Budget Statement and its Implications for Wales

[back to previous text]

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): Like many others, Mr. Jones, I should like to pay tribute to your role not only as chairman of this Committee, but as an exemplar of everything that a constituency Member of Parliament should be. I have often wondered whether I should table a question to all Departments asking which hon. Member has led more missions to Ministers. I am sure that you would win every time. I should also like to pay tribute to all those hon. Members who are retiring. Without going into detail, they have all played a distinctive part in our lives at Westminster.

We should not look at the Budget in isolation as many hon. Members have tried to do, claiming that it is some sort of sweetener for the election that may be held some time during the next year. We must look at it in the context of all the Budgets produced by our Chancellor who will go down as one of the top three Chancellors of the past 150 years. His Budgets have provided sustainable and stable expansion. They have led to the creation of more jobs in Wales, despite the difficulties in particular industries. In my constituency, steel comes to mind, and there are problems in the furniture industry. On the other hand there is success at Ford. The overall picture is one of success.

Consider the help that the Government have provided for small businesses, not just with the announcements in this Budget, but with the drop in corporation tax for large and small businesses and the fact that business taxes in Britain are 25 per cent. less than those of our major competitors in the European Union. Moreover, let us not forget the proposals in this Budget to try to encourage further investment in research and development. The Government are preparing Britain for the 21st century in a way that it has never been prepared before and they are seeking to give the regions and nations of the United Kingdom a far greater role.

I also welcome the additional money for the public services, which again is only provided because of the way in which the Government have responded to the demands of the 21st century. I should like the Assembly to make speedy decisions to ensure that the extra money for education and health is handed out in the quickest most cost-effective way possible. I know from schools in my constituency and from the Bro Morgannwg NHS trust that it could be well spent without any difficulty to provide a better education and health service for children, young people and adults.

Let us consider the impact of the Budget on individuals and families. It has not been targeted particularly at middle England. It tries to do something for everybody, but particularly for lower paid people, people struggling to get qualifications or into work, and pensioners, who have been given the best deal in the history of the old age pension. The commitment to them is not just for this year; they have been awarded an above-inflation increase for next year. The Budget also creates record low mortgage rates.

How much additional spending power has been put into the Welsh economy? I imagine that it is phenomenal, and it all helps local businesses. The Chancellor is not stop-go, as the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy claimed. Indeed, the Government are determined to build up the economy and are giving three-year forecasts of future expenditure. The National Assembly received 8.2 per cent. more last year and 6.5 per cent. more this year, and it will receive 10.2 per cent. more next year and 7.1 per cent. more the year after that. That money, which has increased way above inflation, will provide public services in Wales. I look forward to the election, whenever it is held, because I know that there will be another convincing Labour victory.

3.32 pm

Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): I have only a few minutes so I shall make only a few brief points. First, I wish to say how pleased I am about the Budget provisions in regard to child poverty and to women. Women and children have never been at the centre of a Budget in the way that they are in this one. I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central said about maternity leave, paternity leave and adoption leave. This is the first Government to have placed children and families at the heart of their policies—the previous Government would not even sign the European directive on parental leave. I am sorry that their representative is not present to defend that policy.

Last Friday, I visited the University hospital of Wales and attended the opening of the leading paediatric intensive care unit—which provides a good reason to talk up Wales and its achievements. The unit, which is a centre of excellence, was funded by extra money from the Assembly and treats children from south Wales, west Wales and England. Tanny Gray, a constituent of mine who was brought up in the Heath hospital in Cardiff, opened the unit and spoke about her experiences; she said that the Heath hospital was where she used to do her training. She talked about the five or six days of training she had done there and then about the good care she had received in the spina bifida unit of the Heath hospital. She was an inspiration.

The Budget is re-distributive, giving money where it is most needed. If we have an election in a few weeks or a few months—whenever it is—the people of Wales will recognise that the Government have put their money where it is needed and are committed to them.

