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22 Apr 1998 : Column 799

22 Apr 1998 : Column 801

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Hospital Waiting Lists

1. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): What representations he has received regarding hospital waiting lists in Wales. [37999]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Win Griffiths): Other than in respect of individual cases, none. Reducing the time people have to wait for treatment remains a priority for the Government. The additional £25 million for waiting lists announced in the Budget will be targeted at reducing lists to below the levels applying when we took office.

Miss McIntosh: Bearing in mind his reply, will the Minister explain to the House today why, according to his statistics given in answer to a question on 23 March, waiting lists in Wales have increased by 3,000 since the Labour party came to office? What additional resources and new money is the Minister able to put at the disposal of the health service in Wales in order to reduce waiting lists and meet the pledge that Labour made at the election one year ago?

Mr. Griffiths: Quite simply, the £25 million that was announced in the Budget in March was made available specifically to deal with the fact that waiting lists in Wales are growing. The hon. Lady may be aware that admission rates in Wales are 11 per cent. higher than those in England because of the poorer health of the Welsh people. In the longer term, we are planning to tackle more fundamental issues to ensure that the people of Wales become healthier.

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): As to the future of hospitals, is the Minister aware that hardly an individual or organisation in north Gwent supports his proposed reconfiguration of NHS trusts? Is the Minister willing to recognise that Blaenau Gwent has some of the worst health problems not just in Wales, but in the United Kingdom, and that we should be accorded trust status like that which he has granted, quite correctly, to Cynon Valley?

Mr. Griffiths: My hon. Friend will know that we are committed to ensuring that Blaenau Gwent, like other parts of Wales, gets a better health service as a result of our trust reconfiguration exercise. One purpose of that exercise is to ensure that money previously spent on administration can be spent directly on patient care. My main concern is that the proposals for Gwent will show where the benefits lie for all people in Gwent--especially those with the poorest health, such as my hon. Friend's constituents.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Is the Minister not being dreadfully complacent about the health of the people of Wales? He responded to my hon. Friend the

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Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) by saying that admission rates were 11 per cent. higher in Wales than in England because of the poorer health of the Welsh people. On 5 February, a Green Paper addressing the health of the people of England was published, and another Green Paper was released dealing with the health of people in Scotland, yet we still await the publication of a Green Paper addressing the health needs of the people of Wales. Is it not about time that the Government began to direct their attention towards the health of the people of Wales? Can the Minister tell the House this afternoon when we can expect the publication of that Green Paper?

Mr. Griffiths: The hon. Gentleman will realise that we have the legacy of 18 years of Tory rule to overcome. We made £9.5 million available to deal with winter emergencies, which went extremely well in Wales, and, since then, we have provided another £25 million more than his Government wanted to provide. The Green Paper will appear before the next Welsh questions.

European Structural Funds

2. Ms Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): If he will make a statement on the renegotiation of the European structural funds. [38000]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): As Welsh gross domestic product per capita is extremely low by comparison with both the European Union and Great Britain averages, the Government believe that Wales is entitled to secure the maximum benefit from the structural funds after 1999.

Ms Lawrence: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that Wales does not lose out to other parts of Europe in the current negotiations on structural funds? Will he reaffirm to the House his determination to pursue GDP as the basis for reform, bearing in mind the fact that my constituency and a great proportion of Wales suffer some of the lowest incomes in Europe, particularly as a result of the failures of the previous Government?

Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend that Wales is one of the poorest regions of Europe, and that must be recognised in Brussels as it is recognised by the Government. The Welsh GDP per capita is just 80 per cent. of the European average, and the UK stands at 96 per cent. That indicates the leeway that we have to make up. With regard to my hon. Friend's constituency, Pembrokeshire's GDP per capita is extremely low, sitting at just 60 per cent. or so of the European average. We must get the aid from Brussels to which we believe we are entitled.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon): Does the Minister share my view that the period for regional funds between 1994 and 2004 is possibly the last for which Wales may get significant benefits from European funding? If that is the case, does he share my view that the responsibility of the Government and of all of us who represent seats in Wales is to press for objective 1 status for those parts of Wales that would qualify? If the Minister agrees, can he tell us when the application will go in and whether Eurostat has agreed the new NUTS 2--nomenclature of units of territorial statistics--areas for Wales?

Mr. Hain: I agree that this is a critical time for Wales to make sure that it gets the benefits to which I believe

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we are entitled under the structural funds review, because thereafter, enlargement will inevitably compress the availability of funds even to Wales. With that in mind, we have submitted a detailed and compelling case for west Wales and the valleys to the Office for National Statistics in order that Wales's case may be argued in the strongest terms.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): To reinforce my hon. Friend's case, is he aware that the Cardiff business school estimates that in Merthyr, for example, GDP is only 67 per cent. of the European average and that in Blaenau Gwent, it is 62 per cent? Will he carry the message from the House and from Welsh Members to the European Commission that we will not tolerate the changes that are proposed and the destruction of European structural aid to communities such as ours?

Mr. Hain: I will certainly convey to all the appropriate authorities the fact that areas such as Merthyr and other valley constituencies, in common with west Wales constituencies and authorities, have very low levels of GDP per capita--some, like Merthyr's, standing at about 60 per cent. of the European average. That reveals the compelling nature of the case that the Government are advancing for Wales to receive objective 1 status for west Wales and the valleys. There are such low levels of GDP that we need and are entitled to European structural funds to give those areas the support that they need.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): Will the Minister give the House and the people of Wales a categorical assurance that the outcome of the negotiations on the European structural funds will be as good for Wales as that achieved by the previous Conservative Government--[Interruption.] It is a very simple question. If the outcome is not as good, will he undertake that he and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, if they are both still in office then, will resign?

Mr. Hain: I wonder where the right hon. Gentleman has been for the past few years. It was under the previous Conservative Government that Wales lost out. The representations made by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) dismally failed to present the case for Wales. An editorial in The Times this morning reads:

Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): Is my hon. Friend aware that when the structural funds were revisited previously under the Conservative Government, a senior civil servant in Brussels said that north Wales had the worst deal in the whole of Europe? Will my hon. Friend outline the measures that he is taking to ensure that north Wales, which includes the county of Conwy which has the lowest foreign inward investment level in Europe, the lowest pay in the United Kingdom and the lowest gross domestic product levels in Wales, does not lose out again?

Mr. Hain: I fully understand the points that my hon. Friend is making, together with my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) and for Conwy (Mrs. Williams). The argument advanced on behalf of Conwy and Denbighshire is very strong. That is why we

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have included both areas within the claim that we are making for recognition for NUTS 2--nomenclature of units of territorial statistics--status for west Wales and the valleys. My hon. Friend presents a strong argument that north-west Wales has lost out progressively over the past 18 years of dismal Conservative Governments. That is what has strengthened the region's case for support from Brussels.

Mr. Ancram: We shall wait and see.

Mr. Hain: The right hon. Gentleman says that we shall wait and see. We are pressing Wales's case extremely hard and the Government recognise that it is extremely powerful.

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