Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones: I thank the Minister for that reply. I also thank the Secretary of State for meeting the delegation from my constituency last week. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that we put forward an extremely strong case for the retention of jobs at RAF Valley and for requesting the Ministry of Defence to phase in its proposals for market testing, otherwise it will be very difficult for us to compete effectively in an area of high unemployment.
Does the Minister accept that what the Secretary of State told us on Tuesday should be confirmed? The Secretary of State said that he is prepared to use his political influence, both with his colleague the Secretary of State for Defence and, if necessary, with his colleagues in the Cabinet, to ensure that that very strong case is accepted and that he accepts that maximising the number of local jobs at RAF Valley is a top priority.
Mr. Gwilym Jones: My right hon. Friend is certainly more than willing to ensure that our colleagues at the Ministry of Defence are fully aware of the case being put forward. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the training and enterprise council is undertaking a useful skills audit. That audit and any other points that are raised must be considered carefully so that the RAF's operational needs can be best met while, at the same time, seeking to ensure as much local employment as possible.
Mr. Ron Davies: I endorse the views of the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones) and I assure the Minister that the campaign on behalf of RAF Valley has the full support of Opposition Front Benchers. As the Ministry of Defence proposals would have cost some 600 to 700 jobs in Anglesey, why was the Welsh Office not consulted in advance of the announcement? Can the Minister confirm that there is a major problem with the market-testing programme, in that there is a shortage of local skills? Now that the local training and
Column 480enterprise council has completed its skills audit and, I understand, has told the Welsh Office that there is a need for deferment, will the Minister accept that the proposals for a four to five- year deferment are reasonable and would allow the local community to prepare itself by developing the necessary skills? Does the Minister realise that anything less than that will be an absolute betrayal of a community who have served the country loyally and well?
Mr. Jones: The Ministry of Defence's announcement comes under the consultation arrangements and I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Welsh Office is fully involved in that consultation process. We have already agreed a deferment with the Ministry of Defence, in that the consultation period will now be extended until the end of June. I am sure that that time will be used very effectively to ensure that all the points are considered properly.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood): In April 1995, there were 108,094 unemployed people in Wales and 2,458 unemployed in the district of Alyn and Deeside. Those figures are well down on those for last year and we wish to see them go even lower.
Mr. Jones: I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the loss of 140 jobs at NK International in my constituency and the loss of some 350 jobs at Kilroe Engineering this month. On that basis, will he consider granting development area status to my constituency? In that context, will he pledge his Department's and his Government's assistance with regard to Raytheon Jets' proposal to build a service station at Broughton in my constituency? Will he join me in trying to save hundreds of existing jobs?
Mr. Redwood: The hon. Gentleman of course has my assurance that I will do anything within my legal powers to help with the Raytheon situation. He knows that I have intervened in the past, and I am happy to do so again to try to promote the area. I think that Raytheon can get a lot of good work from the very talented and skilled work force already in the area. The hon. Gentleman has my assurance on that point.
I do not think that there is a strong case for assisted area status, because I am delighted to say that unemployment in his area is well below the Welsh and the United Kingdom average; it is also well below the European average and has continued to fall. Despite the heavy blow of job losses that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, unemployment has fallen month after month and the unemployment rate in the Shotton, Flint and Rhyl area is now 6.8 per cent. I want to see the unemployment rate lower still, but it is good by national standards.
Mr. Colvin: Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is still scope for creating new jobs in the countryside in Wales as a whole and in the constituency of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones)? Does my right hon. Friend think it is fair that England has been promised a White Paper on the rural economy? Why is Wales being sold short? Why did the White Paper not include the
Column 481subjects of Wales or forestry, which is an important industry for Wales? Can my right hon. Friend guarantee to the House that any initiatives or incentives that are available to England as a result of the White Paper's recommendations will be available to Wales also?
