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House of Commons

Monday 13 March 1995

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Sir David Knox: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what has been the total spending by central Government on roads in Wales since 1979; and how many miles of motorway and trunk roads have been laid since that year.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood): Since 1979, total spending by central Government on the roads programme in Wales has been over £2.6 billion, including £468 million in transport grant. Twenty-eight miles of motorway and 162 miles of trunk road have been completed or improved. Seven major improvement schemes totalling over 27 miles are under construction.

Sir David Knox: Does my right hon. Friend agree that considerable progress has been made in improving the motorway and trunk road network in Wales since 1979? Will he further agree that this has been of considerable help in attracting inward investment to Wales?

Mr. Redwood: My hon. Friend is right. The M4 and the A54 corridors have been most successful in attracting businesses. I should draw attention also to excellent train links. We are keen to encourage more freight by rail as well as by road. There are several policies that we are following with that in mind.

Mr. Barry Jones: Does the Secretary of State agree that the £60 million River Dee crossing scheme will hugely improve the attractions of Deeside industrial park? Is that why it is said that a United States pharmaceutical company will be coming to my constituency? Will he give some details about the project?

Mr. Redwood: The hon. Gentleman is right. The Dee crossing will be most important. Like the hon. Gentleman, I welcome the announcement by the Welsh Development Agency today that there will be about 200 more jobs in Clwyd as a result of a United States pharmaceutical company establishing its European base in a WDA factory at Deeside industrial park. It is most welcome news. I am sure that improved transport links were some of the factors that led to the announcement.

Mr. Sweeney: Can my right hon. Friend give any update on progress towards achieving a link road between

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Culverhouse Cross and Cardiff-Wales airport? Will he confirm that he will resist any attempts to produce such a link via a green-field site?

Mr. Redwood: My hon. Friend is right. We need to be careful about any such route. There are environmental and transport issues, which will be part of the judgment that will have to be made. I have asked that the county highway authority again examine its current proposals. I thought that they were too expensive. We need a scheme, however, and I hope that the authority will return soon with a sensible and realistically priced one.

Training for Work

2. Mr. Rowlands: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the future funding and arrangements for training for work in 1995-96.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Rod Richards): Training for work will be funded from 1 April on the basis of results, instead of training weeks completed.

Training and enterprise councils have welcomed this change. They will, as a result, have a strong incentive to ensure that training for work is geared to qualifications and jobs; and the resources available for adult training will therefore be used more efficiently and effectively.

Mr. Rowlands: Is the Minister aware that the training element has been reduced to a mere two weeks? Companies that employ for temporary or seasonal work can clean up on grants while offering minimum training. I believe that it is possible for a department store to train its Father Christmas for a couple of weeks, hire him for a couple of weeks and then sack him, and thereafter claim £1,000 in grant under the new scheme. Other organisations that have been trying to undertake longer-term training are shutting down or contracting. If my worries, concerns and fears are true, will the Minister review the scheme?

Mr. Richards: As far as I am aware, there are no current training schemes for Father Christmases. The hon. Gentleman has raised a serious point and it would be helpful if he were to write to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlining precisely what he has in mind. If he wants to put the boot into Father Christmas, he should write to my right hon. Friend, who will consider what he has to say.

Sir Wyn Roberts: Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the training and enterprise councils can, and do, combine the roles of training and enterprise? Is he satisfied that a sufficiently high proportion of the TEC budget is finding its way to the sharp end?

Mr. Richards: My right hon. Friend makes a valid point, as, indeed, is his wont. Clearly, the purpose of funding is that it goes to the sharp end, to get people back to work and to ensure that they are qualified. Training is necessary to ensure that enterprise is allowed to flourish.

Mr. Win Griffiths: What was the outcome of the scheme in England which the Secretary of State said was successful? Is it not true that it was more difficult for women returning to work, and low achievers, to get on training courses because of the huge over-emphasis on

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training success and job outcomes? Is there a case for rebalancing that, so that we can drive the cowboys out, still keep quality and go for the best in Wales?

Mr. Richards: The pilot schemes in England to which the hon. Gentleman referred took place over some two years. It is because of their success that we are now embarking on the schemes in Wales. Of course we are concerned with quality, and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications is charged with ensuring that awarding bodies assess properly and that quality assurances exist.

