 1979, Cardiff was a completely rundown city, but that anybody who cares to visit it today in 1995 will see a completely transformed major capital city? That has much to do with our reforms of the past 15 years.
Mr. Redwood: My hon. Friend is quite right. Cardiff improved beyond recognition over the 1980s and early 1990s. There is more to do in the bay area, which I think will develop quite rapidly over the balance of this century. I look forward to that.
Mr. Ron Davies: The Secretary of State's comment about new investment stemming from 1979 shows a complete lack of understanding of the Welsh economy. Does he accept that if we are to attract inward investment we must maintain high levels of public expenditure to maintain services and improve the infrastructure and must encourage investment? It is not a matter, as the right hon. Gentleman implied in his article in this morning's issue of The Guardian , of calling for more extravagant confectionery from the local sweetshop.
Column 440How can he reconcile his latest views with his claim in December that a 2.9 per cent. increase in public expenditure was good for Wales and for the Welsh economy? Does he not think that he is being disingenuous by saying one thing to one audience and the opposite to a different audience? Perhaps his Cabinet colleagues had it right two weeks ago when they compared him to a mad professor tinkering in his laboratory.
Mr. Redwood: That was a pretty poor effort by the hon. Gentleman. Some people in Wales, as well as in England, read The Guardian . I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have noticed that. I put the same views to different audiences. I am very proud of the Government's increases in spending on public services. I argued for them, agreed them with my colleagues and was pleased to announce them to the House.
I spelled out the priorities, which are there for all to see, such as police, care in the community, health, education and welfare. Those are the priorities that the Government have identified since 1979 and which I have supported all of the time that I have been part of the Government. Those are the areas on which we want to spend money. I have also identified areas of waste or unnecessary expenditure under Labour and where we have made changes. I am pleased that we have had money from privatisation because we have been able to spend it on better welfare services.
Mr. Jones: Those figures are worrying and stubborn, so there must be no complacency in the Welsh Office about unemployment. Does the right hon. Gentleman know whether a Korean multinational company, Daewoo, is planning to locate a car plant in Britain? Is he and the chairman of the Welsh Development Agency holding any talks with that company? Does he agree that Deeside would be a good location for such a car plant, bearing in mind the fact that it was the runner-up in the Nissan stakes 10 years ago?
Mr. Redwood: There is certainly no complacency on my part. Unemployment has been falling rapidly for a couple of years. I welcome that, as I hope the hon. Gentleman does. I also welcome the fact that unemployment stands at 7.1 per cent. in the travel-to-work area of his constituency. That is a much better figure than for many other parts of the United Kingdom. However, we want the figure to fall considerably lower than that, as I am sure he does.
On the project that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, my current advice is that that company has no immediate plans to set up a plant anywhere in the United Kingdom. Of course, if it did we would make it very welcome. I, the chairman of the WDA and
Column 441others would be happy to talk to the company or send it any necessary materials should it firm up its intentions in the way that press rumours suggest it might.
Mr. Wigley: In view of the opportunity that the right hon. Gentleman has to express his economic and unemployment philosophy in The Guardian , at Tory dinner parties in southern England and on interviews on "Newsnight", why does he never mention Wales? Is it because he realises that not living in Wales, not having a mandate in Wales and not being elected by the people of Wales means that his title of Secretary of State for Wales is fraudulent? To use his words in The Guardian article today:
"The abuse of language is deliberately designed to mislead." When will the right hon. Gentleman resign so that we can get someone in the job who will stand up for Wales, fight for Wales and speak about Wales when he has the opportunity to do so?
Mr. Redwood: That was an extraordinary comment. I make dozens of speeches in Wales and I make dozens of speeches about Welsh issues. I write about Welsh matters in national newspapers as well as in Welsh newspapers. The hon. Gentleman might like to see my views on Wales, which are full of policies for Wales--policies that are good for Wales and which show how much I will fight for Wales.
Mr. Rowlands: Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the serious position that thousands of people currently in receipt of invalidity benefit will face after next April? Under the Government's new incapacity test, they will be driven off that benefit, forced to join the long dole queues and will have to compete with thousands of people for poorly paid jobs. Is that a demonstration of the care and compassion of the right hon. Gentleman and his Government?