Mr. Redwood: My hon. Friend is quite right: if good initiatives are being introduced in England that we are not already undertaking in Wales, we would want to adopt them in Wales as well. I give him that assurance again, as I have in the past to the House. My officials are keeping in close contact with the work in England. Of course, we had already set out a policy in Wales some time before the English initiative; but if there are good new ideas, I want Wales to be included in them. [Interruption.]
Mr. Morgan: As the newly unemployed in Wales will soon be losing their income support and mortgage assistance, does the Secretary of State's call at the Welsh Tory party conference at the weekend for the home-owning quiet majority to be celebrated, and not taxed, mean that he is breaking ranks with the rest of the Cabinet on the issue, as on so many other Government policies?
Mr. Redwood: No, I am not. The hon. Gentleman took a long time to remember his silly point today, which is why he sat on the Front Bench for such a long time after you called him, Madam Speaker. I am strongly in favour of every policy that the Government are putting forward. Of course, we believe in home ownership, unlike the Opposition, who undermined home owners whenever possible when they were in government.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones: Does the Minister realise that services are threatened not only by privatisation but by the Government's dithering while privatisation is being discussed? When will the Welsh Office decide where the new freight depot will be in south Wales, if we are to have one? I have written to the Welsh Office supporting the Pengam site, but whether it is Pengam or Magor, the decision needs to be taken rapidly. Welsh business depends on it.
Mr. Gwilym Jones: I would rush to reassure the hon. Gentleman that there is no dithering about the rail freight depot in south Wales; we look forward to a decision being taken. Nor is there any dithering on privatisation generally, which undoubtedly will bring tremendous benefits to the rail travellers of Britain.
Mr. Alex Carlile: Does the Minister agree that for track services through central Wales to be viable, it is essential for Regional Railways Central to provide a decent standard of service for passengers? Does he agree that a service that provides no on-station information,
Column 482lavatories or telephones, and, at times when one expects tourists, leaves literally hundreds of people standing in inadequate trains, is not of an acceptable standard?
Mr. Jones: The hon. and learned Gentlemen does exactly my job for me: he makes the case for privatisation. There has not been the incentive to provide that service before, because the passenger has not been key. In future, the passenger will be key.
Mr. Rogers: Does the Minister not accept that in the south Wales valleys in particular the general morphology militates against effective communications? [Hon. Members:-- "Morphology?"] It is the shape of the valleys--something that hon. Members might not understand. It militates against effective communication and transport problems. Will he ensure that, in the unlikely event of privatisation, there is effective investment in track maintenance as well as the maintenance of services?
Mr. Jones: Investment is specifically the responsibility of Railtrack, but I certainly do not accept the surmise of the hon. Gentleman's question and I have a very good basis for that. As he will know, two of the valleys lines run through my constituency of Cardiff, North. The hon. Gentleman's constituents and mine will benefit by the removal of restrictions and increasing incentives, which will lead to a better service for passengers using the valley lines and all railways.
Mr. Redwood: I am responsible for reviewing public spending in Wales and for reporting on it to the House. I have especially concentrated on reducing overheads in the Welsh Office and in quangos. Any conclusions from general UK reviews will be incorporated in Wales where appropriate.
Mr. Jenkin: I thank my right hon. Friend for putting himself in charge--unlike in some Departments, where officials are expected to take a lead. Does my right hon. Friend agree that control of public expenditure has gone hand in hand with a dramatic revival of the Wales economy? Would not Labour's determination to increase public expenditure put that revival at risk?
Mr. Redwood: Yes. Of course unreasonable increases in public expenditure would threaten the recovery. It would mean borrowing too much, which would force up interest rates and damage business, or taxing too much, which would also damage business--or a combination of the two. That is exactly why some Labour Members are now extremely shy about saying that they believe in more public spending, while others--as we well know--are full of plans to spend more. Meantime, I am pleased to say that the overheads of the Countryside Council for Wales and of the Welsh Office are this year coming down by almost £2 million and £1.7 million respectively. The overheads of the Welsh Development Agency will be £1.9 million lower than two years ago.
