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Scottish Universities

6. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): How many Welsh students currently attend universities in Scotland. [50274]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): In 1997-98, there were 602 Welsh-domiciled students studying at Scottish higher education institutions.

Mr. Robathan: I am sure that some of those students will be constituents of the Minister and I suspect that they will be unhappy should they have to pay the extra year's tuition fees. May I quote what the Minister's right hon. Friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff said? He is a man who has spent rather more time in Wales than the Minister, who had to hawk himself around the Labour party bazaars of England before coming to rest in Neath. Of the compromise that has been reached, Lord Callaghan said:


I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind and put it to his constituents if they come to him about having to pay that extra year's tuition fees.

Mr. Hain: You will forgive me, I am sure, Madam Speaker, if I refer in passing to the fact that the hon. Gentleman has not asked a single question in that respect about English students, or about his own constituents; so it is clearly not a problem for them. In fact, the number of applications from Wales to Scottish institutions is up this year. The principle involved is that we are providing a fairer system of funding for all students in Britain, which will give greater opportunity and greater access to higher education.

A55

7. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon): When he expects work to commence on the A55 road across Anglesey. [50275]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): Tenders for the scheme have been received and are under consideration. The contract is expected to be let in the autumn, with completion three years later, on schedule.

Mr. Jones: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He will know that there has been intense speculation in the press about whether the autumn start date will be met. At the last general election, there was all-party support in Anglesey for the view that that road project should start, given the enormous problems of traffic across the island. Will the Minister give an assurance that, when the tenders are in and the contractor approved, work on the road will start in the autumn?

Mr. Hain: I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern and his continuing interest in the matter. I assure him that we agree with him 100 per cent., which is why this road project was the only one excluded from the review of Welsh roads. We are committed to it as a priority. The tenders are now being considered in their final stages and the contract will be let in the autumn. Work will begin as quickly as possible thereafter and we will stick to our completion date of 2001 under the contract as planned.

Agri-environmental Scheme

8. Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion): When he intends to publish his proposals for an all-Wales agri-environmental scheme. [50276]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ron Davies): The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), gave a progress report on the all-Wales agri-environment scheme at the Royal Welsh show in Builth Wells yesterday.

Mr. Dafis: Does the Secretary of State accept that the support of farmers is absolutely essential if the tir gofal scheme is to work? Does he accept also that, if the resources provided for expanding the scheme are insufficient and large numbers of farmers are turned down, it will cause great disenchantment and disappointment? Does he agree that those in Wales who are most seriously committed to the agri-environmental system strongly oppose a ranking system based on the supposed ecological value of the farm as a condition for entry into the scheme? Will the Secretary of State agree to consider adding a tier within the scheme for organic farming, bearing in mind the fact that that would have considerable benefits for the market and for the price that farmers in it would get for their produce?

Mr. Davies: The hon. Gentleman has asked five questions and I will not attempt to answer them all in detail. There is an organic conversion scheme in operation and it will continue to exist alongside the tir gofal scheme. A broad welcome for tir gofal was expressed to me at the Royal Welsh show on Monday. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that we must ensure continuing support for the farming community. That is why my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I are consulting widely with farmers.

On resources, in September we will produce in Wales a document setting out our priorities as a result of the comprehensive spending review. I shall obviously do

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what I can to ensure that the scheme is funded properly. On ranking, it is an important principle that the schemes that offer best value for money, and therefore the best environmental enhancement, receive the highest priority.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): Will my right hon. Friend ensure that his proposals assist the farmers of the vale of Glamorgan in their endeavours to maintain the environment and the countryside in the face of a drop in farm incomes caused by the dreadful policies of the previous Government over the past five years?

Mr. Davies: The scheme is important, because it will bring environmental benefits. It will also help to provide an alternative income stream for farmers who, as my hon. Friend said, have been hard hit over the past couple of years. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I am discussing with my officials and the farming unions the best way of ensuring that all the counties of Wales have an opportunity to have schemes in their areas, if only for exemplary purposes to spread the message that good farming is compatible with the best environmental practice.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): The Secretary of State presumes that farmers will survive, but some farms have lost 80 per cent. of their income. When will the Secretary of State wake up to the real crisis in Welsh farming and react accordingly?

Mr. Davies: I do not presume that, and I am working hard to ensure that it does not happen.

Powys and Ceredigion NHS Trusts

9. Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): What account he will take of public opinion in formulating his proposals on the future of the Powys Health Care NHS trust and Ceredigion and Mid Wales NHS trust. [50272]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Win Griffiths): Consultation is currently taking place on a proposal to merge the Powys Health Care and Ceredigion and Mid Wales NHS trusts. Consultation ends on 21 September and it is only after that time that my right hon. Friend and I will make a decision on the proposal, taking into account representations received.