Mr. Redwood: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have often announced measures to help the disabled in Wales. I have announced additional money for disability schemes. It is important that there should be proper provision for disabled people and I have asked local government in Wales to work with me on that important matter. On the general policy, as a Government we believe that there should be a test to ensure that a person is genuinely disabled before he receives benefit. I should have thought that that would be common ground. Of course, we want that decision to be made sensitively by independent people with good medical skills, so that the money goes to those who need it. If someone is disabled and needs help, I want to ensure that they get decent help. The way to afford that is to ensure that the help is given only to those who need it.
Mr. Sweeney: In view of the comments made earlier, does my right hon. Friend accept the appreciation of my constituents for the numerous visits that he has made to Wales and, in particular, to the Vale of
Column 442Glamorgan, and for the stress that he has laid on renewing the economic success and vigour of Wales, particularly of the Vale of Glamorgan?
Mr. Ainger: Although I welcome the completion of the missing link to west Wales along the M4--obviously, it is much welcomed because it is toll- free--will the Minister explain why the Cleddau river and Severn river crossings, which were also publicly funded, are tolled? Does he accept that the Pembrokeshire economy and the whole of the south Wales economy are suffering a direct unfair tax burden as a direct result of the Severn and Cleddau bridges being tolled?
Mr. Jones: No, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's statement. I can but suggest to him that, if he were to use the new link that has been created from Lon-Las to Baglan when he visits his constituency, he will immediately perceive the obvious geographical differences between the crossing there and the Cleddau and Severn bridges. I suggest to him that his welcome for that essential link is half-hearted compared with the remarkably perceptive article in this morning's Western Mail , which described it as sheer magic.
Mr. Anderson: The link might be very magic but it is also very delayed. If the Minister is to give a final, accurate and comprehensive figure, will he add to that equation the estimated £180 million costs of congestion and delay? After the Labour Government had made progress on the M4, his Government failed to complete the missing link, which led to all the congestion, delay and damage to the south-west Wales economy.
Mr. Jones: What the hon. Gentleman suggests is a complete justification for our decision to spend almost £40 million on that link. He would do better to concentrate on the fact that people in his part of the world regard it as sheer magic.
Mr. Richards: In 1995-96, the national health service in Wales will be required to achieve efficiency savings of 3 per cent. on cash-limited expenditure on the hospital, community and family health services. The efficiency drive that we are pursuing will be aided by the continued extension of the commissioner-provider separation during 1995.
I am pleased to announce my right hon. Friend's decision to establish a further three national health service trusts, which are to become operational from
Column 443April this year. They are the University Dental Hospital national health service trust, Cardiff Community Health Care national health service trust, and West Wales Ambulance national health service trust.
Mr. Flynn: Is not the comment of Tory deputy chairman John Maples that no one in the country will trust the Government on the health service confirmed by the experience of a constituent of mine, who was told that she could not have her urgently needed operation because the health service had run out of money in Gwent, but that, if she had been the patient of a fundholder, she could have had the money? What does the Minister think of the comment by British Medical Association spokesman Dr. Laurence Buckman, who said that fundholders are enriching themselves with funds and that, ultimately, money given to the health service for hip operations will become part of GPs' pensions?
Mr. Richards: As usual, the hon. Gentleman talks rubbish about GP fundholding. GP fundholders are providing an excellent service for the patients of Wales. My right hon. Friend has already announced that we hope to extend the coverage of GP fundholding in Wales. If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about his constituent, why did he not write to me about the case so that I could do something about it, rather than raise it on the Floor of the House?
Mr. Matthew Banks: May I urge my hon. Friend to reject the sometimes wildcat ideas of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn)? Does my hon. Friend agree that the improvements in efficiency in the Principality to which he referred have meant a reduction in waiting times for operations, an increase in the number of patients treated year on year and, most important, a substantial increase in the resources available to those in greatest need?
Mr. Alex Carlile: Could the Minister explain how efficiency in the NHS in Wales is improved by the total demoralisation of the staff of the Powys Healthcare NHS trust, brought about by the trust's decision to secede from established pay arbitration procedures? What is his advice to workers in the trust who are to lose salary? Will he follow the Secretary of State's article in The Guardian and suggest that they are paid in Smarties?
