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Mr. Alan W. Williams: I have looked up the unemployment figures for the constituency of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik). The latest figures for December show that 594 people were out of

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work, an unemployment rate of 2.2 per cent. I think that he and many of us who represent rural areas are relieved that unemployment is relatively very low in our areas.

Mr. Evans: I hope that the hon. Gentleman never loses that book, because he will have nothing to say if he does. It is all very well to trot out statistics glibly and to say what the rate of unemployment in the Montgomeryshire constituency is, but everything the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) said was right. People are fearful of jobs going in rural areas. The arrogance that the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Mr. Williams) is displaying does him no great credit. People who work in manufacturing industries, not just in Wales but throughout the United Kingdom, will know that, since 1997, 370,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost. In Wales, 16,000 have been lost. It is a real problem when manufacturing jobs, the bread and butter, the guts, of British industry, are lost.

Mr. Öpik: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although the statistics for Montgomeryshire are very good, that is not an excuse for ignoring the dangers that he has been describing? The thousands of Corus job losses are unquestionably a serious matter. However, the loss of 200 jobs--the losses are not definite yet--in a place like Llanidloes would have at least the same impact as the Corus job losses will have at Ebbw Vale.

Mr. Evans: Of course I accept that job losses in rural areas have a disproportionate impact. I suspect that Labour Members representing rural constituencies will also accept that and realise how much more difficult it is to attract industry to those areas. I should hope that all hon. Members agree that jobs, particularly manufacturing jobs, in rural areas are hard to come by.

We have already heard about the post office closures of the past four years. We also know that, for many people, the post office may be their only village shop. It is pointless saying that those people can simply get into their cars and go to a neighbouring village where a post office may have survived, because many people do not have a vehicle. Additionally, rural transport is poor--although I concede that it has always been poor. The state of rural transport, however, should only make us recognise all the more the importance of the post office network in rural Wales.

Petrol is another bugbear. We now have some of the highest petrol prices and petrol taxation in the world. We really do need to recognise that fact. Several months ago, spontaneous petrol disputes were a recognition of that fact. Since then, however, very little has happened to change the situation. We have all heard about the wonderful new low sulphur petrol, but I have yet to see it being sold in any of the garages that I visit--[Interruption.] I am not saying that it will not be available, but currently many garages do not sell it.

Mrs. Lawrence: As the hon. Gentleman does not represent a Welsh constituency, he may not be aware that the Government's policy on both ultra-low sulphur diesel and ultra-low sulphur petrol has secured, in the medium to long term, the refinery in my constituency which is one of the major employers there.

Mr. Evans: I was in the hon. Lady's constituency, with the excellent Stephen Crabb, the prospective

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parliamentary candidate for her constituency, who showed me round Haverfordwest and Milford Haven. As she herself would concede, Milford Haven is an unemployment black spot and has tremendous problems, and it would take a disproportionate effort to attract jobs to her constituency. I realise that. I lived in Swansea for 33 years, and it was difficult to attract investment even there, although it is only an hour from Cardiff. It will take even more energy to attract investment further west.

Mrs. Lawrence: The hon. Gentleman's comments seem to highlight his lack of knowledge--despite his recent visit to my constituency, about which he did not notify me. The employment figures in my constituency have improved massively, primarily because of the 1,500 jobs at Cyber Park that we anticipate will have been created by June, although almost as many have already been created. Most of Cyber Park's employees come from my constituency. At the opening of the latest development there, the Employment Service made the point that those jobs have had the knock-on effect of creating another 4,000 jobs in the community. Perhaps, having been to my constituency, the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge at least those facts.

Mr. Evans: I have apologised privately to the hon. Lady for the discourtesy in not notifying her, and I do so again publicly. I can also guarantee her that, in just a couple of weeks, when I visit her constituency with the most excellent Stephen Crabb, I shall most certainly let her know. Perhaps she could join me in a walk-round. Perhaps we could go to Milford Haven and see the problems there. Although I hear what she says, I am sure that she will concede the difficulty of dealing with unemployment in western and rural Wales and the need for even more energy to be devoted to attracting industry there.

Mr. Alan W. Williams: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evans: No. I have to make a little more progress, but I shall give way later.

I asked the Minister about farming, and he conceded that it is experiencing real and severe problems. Even the Minister, however, may not fully understand the impact that the farming crisis is having in parts of Wales. Recently, the Western Mail reported that 73 jobs a week were being lost to Welsh farming. The total number of people employed on Welsh farms in June 2000 was 55,700, 3,800 fewer than a year before. These statistics come from the National Assembly. The president of the Farmers Union of Wales, Bob Parry, said:

Hugh Richards, the president of the National Farmers Union in Wales, described the figure as

There has been a dramatic fall of 13 per cent. in the number of full-time farmers over two years, from 25,800 in 1998 to 22,600 in 2000. Mr. Parry said:

5 Feb 2001 : Column 680

Many of those involved in farming are coming to London on 18 March. I have encouraged the Prime Minister to be here on that date to meet a delegation of rural dwellers from my constituency. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State could say whether he will be here on that date to meet representatives of Welsh farmers and those who live in rural areas; they will have a strong message to send to him. Many people in Wales are scratching their heads and wondering why time is being taken to legislate on hunting with hounds when there are so many deep-seated problems in Wales.

An additional problem for which the Government are specifically responsible is the introduction of the climate change levy. I ask Ministers to look carefully at the impact that that will have on those farmers in Wales--particularly horticulturists--who use a lot of energy. Will Ministers scrap this dreadful and appalling tax?

Tax on petrol, in particular, is regressive and hits the poorest parts of society. On average, each family in Wales is paying £670 net more taxes today than in May 1997; after the Government's promise that there would be no new taxes, that seems a bit rich to these people. The real problem comes when people think, "We are paying the taxes, so where are the services?"

I shall refer to one example that should worry everyone in the country. Nothing is more socially excluding or hurtful to the poor than to have the NHS not delivering the decent health care that they expect after paying their taxes. Many people in this Chamber could afford private health care if they so wished. Those who are socially excluded and live on low incomes have no choice; they must use the health service. The total of Welsh residents waiting for in-patient or day-case treatment has gone up from March 1997 by 14.7 per cent. The number of patients waiting over 12 months rose between 31 March 1997 and 31 December 2000 by 85 per cent. For the same period, the number of patients waiting more than 18 months has gone up by 251 per cent. Those are chilling figures, and the Government should work with the Welsh Assembly to ensure that we get a much improved service for the people of Wales.

When the Government of Wales Act 1998 was enacted, establishing the Assembly, Government Members gave the impression that everything would be rosy and that it was guaranteed that waiting lists would go down. We were almost tempted to believe that the Welsh rugby team would win every game--although, sadly, after Saturday, that is clearly not the case. There is not much that the Government can do about Welsh rugby, but there is everything that they can do about the health service in Wales.

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