Mr. Ray Powell: As the Secretary of State is responsible for those estimates, I wonder whether he is responsible for his statement to the Tory party conference at the weekend suggesting £100 million expenditure by Labour on a Welsh Assembly. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House, nation and Principality how he came to assume that figure?
Mr. Redwood: The hon. Gentleman will have to contain his excitement. I am completing my estimate of the likely cost of such an assembly and will release it shortly. I made no statement at the Conservative conference-- although occasionally there is inspired journalism in Wales. I suspect that the figure will not be far from that rumoured, but I have not yet completed my estimate. I shall release it shortly.
Mr. Sweeney: In welcoming the expenditure reductions achieved by my right hon. Friend, may I ask him what steps he is taking to reduce administration costs in the health service, so that the maximum money can be spent on patient care?
Mr. Redwood: As my hon. Friend may know, we are about to lower the number of health authorities from 17 to five, which will make a material reduction in the health administrative overhead at health authority level. We are now seeing fruits from the changes that I introduced to recruitment procedures for administration and management in general, which will be welcomed on both sides of the House. I have also taken a particular interest in consultancy expenditure throughout the Welsh Office, which has fallen from £1.45 million the previous year to £800,000. If we manage to keep up the pressure, I hope that that figure will reduce further.
Mr. Wigley: Instead of kow-towing to every planted, uninspired question from every sioni siencyn on the Government Benches, will the Secretary of State put time into getting his figures right in respect of spurious estimates, such as that for a Welsh Parliament? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the cost of running both Chambers of the Irish Parliament this year will be £28 million and that the New Zealand Parliament costs £40 million a year? If that is the extent of the understanding of figures in the Welsh Office, is it not a good explanation of why the Government's financial controls are out of sync and unacceptable to the people of these islands?
Mr. Redwood: The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for my forecast. I shall set out exactly how it was compiled, so that the people of Wales can reach their own judgment on whether I have underdone it or overdone it.
Mr. Ron Davies: I refer the Secretary of State to recent remarks by the former Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, in which she criticised the Government for failing to control public expenditure and for being the highest taxing Government since the war. Is that not another demonstration of how hopelessly split the Conservative party is? As its leaders no longer have confidence in each other, why on earth should the country have confidence in them? Lady Thatcher claims that she still has supporters in the Cabinet. Why does the Secretary of State not have the honesty to admit that he is one of them--or does he still profess loyalty to the present Prime Minister?
Mr. Redwood: Of course I support the present Prime Minister, and I am pleased that the Government are setting out to reduce public expenditure as a proportion of gross national product--in a way that is painful to the Labour party, because it means that we shall be able to deliver our promises to start lowering taxation while producing high-quality public services. The economy is now growing, which is, of course, the secret of success.
Mr. Marshall: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, showing that there has been a 20 per cent. reduction in unemployment in Wales. Does he agree that that is due to inward investment, which has been encouraged by Wales as part of the United Kingdom's having a low corporate rate of tax, no national minimum wage and no social chapter? Does he believe that that would be helped if Wales had a Welsh Assembly, which would make it one of the most over-governed countries in the world?
Mr. Redwood: On the contrary: it would put a lot of investors off, at home and abroad. The growth has come about from domestic companies and from inward investment. It has been marked in small companies and in self- employment, as well as in the larger inward investors. They all benefit from our attitude to decent wages and social costs under sensible control.
Mr. Llew Smith: The Department of Employment recently provided me with a list of all job vacancies advertised in Blaenau Gwent, and their hourly wage rates. The average hourly wage rate for those vacancies was just over £3. Can the Secretary of State inform families in my constituency how they can bring up children on that kind of money?
Mr. Redwood: If that were the sole income coming into a family, it would clearly need supplementing--it would probably be supplemented by the benefit system. But it would be even crueller to make those sorts of jobs illegal so that the people currently enjoying them could not even have them. Doing that would not suddenly lead to a doubling of wages--the jobs would disappear altogether.