3.34 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (Translation): I endorse all that has been said to you today, Mr. Jones, and I wish you well when you leave the special palace where we usually perform. I sincerely hope that you enjoy your life back in politics, as another hon. Member said. It is also appropriate that I should pay my respects to others, such as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire and my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon, who are retiring from Parliament, but not from politics.

We have had an interesting debate today. The election is on the horizon and it is obvious that people are preparing for it. The Secretary of State's statement was interesting in adopting a historical view of the valley that he represents, but he did not acknowledge that it has reached its present position only after many longstanding crises and problems.

The main weakness of the Budget is that is focused on the UK rather than the Welsh economy. Wales is starting to crumble, suffering from the disappearance of 20,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector and 6,000 in the agricultural sector. The Budget fails to foresee what will happen in Wales over the next two or three years. What is missing is that it has not prepared us enough for what is to come. The Budget may be a perfect answer to the present position, but it does not address the circumstances of the 165 women in Lampeter, for example, who will lose their jobs at Dewhurst. The Budget will not help such people.

The Budget fails to mention cuts in corporation tax or the contributions of employers to create new jobs. The Budget is all right in what it seeks to do, but does not address the true needs of Wales. However, the Budget includes some useful provisions. At one point I thought that the Chancellor, having recently married, would make a personal announcement about a baby bonus through family credit.

Plaid Cymru and I welcome the elements of the Budget that truly apply to Wales as well as to other parts of the UK, but there are some deficiencies. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire offered a clear analysis of the Budget as a reasonable measure, but falling short of the mark with respect to Wales. He spoke about tuition fees—unfortunately, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley did not say how the Conservatives would pay for their new policy in Wales—long-term care and the railways.

The Budget represents a lost opportunity to achieve more with the billions invested in Railtrack. Bit by bit, we should buy it back, although I do not mean total renationalisation. We could turn the £9 billion into company shares and bring 51 per cent. back into the public sector. The sooner that is done, the sooner we shall have the better transport system for which the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire yearned.

In his square mile, the hon. Member for Monmouth talked about Labour's achievements in the past, but he drew a veil over some episodes for which Labour are responsible. They are a Conservative Government with a capital or small ``c''. That is the main deficiency. Although £4 billion of the £23 billion is now being spent on public services, it is late in the day. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire hit the nail on the head when he said that it was a Budget for an election in two or three years' time, which might be when the present Chancellor is Prime Minister.

Another omission from the analysis was a reassessment of the Barnett formula. It is interesting and revealing that the only defence that we have heard for the current system of tying Wales with England and Scotland, on a parliamentary level in Scotland, by the Assembly in Wales and a full Parliament in England, is Barnett. We are told that we cannot do things because of the Barnett formula. Something worked out by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury 20 years ago is now a basis for the British constitution. That is a poor defence. During the next few years, people in Wales will find it a weak reason for continuing with the current system. My hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy talked clearly about how match funding underlines and undermines any arguments for keeping the Barnett formula as it is.

Many hon. Members, such as the hon. Members for Cardiff, Central—I think that something is bothering him—and for Cardiff, North, have contributed in their usual way to today's debate and talked of personal experiences. However, I want to refer to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and the relationship between the Liberal Democrats and Labour. As Tom Jones said, it is not unusual, it happens all the time. Perhaps we can see something developing, but something odd is happening at the moment.

The Government have lost an opportunity. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister said:

    ``The evidence grows daily of the danger of indifference to our duty to treat nature with respect and care for our environment.''

Unfortunately, however, we did not have a Budget to meet that challenge. We have had £100 million for alternative crops and energy, which I very much welcome, but we must accept that the fuel policy is nonsense. I know that we need to cut vehicle excise duty somewhat to help rural areas, but we must face the issue of what to do where traffic is at its worst, in the middle of cities where there are traffic jams and poor air quality. We have heard no ideas in that respect. A way out would be to encourage more development and to use biodiesel, hydrogen and, temporarily, liquid petroleum gas. That, too, has not been encouraged.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 12 March 2001