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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): Both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have met a number of representatives of local authorities in the past few months. In particular, since October 1999 I have met representatives of 17 local authorities in Wales to discuss the Local Government Bill, and I plan to meet representatives of the remaining five local authorities as soon as possible.
Mr. Edwards: I thank my hon. Friend for the meeting that was held in the Welsh Office with representatives of the community councils in Monmouthshire. They are concerned about the 18 per cent. increase in council tax that results from the funding formula, and about how it discriminates against rural areas such as Monmouthshire, which also has pockets of deprivation. Those include Llanelly Hill and the Rother estate, both of which will be visited next week by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs as part of its inquiry into social exclusion. I remind my hon. Friend that the schools in those estates--Llwynu and Darenfelin--will be delighted with the Chancellor's announcement in the Budget of the extra funding for primary schools.
Mr. Hanson: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. As I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), it is a common view on the part of the Welsh Local Government Association and the Assembly that the formula for distributing grant to local authorities has some faults and needs revision. Those bodies are working to produce a new, fairer formula shortly. On the second point, I am proud to be here today as part of a Labour Government who have made available some £50 million in Wales as a result of the Budget, which the National Assembly can use to tackle those very issues in regard to schools. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on his initiatives because the Conservative party would never have given that extra funding to schools in Wales.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): When the Minister met local authorities in Wales, did he discuss the problem of the systematic politicisation of NHS appointments, which was identified by the Commissioner for Public Appointments in her report this
Mr. Hanson: I have not had the opportunity to discuss that particular aspect with local authorities. It may be before the hon. Gentleman's time, but I can recall people such as Sir Geoffrey Inkin and Ian Grist, the latter being the former Member of Parliament for Cardiff, Central, who went straight into the chairmanship of a health trust following his defeat in the election. We shall examine the report, but I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that his question is an example of the pot calling the kettle black.
Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): When my hon. Friend had the deep and meaningful discussions with local authorities' representatives, was he able to discuss openness in local government? Many colleagues on both sides of the House signed an early-day motion a few months ago that criticised some councillors in Gwynedd for being economical with the truth when declaring their interests. Given that, since then, those councillors have had to apologise to the council, does that not show that openness in local government is very important?
Mr. Hanson: I note what my hon. Friend has said about Gwynedd county council. The Local Government Bill will ensure that local authorities have a strong ethical dimension and that we provide an ethical framework to which councillors can adhere. On the question of openness, I urge all local authorities to ensure that the minutes that they take of cabinet committees are put into the public domain as far as possible, so that people can judge, examine and scrutinise effectively local authorities' decisions.
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) was right to express his concerns about council tax increases in his constituency. However, if he were more in touch with his constituency--as I was this morning in speaking to the local authority--he would know that the council tax increase in Monmouthshire is 24 per cent. and a typical band D council tax will go up from £480 to £603. That is to pay for the four overspending local authorities in Wales. How will the Under-Secretary of State tell council tax payers in his constituency and in the Secretary of State's constituency why they are suffering council tax increases of more than 10 per cent. when the average for England is only 6 per cent. and the average for inner London is under 5 per cent.?
Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman would know a lot about council tax in England as he represents a seat in Dorset. Having said that, Monmouthshire still has the third lowest council tax in Wales. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognised that in his discussions this morning. The Assembly and the Welsh Local Government Association have agreed that there should be a damping scheme for 2000-01. The formula for distributing grants to local authorities is flawed. That is why the Assembly, the Welsh Local Government Association and the Government, as we take an interest in it, will look at how that formula works in future years.
5. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): What discussions he has had about disposal of waste from the former Phurnacite plant in the Cynon Valley with environmental authorities (a) inside and (b) outside Wales; and if he will make a statement. 
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I meet regularly with the Environment Agency Wales--we met most recently on 1 March 2000--and discuss a wide range of issues. I have also spoken with the First Secretary about that site.
Ann Clwyd: I hope that my right hon. Friend will discuss the former Phurnacite plant, as I have been talking about it ever since I was elected to Parliament. It was the worst industrial polluter in Britain when it closed down 10 years ago, and the toxic waste that was left is still on the doorsteps of the people of Abercwmboi. There is an impasse between the local authority and the Welsh development agency. Whatever method is used to dispose of the toxic waste, will the Government make available extra funds to pay for its disposal?
Mr. Murphy: I am obviously conscious of my hon. Friend's interest in the matter. Indeed, some years ago she and I visited the site and I am aware of the difficulties that have arisen because of its situation. My hon. Friend may rest assured that I shall raise the matter with the First Secretary at the first available opportunity.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I meet the First Secretary regularly and discuss a range of issues. I welcome my hon. Friend back to the House and hope that she is now fit and well.
Mrs. Lawrence: I am sure that my right hon. Friend welcomes the investment in health and education that was announced in yesterday's Budget. Does he join me in welcoming the measures to assist small businesses in Wales, particularly the taxation measures? When he meets the First Secretary, will he urge him to waste no time in establishing a venture capital fund for Wales to help small business start-ups?
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the help that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has given small and medium-sized enterprises, of which there are 29,000 in Wales. In addition, the national health service in Wales will benefit by £1.3 billion over four years; £50
Mr. Murphy: I am not quite sure of the relevance of that question to the main question. Members of local authorities in Wales, from whichever political party, have made a significant contribution to the quality of life in Wales.