The hon. Gentleman makes no reference to the fact that many thousands of new manufacturing jobs at good wages have been created in Wales in recent years as a result of our economic policies.
Dr. Howells: Will the Secretary of State cast his mind across to 600 of those jobs, created in the electronics industry, and look carefully at the plight in which Race Electronics in my constituency finds itself? The company has been at the leading edge of burgeoning Welsh electronics production but faces dire difficulties at the moment.
Column 485Mr. Redwood: Yes, of course I shall look at that. I have already asked for more information and briefing on the problem of that company. I am told that there is a reasonable chance that the business will continue, and that it is hoped that a new buyer will be found to take it on. I am told that there is some strength in the underlying business. I hope that that is true; I shall make further inquiries and keep the hon. Gentleman posted.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Rod Richards): I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave on 16 January 1995, Official Report, column 303 . Any substantial change in the use of a hospital requires extensive public consultation before it can be put into effect. If the proposals for change do not secure the agreement of local community health councils, they must be referred to my right hon. Friend for decision.
Mr. Dafis: I hope that the Minister is aware that Bronglais hospital in Aberystwyth is the smallest district general hospital in England or Wales--or, indeed, in most of the United Kingdom--and that its resulting higher unit costs are liable to put it at something of a competitive disadvantage. Is he further aware of the chronic underfunding of capital works in the Ceredigion and Mid-Wales NHS trust, and that this, in addition to the other factor, could lead to a gradual spiral of decline in the scope and quality of the provision of services in the hospital and the trust? Will he undertake to have a careful look at the funding situation and ensure, following careful study, that no such decline occurs--bearing in mind the key strategic importance of Aberystwyth as a centre on the west coast of Wales?
Mr. Richards: As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, I visited the Bronglais hospital in Aberystwyth--it was my first visit on being appointed a Minister at the Welsh Office. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we look carefully at the provision of services and the purchasing of those services by health authorities. We shall obviously keep an eye on the way in which Dyfed health authority purchases services for the hon. Gentleman's constituents.
Mrs. Clwyd: May I ask the Minister to examine the provision of services in Aberdare general hospital? Although there has been general consultation in the Cynon valley, there is grave dissatisfaction with the failure of the health authority to give dates for the reopening of wards. In addition, the authority has failed to give assurances that day surgery will be carried out under general anaesthetic at the hospital, as it was in the past. What was once a thriving general hospital is now gradually running down. That has happened while the Minister has had responsibility for health in Wales. I ask him to examine these issues as a matter of urgency.
Mr. Richards: The provision of health care and services in Wales is better than it has ever been. I am sure that the hon. Lady has the wherewithal to take up individual cases with the appropriate health authority.
7. Mr. Murphy: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met local authority associations in Wales to discuss the reorganisation services following the setting up of the shadow authorities. 
Mr. Murphy: Does the Minister agree that there is widespread concern in Wales about the proposed reorganisation of the fire service? Does he accept that the proposed reorganisation is opposed by those who work in the service, by the eight fire authorities and by all the new 22 unitary authorities? Does he accept also that there is now a case to re-examine the proposal to ensure that there is consensus among the people of Wales on a vital service?
Mr. Jones: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of fire brigades throughout Wales. I know well that the proposals that are now being made will be most carefully studied to ensure that there is no reduction in the level of services that the fire brigades in Wales provide.
Mr. Jones: My hon. Friend puts his finger on a most important problem--that of trying to curb the natural tendencies of Labour councillors to do what they do rather than what they profess to say they will do.
Mr. Roy Hughes: Does the Minister appreciate that, by independent assessment, the Gwent fire service has been judged to be the most effective response force in the country? Is it not logical, therefore, to leave it as an independent force, preferably conterminous with the new police authority --that is, Gwent plus the Rhymney Valley? That would surely make far more sense than lumping the Gwent fire service with other local services.
