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House of Commons

Monday 2 December 1996

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


Community Hospitals

1. Mr. Dafis: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is his policy on the future of community hospitals.[5208]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones): I can do no better than refer to the report "Community Hospitals Wales--The Future" which we published on 2 October.

Mr. Dafis: I am grateful to the Minister for his suggestion that the Government attach significant importance to community hospitals. Will he undertake to provide additional funding for Dyfed Powys health authority, with special reference to the needs of mid-Wales as a whole and the Ceredigion and Mid-Wales NHS trust in particular? He should bear it in mind that unless he does, that trust will be placed a terrible position next year; it will have to choose between protecting the quality of the range of services currently available at the district general hospital and protecting the three community hospitals. Would not it be disastrous if the decision to close community hospitals was forced on the trust when we should be emphasising the availability of health services that are close to people in their own community?

Mr. Jones: After yesterday afternoon's experience, I had rather thought that the hon. Gentleman might have changed his focus to concentrate on my concern--trying to ensure adequate sight tests for referees north of the border.

I had the opportunity to discuss this subject with the hon. Gentleman in October, and again in an Adjournment debate. He should know by now that I have made available additional funds in the form of a loan to the Dyfed Powys authority. We confidently expect that those funds will meet the authority's needs. I also remind him of the report to which I referred; it recognises the important role of community hospitals and emphasises that they must have a clear role based on local need. I commend the approach that stresses that, whatever the community hospitals' role should be, it should be locally agreed. The hon. Gentleman is scaremongering about

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community hospitals; if there are to be changes to the community hospitals in his constituency, they will be as a result of local decisions that I expect to be locally based.

Mr. Rogers: I accept that problems involving hospital facilities and transport exist in mid-Wales and in rural communities throughout Wales, but will the Minister also look at the problems in the coal mining valleys of south Wales? People in the Rhondda face difficult transport problems when attempting to travel to general hospitals, and the area contains some of the highest morbidity rates in the United Kingdom. When will the Minister make money available for the second Rhondda hospital?

Mr. Jones: I think that the hon. Gentleman and I share common ground in wanting to ensure the best locally provided provision of health care, particularly in the Rhondda--we have discussed the subject before. Such issues have to be taken forward carefully as the new hospital at Ynys y Plwm is commissioned, in light of what could, or might, be provided at the Rhondda NHS trust.

Inward Investment

2. Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement about recent projects relating to inward investment in Wales. [5209]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. William Hague): Wales is enjoying an exceptional year for inward investment.

So far in 1996, we have recorded 128 projects, promising 13,600 new jobs and £2.4 billion of investment.

Mr. Marshall: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, which shows that we are part of the enterprise centre of Europe owing to the fact that we have sensible industrial relations, low corporate taxes, no minimum wage and an opt-out from the social chapter. Will my right hon. Friend confirm to Finnish industrialists that they are welcome in Wales even if Finnish nurses are not welcome in Hackney?

Mr. Hague: My hon. Friend is quite right. Investment from all over the world, and nurses of any origin, are welcome in Wales. He is right to say that the United Kingdom is now the enterprise centre of Europe. Wales is an important part of that enterprise centre, and it is a particularly attractive place to live and work. In light of that record, it is extraordinary that Opposition Members want to copy the labour market policies of continental Europe, which have left millions of people out of work.

Dr. Howells: The Secretary of State will know that one of the key drivers in attracting inward investment has been the Welsh Development Agency. All of us congratulate the agency on its great work. Is he also aware of the fears throughout south Wales that, because of the money needed to attract jobs to places such as Newport, jobs in some of the key land reclamation schemes in Wales are now on stop? In my constituency, at Coedely, such a scheme has been on stop for well over a year; in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), a scheme at the former phurnacite plant is also on stop; and there are others in Merthyr and

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Treharris, for example. Will the Secretary of State ensure that those vital projects--some of which involve contaminated land--will be completed soon?

Mr. Hague: I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the agency. I believe that it will have several more pieces of good news about inward investment to announce before the end of the year. The agency's recent record is certainly a cause for congratulation.

