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13. Mr. Wigley: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will arrange to meet the chairman of the Welsh Development Agency to discuss the implication of the agency's recently announced strategic plans for local communities in Wales.
Mr. Wigley: Is the Minister aware that the WDA's strategic plans for the regeneration of some of the old industrial towns in the valleys, the old slate-quarrying areas and some of the historic towns of Wales are dependent on enough money being available over a period that goes beyond two years? Given that the WDA is being funded by virtue of the sale of its capital assets, will the Minister give a categorical guarantee that the original funding level promised for the agency for the period through to the end of the century will be sustained and that there will be increased moneys from the Welsh Office budget to achieve that?
Mr. Jones: I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that the resources allocated to the WDA, together with the receipts that they will generate, will be most appropriate to achieve what we want. It is in that manner that progress will be made.
Mr. Redwood: There are a number of initiatives in the public and private sectors to improve energy efficiency, which I widely welcome. There is the Government's home insulation scheme. I am launching a drive to improve energy efficiency throughout the public sector in our own buildings. There are many private sector initiatives to help save money given the considerable energy bill in Wales.
Mr. Dafis: Does the Secretary of State accept that a proper programme of energy efficiency in homes could produce a reduction in fuel bills of up to 50 per cent. as well as significant reductions in the harmful emission of gases that come from the generation of energy for our homes? Does he accept also that as many as 5,000 jobs a
Column 656year could be created at a cost of £30 million per annum in the process of getting such a programme into operation?
Does the right hon. Gentleman further accept that it is only through socially useful labour-intensive activity that we can seriously tackle unemployment? Will he undertake, as Secretary of State for Wales, to make such public investment available? While he is at it, will he study the excellent document produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) entitled "100,000 answers", which describes how public investment could transform the unemployment position in Wales?
Mr. Redwood: I have already studied that programme; indeed, we debated it briefly in the Welsh Grand Committee. If only life were that simple. Unfortunately, the programme is grossly under-costed. We must take into account the impact of rising interest rates and rising public expenditure costs on the economy generally if the programme were replicated throughout the country.
Of course the Government believe that there are things that can be done under existing programmes. That is why we have a strong programme of energy efficiency measures, which produce work in the public and private sectors. That is very welcome. It may be difficult reducing each household's bill by 50 per cent., but large reductions can be--and should be--made.
Mr. Gwilym Jones: Prospects for manufacturing industries in Wales are excellent. Over the past four months, the balance of firms reporting a rise in the volume of new orders in Wales has increased faster than at any time since the Confederation of British Industry, Wales, started its survey in 1978, and at double the United Kingdom rate. About half of Welsh firms say that their order books are above normal levels. Exporters are doing even better.
Mr. Barry Jones: What can the Government do to assist further the beleaguered Raytheon jet workers in my constituency? Does he accept that Raytheon bought Corporate Jets to merge with Beech? Does he understand that Raytheon bought Corporate Jets so that it could eliminate competition and take jobs to America? How can the Government further assist my constituents?
Mr. Gwilym Jones: I readily acknowledge the time that the hon. Gentleman--as well as my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) and others--has devoted to this important problem. He, too, will know that his concern is completely shared by the Government, and my right hon. Friend has made considerable efforts to try to support the prospects of the Raytheon plant in north Wales by securing fresh orders. We will continue to make every appropriate effort.
Column 657Science and Technology is devoted to research into new technology geared to improving the lives of disabled people.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. Robert G. Hughes): Some 0.4 per cent., which is more than £4.5million. That is in addition to the money spent by the Department of Health, the European Union, by healthcare industries, the United Kingdom drugs industry and medical charities.
Ms Lynne: Is the Minister aware that more funding needs to be given to core research into environmental control systems, which will enable disabled people with very limited muscular movement to switch on gadgets with a minimum of effort? Can he tell me whether the Office of Science and Technology is prepared to put funding into that?
Mr. Hughes: That is not dissimilar from other questions from the hon. Lady and, indeed, from some Labour Members. Whereas of course I agree with the first part of the hon. Lady's question--about the importance of that research--the fact is that the freedom of the Medical Research Council to determine how best to commit its money and to decide which projects are backed has served it well for 80 years, and I do not intend to change from that.
Mr. Harry Greenway: Can my hon. Friend confirm that there is very valuable research into assistance and aid systems for disabled people at the Brunel university, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), and that it is low in cost and valuable in terms of production? Will my hon. Friend do all he can to encourage it?
Mr. Hughes: Yes, indeed. Also being a Member of Parliament for a constituency in north-west London, I recognise the very high reputation of Brunel university. It has had that reputation for a long time. The work is important, because we all know how it can transform the lives of people with disabilities, and it is important that as much money as possible goes into that research.
