Budget Statement and its Implications for Wales

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Mr. Edwards: I have been thinking about common sense lately; I came across a document called ``Common Sense'' by an organisation called conservatives.com. I applaud it for quoting me on the back page as saying that I stood by my constituents in their belief that it is morally wrong to hunt animals with dogs as a sport. I congratulate the Conservative party for circulating that and ask whether it has the guts to circulate the views of Mr. Roger Evans, the Conservative candidate.

Mr. Walter: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is giving the term ``common sense'' an airing in the Committee, as well as mentioning the name of the next Conservative Member for Monmouth. The hon. Gentleman must ask Roger Evans himself for his views on hunting: they are not a matter of party political merit, but a matter for the consciences of individual hon. Members, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.

Mr. Edwards: Why not quote them, then?

Mr. Walter: I am not responsible for the newspaper that the hon. Gentleman cites.

Mr. Flynn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Walter: I give way to the farmers' friend.

Mr. Flynn: Can the hon. Gentleman confirm the statement made by Mr. Peter Clarke, who was the Conservative candidate in Newport, West at the previous election, that the best thing that the Government could do for pensioners would be to ship them to Eritrea? Is that still Conservative party policy?

Mr. Walter: I am as amused as are some of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues by that intervention, which is clearly nonsense and so out of court with the debate on the policies of the two main parties in this pre-election period that I do not know why he wasted the Committee's time by making it.

The Chairman: Order. In view of the fact that the hon. Gentleman will not be present this afternoon, will he bring his remarks to a close soon?

Mr. Walter: I shall bring my remarks to a speedy close, Mr. Jones, and I apologise for the fact that because I took interventions my speech was longer than I intended it to be.

The new Conservative Government will concentrate on the right priorities for Wales. We will create an enterprise society and quality public services. We will be a Government that delivers more and taxes less. Unlike the Budget, we will deliver for all the people of Wales.

Several hon. Members rose—

The Chairman: Order. I remind hon. Members that 10-minute speeches will help the Committee.

12.45 pm

Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): Thank you for calling me so early in this debate, Mr. Jones. I should like to comment briefly on the contribution from the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter). I commend the hon. Gentleman for his bravado; he raised issues and covered topics that the Leader of the Opposition does not dare raise at Prime Minister's questions, such as health, education or our success with the economy. However, we accept no lectures from Conservatives Members on any of those matters. There is an 80:20 split in voters' opinions in favour of the Government and the Labour party on the health service. The Conservatives did not apply for objective one status, and we will listen to no lectures on employment and the management of the Welsh economy from the party that gave us unemployment of 3 million.

Mr. Ruane: On the issue of structural funds and grant aid, is my hon. Friend aware that not only did the Conservatives not apply for objective one, but they voted to get rid of assisted area status in my constituency?

Mr. Williams: Their record right across Wales caused them to be wiped out in 1997. They will see a repeat performance whenever the general election comes.

I should like to return to the Budget and its effect on Wales. There are many measures that are warmly welcomed not just by Labour Members, but by all the people of Wales. The children's tax credit will give families up to £10 and the £5 rise in the working families tax credit will help to make work pay and to tackle the enormous problem of child poverty, which grew under the Tories. The minimum income guarantee will jump from £78 a week to £92 a week for a single pensioner, which is a wonderful increase for the poorest pensioners. There is an increase for all pensioners of £5 a week for single people and £8 a week for married couples. That is the biggest increase in the last 20 years, if not longer.

I greatly welcome the research and development tax incentives. One of the failings of British industry has been that we have not invested in research and development in the same way as Japan, Germany and the United States and other advanced economies. I am delighted that the tax incentives that we introduced earlier for small and medium enterprises are to be spread to the biggest companies. It will produce a huge long-term spin-off for the whole of Britain.

The Chancellor has a wonderful record on the macro-economic front. We have the lowest unemployment for 25 years, the lowest inflation since records began at 1.8 per cent. and the lowest interest rates. We have not mentioned interest rates this morning, but they are down to 5.75 per cent and are predicted to fall to 5.5 per cent. or 5.25 per cent before the end of the year. The cost of a mortgage is £1,200 less than it was under the Tories. There is steady sustainable economic growth of 2.5 per cent. a year. Debt is being repaid on a massive scale. As a proportion of GDP, debt repayment has dropped from 44 per cent. to 31 per cent. By transforming deficit into surplus, we now have the platform to expand investment in health and education substantially.