Mr. Jones: I fully share the hon. Gentleman's regard for the importance of the standards that are being achieved by the Gwent force. I have complete confidence that there will be no changes that will result in any reduction of the levels of service that must be achieved, are being achieved and, I am sure, will continue to be achieved in Gwent and elsewhere in Wales.
Mr. Win Griffiths: When the Minister met representatives of local government in Wales, did he take some time to praise education authorities- -especially Labour ones--for the pioneering work that they are doing in providing nursery education, which is achieving far better provision than the average for the rest of the United Kingdom?
Will the Minister be prepared to provide the new authorities with extra resources to enable all three and four-year-olds to have a nursery place and to support the voluntary sector? Such provision will give three and four-year-olds a real head start in life, which is what Baroness Thatcher promised to provide over 20 years ago. Will the Minister now implement the proposal?
Column 487Mr. Jones: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has pre-empted Question 9, tabled by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), which relates exactly to nursery education. I suggest that he bide his time and wait until that question is reached. In the meanwhile, I content myself with the observation that I notice that all education authorities in Wales have made sufficient provision in their education funding, despite their fears and claims beforehand, to ensure that the teachers' pay increase is paid in full in each of the eight education authorities in Wales, and that they are now turning their attention to increasing allowances for councillors.
8. Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when the consultation period referred to in his recent announcement of the Welsh Office's aim to vary local authority boundaries is to commence; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Llwyd: I thank the Minister for that reply, but ensconced as he is in the morphology of Cardiff, North, he will be pathetically out of touch with Welsh public opinion. The fact is that there are now fewer councillors under the unitary authority system than there are people on his quangos. Does he realise that that is a very bad thing for democracy and that the people of Wales view it with dismay and, indeed, disgust? May I tell him that in no circumstances will the people of Wales put up with any more gerrymandering to lessen the number of democratically elected people in Wales?
Mr. Jones: I waited patiently to try to hear a question from the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that I have heard one. I would correct him on one of his factual errors. Yes, my right hon. Friend makes appointments to quangos; he made some 850 appointments. That is significantly less than the number of councillors in the new unitary authorities in Wales. I note the insult from Plaid Cymru towards the capital city of Wales. The hon. Gentleman cannot possibly suggest that Cardiff, North is out of touch with public opinion in the Principality.
Mr. Donald Anderson: Is the Minister aware that local authorities, our councillors, our electorates, are going through a period of great turmoil as a result of local government reorganisation and unitary authorities? In those circumstances, is there not a case for slowing down the usual work of the Local Government Commission, in terms of councillors per seat, so that the existing structure can be more consolidated?
Mr. Jones: I am sure that the work that is being taken forward by the commission will be at a wholly appropriate speed for the reorganisation of local government in Wales. As I said, in answer to the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), we are considering the responses to the consultation. We are looking closely at the number of councillors; I do not expect to see any significant reduction in their number. We are certainly giving close consideration to whether there should be any overall limit to the number of councillors on each council.
Mr. Richards: The Government are committed to ensuring that a pre- school place is available for every four-year-old whose parents want to take it up. We are currently considering how that commitment can best be implemented in Wales.
Mr. Flynn: Why are the children of parents who live in Labour- controlled local authorities three times more likely to get places in nursery schools than the children of parents who live in Conservative- controlled authorities? Why is it that in the county of Berkshire, where Wokingham is situated, fewer than one third of the children enjoy nursery education, yet in the county of Gwent, where Newport is situated, three quarters of the children enjoy that provision? How dare the Government say that they are about to start on a crusade in education--16 years late? Would it not be better for the people of Wales and Wokingham, when the glorious day arrives and my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) becomes Secretary of State for Wales, if my right hon. Friend also took over the duty as governor-general of Wokingham?
Mr. Richards: Berkshire is a Liberal-Labour-controlled local authority. I think that that is called an own goal. Conservative Members certainly recognise the benefits of pre-school education. The hon. Gentleman can be certain of one thing: when it is introduced in Wales, there will be diversity and choice. He is certainly one person who could have benefited from pre-school education. Indeed, he might even benefit from it now.