Mr. Öpik: Will the Minister confirm my understanding of his earlier remark that he does not foresee the closure of any Powys hospital if an overwhelming majority of local people oppose that move? Will he confirm also that this is a genuine consultation process and that, if the overwhelming majority of people in Powys oppose the merger, he will respect their democratic will?

Mr. Griffiths: May I put the hon. Gentleman right on the issue of community hospitals? What I said very clearly is that no community hospital is threatened by the NHS trust reconfiguration proposal. With the money that the Chancellor has made available and the additional money that will be made available through the trust reconfiguration process, it is much more likely that community hospitals will prosper under Labour's proposals than under any others.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West): When the Minister reorganises the Powys and Ceredigion health

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trusts, will he also make provision for top slicing, so that patients in mid-Wales who need heart transplant surgery will not have to go to London but will be able to go to the long-awaited heart transplant surgery centre in the University hospital of Wales in Cardiff?

Mr. Griffiths: As my hon. Friend knows, we are working hard with NHS health authorities in Wales to strengthen the cardiac service in the UHW so that in future patients in mid-Wales can travel to Cardiff rather than London.

PRIME MINISTER

The Prime Minister was asked--

Engagements

Q1.[50297] Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 22 July.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further such meetings later today.

Mr. Hughes: May I remind the Prime Minister of two pre-election Labour pledges, which are of interest to millions of people in London and beyond? The first was that a Labour Government would hold a public inquiry into the sinking of the Marchioness, with the loss of 51 lives; and the second was that Guy's hospital at London Bridge would be saved.

Now that the Government have been in office for 15 months, will the Prime Minister give an undertaking that a public inquiry will soon be announced, and that the plans that have just arrived on ministerial desks proposing the closure of the maternity and accident and emergency departments at Guy's hospital, and the halving of the number of beds from 700 to 350, will be rejected, and replaced with plans that save and strengthen Guy's hospital rather than threaten it?

The Prime Minister: First, in respect of the position in the hospitals, we shall study those plans very carefully indeed and ensure that any commitments that we come up with are consistent with proper health care in London. We shall be putting a substantial extra sum of money into health care in London. Secondly, in respect of the Marchioness, it would not be right for me to comment until an announcement has been made, but I hear what the hon. Gentleman says.

Q2.[50298] Angela Smith (Basildon): Is the Prime Minister aware of the strong approval around the world for the British Government's actions in supporting the setting up of the International Criminal Court as the only way to deal with the perpetrators of war crimes and international atrocities, including disasters such as Lockerbie? Will he take every opportunity to try to persuade those Governments, such as the Chinese and United States Governments, who have not yet signed up to do so as a matter of urgency?

The Prime Minister: We warmly welcome the agreement in Rome last week to establish the International

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Criminal Court. We believe that the court will be an effective, credible and independent body that is able to bring to justice those charged with international crimes.

In respect of Lockerbie, about which there has been a lot of discussion in the press, I shall simply say that it has long been a priority of this Government to bring to trial the two Libyans accused of responsibility for the Lockerbie tragedy. It has been our wish that the trial should take place in Scotland or the United States, and I totally reject the claim that there would be any difficulty in holding a fair trial in Scotland.

Because no progress has been made, we are prepared to look at alternative ways of giving the families the justice that they deserve. That is why we launched discussions with the United States, and more recently with the Dutch, about the possibility of trial in a third country. However, there are many, many legal and other complexities to be overcome before we can be sure that that is the right way to proceed. Until those issues are resolved, no final decision can be made, but we have been working on the matter thoroughly over a long period. We must ensure that any solution that we come up with is fully consistent with our absolute commitment to the integrity of the Scottish judicial system.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks): After all the promises before the election and all the hype since, is it not now clear that the Deputy Prime Minister's transport White Paper is a complete dog's breakfast? Is not the truth that it is elderly people and low-income motorists--people who are only just able to pay for a car and people who cannot afford an increase in the cost of using their car--who will be hit hardest by the new taxes that he has proposed, with no guarantee that they will receive any benefits in return?

The Prime Minister: I have to say that the Conservatives' attack on the possibility of congestion charges and taxes reaches new heights of opportunism and hypocrisy, even for them. Let me quote from the April 1996 document put out by the right hon. Gentleman's Government, when he was a member of the Cabinet:


It went on:


    "The Government will therefore discuss with the Local Authority Associations . . . with a presumption in favour of introducing legislation in due course".

We are taking forward precisely the work that his Government did, and our plans for pensioners and for rural transport will help, not harm, those on low incomes.

