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House of Commons

Wednesday 12 December 2001

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Greenham and Crookham Commons Bill

As amended, considered; to be read the Third time.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Nuclear Installations

2. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): What recent discussions he has had with the First Secretary of the National Assembly for Wales on the environmental and social impact of nuclear installations in the vicinity of the Severn estuary and the Bristol channel. [20037]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): I meet the First Minister regularly to discuss a range of issues.

Mr. Heath: I am grateful for that informative answer.

The Bristol channel area probably contains the highest concentration of nuclear installations anywhere. Given that fact, given the strong feelings on both sides of the channel about expansion of the nuclear industry—last evidenced during the inquiry into Hinkley C more than a decade ago—and given the energy review that is now under way, does the Minister not think it important for the Wales Office and the National Assembly for Wales to have an opportunity to put a case to those conducting the review regarding feelings in Wales and, incidentally, in the west country?

Mr. Touhig: I take the hon. Gentleman's point, which is very important. I can tell him that I represent the Wales Office on the performance and innovation unit's review body. The energy review was announced by the Prime Minister in June 2001, and is examining strategic issues surrounding energy policy for Great Britain up to 2050. The Prime Minister will receive a copy of the report before the end of the year, and will then make a decision on its publication. Obviously I cannot say what its content

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will be at this stage, but I am sure that the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman will be debated vigorously as soon as it is published.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East): My hon. Friend will know of the findings of Dr. Chris Busby on the incidence of cancers in populations living along the Severn estuary. He will also know that the Welsh cancer intelligence and surveillance unit is studying those findings. Does he agree that, where scientific findings on public health issues are concerned, we must insist on the fullest candour and exposure of the evidence on the part of all involved?

Mr. Touhig: I am aware of the concerns expressed by my right hon. Friend following the publication of Dr. Busby's report in April. I am also aware of the report's contents. A report by the independent Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment comparing the pattern of cancer cases around nuclear installations with the national pattern is nearing completion and, hopefully, will be published by the end of the year. I am also aware that the Assembly has asked the intelligence and surveillance unit to report on childhood cancer data relating to the Chepstow area, which will be published early in the new year. I agree with my right hon. Friend that we should then engage in the fullest possible discussion of its contents.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): The Minister has an important role to play on the PIU working party. Given the discussions and concerns on both sides of the Severn about nuclear power stations, will he take this opportunity to rule out any expansion of nuclear energy in Wales or the west country? Will he also tell us what consideration the working party is giving to the huge potential for tidal energy generation on the Severn? Finally, does he agree that we in Wales need what Scotland was given this week—a report stating exactly where renewable energy will be produced in the country, in this case Wales?

Mr. Touhig: I seem to remember the hon. Gentleman asking me exactly the same question in the Welsh Grand Committee on 28 November. He will know that my response must be the same now—that it would not be proper for me to comment on the contents of the PIU report until it is published. I can tell him that there was no presumption either for or against nuclear power as a source of energy for our country, but he and other Members must now wait until the report is published. I have no doubt that the matters he has raised will be discussed fully then.

Working Families Tax Credit

3. Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon): How many households in Wales have benefited from the working families tax credit; and if he will make a statement. [20038]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): The Inland Revenue estimates that 76,000 families were receiving working families tax credit on 31 May 2001.

Dr. Francis: In my constituency, 1,300 families benefit from the tax credit. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a

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vital part of the Government's anti-child-poverty agenda? Does he also agree that the work of the Children's Society in Wales is also part of that agenda?

Mr. Touhig: Indeed I do. The Government are committed to making work pay by improving incentives to help people move from benefit into work. I know that there was a debate in Westminster Hall about the Children's Society this morning, and I share some of the worries expressed by many Members about its decision to pull out of Wales.

It is important to recognise the value of schemes such as the working families tax credit in moving people from benefit into work. According to the labour force survey results published today, Wales has accounted for well over half the job growth in the United Kingdom in the last quarter, and 14,000 more people are in work now than in the last quarter. Working families tax credit and similar measures are turning out to be a very good story for the people of Wales.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon): Is the Minister aware that there is a serious lack of appropriate child care, particularly in very rural areas such as Caernarfon, despite the generous provision in the working families tax credit for child care? When he next meets his colleagues in the National Assembly for Wales, will he press for development of child care in very rural areas by means of the national child care strategy?

Mr. Touhig: I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. A total of 2,200 families benefit from the working families tax credit in his constituency. Throughout Wales, 38,000 lone parents have been helped into work. There is an element of the child care strategy attached to the working families tax credit, but I am aware from my constituency surgeries of the problems that he outlines. I shall raise that with colleagues in the Assembly when I next meet them.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): Seventeen hundred hard-working families in my constituency have also benefited from the working families tax credit. Does my hon. Friend agree that working tax credits will build on the enormous success of the working families tax credit and get more people into work?

Mr. Touhig: I do. Like many hon. Members, I suspect, when knocking on doors during the recent general election, I found lots of people who did not have children and could not benefit from the working families tax credit but who felt that they needed some help and support, too. The Government are committed to that. That is why we will have the working tax credit and child tax credit in place from 2003.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): On behalf of Conservative Members, may I offer our condolences to Labour Members on the sad loss of Ray Powell? I knew him better than most in my party, in that we worked together for many years through the usual channels. We disagreed often but he was usually fun to work with and always kept his word. He will be sorely missed in all parts of the House.

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Is not the most alarming thing about the working families tax credit the fact that it is costing employers approximately £100 million a year to pay it through the wage packet? How much of that burden is falling on employers based in Wales? Does the Minister accept that the scheme ignores the needs of those in training? How does he intend to deal with that?

Mr. Touhig: I sincerely thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments about Ray Powell. I am sure that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have many stories to tell of their associations and work with Ray. He will be sadly missed, and is a great loss to the House and to his constituents.

The right hon. Gentleman must recognise that his party was totally opposed to the working families tax credit, just as it was opposed to the introduction of the national minimum wage, the working tax credit and the child tax credit. We are putting those measures in place in order to make work pay. It is no good moving people from poverty in benefit to poverty in work. The working families tax credit and the other tax credits, coupled with the national minimum wage, mean that today a person working 35 hours a week in Wales will have a minimum income of £225. That is a good news story.

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