Mr. Battle: I am sure that we all agree that there is no better way to promote a positive understanding of the need for basic research in science and for technological development than improving the quality of lives for people with disabilities. Professor Stephen Hawking is an eloquent testimony to the best technology in the service of people with disabilities.
While the Minister proclaims that that work is important, are not reductions in the Department of Health's budget for near market research, which could enable people to hear, see and move better--not to mention the blocking of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill--undermining his best efforts? Where is the Government's overall strategy in that respect?
Mr. Hughes: One thing has always been clear to me in terms of issues related to people with disabilities: playing to the gallery does them no good whatever. What is more important than that is that, last month, the Department of Health announced a new
programme--Medlink--amounting to £8.5 million over five years, with the same amount being matched to that from industry. That is the sort of thing that helps, not the empty rhetoric that we have just heard.
Mr. Gunnell: I am afraid that that is not particularly helpful. Can the Chancellor guarantee that money for basic research will be made available to each research council; that he has no plans to reduce either the total or the individual amounts made available to research councils for that purpose in the next financial year; and that an appropriate amount of consultation is taking place between his Department, the research councils and the research institutions in regard to basic research?
As for the hon. Gentleman's supplementary questions, he will know that I announced the allocations for the various research councils only a few days ago, in our debate on science. Of course I am strongly committed to maintaining the necessary spending on basic research. It may assist the hon. Gentleman to know that, in 1992-93, 47.4 per cent. of OPSS-funded research and development expenditure went on basic research.
Mr. Simon Coombs: Is it not a fact that there has been a real-terms increase of 30 per cent. in the science budget since 1979? Is it not also a fact that more than 92 per cent. of the science research councils' budget goes on research, whether basic or strategic? Is this not a good opportunity for my right hon. Friend to join me in congratulating the staff of the research councils whose headquarters are in my constituency on the excellent value for money that they provide in administering their budgets?
Mr. Hunt: I not only confirm the statistics given by my hon. Friend, but take this opportunity to congratulate him personally on the extensive representations that he makes on behalf of the five research councils situated in his constituency.
It is indeed a fact that, in 1992-93, 92.3 per cent. of the research and development element of the science budget was directed towards curiosity- driven research. As I have said, 47.4 per cent. of the budget was spent on basic research; 44.9 per cent. was spent on strategic research. That is an important investment for the future of the United Kingdom.
Column 659and research chemists from universities? Will not that approach help to guarantee the continuation of the £4.4 billion that the chemistry-based industries earn in exports?
"Chemistry is the lynch pin of one of the most successful sectors of UK industry."
That is absolutely true, and we want to do what we can to ensure that it continues.
Mrs. Ann Taylor: Does the Minister not share the concerns of the Royal Society of Chemistry about, for example, the deterioration in university chemistry laboratories, which is preventing students and researchers from reaching their full potential? Science education will be hampered both by that difficulty at university level and by the pending increase in class sizes at school level. Surely the problem will not solve itself. What discussions is the Minister entering into with the Secretary of State for Education, as a matter of urgency, to ensure that the difficulties are tackled and chemistry can continue to maximise its role in the interests of the British economy?
Mr. Hughes: The hon. Lady has asked a compendium of questions. We regard chemistry as extremely important. That is one of the reasons why we were anxious to increase the amount of money made available to the relevant research council. As for education, the fact that science plays a large part in the national curriculum changes the nature of the facilities needed in schools. There is a large programme of refurbishing science laboratories and adding them to schools, and I have no doubt that that will continue.
27. Mr. Shersby: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what procedures are in place for monitoring the extent of sick leave taken by members of the civil service; to what extent the health of those on extended sick leave is monitored by his Department's own medical officers; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Shersby: What financial arrangements apply to members of the home civil service who are compulsorily retired on medical grounds? Is my hon. Friend satisfied that at the present time such arrangements are not subject to any financial constraints?
Mr. Flynn: Does the Minister think that the motive for that question, which he has so abysmally failed to answer, might be to denigrate the work of civil servants? Would it not be far better to improve the morale of civil servants by allowing those who work in the agencies, which will not be privatised but which might be contractorised, to compete on equal terms with private firms which might bid for their jobs?
Column 660Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service stated, this is the sensible way to run Government, and will continue to be.
Mr. Peter Bottomley: Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the average number of sick days taken by Companies House staff is eight times the number taken by staff in the legal secretariat, there is some reason to investigate whether that is due to management, morale or an occupational hazard?
Mr. Hughes: Yes, I share my hon. Friend's concern. I have asked for some reports from officials. The permanent secretary in my Department has written to heads of Departments and agencies, and he will write again to ensure that they look carefully at the guidelines to see whether they can be tightened. In my judgment there is no excuse for the high rate of absenteeism in a few agencies and Departments.