Mr. Richards: The local determination of pay is a matter for the trust and those who work for it. They will come to an agreement among themselves, as happens in all other trusts. The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the morale of people working in the NHS. I travel around a great many hospitals in Wales and can tell him that people who work in the NHS there are doing an excellent job, and that because they are doing an excellent job their morale is good. The better they do their job, the more efficient they are and the more money they will earn.
Column 444examine carefully dental services in the Bangor area as the deficiency of dental practitioners is causing considerable distress and the local family health services authority cannot cope?
Mr. Richards: My right hon. Friend is right to re-draw my attention to the deficiency in the number of dentists in Gwynedd and his constituency. The Welsh Office has already set aside some £50,000 to recruit community dentists. Thus far, Gwynedd FHSA has been able to recruit only one, part time, but there are many reasons why it has not been able to recruit more. More funding has been made available, but the FHSA has not seen fit to ask for it.
Mr. Morgan: While we still await the Minister's short, fat and slimy apology, will he tell us how the Secretary of State's abolition of the Welsh Health Common Services Authority will improve efficiency in the NHS in Wales? Can he confirm that, in splitting the blood transfusion service in Wales from the Welsh Health Common Services Authority, the Secretary of State will, in order to abolish one quango, end up creating another to run the blood transfusion service?
Mr. Richards: The remarks to which the hon. Gentleman refers were withdrawn by me almost immediately. As for the Welsh Health Common Services Authority, an announcement will be made about its future in due course.
Mr. Thurnham: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is high time we amended the archaic and increasingly unjust law of privity of contract which binds successive tenants in a chain of unlimited liability? Will he have a word with his colleagues in the Lord Chancellor's Office and the Department of the Environment?
Mr. Jones: I share my hon. Friend's view of the law of privity, and I can tell him that my colleagues in the Lord Chancellor's Department intend to introduce legislation at the earliest possible opportunity.
Dr. Howells: Will the Minister examine carefully the distortions in the commercial property market in Wales, especially those arising from the huge growth in out-of-town shopping centres and the consequent decline in town and village centres where commercial properties are declining in value as the competition takes away business and they become more derelict?
Mr. Jones: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. He knows that his view is shared by me and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We have taken opportunities recently to emphasise the guidance that is extant for local authorities when considering such situations.
Mr. Llwyd: Is the Minister aware that the White Paper proposed for England will have a broad remit and will consider the effect of the common agricultural policy on the rural economy? Is it not, therefore, an absolute disgrace that the matter will not be considered similarly for Wales? Do the Government not realise that large parts of Wales have a rural economy? Does the Minister agree that there is a need for an integrated rural policy which balances the economic needs of rural communities with the needs of the environment?
Mr. Jones: I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman. If he knew anything about the White Paper for England, he would know that it is to cover the range of policies across a number of Government Departments. The organisation within Wales is clearly very different. I would not expect him to tell me that we should replicate what is done in England merely for the sake of replication. I remind him that we have already clearly set out the range of Welsh Office policies on rural issues in the rural initiative that we published four years ago.
Mr. Richards: We have made grants available to local education authorities for personal and social education, which includes drug education. We are currently preparing specific guidance for schools to help them develop drug education programmes and policies. We have already issued a booklet entitled "Drug Misuse and the Young" for use by those working with young people. We are setting up a drug and alcohol unit in the Welsh Office, which will develop and oversee the implementation of our strategy.
Lady Olga Maitland: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that drug education in schools must be backed up by industry, especially in relation to solvent abuse? In that regard, it would be enormously helpful if young children could see products properly labelled. Retailers must be properly guided about whether they should sell solvents, and support should be given to proper substitutes for solvents. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Department of Trade and Industry is passing the buck on the issue? We require proper co-ordination between the Department for Education, the Department of Health and the Department of Trade and Industry.
Mr. Richards: My hon. Friend's concern about solvent abuse is shared by all Conservative Members at least. I cannot comment on the Department of Trade and Industry, but I can comment on my own Department, which is self- co-ordinating.
Column 446been abolished and has not been replaced on anything like the same scale or intensity by the unit set up in the Welsh Office? Is the Minister aware that this marks a complete abandonment by the Government of their alleged war against drugs in West Glamorgan?
Mr. Richards: The hon. Gentleman clearly was not listening to my answer to the main question. I said that we were setting up a drug and alcohol unit in the Welsh Office which would develop and oversee the implementation of our strategy.