Mr. Hague: And I have to say that it is time that the Prime Minister started answering questions in the House about his policy and the policy that he wants to pursue. He talks about rural transport; the Government have announced £50 million for it, after taking hundreds of millions of pounds out of the pockets of rural motorists in the Chancellor's past two Budgets. On Monday, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is not here--presumably his bus is running late--told school-run mothers, people struggling home with their weekly shopping and people

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living in the countryside that they were making unnecessary journeys. Then he jumped into his car and was driven 200 yards to the office.

Will the Prime Minister at least give a clear answer to this question: can he guarantee that he will not permit new taxes on motorists to be imposed until viable transport alternatives are in place, rather than only talked about?

The Prime Minister: It is precisely in order to do that that we have announced the plans that we have. What is more, those plans are £1.8 billion-worth of extra public investment in transport, over and above Conservative plans. As for what the right hon. Gentleman says about the rises in fuel duty, might I remind him that five sixths of that rise was imposed by his Government? I know that he would like to pretend that the 18 years of the Conservative Government never existed, but they did. As he well knows, it is the grossest opportunism to claim that we are introducing charges and taxes when all that we are introducing is permission for local authorities to experiment with them, in precisely the same way that the Government whom he supported wanted them to do.

Mr. Hague: After all that, the Prime Minister has still not answered the question. Will he make sure that no new taxes are imposed until viable alternative transport is in place? He talks about £1.8 billion of extra expenditure; the total extra new money announced by the Chancellor last week for public transport was £22 million, not £1.8 billion. How will he explain to people around the country--school-run mothers, people who take their shopping home in their car and people in the countryside--why they are paying billions of pounds of extra taxes and getting nothing in return?

The Prime Minister: First of all, in relation to the right hon. Gentleman's nonsense about school-run mothers, let me remind him that the Deputy Prime Minister said that, if we can provide better public transport, more people will be able to use it, which is why we are putting the extra £1.8 billion into it.

It was interesting that the right hon. Gentleman appeared to be attacking us for not spending enough on transport. He is nodding now. I know that the Conservative party does not keep any policy for long, but yesterday he was telling us that our spending plans were dangerous and irresponsible. The shadow Chancellor nods.

So far, the Opposition health and education spokesman has said that it is not enough. The defence spokesman has said that we are cutting defence spending, and that he wants more. The agriculture spokesman wants more, and the shadow Home Secretary wants more. In the interests of further public debate, let the right hon. Gentleman come to the Dispatch Box and tell us which part of the spending plans he disagrees with. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The House must quieten down.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I trust that the Prime Minister will not send me for an early bath if I raise again the subject of football, which has so recently preoccupied the nation. Will he ensure that the £120 million of public lottery money that was supposed

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to purchase the Wembley site for the new national stadium will be safeguarded by the English National Stadium Trust, and that the money will not be used as a short-term interest-free loan to subsidise the Football Association?

The Prime Minister: I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall ensure that the money is used wisely, in the interests of football.

Madam Speaker: I call Mr. Ashdown.

Hon. Members: Oh no.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil): I am grateful for hon. Members' good wishes. That is how things should be.

This time last week, the Prime Minister told me that the total increase in real-terms investment in health and education that he had promised would be delivered, whatever the economic situation. I use his words. Two hours later, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that, if inflation went up by more than his forecast, the real-terms increase in spending on schools and hospitals would fall below the amount that he had promised. Which is true?

The Prime Minister: It is entirely right to say that the amount that we have set out is a three-year spending settlement. The money will be delivered and guaranteed--and, in fact, the Chancellor said precisely that in the evidence that he gave.

Mr. Ashdown: The Chancellor said precisely that, if inflation went up beyond his forecast, the budgets would stay the same, which means that value diminishes. The position is simple: a 1 per cent. increase above the Chancellor's forecast means £5 billion less for health and education. The Prime Minister must answer this question: is it not the case that, if his forecasts are wrong, schools and hospitals will pay the price?

The Prime Minister: We have based the figures on our own forecasts, which is the sensible thing for a Government to do. The right hon. Gentleman is saying that we should guarantee extra sums over and above that. We have entered into commitments for additional spending on health and education. Of course they were based on what we forecast will happen to the economy; that is sensible and prudent. What would be foolish would be to guarantee an extra £5 billion, which is what the right hon. Gentleman wants us to do.

As I reminded the right hon. Gentleman earlier, the actual amount that we are putting into schools and hospitals is substantially more than the Liberal Democrats ever asked for. I am beginning to think that we have reached the point at which, whatever sum we come up with, the Liberal Democrats will say that it is not enough. That may be the world of the Liberal Democrats, but it is not the real world.


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