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18 Jun 1997 : Column 291

    18 Jun 1997 : Column 293

    Oral Answers to Questions


    Mental Health Services (North Gwent)

    1. Mr. Edwards: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has for the development of mental health services in north Gwent. [2594]

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Win Griffiths): Gwent health authority is reviewing its mental health strategy. That review will be completed by November, when the authority will consider the options available to it.

    Mr. Edwards: I congratulate my hon. Friend and the rest of the team on their appointment. For the first time in a long time, the Secretary of State for Wales represents a Welsh constituency.

    May I express my concern at Gwent health authority's decision to cancel the Red Barn development--which was to be a new, modern psychiatric facility, following the closure of Pen-y-fal hospital--at the business ethos in the health service and at the way in which the private finance initiative is inappropriately used these days for services for mentally ill patients, including elderly people?

    Mr. Griffiths: I thank my hon. Friend for his congratulations to the whole Welsh Office team.

    My hon. Friend will appreciate that the Red Barn PFI was taken before we came to power; the fact that it has not been able to proceed seems to show that it was not given the fullest consideration at the outset. However, I assure him that the patients from Pen-y-fal hospital have been moved to Maindiff Court hospital, where there are better facilities. If he has any reservations about what is happening there, I would of course be happy to hear from him. Gwent health authority is consulting widely on its proposals and I will want to be assured that any alternative that it brings forward will meet the needs of elderly mentally ill people in his constituency and throughout Gwent.

    Minimum Wage (Clothing Industry)

    2. Mr. St. Aubyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what estimate his Department has made of the number of manual jobs in the Welsh clothing industry that would be lost as a result of the introduction of a minimum wage of £4 an hour. [2595]

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): We will ask the Low Pay Commission, before it reaches a recommendation on the level at which the national minimum wage might be set, to take into account all the economic circumstances, including its likely impact on jobs in the Welsh clothing industry. I do not expect any jobs to be lost.

    Mr. St. Aubyn: Is it not clear that the Government have rushed into a commitment to a minimum wage without any clear idea of what the consequences might be? More than 200,000 people in Wales earn less than

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    £4 an hour. In, for example, the clothing industry, the likely result of a minimum wage is that businesses will either close or invest in automation, so that, far from there being a minimum wage, there will be no wage at all.

    Mr. Hain: On the contrary, more and more businesses are coming out in support of the principle of a minimum wage. The hon. Gentleman probably has not read this morning's Western Mail, as he is not a Welsh Member of Parliament, but it reports that the Federation of Small Businesses, which I am meeting tomorrow, has welcomed a minimum wage and is willing to discuss how it should be implemented.

    Mr. Wigley: Further to the Minister's comment a moment ago, does he accept that when the Federation of Small Businesses met in Llandudno in March, it voted in favour of a minimum wage order? It wants the minimum wage to be introduced in a coherent manner. Does the Minister accept that no Member of Parliament representing Wales would want people to earn £2 or £2.50 an hour as a means of competing with sweatshops in third-world countries? What we need to do in Wales, in the clothing industry and elsewhere, is to compete on quality, as we do with shops and businesses such as Laura Ashley and as we can do in a range of businesses, given a fair opportunity?

    Mr. Hain: I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman, who makes the crucial point that Wales's only future as a world-beating economy is to be the best and not to go down the sweatshop economy route. I do not think that any Conservative Member would dare--perhaps some Conservatives would--pay someone in his employment just £2.50 an hour, yet that is what almost 60,000 workers in Wales earn. It is an absolute disgrace. A low pay strategy, through the minimum wage that the new Labour Government will implement, is designed to tackle that.

    Welsh Assembly

    3. Dr. Marek: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will list the proposed powers for the Welsh Assembly. [2596]

    The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ron Davies): The Welsh Assembly will provide democratic control of the existing Welsh Office functions; it will have power to make secondary legislation; and it will have specific powers to reform and control the quangos in Wales.

