Welsh Grand Committee
Tuesday 14 December 1999
[Mr. Barry Jones in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
1. Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): When he last met representatives of pensioners in Wales.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): I am a member of the interministerial group on older people and will shortly meet pensioners in Wales with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Social Security.
Mr. Williams: The Government have done a good deal for pensioners. Their initiatives include the £100 heating allowance, free television licences for over-75s and improved funding for the health service. However, they have a long shopping list, which includes bus passes and restoring the earnings link to pensioners. Does my hon. Friend agree with the suggestion in the current issue of Saga Magazine that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor should get two cheers?
Mr. Hanson: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. The Government and the Chancellor made great efforts to help pensioners in Wales in the Budget statement. Some 580,000 pensioners will benefit from the £100 winter allowance and 236,000 over 75-year-olds will benefit from free television licences. The Assembly will introduce free bus passes for pensioners next year—ahead of England. That is a good record for the Government, and they should certainly get two cheers. We are committed to ensuring that we get the third cheer as soon as is practicable before the election, and afterwards, too.
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): The miners' compensation scheme for bronchitis and emphysema is of great supplementary value to many pensioners in the valleys. As a member of the monitoring group, I assure my hon. Friend that many of the settlements will be made quickly at the beginning of next year. The Government must be applauded for the positive way in which they direct resources towards older members of the community. Will my hon. Friend keep up the pressure on my right hon. Friend the Chancellor so that the money comes through quickly?
Mr. Hanson: I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome for the money that the Government give to miners. We have taken speedy action on payments to them. Indeed, there has been a 20 per cent. real-terms increase in miners' pensions since the Conservatives privatised the pits and since this Government came to power.
I take on board my hon. Friend's points. I emphasise the Government's strong commitment to supporting retired miners and ensuring that they get the decent standard of living that they deserve for their efforts over the years.
2. Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): If he will make a statement on the improvement of Welsh trunk roads which cross the English border.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): The improvement of Welsh trunk roads is a matter for bilateral discussion between the National Assembly for Wales and the lead Whitehall Department in cases where decisions affect communities on the English-Welsh border. I keep in close contact with the National Assembly and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, but I would intervene only if I were asked to do so to help solve any difficulties.
Mr. Paterson: May I take this opportunity to ask the Secretary of State to intervene, because I have a problem? The White Paper on the core network of trunk roads in Wales shows the A483. The road starts off in Wales and goes to an anonymous pink zone—we could call it the friendly zone or the happy Christmas zone, now that we are getting near to Christmas. The road comes out again at a little village called Llanymynech, down whose main street the border runs. The Government office of the west midlands told me that the road is of no interest, although an awful lot of people from the west midlands go to Wales down it. It is obviously a serious matter for Wales because it is part of the strategic network. Who do I talk to about the road and how do I get people to take seriously the chronic traffic problem in Llanymynech? Sometimes, it can take five minutes to cross the road there. Sadly, it is only a matter of time before there is a serious accident. Will the Secretary of State take a personal look at the issue and arrange a meeting with me and possibly my neighbour, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. O¨pik) to discuss the road and the future of a bypass for Llanymynech?
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the matter of transport and roads is devolved to the National Assembly. However, I take his point and will be happy to meet him and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire to discuss the issues.
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the A483 would have been far better had the previous Government invested in a dual carriageway rather than a single carriageway?
Mr. Murphy: I know the road to which my hon. Friend refers, and I am aware that the matter is of considerable concern to him and his local authority. I agree with him entirely.
3. Mr. Lembit O¨pik (Montgomeryshire): What discussions he has had with Departments on introducing measures to reduce flooding in Wales and border areas.''
Mr. Murphy: This is a matter for the National Assembly for Wales in discussion with the lead Whitehall Department and the Environment Agency. Again, I would become involved only if I were asked to intervene to help resolve a difficulty. Until now, I have received no such request.
Mr. O¨pik: Is the Minister aware that half of my constituency is currently underwater and that such flooding is happening more frequently? Does he share my belief that the problem is made worse by the statutory levels required of Clywedog dam? Would he support me in reducing those levels so that the dam overflows less often? That would ease the enormous flooding problem in the Severn valley.
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman has already discussed this important matter with me. My powers under the Clywedog Reservoir Joint Authority Act 1963 include the order-making power to reduce the level of water in the dam. That power will be transferred to the National Assembly for Wales in the next transfer of functions order. However, in the meantime, the matter is still my responsibility and I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss it.
Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): Flooding in Wales has become a growing problem in recent years. In my constituency, villages such as Dinas Powys and Boverton have experienced flooding for the first time. There must be an explanation in climatic change or—I suspect—in major building development that lacks proper facilities for handling additional surface water. It has also been suggested that winter farming techniques are responsible. When winter corn is planted and fields are not furrowed—as they would have been in the past—the retention of water on large open spaces is restricted, creating a big problem. I trust that my right hon. Friend will bear those points in mind when he next has discussions on the matter.
Mr. Murphy: Of course I will. My hon. Friend is right to say that Wales is getting wetter by the year. Some of his explanations for flooding are important. He can rest assured that, when I next meet the First Secretary, I shall ask him to discuss those issues with the Environment Agency.
4. Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): If he has met the First Secretary of the National Assembly for Wales to discuss the impact on Wales of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's pre-Budget statement.
Mr. Murphy: I meet the Assembly and the First Secretary every week to discuss a range of issues.
Mrs. Williams: I am in regular contact with representatives of the Federation of Small Businesses in my constituency—and those for north Wales, as I know you are, Mr. Jones. Will my right hon. Friend explain how the research and development tax credit for small businesses announced in the Chancellor's pre-Budget report affects small business in Wales? Will he elaborate on how it affects my constituency?
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right, of course, to say that the pre-Budget report contained several measures that will help small and medium businesses, including the tax credit to which she referred. The future of the Welsh economy relies greatly on the success of small and medium enterprises in my hon. Friend's north Wales constituency and elsewhere. The Cardiff partnership which, for example, is examining how to deal with objective 1 planning, is treating such issues seriously. The Welsh Development Agency is examining carefully how small and medium businesses in Wales can help to improve the Welsh economy. I am sure that the matters raised by my hon. Friend will be important in years to come.
The Chairman: Committee members will wish to know that their voices are not carrying to the end of the Room.
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion): I should like to raise the question of additionality of European funds with regard to the Welsh bloc. That is in relation not to objective 1—important as that is—but to agricultural programmes such as the Tir Gofal and organic aid schemes. Such schemes may receive up to of 50 per cent. assistance from European funding. Objective 1 areas such as Tir Gofal can receive as much as 70 per cent. European funding. The problem is that the European moneys that should be available to Wales are lost to the Treasury. If funds remained in Wales, we could double the number of farms entering the Tir Gofal scheme at a time when such assistance is desperately needed. I ask the Secretary of State to take the matter up with the Treasury and to press hard to ensure that Wales reaps the full benefit of the European designation. I hope that we can look forward to an announcement soon.