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Beef on the Bone

4. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): What recent discussions he has had with the First Secretary regarding the ban on beef on the bone. [98879]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I met the First Secretary yesterday and high on our agenda was the welcome news that, after the statutory consultation, the ban on beef on the bone is likely to be lifted before Christmas.

That is good news for our Welsh beef industry. The Assembly's Agricultural and Rural Development Committee voted this morning for the lifting of the ban. In addition, I joined my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this morning in a meeting with representatives of the beef industry, including Welsh farming union leaders. The meeting examined ways in which we can promote the excellence of British--and especially Welsh--beef.

Mr. Robathan: Well, we are all delighted at the lifting of the ludicrous ban on beef on the bone. I cannot hold the Secretary of State responsible for that ban, as he was not in office when it was imposed. However, does he recall that the First Secretary--who was Secretary of State for Wales at the time--famously ate beef on the bone on 1 March this year? The ban has caused enormous losses to Welsh farmers: will the right hon. Gentleman estimate the total cost? Is he aware that it has always been more dangerous for hon. Members to bicycle to the House than to eat beef on the bone?

Mr. Murphy: We must welcome the good news that the Welsh beef industry, and farming in general, has received. The hon. Gentleman knows that the lifting of the ban was based entirely on the scientific and medical evidence.

It is however important that we can tell the world that we are confident our beef can be exported, and that Welsh beef is the choicest, tastiest and safest beef in the world.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a pity that the response of the Conservative party in government was ludicrous when issues were raised about BSE, and that all the suffering of Welsh and British farmers was down to that fundamental error at the end of the 1980s? Can he assure me that the way in which the British Government have ensured that safety is our top priority means that we will now have a successful campaign to sell British beef across the world, and that the Welsh element of that will have a very high profile?

Mr. Murphy: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. He is right to highlight the difficulties that arose because of the BSE crisis. It cost nearly 50 lives and some £4 billion. However, we are out of that crisis. Today's news is good news and I am convinced that the future of the beef industry, particularly in Wales, is bright.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): We welcome the lifting of the beef-on-the-bone ban, but will the Secretary of State say what discussions he has had with the First Secretary regarding the parlous state of Welsh agriculture,

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caused by the ban and compounded by the Government's insensitivity to the plight of Welsh farmers and the ineptitude of Welsh Agriculture and Rural Development Secretary, Christine Gwyther? She has lost the confidence of Welsh farmers and been censured by the Welsh Assembly. If she were a Minister in this place, she would resign. Does he agree with the First Secretary about not sacking her? Does he care about Welsh agriculture? He represents the interests of Wales on 21 Cabinet Committees. Why is he on none concerned with agriculture or rural affairs?

Mr. Murphy: The Cabinet Committee on rural affairs essentially concerns England, but I will receive the Cabinet papers. If I think that they or the agenda affect Wales, I will go to the meeting.

On the general point on agriculture in Wales, I would not sack Christine Gwyther, who has done an excellent job. In September, £15 million was given to hill farmers in Wales. Since that decision, £750 million has been identified for calf processing schemes, £350 million has gone to organic aid, £350 million to processes and marketing grants, £50 million to promote the dairy industry, and farming has benefited from £78 million resulting from the deferral of inspection charges. An awful lot of money has gone to Welsh farming since September.

Waiting Lists

5. Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): What discussions he has had with the First Secretary of the National Assembly on the number of people in Wales who are (a) on the NHS waiting list for in-patient treatment and (b) awaiting a first out-patient consultation. [98880]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): I regularly have discussions with the First Secretary and Assembly Health and Social Services Secretary about important matters affecting Wales. That often includes the NHS in Wales and waiting lists have been included in our discussions.

Mr. Hammond: Will the Minister confirm that the number of patients waiting 18 months or longer for in-patient treatment in Wales--under the Government's policy targets, there should be none--has increased by 122 per cent., and the number of patients waiting six months or more for their first out-patient consultation by 430 per cent. since March 1997? Will he further confirm that in the Bro Taf health authority area, 19 per cent. of all patients waiting for in-patient treatment have been waiting for more than 12 months? Does he agree that that represents a disastrous failure of his Government's policy? Will he confirm that there is a terrible crisis in the NHS in Wales and say what he will do to help solve it?

Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman should be aware--though coming from Runnymede, he may not be--that the Assembly is responsible for the health service in many respects. This is about partnership between central Government and the Assembly. Today, the Assembly Health and Social Services Secretary, Jane Hutt, has announced that 95 per cent. of patients have been admitted to hospital for treatment within 12 months in the past year.

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Since the Government were elected in May 1997, £291.6 million extra has gone into the NHS in Wales, and in the comprehensive spending review, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced that a further £1 billion will be available for the Assembly to spend over the next three years on health services. Would the hon. Gentleman cancel that money? Would he have put it in? The answers to those questions are yes and no.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): As my hon. Friend knows, when health funding is calculated in England, an assessment of deprivation is made. When will deprivation be included in an assessment for health funding in Wales by the Welsh Assembly?

Mr. Hanson: The point that my hon. Friend has mentioned is valid. I hope that the Assembly will take the matter on board. I shall certainly raise it with the Assembly Secretary, Jane Hutt, but ultimately it is for the Assembly to determine.

Small Businesses

6. Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): When he last met the First Secretary to discuss assistance for small businesses in Wales. [98881]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have regular meetings with the First Secretary and discuss a wide range of issues, including assistance to small businesses in Wales.

Mr. Loughton: That is all very interesting, but did the First Secretary think that small businesses in Wales had been helped or hindered by the £30 billion of new business taxes introduced by the Labour Government?

Mr. Murphy: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that what is important in Wales today is that the Welsh Federation of Small Businesses has announced that it has confidence in the way in which our Government are running the economy, that small businesses in Wales are more optimistic than ever about their future, and that 25 per cent. have increased their work force.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the best things for developing small businesses in Wales would be the establishment of a development bank for Wales, as called for by the Federation of Small Businesses as well as, of course, Plaid Cymru. Will he give us an assurance that the objective 1 money for Wales, which can be used on a 7 per cent. basis ahead of demand, can in part be made available for such a development bank so that small businesses get the aid that they so clearly need?

Mr. Murphy: I take the point made by the right hon. Gentleman, but I am careful not to commit the National Assembly for Wales, of which he is a Member, to any policies. I agree with the thrust of his comments. As he knows, an innovations fund with £5 million of venture capital was announced in Cardiff by the Welsh Development Agency and National Westminster bank.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Small businesses feel that they have not been sufficiently

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consulted about objective 1 and 2 status funding. Is the Secretary of State willing to consider further consultation with small businesses to ensure that they can make their creative views known to him?

Mr. Murphy: As I told the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises is essentially for the Assembly, but I shall convey his views to the First Secretary.

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