Mr. Richards: The Welsh Office has published and distributed widely a bilingual leaflet that explains how to make a request for information under the code of practise on access to government information. A bilingual code has also been published on openness in the NHS.
In the first nine months of operating the code, the Welsh Office provided information free of charge in response to more than 1,000 requests. Some 99 per cent. of those requests were dealt with in the target of 20 working days.
Mr. Hughes: In that case, will the Minister investigate whether the code and those principles apply to his own Department, given that, on 2 March, in the debate on Welsh affairs--at column 1236--the Secretary of State said that the Countryside Council for Wales had been
Column 489given perfectly adequate funds to meet its statutory requirements. The fact is, however, that the council had appealed privately to the Secretary of State because it did not have adequate funds even to meet its minimum requirements, let alone for what it wanted to do. Can we have not just words, codes and charters from the Welsh Office, but open government that will reveal to us when the Secretary of State does not tell the House what has actually been going on and what the facts are?
Mr. Richards: The hon. Gentleman is poorly informed. The Countryside Council for Wales was given more and, indeed, subsequently confirmed that it had had enough. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman return to his basic data and, if he so wishes, write to the council. I am sure that, under the code of practice, it will give him the accurate information that he so direly needs.
Mr. Redwood: I am advised that the latest figures that we have for the south Wales valleys for economically active rates come from the 1991 census of population. At that time the figure was 52.9 per cent. We have more up-to-date figures from the 1994-95 labour survey for Wales and Great Britain, which stood at 57.2 per cent. and 62.4 per cent.
Mr. Williams: The Welsh Office regularly claims that unemployment in Wales is now down to the British average, and we welcome that; but the unemployment figure tells only part of the story. When economic activity rates are taken into account--especially in the old industrial areas--about 15 per cent. can be added to the male unemployment figure, partly because of early retirement but mainly because people have been encouraged to take invalidity benefit wherever applicable.
In what way do the Government recognise those lower economic activity rates in Wales, and what will be the effect of changes caused by the introduction of incapacity benefit, which will take people off invalidity benefit and put them on to the dole queues? Does the Secretary of State accept that the economies of large areas in south Wales are performing well below capacity?
Mr. Redwood: No, I do not accept that. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to sidestep the fact that unemployment is very low in his part of Wales, which is welcome. In the Carmarthen travel-to-work area, it is 4.7 per cent.; in the Llandeilo travel-to-work area, it is 5 per cent. Many hon. Members would love to have such low levels of unemployment in their constituencies: they show that our policies have been successful.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that all those who are properly registered as being in ill health or disabled should be forced to work. That is not our policy, although it may be Labour's. When people are genuinely disabled or in ill health, they receive benefits and they are not expected to work. It is sad that there are more disabled people in some parts of Wales, but we intend to take care of them rather than doing as the hon. Gentleman suggests.
Mr. Evans: I welcome that incredible increase, but will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the money secured through any future modifications and savings in the NHS in Wales will be spent directly on patient care and not on dancing to the music of the paymasters of many Opposition Members, the health unions in Wales?
Mr. Redwood: Of course we wish to concentrate the money on patient care. One of the reasons for the success in treating so many more patients is that we have targeted much more money on ensuring that patients come first, and that more treatment is available for them. That is the overriding priority, and one that I intend to continue.
Mr. Redwood: That be the lamest silly question that we have heard all day, and probably for many weeks, in the House of Commons. Of course I put the interests of patients first. Of course I am proud to come to the House and ask for more money for the national health service in Wales, which it has needed and which it has been given. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am also keen to ensure that health services in his region are improved by new investment as well as the additional commitment of people and new treatments. That is what we shall do. The hon. Gentleman's cheap debating points demean him and the House.
13. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many jobs have been created as a result of inward investment over the past five years; what were the figures for 1974 to 1979; and if he will make a statement.