Budget Statement and its Implications for Wales

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

Mr. Llwyd: We will debate the topic tomorrow, when the hon. Gentleman can make his point.

The Secretary of State might say that he does not need a lecture on miners' compensation from anyone from Meirionnydd. However, if the Government took a fair approach in the first place, I would not have to argue the points and the Government would not have to concede them bit by bit.

Plaid Cymru believes that the Budget is not a good one for Wales; it is no Budget for Wales at all. Wales has been let down and I am sure that, come the election, the people will show their disappointment.

2.14 pm

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): I will not pick up on the comments of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, because I am aware of the time constraints. I echo the points made earlier about the contributions of by those hon. Members who are due to retire from Parliament. I want to say in particular that I have learned that no Member is as assiduous in dealing with his constituents' affairs as you, Mr. Jones. Whoever follows in your footsteps will have a difficult time matching your unique record.

I want to speak about the Budget and what it has done for the future of Wales. I was brought up in Maerdy, and I remember the devastation that the Tories visited on that mining village and the lack of hope for the young people who grew up there. In my previous job—my last real job, some would say—I taught in social priority schools for 15 years, and I discovered that it is extremely difficult to motivate children from poor backgrounds with poverty of ambition and little hope and aspiration for bettering their lives.

Given what has been achieved in the past four years, and particularly in the most recent Budget, I am proud to be a member of this Labour Government. Wales has low inflation, low interest rates, low mortgages and high employment. Today's generation of young people are much better off than those whom I used to teach. Aspirations are much higher because there is the real option of a variety of work that has not existed in 25 years. The development and success of the new deal has created 814 opportunities in my constituency alone, where 406 young people have secured work as a result. Youth unemployment is greatly reduced—indeed, the new deal has virtually eliminated it.

I take great pride in our Government's efforts to help working families to bring up their children. Maternity pay has been increased and extended, and paternity leave is now given. Past Governments have ignored the needs and duties of women parents in particular, but they have also ignored those of men. When my first child was born, I was not entitled to paternity leave. To get the day off, I had to fiddle the system with the help of my head teacher.

Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is particularly pleasing that some of those provisions have been extended to adoptive parents?

Mr. Jones: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The failure to give such support to foster parents and adoptive parents was an indefensible anomaly. We have increased child benefit by unheard-of levels, and although there is more that we could do we have made great headway in helping people to bring up their children.

Other hon. Members have mentioned some of those points, but little mention was made—even in the Budget coverage—of the Chancellor's announcement that this year he will pay off £34 billion of national debt. Perhaps that is not regarded as a sexy issue, but £34 billion is more than was paid off in the preceding 40 years, and will result in a huge investment in young people. Had that money not been paid off, it would have been the young people of today who would have paid during the next 20 to 25 years in terms of increased taxes and reduced services. Some on the left used to argue—perhaps they still do—that we should borrow more to invest in services, but I have never regarded that view as moral. The argument that the following generation should be obliged to pay for services enjoyed by the current generation is not a socialist one, and I do not understand why it was advanced. I am very pleased that the Chancellor has shown his confidence in, and invested in, this country's youth.

We must also consider the extra money that has been put into education. We have not yet heard the Welsh Assembly's decision about what it will do with the money that it has been given for education and health. It is entitled to make its own decisions, and spend the money in any way it sees fit, but I sincerely hope that it is spent on Welsh schools.

The Welsh Assembly has said that Wales has a skills shortage. There are problems in developing the Welsh economy, and with GDP. It has looked at Ireland as an exemplar, and at the ways in which Ireland has devoted money to education and upskilling to fuel its burgeoning economy. There is surely, therefore, an argument for the Assembly to spend at least as much money on education as the Westminster Government are spending, if not much more. I look forward to the Assembly's decision in the very near future.

I must voice my disquiet about the Assembly's decisions on direct payments to schools. Both the English and Scottish Governments have decided that some money should be directed straight at schools. My experience—not only as a politician, but as a teacher in Mid-Glamorgan for 15 years—has led me to believe that, at a local level, schools themselves are often in the best position to make immediate decisions about what is in their best interests. That is empowerment for schools, and as a result they are often far better at screwing out the last piece of value from the money allocated to them.

We hear a lot about partnership, and I agree that there must be partnership between the different stakeholders and providers, and with local government. However, there must also be partnership with schools, head teachers, teachers and parents. In the provision of education, those people are as important as, if not more important than, local education authorities, important though their role is. I would like to see the idea of partnership extended to cover all who contribute to education, not just local government.

Ms Morgan: My hon. Friend is an expert in the subject that he is discussing, and takes much interest in it. However, some schools are more wealthy than others, and have more reserves. If payments are made directly to head teachers and schools, rather than going through the local authorities, which can differentiate between schools and target money where it is most needed, how can relative wealth be taken into account?

Mr. Jones: The vast majority of money goes to LEAs and I am not arguing that it should all go to schools. Head teachers would, however, welcome some money, and in England the sums concerned are considerable: £40-odd thousand for each average primary school a year, for the next three years, and nearly £100,000 for each average secondary school a year, for the next three years. I trust head teachers to spend such money wisely—in my experience, they tend to spend it more wisely than anyone else.

I am prompted to make such comments because, during the past few weeks, an Opposition party has distributed a number of leaflets in my constituency. They draw critical attention to the Government's spending promises on education and health, and, in particular, allege that schools in Cardiff are underfunded in comparison with other areas. There may be nothing unusual in Opposition parties drawing attention to the Government's promises because it is their role to do so. However, the Opposition party to which I am referring is the Liberal Democrat party, which is not just an Opposition party in Wales, but a party of Government in Wales. It is even stranger that the leaflets were published at 133 City road, which is the constituency office of the Assembly Member, Jenny Randerson, who is also a Cabinet Minister with collective responsibility for making those decisions. I know that the concept of collective responsibility for decisions is alien to the Liberal Democrats and after 100 years it may be difficult for them to recall what it means, but I do not expect a Cabinet Minister, who receives a handsome salary for making collective decisions on education and health, to send out literature condemning those decisions.

Education spend in Cardiff is low compared with most parts of Wales. Last weekend, I saw Chris Bettinson, deputy mayor with responsibility for resources in Cardiff, and asked him why Cardiff's spend is less than that for other parts of Wales. He replied that the standard spending assessment for Cardiff is almost the lowest in Wales, but not as low as in Monmouth, and that it is impossible to match the spend levels of other places without taking resources from other areas of local government responsibility. It is for members of the Committee to decide whether they believe that, but there are only two possible reasons for spending on education in Cardiff being lower than elsewhere. It is due either to the standard spending assessment being lower than elsewhere, as the local authority claims, so that it cannot match what other areas spend, or the authority is underspending on education in comparison with other services. If either of those reasons is correct, the responsibility to do something about it lies with the Welsh Assembly, which has the power to distribute money differently or to force local authorities to spend more on education if it believes that they are underspending. Yet, the leaflets were produced in the constituency office of a Cabinet Minister for Wales. What better example can there be of complete irresponsibility? I am astonished that neither of the Liberal Democrats present has attempted to defend that.

Hon. Members: Come on.

Mr. Ipik rose—

Hon. Members: Hooray.

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