Education, Dyfed

3. Mr. Dafis: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received concerning funding for education in Dyfed.

Mr. Richards: My right hon. Friend and I have received many representations on the issue of education funding in Dyfed. It is, however, for individual local authorities to determine how much of their available resources to direct towards each service, including education, in the light of their statutory duties and their perception of local needs and priorities.

Mr. Dafis: This year in Dyfed, all services have to be cut. When will the Welsh Office stop undermining the school system in Wales in pursuit of its aim of making all schools in Wales grant maintained? I want the Welsh Office to understand that its twin strategy of encouraging that through cuts for local education authorities and inducements for grant- maintained schools is well understood in Wales and is opposed. It is irresponsible at this time, as we approach local government reorganisation. Will the Minister agree to meet a deputation from governing bodies in Dyfed and elsewhere in Wales and listen to what they have to say, and to their discussion of solidarity with local authorities? Will the Welsh Office please desist from its current irresponsible strategy?

Mr. Richards: My right hon. Friend is not trying to force schools in Wales to become grant maintained. What he and I want to ensure is that parents in Wales have a choice. The hon. Gentleman talks about cuts in education, but perhaps he would do well to remember the following statistics. Between 1979-80 and 1992-93, the net funding per pupil in primary schools in his county of Dyfed increased by some 63.8 per cent. The corresponding figure for secondary schools was 53.7 per cent. Indeed, over the same period, spending per pupil on books and equipment in Dyfed increased by 36.8 per cent. in primary schools and by 66.1 per cent. in secondary schools. Those are the figures after allowing for inflation.

Lady Olga Maitland: Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is a surplus in the reserves of both local authorities and schools' own funds and that they are quite capable of paying for teachers' pay increases?

Madam Speaker: Order. The question concerns a particular area-- Dyfed. Is the hon. Lady relating her question to that?

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Lady Olga Maitland: Madam Speaker, I am relating it--

Madam Speaker: If it is a specific question, it should relate to what is on the Order Paper.

Lady Olga Maitland: I stand corrected. I am relating the question to Dyfed.

Mr. Richards: The hon. Lady is absolutely correct. In fact, in the 1993-94 fiscal year, primary school balances in Dyfed were some £2.3 million; the figure for secondary schools was some £1.6 million; and the education authority had a balance of £7.4 million, which aggregates to £11.3 million. On top of that, the figure for education and other administrations amounted to some £3.5 million. On top of all that, the Audit Commission report in January this year, "Paying the Piper, Calling the Tune", said that, throughout England and Wales, efficiency savings of some £500 million could have been made. In Wales, the figure is £30 million--all to be saved if education authorities and county councils go for efficiency cuts.

Mr. Ron Davies: For the record, Dyfed has raided its balances and now has one of the lowest in Wales. On top of that, it is faced with £4.5 million-worth of education cuts. I am not surprised that there is widespread concern: the public now see a Government making money available to suit their own political needs through the popular schools initiative, while denying the remaining schools funds that they need to meet the educational needs of their own programmes. Is this not just another case of privilege for the few, at the expense of the choice and opportunity of everyone else? Does the Minister not realise that, just as he had to make a public apology recently for his ill-considered statements, he will shortly have to make a public apology for these ill-considered policies?

Mr. Richards: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman should make such remarks about education spending in Dyfed. As I recall, the leader of the Labour group on Dyfed county council opposed the education authority's proposal for cuts. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should build up links outside the valleys of south Wales, in the rural parts that he never seems to visit.

As for the popular schools initiative, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set aside an additional £20 million to be spent on schools that are popular and therefore oversubscribed for the next four years. He wants to ensure that parents can choose to send their children to the good schools--the oversubscribed schools, the popular schools. That is why this is called the popular schools initiative.


4. Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what evaluation his Department has undertaken of the likely impact on the Welsh economy of downgrading of railway service provisions in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones): I reject the malicious presumption in the hon. Gentleman's question. There are no plans to downgrade the railway service in Wales.

Mr. Llwyd: The Minister used the word "malicious", but I have not even started yet. There may be no such

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intention, but I recently met the Secretary of State for Wales, who knows that in north Wales, for example, the Conwy valley line will shortly lose £900,000 in charges paid to it by the Trawsfynydd power plant. That obviously poses a threat.

