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Session 1999-2000
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Welsh Grand Committee Debates

Welsh Grand Committee

Welsh Grand Committee

Tuesday 20 June 2000

[Mr. Barry Jones in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

The Secretary of State was asked—

Comprehensive Spending Review

10.30 am

1. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon): What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the implications of the comprehensive spending review for the Welsh block grant. [125645] The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I meet the Chancellor regularly and discuss a variety of issues, including this one.

Mr. Jones: I am grateful for that reply. Will the Secretary of State now acknowledge that the Treasury is apparently reluctant to consider increasing the Welsh block to allow extra funding for objective 1? Will he admit that, as things stand, Wales is unlikely to get any match funds to enable us to benefit fully from objective 1 in European funding? What further pressure can he put on the Chancellor to ensure that we do not lose out on this occasion?

Mr. Murphy: I understand the points that the hon. Gentleman has made about structural funding. He will realise that that is part of the spending review. He does not have long to wait before that review is announced in a few weeks' time. We cannot say how much will be available until it has been announced. He can rest assured that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), the First Secretary and I are addressing the issue with enormous robustness.

Health Resources

3. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): What recent discussions he has had with elected members of the Welsh Assembly on using deprivation as a factor in allocating health resources in Wales. [125647] The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have both highlighted the importance of taking account of the health needs of socio-economic disadvantaged areas when allocating health resources. I understand that the National Assembly for Wales has included that as part of the terms of reference of the group that it has set up to review the current arrangements for the allocation of financial resources to the national health service in Wales.

Ann Clwyd: As my hon. Friend knows, I have been asking this question for at least two years. Parts of Wales, such as the area that I represent in the Cynon valley, suffer from acute deprivation. Unless that is reflected in the allocation of health resources, the welcome increase in the health budget may be dissipated throughout Wales rather than focused on those areas that are in greatest need. When will the Welsh Assembly get on with the job of tackling deprivation as part of the formula for allocating resources? I do not want to be asking the same question in two years' time.

Mr. Hanson: The National Assembly is very concerned about the factors that my hon. Friend has mentioned. That is another reason why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has allocated considerable additional resources of £1.3 billion to the NHS in Wales. The National Assembly's task force includes cross-party membership of the Assembly and the NHS. It is due to issue a preliminary report at the end of this year and a final report by March 2001. The comprehensive spending review that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned will be a major factor in helping to bring that report to a conclusion.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Does the Minister acknowledge that heart disease is probably worse in percentage terms in Wales than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and that this is linked to deprivation? The Cynon Valley constituency has a high rate of heart disease. Will he please ensure that deprivation is given due priority because it is one of the key issues relating to heart disease?

Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman will recognise that not just heart disease, but many other illnesses are the result of poverty, deprivation and the factors that both he and my hon. Friend have highlighted. The Government are committed to tackling long-term illness and long-term structural problems in areas such as the valleys, and that is why we support the Assembly's efforts to look into deprivation, and why we are allocating considerable additional resources to the NHS in the next few years.

Health Funding

4. Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): What discussions he has had with the First Secretary on the additional funding for health in Wales announced in the last Budget. [125648] The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): Both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have spoken to the First Secretary and the Assembly Health Secretary about the increase to the Welsh block consequential on the increases in Government spending on health announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the last Budget. The resulting amount for the block was £1,299 million over the next four years. I am pleased to say that the National Assembly intends to spend the full amount on health in Wales.

Mr. Jones: Can my hon. Friend confirm that there will be £110 million in this financial year for the NHS in Wales, £153 million next year, £394 million the year after and £649 million the year after that, and that those sums are extra resources over and above what would have been spent? Does he agree that that massive sustained investment represents a clear commitment to restoring NHS funding to the level that it should be in relation to the European Union average?

Mr. Hanson: The total for the four years is £1,299 million. My hon. Friend's figures are roughly correct. The figure for this year is £99 million. The £1.3 billion will be a tremendous boost over and above what the Government pledged to give the NHS. It is more money than any Government have given previously over such a period, and it will have practical effects on waiting lists, operations and deprivation. That would not have happened with either the nationalists or the Conservatives in control.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Had the Conservatives been in control, the money that has been allocated to the health service would not have been diverted to spending on preparations for the changeover plan for the euro. Following the revelations in the Sunday Telegraph, which stated that millions of pounds are now being spend on the NHS for the changeover plan, could the Minister tell us how much money has been allocated specifically to the NHS in Wales to spend on the changeover plan and how much money the NHS has spent on that already?

Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman's obsession with Europe shows no bounds. We are discussing real health issues and real people. I cannot give him a figure. He could not expect me to have it to hand. I shall look into the issue that he raises, but I would be more interested in examining his tax plans. His party is not committed to the NHS and does not support the allocation of that £1.3 billion. The Conservatives should get their act together, because at the end of the day this is real money for real people in Wales.

Public Inquiries

5. Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): If he will make a statement on (a) the powers and (b) the budget his Department has for holding public inquiries in Wales. [125649] The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): Powers to hold public inquiries were transferred from the Secretary of State for Wales to the National Assembly for Wales on 1 July 1999. However, the power to hold a tribunal of inquiry, subject to Parliament's approval under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, was not transferred to the Assembly. I retained responsibility for the completion of the report of the north Wales child abuse tribunal, and held the budget for it, but I have no other budget to hold public inquiries in Wales; nor do I have any proposals to do so.

Mr. Wigley: The Secretary of State will be aware of the issue that has arisen in the National Assembly about a public inquiry. Is he aware of the controversy about the powers to have a full public inquiry in that or other contexts? If some of the powers are being transferred, but some, including those for tribunals, are being retained by the Secretary of State in London, can he give an assurance that if a matter arises that needs a public inquiry, he has a mechanism to get the additional resources that may be required to pay for it?

Mr. Murphy: Generally speaking—although I would not like to say this is always the case—in the example that the right hon. Gentleman gave the matter would not be transferred to the Assembly anyway. It would be exceptional for inquiries to be held—as was the north Wales child abuse inquiry—as a result of my office's intervention.If there were such inquiries, they would be of such enormous significance—as with the north Wales inquiry—that only the Government, under the 1921 Act, would hold them. As I said, I hold no money for public inquiries in Wales, nor do I have any proposal to do so. Obviously, if the legal situation is clear, the Government will consider the matter. However, most inquiries—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with this—are now a matter for the Assembly.

National Health Service (Modernisation)

6. Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): If he will make a statement on the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee at 10 Downing street on 5 June to discuss modernisation of the national health service. [125650] The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): All three JMC meetings held so far have proved very useful, and have been an ideal forum for exchanging innovative ideas and best practice.

Mr. Williams: Did those meetings include any discussion on the pre-negotiation of consultants' contracts? Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a serious conflict of interest problem with part-time consultants in the national health service, especially orthopaedic surgeons who perform hip and knee replacements. A minority of consultants are deliberately using long waiting lists as a means of feeding their private practices. The NHS needs only full-time consultants, which means that we must pay them more, so that they have 100 per cent. commitment to the health service.

 
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