Over the next three years, we will see growth in real terms of 5 or 6 per cent. a year. That is a wonderful backdrop for a general election campaign. When we are returned—I am confident that we will be—the Labour Government will have a phenomenal record in health, education and the economy in the first half of our second term. We will deliver things that Labour Governments and Labour Oppositions over the years could only dream about.

In earlier exchanges, we heard about substantial job losses, which have had an impact in my constituency. We all go through bad periods. Dewhurst in Lampeter employs many people who live on my side of the constituency boundary; the same goes for Dairy Crest in Johnstown near Carmarthen. Valeo in Gorseinon has lost 270 jobs and some of my constituents in Ammanford have suffered.

Our dynamic economy, however, has breadth and depth and new jobs are continually being created. Mitzui Kinzoku is a new company in my constituency providing 100 new jobs this year. International Rectifiers in Penllergaer will also be a great help to those made redundant from Valeo; comparable technologies are used in the two companies. Ammanford has a call centre that is now ready for an occupant and we hope that another 300 jobs will be created there over the next few months.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out earlier, some job losses in the valley, which has gone through several generations of job changes, are to be expected. Job losses are part of life; the Government can only try to create an economic climate in which new jobs outnumber the losses. The Government have succeeded in doing so across Wales and, more widely, across Britain. Unemployment has dropped substantially—by about a third last year—in every Welsh constituency. In my constituency, 1,536 people were unemployed in May 1997, compared with 1,037 according to the latest figures.

Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman talks about job losses and gains, but farming is vital to his constituency. While farming is now facing the worst crisis that anyone can remember, is it right for Parliament to spend time debating the banning of hunting with hounds, which will cost jobs in his own constituency? Even a Labour peer, Lord Donoughue, said that job losses might be twice as many as predicted.

Mr. Williams: I was about to move on to rural affairs, so the hon. Gentleman has anticipated the next part of my speech. On foxhunting, he is out of line with public opinion, including opinion in rural areas. The number of jobs in foxhunting is trivial and the individuals affected can be much better employed elsewhere.

We are moving towards full employment in this country and, in recent years, the Chancellor has made it increasingly clear that that is the Labour Government's goal. The crocodile tears of—[Interruption.] I wish that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) had the courtesy to listen to my answer. It is amazing to see crocodile tears about job losses from a representative of a party that destroyed 30,000 coalmining jobs in south Wales. In that context, I am not too concerned about a handful of jobs in foxhunting. We can train those people to do much more useful activities.

Farmers in rural areas have suffered from difficult times over the past three or four years; longer, in fact, as the trouble started with the BSE crisis. I recall Professor Peter Midmore of Aberystwyth anticipating 30,000 job losses in northern Wales. That was his prediction in 1997, but where are those job losses? At 2 per cent., Powys has the lowest unemployment in Wales. My own constituency has 3.5 per cent. unemployment and it is not so different across rural Wales. Fortunately, farmers are multi-skilled and able to turn their hands to other employment. The Government have created a suitable environment for massive job creation, which helps rapidly to mop up unemployment; I am delighted about that.

On the foot and mouth epidemic, the Government are doing all they can to minimise animal traffic. I am delighted that the general public has been sensible in respecting the restrictions. Great difficulties have obviously been caused to the tourist industry in rural areas but all we can do is to try to minimise the duration of the problem to within four or six weeks; that is the purpose of the Government's policies. The Government will look sympathetically at consequential losses in due course.

Finally, in regard to the general election, the opposition in my constituency comes from Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party. We regularly hear, as we heard this morning, pleas for more money for this and for that; for farmers, miners, students, the health service or pensioners. Plaid Cymru gives the impression that that will all be done.

The truth is that Plaid Cymru stands for an independent Wales. If we had the status of Ireland or Denmark, we would lose the Barnett formula; a loss of £2 billion a year. Should we ever have a Plaid Cymru Government, we would have cuts of 20 per cent. in the health service, education, social services and across the board. The so-called party of Wales does not represent the interests of the people of Wales. For the past 100 years, the people of Wales have voted for a Labour Government. They got a landslide Labour Government in 1997 and we hope that in a few weeks there will be another landslide Labour Government.

12.57 pm

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