The Cambrian line is also under threat, among others. Is any appraisal currently being undertaken, or is the Secretary of State as useless as he was said to be by Leslie Morgan the other day on the programme "On the Record"? That Conservative described the right hon. Gentleman as useless to mid-Wales, and said that the sooner he went the better.

Mr. Jones: I think that the "threats" are in the imagination of the hon. Gentleman, who rushes to scare his constituents and everyone else in Wales. The Franchising Director is conducting a review; he has already published his draft proposals for the Great Western service, and his proposals for the rest of Wales will follow in due course. The hon. Gentleman should approach the matter positively. The combination of privatisation and the channel tunnel represents a tremendous opportunity for the railways of Wales.

Mr. Ron Davies: That is precisely the point. The Under-Secretary must explain why we should not expect the worst, given that the Great Western is the only service for which minimum requirements have been published. We see that there will be a 20 per cent. reduction on the Paddington to south Wales service, which will, in effect, end at Swansea.

There is massive public opposition to this madcap scheme, which will fragment the national service. It will waste £1 billion of taxpayers' money and cost thousands of jobs. Do the Government not realise that, if Wales is to have a successful and dynamic economy, we must have a properly planned, integrated and accountable transport system? No reputable Government would abdicate from that responsibility.

Mr. Jones: If the hon. Gentleman had done his research a little better, he would have known that this is the first passenger service requirement that has been published. The Franchising Director is now working on others for the rest of Wales. This is the first time that a minimum provision has been laid down, and I stress that it is a minimum provision. Great Western has already stated that its new timetable, which is to be introduced in May, will maintain the current service.

Business Rates

5. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received regarding the level of business rates imposed on small businesses in Wales.

Mr. Gwilym Jones: Several.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones: Is the Minister aware that, as a result of the revaluation of business premises for the purposes of the unified business rate, holiday centres, caravan parks and retail premises in my constituency are suffering massive increases and will have serious problems meeting their new bills? Does he realise that, for example, up to 20 per cent. of retail premises in my constituency have closed over the past four years? Even allowing for transitional relief, those businesses will pay twice the rate of inflation on their new bills from 1995

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onwards. Will the Minister intervene directly and ask the district valuer to be more realistic in terms of rental values in rural areas?

Mr. Gwilym Jones: I hope that the hon. Gentleman realises that, as well as the change in the rateable value, there has been a consequential reduction in the rate in the pound, which goes down from 44.8p to 39p. The examples that the hon. Gentleman cites and all other small businesses in Wales have transitional relief and opportunities to appeal to the district valuer against the assessment after 1 April. I firmly believe that the system of uniform non-domestic rates is a far better system for businesses throughout Wales. It gives them the certainty, except in years of review, that they will face an increase of no more than the rate of inflation. As we can see from the emerging pattern of council tax increases in Wales, business would have suffered far worse if the uniform business rate had been determined by local councils.

Mr. Alex Carlile: Does the Minister agree that small caravan parks are a useful form of diversification for many farmers and that they provide substitute employment? Does he recognise that there will be a huge increase, particularly in the business rate paid by small caravan parks with fewer than 50 pitches, and that the appeals system will simply clog to a halt because of so many appeals? Will he institute an immediate inquiry into the effect of these changes on the caravan and holiday industry in Wales, which is in despair at the changes?

Mr. Jones: I readily acknowledge what the hon. and learned Gentleman says about the worth to agriculture and tourism generally of caravan parks. However, he should remember that they have not only the opportunity of transitional relief but the right of appeal. The appeals system, which I fully support, wishes to deal with appeals as expeditiously as possible.

Dr. Spink: Does my hon. Friend accept that small businesses in Wales would benefit from more prudent budget setting and more prudent policies by local councils? Does he also accept that small businesses in Wales benefit greatly from inward investment, which generates much business and many jobs in the small business community?

Mr. Jones: I certainly accept the thrust of my hon. Friend's point that businesses would suffer far worse if their rate burden were determined by councils in Wales. We know that this year small businesses will face, at worst, a 7.5 per cent. increase. The trend has not been finalised, but if they were to suffer the increase that is being imposed by councils in Wales, it would be more like 12 per cent.

Hospital Waiting Times

6. Mr. Ainger: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many consultants in Wales had published waiting times for first out-patient appointments in excess of 104 weeks on 30 September 1994 or in any subsequent set of statistics published since then.

