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Sir Wyn Roberts (Conwy): May I assure my right hon. Friend that the people of Wales will welcome his statement, and particularly its main thrust--to support prosperity, and to promote personal prosperity? May I also assure him that other aspects of his statement will be particularly welcomed, such as the cancer centre which will be developed in north Wales, the apprenticeship schemes, his additional spending on schools and the road developments from Dolwyddelan to Pont Afanc, in my constituency, and the A55, across Anglesey?

Is it not clear from the comments of the hon. Member for Caerphilly that the Opposition have no idea what their plans might be? Is it not they who are dissembling--because they would be spending on assembling the assembly, with all the costs that that bureaucracy would involve?

Mr. Hague: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I agree with his remarks. The statement is about building on the success that we have achieved in recent years--in encouraging new jobs and investment, and in bringing new prosperity to Wales--and sets out the resources that will enable us to continue doing so in the future. I welcome his welcome for projects such as the north Wales cancer treatment centre and road projects in north Wales. Few people have done more than he has to ensure that the infrastructure of north Wales--including the development of the A55, with which, through private finance, we will now continue--is improved and ready to cope with the future.

My right hon. Friend is quite right on those matters. He is also correct in saying that, whereas I have stated clear priorities and made clear decisions to increase some budgets, even if that means reducing others, those on the Opposition Front Bench have demonstrated no such sense of priorities, or an ability to choose between one proposal and another.

Sir Raymond Powell (Ogmore): There is something wrong with the procedures of the House of Commons

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when the Secretary of State can say that the papers that he will speak about can be obtained from the Vote Office and, before any Back Bencher can get a copy or know what he is going to say, he delivers his speech. I went to get the papers--it took me a while--and by the time I got back into the Chamber, the Secretary of State had been speaking for some five to 10 minutes. How can we represent the interests of our people and our constituencies in documents that cover the whole 12 months of expenditure in Wales with such a short time to consider them? How can we question the Secretary of State, on behalf of the local authorities we represent, on all the subjects that he covered?

Some months ago, I asked a question at Welsh question time about the £7 million shortfall in funding for the Bridgend and Ogmore constituencies in the Bridgend county council borough. I received an offhand reply with no explanation and I now want to know whether the county council--represented by both my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) and myself--will be refunded for the £7 million shortfall for last year, in addition to any increase that is due this year, so that we can consider reopening the school that we closed in Ogmore-by-Sea and the swimming pool that we closed in the Ogmore valley, and so that the schools with 39 pupils in their classes--

Madam Speaker: Order. I not only have to safeguard this Welsh statement and see that all hon. Members concerned are able to put questions, but I have the other business of the House to safeguard, too. I am asking for questions, because I have heard a lot of comments since the Secretary of State sat down, and I must have brisk and direct questions that the Secretary of State can answer. Will the hon. Gentleman put a direct question, and give the Secretary of State an opportunity to answer directly and briskly?

Sir Raymond Powell: I shall be direct, and ask quick questions.

Why has the Secretary of State suggested reducing funding for training? Training is essential in our local authorities and, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) said, I can confirm that a lot of jiggery-pokery goes on with the figures. That is one question. The new local authorities have been in operation for eight months since the Government introduced them. Has the Secretary of State had any complaints whatever from any new unitary local authority in Wales about funding?

Madam Speaker rose--

Sir Raymond Powell: I will not go on any further.

Madam Speaker: Even my Christmas spirit of good will is being stretched by all those questions.

Mr. Hague: The hon. Member is worried about the chance to debate local authority matters, but we will, of course, have to have a debate on local authority finance to discuss my proposals. We usually have that debate some time in the new year--last year, it was passed by a majority of 72--and the hon. Gentleman will be able to speak at greater length in that debate. The money will be distributed among local authorities by the standard

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spending assessment formula, which is agreed with the Welsh Local Government Association, and I am always happy to discuss changes in the formula.

The hon. Gentleman asked about money for training. I am redistributing the budget for training, and there will be a reduction in the training for work programme, but there will be an increase in spending on modern apprenticeships and adult technicians, because I think that they are more important and give better value for money.

Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan): I welcome my right hon. Friend's emphasis on the importance of modern apprenticeships, which have attracted many welcome jobs to Wales, and particularly to Vale of Glamorgan. I wish to question my right hon. Friend on the roads programme that he has announced. As he knows, I am keen that there should be a new link road with the Cardiff international airport. He mentioned a number of road projects, but I did not hear him mention that project, and I wonder whether he could enlighten me.

Mr. Hague: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is quite right to emphasise the importance of modern apprenticeships. Inward investors, who have been flocking to Wales, want to know that we have the right standards and procedures for training, and increasing the number of modern apprenticeships is part of that.

I have provided money in this year's Budget settlement for preparatory work on a possible new link road to the airport. There is money in this year's provision for that preparatory work to continue, but the plans have been changing, and it is for the local authority to propose a specific road plan for a link to the airport.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): Was it not the Secretary of State's party that coined the rather horrible phrase "a double whammy"? Are not most of our communities going to suffer "a double whammy"--first, an increase in council taxes that is way above wage increases in our communities and will more than wipe out any so-called tax cuts, and secondly, cuts in school budgets? If the latter cut is made, would the right hon. Gentleman be willing to review the figures?

Mr. Hague: The level of council tax will be set by local authorities. In this settlement, I am providing 88 per cent. of total standard spending for Welsh local government. If I had provided a higher proportion--the figure is already dramatically higher than the 79 per cent. provided in England--I would not have been able to accommodate many of the other measures that I have set out in my statement. The settlement strikes the right balance of priorities, and will result in more capital spending on schools. Of course, it means that local authorities must continue to make every possible effort to be efficient and to use resources wisely. There is still more scope for many of them to do that.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): The Secretary of State said that he did not want disproportionate investment in south-east Wales, and that he had instructed the development agencies to prepare key investment sites. Does he recognise that that may be a change from the failures of the past--a sort of deathbed repentance? Does he further agree that, to offset the imbalance, one needs an across-the-board strategy to recognise what has gone

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wrong in the past--for example, the savage cuts in agency funding--and the failure to build against the natural locational advantages of south-east Wales? Will he look at a strategy across the board in favour of other parts of Wales?

Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman cannot talk about failures in the past. Bringing Lucky Goldstar to south-east Wales--the biggest inward investment in the history of Europe--was not a failure of past policy, but a tremendous success for Wales. It also provides a tremendous opportunity for the whole of Wales, since at least as many jobs again can be provided all over Wales in supplying such an operation. We must not lose sight of that.

It is certainly true that, in the light of the huge success that we have enjoyed with that project and others near it, a greater effort is needed to make sure that future inward investments--wherever possible--go to other areas of Wales, or are helped to go further west or further north. Sometimes, the agency should be prepared to pay more for projects that go further west or north, and less for projects that go to areas that have done well in recent years. I agree that we need a strategy for the future, but it is not right to talk about failure in the past.

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