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Mr. Booth: Regardless of the somewhat bilious question from the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones), and as this is the first--and possibly the only--time that I have attended Welsh questions [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."], may I tell the House that I was a full partner of the city of Swansea to get inward investment in urban regeneration? Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what the Government are doing to publicise the amazing success of our urban regeneration programme? In the case of Cardiff bay, for example, we invested £350 million of Government money to get £500 million of private money. What is my right hon. Friend doing to publicise our success in Wales?
Mr. Evans: I thank my hon. Friend for asking that question because, in doing so, he calls attention to the Government's urban regeneration success. I know of his role in that process as a former chairman of the British Urban Regeneration Association and the close interest that he takes in such matters.
It is astonishing that those Opposition Members who represent the areas that have benefited most from significant investment in urban regeneration--which has played its part in creating new job opportunities in Wales--deride that issue in the House. There have been hundreds of millions of pounds' worth of investment and the latest programme for the valleys, which was launched on 1 April 1993, is also helping to improve the economic future of those areas. Since that time, some 9,000 homes have been renovated and £35 million-worth of land reclamation has been undertaken--but apparently that does not interest Opposition Members.
Mr. Win Griffiths:
While every penny spent on urban regeneration partnership agreements is welcome, will the Minister acknowledge that local authorities in Wales will find it harder to participate in urban regeneration programmes this year because, of the money made available through the revenue support grant, once spending on police and community care is stripped away, the increase is only 1.6 per cent.--considerably less than the rate of inflation? Will the Minister find more money to promote further success for urban regeneration?
What an extraordinary claim by the hon. Gentleman on behalf of the local authorities. As part of redefining the relationship with local authorities, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has arranged for the
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Mr. Win Griffiths: While every penny spent on urban regeneration partnership agreements is welcome, will the Minister acknowledge that local authorities in Wales will find it harder to participate in urban regeneration programmes this year because, of the money made available through the revenue support grant, once spending on police and community care is stripped away, the increase is only 1.6 per cent.--considerably less than the rate of inflation? Will the Minister find more money to promote further success for urban regeneration?
Mr. Evans: What an extraordinary claim by the hon. Gentleman on behalf of the local authorities. As part of redefining the relationship with local authorities, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has arranged for the
2 Dec 1996 : Column 661strategic development scheme to be taken forward by local government. Therefore, this year local government has the opportunity to play an ever more central role in taking forward urban regeneration--I rather hoped that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that fact.
Mr. Gwilym Jones: Letters have been received from the right hon. Gentleman; from Mr. Andrew Hayes, the prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Llanelli; Dyfed Powys health authority; and the Llanelli and Dinefwr national health service trust.
Mr. Davies: In view of that answer, I think that the Minister will appreciate the united support for a campaign to provide extra funds for the development of Mynydd Mawr hospital. Is he aware that the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) promised that approximately £3 million would be spent on the hospital's future development, but the Welsh Office seems to have reneged on that promise and is breaking faith with all the campaigners?
Mr. Jones: I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman echoes the views of Mr. Andrew Hayes, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for his constituency. However, there is no question of reneging upon any promises.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Llanelli and Dinefwr NHS trust made the change by introducing at a late date a new redevelopment variation for the Prince Philip hospital. That was a substantial change and it was necessary to re-examine the matter in terms of a new business case. That is what has occurred--there was no change by the Government.
Mr. Jonathan Evans: The rural White Paper, "A Working Countryside for Wales", published in March this year, represented a wide-ranging review of the Government's policies that affect rural Wales, including transport. The cost of motoring in rural areas is, of course, one of the factors considered when attempting to strike the right balance between increasing mobility, encouraging economic development and protecting the environment.
2 Dec 1996 : Column 662that would increase the price of a gallon of petrol by 20p? In the light of the new Lib-Lab pact, does that not mean a new threat to the rural way of life by the new brothers opposite?
Mr. Evans: My hon. Friend is aware that, from 1993, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that it is part of the Government's fuel duty strategy to arrange for there to be a 5 per cent. a year, on average, real terms increase in the price of fuel. That is a contribution to the balance to which I referred.
My hon. Friend is right to say that such duties fall disproportionately on those in rural areas. I am satisfied that, at this point, the level of fuel duty is not acting as a disincentive to new investment. I am pleased to note today that the Development Board for Rural Wales has announced about 200 new jobs in rural Wales at plants within my constituency and that of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). It is a balance that we must always get right. A carbon tax, which would drive up fuel duties substantially, would, in my view, strongly distort that balance against those in rural areas.
Mr. Hughes: Has my right hon. Friend considered the words of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), who says that a Welsh Assembly would not initially need tax-raising powers? Might that be a recognition that Wales would be enormously disadvantaged by losing a Cabinet Minister to argue its case at the Cabinet table? Indeed, it would be losing a UK Parliament representing the whole of the United Kingdom, which is therefore happy to allocate UK taxes to the people of Wales. In other words, a Welsh Assembly could be a financial disaster for Wales, forcing it to raise its own money within Wales. Is there a recognition by the hon. Member for Caerphilly that what he is suggesting would be disastrous for every taxpayer in Wales?
Mr. Hague: My hon. Friend is right. The words of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) have been shrouded in mystery, but I think that he has lifted some of the veil with his speculations this afternoon. A Welsh Assembly could certainly be disastrous financially for the governing of Wales. A tax-raising assembly would also be disastrous financially because it would be a major disincentive to further economic investment and increased prosperity in Wales. It is time for Opposition Members to clarify what they mean by not initially having tax-raising powers, by explaining whether they mean that it would have them after five years, 10 years or after another referendum. Would they have a Welsh version of the tartan tax? Why do they not propose having a referendum straight away so that the people of Wales can rule out an assembly?
2 Dec 1996 : Column 663estimated a cost of the assembly that was three times the figure that he is putting forward? Did both right hon. Gentlemen employ the same group of teenage scribblers to estimate a figure, or did the current Secretary of State merely close his eye and pick a figure? In either instance, the cost that the right hon. Gentleman is putting forward, just as much as that of his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), is incredible.
Mr. Hague: It is hardly incredible because it is closely in line, after allowing for inflation, with the figures used by the Labour Government to cost their proposed assembly in the late 1970s. The figures that I have produced are for costing a different thing when set against the costing produced by my predecessor. I was solely concerned with costing the bureaucracy, the civil servants required and the space required to set up such an assembly. The basic cost of setting up such an assembly came to £52 million in the first year. Opposition Members have not been able to explain where they would get that money.