As the hon. Gentleman will recall from Question Time a month ago, I have increased the agency's budget in-year by £37 million for the current year. The spending decisions for the financial year 1997-98 will be announced in a couple of weeks. The agency will have to choose between priorities, which often means giving inward investment projects that might not easily recur priority over some other areas of spending. That cannot be avoided.

Mr. Alex Carlile: Does the Secretary of State agree that home-grown industry and commerce in Wales should be allowed to regard themselves as at least equal partners with inward investment projects? Will he say some words of encouragement to the Development Board for Rural Wales, to ensure that it looks as closely at the development and expansion of indigenous businesses, which sometimes feel neglected, as it does at inward investment?

Mr. Hague: I agree that that is an important part of the role of the Development Board for Rural Wales, and of the Welsh Development Agency. In the past 10 years, payments of regional selective assistance to overseas-owned companies have totalled £213 million, and payments to UK-owned companies have totalled £215 million. We have, therefore, given much more assistance to UK-owned companies--including home-grown companies from Wales--than is often recognised. That assistance will continue, as will our small firms training schemes, small firms loan guarantee schemes and the SMART and SPUR--small firms merit award for research and technology and support for products under research--schemes, all of which help small businesses. The importance of encouraging indigenous enterprise is at the heart of the work of the development board and the WDA.

Mr. Ron Davies: May I assure the Secretary of State of our continued support for the inward investment projects that he mentioned earlier? Is he aware, however, of increasing concern among existing and prospective employers about the growing skills shortage in Wales and the failure of the Welsh Office to ensure an adequate response?

The LG investment will put heavy pressure on the skills demanded in south-east Wales, especially in engineering and technology, yet the two university of Wales institutes at Newport and Cardiff are closing courses and making lecturers redundant in precisely those areas of study. Will the Secretary of State now, as a matter of urgency, stop the planned cuts in the education and training budgets and call together the development agency, training and enterprise councils, colleges and local authorities to

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develop a coherent and long-term strategy so that we can derive the maximum long-term benefit from the inward investment of which he is so proud?

Mr. Hague: Skills are critical in continuing to attract inward investment. That is one of the reasons why I attach such importance to modern apprenticeships, to which I directed additional resources last year. It is also why we are assisting the LG investment by helping to set up a semiconductor training centre in the vicinity of the investment. Much of the package of assistance for LG involves help with training. We have also asked further and higher education institutions to bear in mind the new industries that are coming into Wales when planning their courses over the next few years, so that they will be able to respond to the ever increasing demand for people in the ever growing high technology employment sector. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for those measures; we are taking them.

Aneurin Bevan (Commemoration)

3. Mr. Murphy: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make it his policy to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Aneurin Bevan. [5210]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Jonathan Evans): No.

Mr. Murphy: That is surprising from a Minister who was born in Tredegar. He is aware that next year will be the centenary of the birth of Aneurin Bevan, the founder of our national health service and a great Welshman. Does he believe it would be a fitting tribute to Aneurin Bevan to rename the Neville Hall hospital in Abergavenny, which covers the old Ebbw Vale constituency, the Aneurin Bevan hospital, especially as that hospital was built with the pennies of Monmouthshire miners?

Mr. Evans: I am indebted to the former leader of the Labour party, Mr. Michael Foot, who many years ago gave me a biography of Aneurin Bevan, which he had written. The book revealed the deep and personal hostility of Herbert Morrison towards Bevan. It is interesting that, today, his grandson, as a Member of the House, may be behind the new disciplinary code for Labour Members that is to be adopted. It might be an interesting commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Aneurin Bevan if the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith), who steadfastly follows the principles and policies of Aneurin Bevan, were to find himself deselected, as some believe may happen.

Sir Wyn Roberts: I am sure that the event will not go unnoticed by the media. Does my hon. Friend agree that the best commemorative contribution that the Opposition could make would be to match the pledge given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to increase funding for the NHS year by year? Might their reluctance to do so be associated with the fact that the last savage cuts to be imposed on the NHS were imposed by the last Labour Government?

