Building Safer Communities

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Mr. Ruane: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who last Thursday met the members of the Welsh Optro-Electronic Forum and a senior Thales representative, Benwar Bazir. The Welsh Optro-Electronic Forum is key to the regeneration of central north Wales. They intend to put forward a £10 million objective 1 project that will have incubation and research facilities. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends for their full political support for such projects.

Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend touches on an important issue. I know that he champions the opto-electronic industry in his constituency and the rest of Wales. I welcome the announcement of £210,000 for the objective 1 programme, which the Government secured for Wales—let us not forget that. That money is allocated to establishing a sector champion for this key industry. I wish the Welsh Optro-Electronic Forum well in its bid for objective 1 funding. As has been said, the manufacturing industry is important. Equally, industries, such as that of opto-electronics, are key future sectors for creating wealth and prosperity in Wales.

Child Poverty

4. Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): If he will make a statement on child poverty in Wales.[148990] The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): The Government are committed to eradicating child poverty within 20 years and to halving it within 10. Personal tax and benefit measures, announced during this Parliament, will lift more than one million children out of low income poverty; that includes an estimated 50,000 children in Wales. The Government and the National Assembly for Wales place a high priority on tackling the causes of poverty and social exclusion, as well as alleviating the symptoms.

Mr. Williams: My hon. Friend will be aware that during the Conservative Government from 1979 to 1997, child poverty trebled. We have made great inroads into that problem through record rises in child benefit, the new deal and the working families tax credit. Can he explain how the children's tax credit, which will be introduced in the Budget, will also help?

Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend touches on an important issue. Many of the changes that he mentioned—the working families tax credit, increases in child benefit and income support, and the minimum wage—have dramatically reduced child poverty in Wales. The Conservative party opposed those measures and, if elected, would abolish them. The child care tax credit, which is part of the working families tax credit, will help with 70 per cent. of child care costs, up to a maximum of £100 for one child and £150 for two or more children. Again, there is no warm welcome from the Conservative party, the major opposition party in Wales and the United Kingdom, for those measures.

Police Funding

5. Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): What representations he has made to the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the difference between per capita spending on policing in Wales and England in the last three financial years; and if he will make a statement.[148991] The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): Per capita spending on policing in Wales was around £7 higher than for England, excluding the seven metropolitan forces, in 1997-98, rising to over £9 higher by 1999-2000. Per capita spending on policing in Wales during the past three years has been consistently level with the England and Wales average and consistently higher than the average for English shire forces. I have not, therefore, made any representations to the Home Secretary about the level of per capita funding and I will write to the hon. Gentleman with the full figures.

Mr. Thomas: I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. Will he nevertheless confirm that, if he included the metropolitan forces, per capita expenditure on police forces in Wales would be £15 less than in England? Will he also concede that, over the past three years, the amount—excluding or including metropolitan forces—paid out of central funds to police forces in Wales has gone down, resulting in an additional burden on the council tax payer in Wales? Should he not have at least made representations to the Home Secretary about that issue?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is wrong to compare those figures. He should compare like with like, and the equivalent police forces in England are those outside the metropolitan areas. We have had a very good deal on police funding in Wales, and if Wales were to become independent, we would have a much worse deal.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): On the subject of expenditure on our police forces, is my right hon. Friend aware of the dramatic turnaround in policing in the Vale of Glamorgan, which has recently become one of the safest constituencies in Wales? Does he agree that, as well as expenditure, reduction in the crime rate is due to having good coppers doing a good job, which is what has happened in my constituency?

Mr. Murphy: I agree with my hon. Friend. He has been conscious in the past of the level of crime in his constituency. I am delighted to hear that it has come down and to inform him that the situation is getting better, month by month, as a result of a Labour Government.

National Health Service

6. Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): What discussions he has had with the relevant Assembly Secretary about the restructuring of the national health service in Wales.[148992] The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular meetings with the National Assembly First Minister and the Health and Social Services Minister to discuss the NHS and other health matters relating to Wales.

Ms Morgan: I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that the proposed national health plan for Wales, which will get rid of one layer of bureaucracy and five quangos while probably retaining the community health councils, means that a distinctive health agenda for Wales is developing? Does he agree that getting rid of one tier of bureaucracy will mean that more money will go to direct patient care?

Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend will be aware that the Assembly is currently consulting on both the organisational matters to which she refers—community health councils and the abolition of health authorities. The Assembly will have the power to examine the future of community health councils, if the Bill currently in the Commons is passed, and it will consult further on the abolition of health authorities. Both are measures that it can consider independently.

The key thing that my hon. Friend mentioned is resources. Whatever savings result from the abolition of health authorities, the National Assembly for Wales will have additional resources for the next couple of years due to the Government's major investment. The Assembly has received £1.35 billion from the Government, which it is allocating to health services. I remind my hon. Friend that that money would never have been given by a Conservative Government—and that Plaid Cymru could never have given it.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Four years ago, the country was told that it had only 24 hours to save the NHS. This week, an 87-year-old lady spent 24 hours on a trolley because a bed could not be found for her, and it has also been reported that 661 beds in Wales are blocked by elderly people because there is nowhere else for them to go, and the Llanclwyd hospital has had to close a 30 bed surgical ward because of staff shortages—it does not have enough trained nurses.

Yesterday, the Government admitted that their education policies have failed. Today, should they not admit that they have failed the NHS?

Mr. Hanson: The Conservative party has pledged to make £24 million of cuts in each constituency in Wales and to reduce taxes. Given that it is committed to such cuts in resources, can any hon. Member tell me how it would be able to direct more resources into the NHS? The £1.35 billion of extra spending on health would not have happened had the party of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) continued in office on 1 May, and there would be less money for the health service in Wales if his party were ever again to form the Government.

Job Losses

7. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): If he will list the operating aids which he has assessed to alleviate problems caused by recent job losses in manufacturing; and if he will make a statement.[148993] The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have not made an assessment of any such operating aids. Such matters are to be considered by the National Assembly for Wales and the relevant Government Departments, as appropriate.

Mr. Llwyd: I am disappointed by that answer, bearing in mind the huge concern that is felt by Committee members about job losses in manufacturing. I ask the Secretary of State again to consider measures such as cuts in corporation tax and in national insurance employers' contributions, and substantial tax breaks for research and development? Those are matters that he should be discussing with his colleagues, either in the National Assembly or at Westminster. He cannot sit by and say that they are matters for others to decide, because they are, in part, his responsibility.

Mr. Murphy: I am, of course, aware that the National Assembly's Minister for Economic Development recently visited Brussels on a fact-finding visit about operating aids. I am also aware that certain aids can be determined between the Assembly and the European Union. For example, the finance Wales loans products fall within the Assembly's area of responsibility, and I understand that the European Commission is expected to clear the loans of containing an aid element. The Assembly is also working with my right hon. Friend, the Deputy Prime Minister on a rate relief scheme for small businesses. The European Commission has to be involved in the matter. The Assembly and the Government are working jointly on that. In addition, the Treasury has proposed a community investment tax credit, which it is discussing with the Assembly. When the details are finalised, the proposal will have to be put to the European Commission. So the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) is wrong: the National Assembly and my Cabinet colleagues are taking up these matters with the European Union.


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