Mr. Ainsworth: Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, whereas some Opposition Members seem to have grasped the political advantage of moving away from state monopolies for the provision of public services while others still seem possessed of a union-inspired fear of competition, no such confusion exists among Conservative Members? Will he continue to pursue with vigour his policy to bring down costs and improve services in the interests of the public and not of the public sector unions?
Mr. Hunt: Yes, I am happy to reply in the affirmative to my hon. Friend. This has been a remarkably successful programme and it has produced cost savings of more than £400 million a year, which is an average of 20 per cent. That is excellent news for the taxpayer.
Mrs. Roche: In terms of the provision of services and the bringing down of costs through competition, did the Secretary of State's Department advise the Home Office about the contract for Group 4 to run Wolds prison, because Group 4 did not submit the lowest tender?
Mr. Hunt: In the overall scheme of things, what matters is quality and value for money for the taxpayer. Generally, that can involve improvement in the quality of service. It is important to recognise that many of the savings were achieved as a result of tremendous effort by all the staff involved. That applies particularly where there was an in-house bid. We are in the current year now examining a further £860 million- worth of public services and a programme for another £250 million-with non-departmental public bodies. Value for money and an improvement in quality will result.
Mr. Hoon: Does the Chancellor agree with the recent House of Lords Select Committee report, "International Investment in United Kingdom Science", that British companies are driven too much by short-term financial concerns and concentrate insufficiently on long-term research? If he does agree with that report, what does he intend to do about it?
Mr. Hunt: There has been a considerable improvement in private sector funding for research and development. More remains to be done, and I shall do everything that I can to encourage such investment, particularly in partnership with the Government and the university sector.
Mr. Fabricant: Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge Unilever's huge investment programme in science in the United Kingdom? Will he wish its new venture, Uniruss, well and in particular, my old college friend Mr. Richard Sutton, a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry--this alludes to an earlier question--who will be heading a division of Uniruss in the former Soviet Union?
Mr. Hunt: I welcome any occasion on which I can applaud the work of Unilever, a company which started in the Wirral. I greatly welcome the progress that has been made. It is an example of how Britain is fighting to win at the leading edge of technology throughout the world.
Mr. Skinner: Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for scientific research into the reason why an increasing number of rats are leaving the sinking ship? It has now reached the stage where Ministers are resigning without being pushed.
Sir Thomas Arnold: May I invite my right hon. Friend to consider increasing, on an experimental basis, the number of members on one or more of his advisory committees so that more applicants can have interviews?
Mr. Hunt: I shall carefully ponder what my hon. Friend has said, but it is important to recognise that it is necessary to have a balance on any committee. However, as he has raised the matter I shall naturally look into it carefully.
Mr. Spring: Is my hon. Friend aware of just how much my constituents applaud the award of charter marks to the Suffolk constabulary and the leisure services department of St. Edmundsbury borough council? Can he tell us how customers of public services can be involved in this year's charter mark award scheme?
Mr. Hughes: Following last year's charter mark awards, many people inquired how they could become more involved and how they could put forward the names of public services in their areas that they knew were doing a first-class job. Therefore, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has announced that we will invite nominations from the public for those services that they regard as excellent.
Mr. Mans: When my right hon. Friend manages to visit Wyre, which he has said he would be delighted to do, and speaks to the borough representatives of the Duchy, will he make a particular point of discussing the education policy of Lancashire county council? Is he aware that this year it has cut the delegated schools budget by £18.5 million, but cut its own administrative overheads by only £500,000? In percentage terms, it has cut the delegated schools budget by 5.5 per cent. but has cut transport and social services by 3.5 per cent. or less.
Mr. Hunt: My hon. Friend has revealed a disquieting state of affairs. I very much hope that, following representations from him and his colleagues in Lancashire, the county council will now reconsider its approach.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes: As well as the customer nominations for charter marks, we will be talking about charter publications, charter quality networks and seminars, publishing White Papers on the citizens charter and next steps agencies, as well as producing departmental efficiency plans.
Mr. Field: Does my hon. Friend agree that charters have cut waiting times in the health service, improved services and even made the tax man user-friendly? Conservative Members believe that the customer is king,
Column 663unlike Opposition Members, who believe that public services should be run for the sole inconvenience of the public.
Mr. Hughes: My hon. Friend puts his finger on an especially important point. The only way in which one can know whether a service is matching up to what it should, is if one has the published information on which to make one's decision. Conservative Members are in favour of publishing the maximum amount of information. Every time we put such information before the House--publishing league tables for hospitals, schools
Column 664or any other information--it is opposed by the Opposition. That is the difference between the Conservative party and the others.
Mrs. Dunwoody: Would the Minister like to have the total agreement of the Labour party by publishing yet another list? Will he publish the waiting list for patients before they get on to the national health service waiting list, because all that is happening with these famous charters is that everyone is fiddling the figures?
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