Mr. Evans: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He knows that most of the years that the national health service has been in existence have been years of

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Conservative government. The 50th anniversary of the NHS will be commemorated by the Government because we are very proud of our record on the national health service which, as my right hon. Friend says, we have added to with the pledge made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. We are still waiting for the Opposition to match that pledge.

Mr. Rowlands: What a cheap and silly answer the Minister gave my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). Would not an equally good way to commemorate the tremendous contribution that Nye Bevan made be to ensure that services in the communities that he represented, including Rhymney, were of the best? In that context, will Ministers read the Caerphilly commissioning team's report on community health services in the community of Rhymney and find how many of them are non-existent or very inadequate? Will not the best way for Ministers to commemorate the anniversary of Nye Bevan be for them to ensure that those services are brought up to the highest possible standards?

Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman has come to represent the valleys, whereas I am a child of the valleys. I can see the marked improvement that has taken place in the valleys of south Wales during the past 17 years of Conservative government; the hon. Gentleman should have been able to see it too.

Mr. Wigley: As Aneurin Bevan was an architect of the welfare state, is it not outrageous that Wales should lag behind England in provision for disabled people, especially powered wheelchairs? In view of today's lobby of Parliament by disabled people, if the Welsh Office wants to be different from England in any direction, will it choose to be different by setting up a commission to ensure that disabled people have someone to fight on their behalf when they fight discrimination, and do not continue to miss out badly?

Mr. Evans: I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not take the opportunity to welcome the coming into force today of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. That is a marked step forward. Moreover, it is one in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State played a leading part, as has been recognised on both sides of the House. The matter to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention is under review.

Mr. Llew Smith: Does the Minister accept that another way of commemorating Nye's life would be to ensure that we have a health service that responds to communities such as mine in Blaenau Gwent--Nye's home? It has some of the worst health problems in England and Wales--cancers, respiratory diseases and heart disease. If the Minister agrees, will he investigate the actions of Gwent health authority, which have resulted in a cut in the number of doctors serving communities such as Cwm, near Ebbw Vale?

Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman has never wavered in his support for the principles and policies of Aneurin Bevan. I may not agree with those policies, but I readily admit that he has always taken a principled stance on them--by contrast with so many on the Benches beside

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him. It will be very interesting to see where the new Bevan on those Benches comes from, given what we have learnt about future disciplinary action.

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern to ensure a responsive health service. That is why we have introduced the health reforms that are geared to improving patient care. Perhaps that is also why it was reported in The Observer yesterday that the Labour party is now considering changing its policy on fundholding GPs and adopting the policy that we have been implementing in recent years.

Mr. Morgan: May I ask our blonde and blue-eyed--if not exactly Finnish--Secretary of State and his balding brown-eyed junior Minister responsible for health in Wales--

Madam Speaker: Order. Personal remarks like that do nothing to enhance the quality of our debates. Never mind personalities: get on with the policies.

Mr. Morgan: We have passed not just the 50th anniversary of the Bill that set up the NHS; we are also within a year of the centenary of the birth of Aneurin Bevan--and of the founding of the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, whose ideas eventually led to the setting up of the NHS. Do the Secretary of State and his assistant agree that it is one of the ultimate ironies that the south Wales valleys, whose ideas gave rise to the origins of the NHS are, by common agreement, among the areas worst served by the NHS and by our social services? So, by the time the centenary of Nye Bevan comes along, would it not be a good idea to guarantee to the people of the south Wales valleys that their services will be at least equal to the best in the country?

Mr. Evans: That is clearly our objective. On a more personal note, I might add that my grandfather sat on the Tredegar Medical Aid Society committee. He would have been amazed to find, over the 50 years since the establishment of the NHS, that hospital admissions have increased fivefold and that the services that have developed are the envy of the world. As a supporter of the Conservative party, I am proud to know that most of the years of that success have been years of Conservative Governments.

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