    Dr. Marek: My right hon. Friend knows that I support him in his policy and will be campaigning on his side during the referendum campaign. He knows that he does not have to answer my question or even answer a different one, and he could give me a facetious answer. However, I ask him to give me a rational answer to the question why the Welsh people cannot be trusted with a question on the referendum paper about tax-varying powers for the Welsh Assembly. They should be able to say yes or no to that. After all, it is a power that even English parish councils have.

    Mr. Davies: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his promise of support in the forthcoming referendum. It is

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    precisely because we trust the people of Wales that we propose to vest in them the power to take greater control of their own affairs.

    In relation to the tax-varying powers of a Scottish Parliament, there are procedures in Westminster for the establishment of a separate body of Scots law. We believe it to be important that that provision, when it is transferred to the Scottish Parliament, is married to the ability to vary tax rates. We are not proposing that such a provision be devolved to Wales, so it follows that we are not proposing that tax-varying powers be devolved to Wales.

    Mr. Hague: If, as the Secretary of State intends, any future Welsh Assembly takes over the powers and functions of the office of Secretary of State, is he proposing that his office will continue in existence and that his salary will remain the same?

    Mr. Davies: I am glad that the shadow Secretary of State is in his place; it looks as though he will continue for some time in that role. I am surprised that he did not take the opportunity of this first Welsh questions to announce yet another policy initiative, as he seems to have developed a remarkable intellectual flexibility.

    I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the excellent speech made in the House of Lords yesterday by a former Welsh Minister, Viscount St. Davids. He made a forceful speech in favour of Welsh devolution. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will be successful in our campaign to get democracy back to Wales. The role of Secretary of State will continue and we have no proposals to vary the salary of the office of Secretary of State.

    Mr. Llew Smith: Is there any substance to the rumour that the original idea of 60 people serving on the Welsh Assembly has changed and the number has been increased to 80? What income levels are proposed for those people?

    Mr. Davies: The proposal for a 60-person Assembly was the product of a lengthy debate in the Labour party in Wales. Our policy was adopted unanimously at our conference, held between 28 February and 1 March. It was included in the proposals that we put before all the people of Britain, which were unanimously endorsed in the general election on 1 May. We will include the detail in our White Paper, which will be published before the start of the recess. We have no proposals to vary our policy. The details of the salaries to be paid to Assembly persons will also be published in the White Paper.


    4. Mr. Bernard Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received on the question to be put to Welsh local government electors as proposed in the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill. [2597]

    Mr. Win Griffiths: We have received several.

    Mr. Jenkin: Can the Minister explain why the Welsh people will not be offered in the referendum the option of an Assembly with tax-raising powers? In Scotland, a Parliament without tax-raising powers is regarded by the Secretary of State for Scotland as a non sequitur.

    Mr. Griffiths: If the hon. Gentleman had arrived but two minutes earlier, he would have heard a full response

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    to that question. I shall explain to him once more that the circumstances of a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly are different. [Hon. Members: "Why?"] They are different because we have put the proposals to the people. I remind Opposition Members that they were badly defeated on 1 May. We are happy to hold the referendums, for an Assembly without tax-raising powers in Wales and for a Parliament with tax-varying powers in Scotland.

    Mr. Llwyd: Will the Minister please confirm that the Welsh Assembly will have the power, or be obliged, to consider the overall structural approach in Wales, with regard to the Welsh Development Agency and the Development Board for Rural Wales? He will know, as all Welsh Members know, that the imbalance between job creation and investment in the east of Wales and that in the west has caused great concern. Is that not one sure subject for the Welsh Assembly to consider as soon as possible?

    Mr. Griffiths: The hon. Gentleman will know that we have already announced that we will make an effort to extend prosperity throughout Wales, concentrating especially on western areas. I am sure that proposals will be made in the White Paper and that the Assembly will wish to pursue the matter with great vigour.

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