Mr. Redwood: Comprehensive information on waiting times for first out-patient appointments is not collected centrally for each hospital consultant but is available for health authorities and hospitals in general. However, the latest issue of the "Waiting Times Information Bulletin"

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provides information on seven common surgical procedures. It shows that 15 of the 187 consultants included in the bulletin had a maximum waiting time of more than 104 weeks. That shows that the bulletin is doing exactly what it is intended to do. It lets people see where they have to wait a long time and where they can be seen more quickly, thereby enabling them to choose on an informed basis. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his party welcome that.

Mr. Ainger: Bearing in mind what the Secretary of State has just said, I challenge his figure of only 15. On my reading of that information booklet, there are 19 consultants with a waiting time of over two years. There are also in total 66 consultants with waiting times of more than one year, and those figures do not take into account urology, dermatology, trauma or general orthopaedics. How on earth is the Secretary of State going to put in place, between now and 1 April--two weeks away--the resources to ensure that patients get their first out-patient appointment within six months?

Mr. Redwood: That is exactly what I intend to do. My current advice is that the health service can meet the new standards as from the beginning of the next financial year and will deal with the backlog shortly thereafter. I hope that Opposition Members will welcome the information that patients get. As the brochure makes clear, in practically every case there is a surgeon available with a short waiting time, just as in some cases there are surgeons who are very busy.

Is the Labour party saying that I should issue instructions to say that no patient should be allowed to join the waiting list of a surgeon who is popular, and that patients must go to another surgeon even if they do not choose that? That would seem to me wrong. What we want is proper information; people can then weigh the name and the reputation of the surgeon against the waiting time. At the moment, we are meeting all the patients charter guarantees--I am pleased about that--and I intend the service to meet the new tougher guarantees next year.

Sir Wyn Roberts: Has my right hon. Friend seen the consultants' report featured on the front page of the Western Mail today, purporting to show that £1 in every £10 spent in the NHS is spent on running it? Is that proportion correct and is my right hon. Friend satisfied with it?

Mr. Redwood: There are disputes about how to categorise administration and management costs, but I certainly think that we need to reduce some elements of the management costs. That is why I have imposed restrictions on new recruitment and have set out proposals to the House-- along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health in England--to make sure that we reduce the number of health authorities and the number of employees and managers that those health authorities enjoy. I believe that that is welcome in Wales. I think that it will mean tighter control over management costs at the centre and proper administration in hospitals. I have linked it to a big programme to strip out forms, administration and unnecessary paperwork--and I shall announce more proposals on that shortly.

Mr. Morgan: Does the Secretary of State accept that there are many who are sceptical about the prospects of genuinely achieving the shorter waiting times by 1 April,

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and that they include not only Opposition Members but health service statisticians? One of them wrote to Mrs. Menna Davies of the Vale of Glamorgan community health council a few weeks ago to say: "The hospitals generally supply us with the best estimates they can but even those may be poor estimates of long-term waiting times."

Will the Minister therefore assure us that, in his attempt to achieve the figures that he has set out by 1 April, he will not once again be visiting the statistical massage parlour?

Mr. Redwood: I think that the hon. Gentleman means that he welcomes our policy, which is to cut waiting times and to try to get all out- patients meeting the necessary person in the health service within six months. I have already said that the health service is pretty confident that it can do that for new patients after the beginning of April. Thereafter we want it to clear the backlog as quickly as possible. I have been discussing with the service ways in which that can be done.

Business and Local Authority Links

7. Mr. Flynn To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what new proposals he has to improve relations between his Department and business and local authorities in Wales.

Mr. Redwood: I am improving relationships by holding meetings to review future plans for each area, by local authority business partnerships and by encouraging eight business development consortiums in Wales.

Mr. Flynn: Will not the Secretary of State's double standards wreck his relations with local authorities, given that he condemns them for their contacts with lobbyists but allows the Welsh Office an open door to its corridors, which are infested with lobbyists seeking to pervert public policy for their rich clients? Why does he allow that to happen; why does he not allow Parliament knowledge of how many lobbyists have contact with his Ministers and civil servants? Is this why prominent Welsh Conservative Leslie Morgan described the work of the Secretary of State this weekend as "really disastrous"?

