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Welsh Development Agency

7. Mr. Alan W. Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on his plans for the future operation of the Welsh Development Agency. [2600]

Mr. Ron Davies: The future of the Welsh Development Agency is being considered as part of our commitment to establish an economic powerhouse for Wales. That economic powerhouse will have a secure future. It will have funding on a sustainable basis and will be increasingly responsive to local needs.

Mr. Williams: I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new responsibilities.

Notwithstanding the excellent work of the WDA over many years, my right hon. Friend will realise that there has been a substantial imbalance between east and west in its work, to the extent that about 80 per cent. of the inward investment, jobs and resources go to south-east Wales and to Clwyd, and only about 20 per cent. come west of Swansea and to Gwynedd. What steps does my right hon. Friend intend to take to readjust that balance so that we get fair shares across Wales?

Mr. Davies: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his good wishes.

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I acknowledge that, in recent years, there has been an imbalance in the rate of economic development in Wales. I recently met the chairman of the WDA and emphasised to him how important it is that we spread economic prosperity across the whole of Wales.

Of course, west Wales is one of the priority targets. There are some 620 acres under consideration for development in the west of Wales. The Velindre site is particularly important and is one of the best large-scale inward investment opportunities available in Wales. I want the WDA and the local authorities in the area to agree a joint venture on its promotion. If that comes about, I shall certainly give that site my full backing.

Post-16 Education

8. Mr. Touhig: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what are his proposals for post-16 education in Wales. [2601]

Mr. Hain: All young people will be offered part-time or full-time education post-16. Any under 18-year-old in a job will have the right to study on an approved course for qualifications at college. We will also promote learning throughout adult life.

Mr. Touhig: I welcome my hon. Friend to his new responsibilities at the Welsh Office.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the report by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs into further education which called for a more coherent strategy in the education of 16 to 19-year-olds? Will he take the steps necessary to end the damaging competition between colleges of further education, school sixth forms and training and enterprise councils, which the previous Government simply failed to do? Will he help to ensure the development of tertiary education throughout Wales, which offers students the widest possible choice of A-level and vocational courses--choices which we shall need if we are to create a highly skilled work force in a modern economy?

Mr. Hain: I very much agree with my hon. Friend. There is a damaging free-for-all in this sector of education provision which is infected by too much competition, waste and unnecessary duplication. That does not get the best out of the available resources or provide the best opportunities for our people. We shall review the entire sector, and in our White Paper to be published next month we shall propose steps to eliminate all those problems and provide a much better future for our people.

Mr. Evans: Does the Minister agree that those families who have 16 to 18-year-olds in full-time education find the payment of child benefit extremely useful? Will he tell the House whether he will fight to ensure that those payments continue for 16 to 18-year-olds in full-time education?

Mr. Hain: The real problem for 16 to 18-year-olds is the dreadful legacy left by the Conservative Government, with rising unemployment in many parts of Wales in that section of the work force. We will provide new opportunities, new support, new training, new education opportunities and new jobs under the welfare-to-work programme, which will be financed out of a windfall tax on the privatised utilities.

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Educational Opportunities

9. Mr. Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what new proposals he has to widen opportunity in education in Wales. [2602]

Mr. Hain: The Government will widen educational opportunity at every level. We will strengthen nursery provision; we will develop an improved qualifications framework which will prepare young people for employment, as well as for further study; and we will make it easier for adult learners to continue to study throughout their lives.

Mr. Flynn: I add my "croeso a llongyfarchiadau" to my hon. Friend on his new post.

New jobs are coming to my constituency from LG's investment, which was made in the certain knowledge that a Labour Government and a Welsh Assembly were on the way. Does my hon. Friend agree that although industry should provide the major part of training for new jobs, the Government must lend a hand, especially in providing for adults whose careers have been broken by redundancy and unemployment? Will he give an assurance today that there will be new initiatives from the new Government, especially in the form of a university for industry?

Mr. Hain: I thank my hon. Friend--"diolch yn fawr".

We will certainly do as my hon. Friend urges and pursue active policies to provide new skills and training opportunities. I met the senior managers of LG on Monday and we are working in partnership with them to provide the best skills base for that important investment, so that the Welsh economy in my hon. Friend's constituency and in south Wales can move forward confidently.

Mr. Dafis: I draw the Minister's attention for the second time today to the predicament of higher education in Wales and the profound concerns arising from the present and predicted cuts in the higher education sector in Wales. Does he recognise that that sector is important, not only as a provider of education but as a component in economic revitalisation? Will the Welsh Office undertake to reverse those cuts next year, so that higher education institutions in Wales can take their place within an integrated strategy for sustainable economic development?

Mr. Hain: We will review all education provision in Wales, including the sector that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. We will also propose a new way forward for Wales in school education, further education and higher education in our White Paper, which is to be published next month. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's contribution to that debate.

NHS Trusts (Running Costs)

10. Mrs. Clwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what assessment he has made of the running costs of NHS trusts in Wales; and if he will make a statement. [2603]

Mr. Win Griffiths: The Government believe that, within the constraints imposed by the need to manage a

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complex organisation, management and administrative costs should be reduced to the minimum possible. We are committed to ensuring that savings can be identified and used for patient care; NHS trusts will contribute their share. In so doing, we have already announced the suspension of the extension of the GP fundholding scheme, pointed to practical ways of changing the internal market--[Interruption.]--and announced a review of the number and configuration of trusts in Wales, which should lead to a new pattern of trust-based services. I am glad that Conservative Members cheered my announcement.

Mrs. Clwyd: Is my hon. Friend aware that, one week after the election, the North Glamorgan NHS trust announced that it had to make savings of £750,000 and that the axe is now hanging over various services in Aberdare, including the rehabilitation ward, respite care and day surgery? May I say to him, very kindly, that the people of the Cynon valley voted Labour for a better NHS, not a worse one?

Mr. Griffiths: I have undertaken to visit North Glamorgan NHS trust. I am aware of its financial problems, but I have been informed that it intends to carry out a cost improvement programme, which will mean that all its existing contracts can continue to be fulfilled.

Mr. Burns: Can the hon. Gentleman give the House a categorical assurance that the obscenity of possible charges for hospital stays, for visiting a GP and for some prescriptions for pensioners will not happen in Wales?

Mr. Griffiths: I assure the shadow Minister that, under our current review of spending in Wales, all those proposals are not within the orbit of our consideration. Any discussion of those matters will be conducted at a United Kingdom level.


Ministerial Visit (North Wiltshire)

Q1. Mr. Gray: To ask the Prime Minister what plans he has to visit north Wiltshire. [2574]

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I have no plans to visit north Wiltshire at the present time.

Mr. Gray: When he does, will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to visit Chippenham livestock market to speak to farmers, who are confident that the beef ban will have been at the top of his personal agenda in Amsterdam? If their confidence is well founded, will he explain the omission of any mention of beef in the presidency's conclusions?

The Prime Minister: I am surprised that any Conservative Member has the nerve to raise the subject of beef, given what we inherited from the previous Government. I raised that matter on several occasions well before the Amsterdam summit. I am pleased to say that we are making progress, but, because we inherited probably the most incompetent mess that any Government

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have ever inherited, it will take a little time. However, I think that the hon. Gent's constituents will get the deal that they need.

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