Mr. Redwood: I was objecting to some local authorities spending taxpayers' money on employing consultants or lobbyists to do work that those authorities are capable of doing themselves. I do not intend to encourage that in the Welsh Office. I have taken a knife to the budget for consultancies, which are not right when we have talented officials who can do the job. I hope that local government will take a leaf out of that book.


8. Mr. Booth: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the progress in Wales of privatisation policy.

Mr. Redwood: Privatisation has brought lower prices--telephone charges are down by one third in real terms, and gas prices are down by more than one fifth. It has brought better service, more choice of telephones and better standards for dealing with customers. It has created several important private sector companies in Wales. With their new freedoms, they can now make a bigger contribution to the Welsh economy. In relation to the water industry, privatisation has increased the number of

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beaches up to decent standards from 48 per cent. in 1986 to 76 per cent. in 1994. I hope that more progress will soon be made on that figure.

Mr. Booth: As, today, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) have restated their belief in more public ownership--whereas the people of Wales, whether taxpayers, customers or shareholders, know the benefits of privatisation-- will my right hon. Friend restate and explain to the people of Wales the benefits of privatisation, and press on with more?

Mr. Redwood: I and my right hon. Friends will do exactly what my hon. Friend suggests. One important consequence of that policy is that more Welsh and British companies are world players in the world market. That can take place only if they are freed of public sector restrictions. It is then down to the talents of company employees and to the imagination of the management to win in the world market. That is exactly what the best privatised Welsh companies are doing.

Mr. Donald Anderson: When the Secretary of State is tempted to embark on further privatisation proposals, will he consider with some humility what happened in relation to the cardiac unit at Morriston Hospital NHS trust? His unique decision to put that cardiac project out to tender delayed by one year the start of the project and caused immense anguish to many Welsh cardiac patients, who had to travel to London. In the event, the solution achieved--the victory of the in-house team--was what everyone wanted all along.

Mr. Redwood: I am glad that Opposition Members are pleased with at least one part of the Government's health policy. I, too, welcome the victory of the in-house team. It put together a creditable bid. It showed that it would provide good value, which was the object of the exercise. This is not a specifically Welsh initiative. It is a common UK policy, where we decided that it was best to test the market to ensure that we got good value for big capital projects. It did not cause delay in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. The business case and other paperwork must be produced, whether a project is publicly or privately financed.

Health Services, Gwent

9. Mr. Touhig: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met the chairman of the Gwent health commission to discuss health service provision in Gwent.

Mr. Richards: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales met all the health authority chairmen last Wednesday to discuss their proposals for improving services in the coming financial year. I shall be meeting the chairman of the Gwent health commission tomorrow.

Mr. Touhig: Is the Minister aware that, in 1993-94, my constituents made 33,000 visits to the out-patient department of Royal Gwent hospital at Newport, some 15 miles away from Blackwood in the centre of my constituency? Is he further aware that the public consultation in the recently published Islwyn health plan showed that the Islwyn community's primary priority was the need for a neighbourhood hospital that would offer an out-patient facility and a minor casualty department? Indeed, the Conservative party candidate pledged his

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support for that in the recent Islwyn by- election. Will the Minister join me in pressing the Gwent health commission to honour a pledge given in 1988, when the "Gwent 2000" document was published, to provide that facility, a pledge that was reiterated in 1992 when the neighbourhood health plan was published? Will he join me in pressing Gwent health commission to provide that hospital facility for Islwyn?

Mr. Richards: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his first Welsh questions. I assure him that the easy ride that he had in his maiden speech will be a unique experience. I am delighted that 33,000 of his constituents were able to have first-class treatment at Royal Gwent hospital--long may it continue. I am sure, however, that the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Glan Hafren NHS trust is developing a proposal with a view possibly to having a community hospital in Islwyn. My right hon. Friend and I look forward to seeing that proposal.

Water Charges

10. Mr. Wigley: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the current method of charging for water.

Mr. Gwilym Jones: The current method is a matter for the water companies in consultation with the Director General of Water Services.

Mr. Wigley: Does the Minister accept that the charge for Welsh households this year is £260 compared with £160 in the Thames valley? That figure hits pensioners and other people on low incomes exceedingly hard. Next year, there will be yet another increase in real terms. Does the Minister not realise that the system cannot continue, with charges spiralling ever upward? Will he start to make a change by encouraging Welsh Water and other water companies to provide the automatic 25 per cent. reduction for single occupancy that is given in respect of council tax? Will he give an assurance that under no circumstances will metering be compulsorily imposed on Welsh households, because that would mean even higher charges?

Mr. Jones: Increased charges should be put into perspective. Over the next 10 years, the increase will be limited to 0.5 per cent. in real terms, and Welsh Water will invest £1 billion in Wales over five years --£500,000 every day of every year during that time. That will pay for cleaner beaches and improvements to the environment generally--changes that those of us who are concerned about the environment much welcome.

Public Appointments

12. Mr. Hanson: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many individuals have been appointed to quangos in Wales from the Welsh Office register of candidates for public appointments since July 1993.

Mr. Richards: Between 1 July 1993 and 1 March 1995, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made 260 appointments, excluding reappointments, to non-departmental public bodies and national health

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service bodies. Candidates are largely drawn from the departmental register in addition to other sources, including advertisements.

Mr. Hanson: Is the Minister aware that, following advertisements placed by the Welsh Office, thousands of people applied to serve on quangos but only a small proportion were appointed? At the same time, people such as Michael Griffiths, one of the Minister's close constituents, sits on six quangos and has the temerity to call his horse Quango King. Mr. Griffiths sits on many non-executive and executive bodies on behalf of Welsh people but is not in any way accountable to them. Should not the Minister open up quango selection systems to favour members of the public and to greater public scrutiny, and consider in due course proposals for a Welsh Assembly, to return accountability to the people of Wales?

Mr. Richards: Appointments to non-departmental public bodies are open to all. I invite the hon. Gentleman to write to me if he knows of anyone talented enough to be a chairman or non-executive member of a non- departmental public body--such as the person whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I reiterate that, when my right hon. Friend and I consider applicants for non-departmental public bodies, our only concern is to appoint the best people for the job. We do not even know what are their politics.

Environmental Agenda

13. Mr. Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales to which individuals and organisations he distributed his paper "The Environmental Agenda for Wales".

Mr. Redwood: "The Environmental Agenda for Wales" has been distributed to a wide range of interests in Wales, including all county and district councils, executive non-departmental public bodies, training and enterprise councils, district health authorities and national health service trusts, representatives of business and voluntary organisations and members of the public.

Mr. Smith: How can the Secretary of State justify his claim in his environmental agenda that he wants to involve local authorities whenever possible in making decisions on behalf of local communities when so many local authority powers have been passed to quangos? What policies does the right hon. Gentleman have to reverse that process?

Mr. Redwood: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because that is exactly the policy that I am trying to pursue, against members of Labour's Front Bench, who seem reluctant to see any powers transferred from, for example, the Countryside Council for Wales to local government. There is an opportunity, but I will not force it down the throats of local government. I set out ideas for consultation. If local authorities want more responsibility for some local environmental matters, the offer is there. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, unlike members of his Front Bench team, will encourage that process, and then we can do business.

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Green Belt

14. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many acres of green belt exist in Wales at present; what was the figure in 1979; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Gwilym Jones: There are presently no green belts in Wales, nor were there in 1979.

Mr. Greenway: As an Englishman, I express surprise at that reply. Can my hon. Friend drag Wales into the 20th and 21st centuries and designate some of those beautiful rolling acres as green belt, as they surely should be? Is he looking into this matter or, if not, could he?

Mr. Jones: I can reassure my hon. Friend that the subject is being well considered. As the hon. Member for Cardiff, North, I am well aware of the problems and pressures of development, such as this. We already have green wedges in West Glamorgan and green barriers in Clwyd. South Glamorgan is bringing forward a proposal for a green belt around Cardiff. The work that my hon. Friend wants done is well in hand.

Educational Provision

15. Mr. Murphy: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met council leaders in Wales to discuss educational provision and resources.

Mr. Richards: Discussions with the local authority associations about local government finance issues are undertaken in the forum of the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance. My right hon. Friend last chaired a meeting of the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance on 30 December. I also met council leaders from Clwyd on 21 February.

Mr. Murphy: The Minister will have read his right hon. Friend's article in this morning's Western Mail in which he said that schools that were in trouble would have to be resourced by the local education authorities. As he has told the local authorities that they must use their balances to pay for the teachers' award, where will the money to help those schools come from?

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