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12 Mar 2003 : Column 332—continued

Mr. Roger Williams: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evans: No, I want to make some progress; I want the Minister in his winding-up speech to answer some questions about tuition fees, about which we have heard much.

When the Secretary of State for Education and Skills announced the funding of further and higher education, we were told that the likelihood was that powers would be devolved to the Welsh Assembly. There followed an embarrassing silence. When I wrote to the Education Secretary, I was told in reply how complex the issue was and how it had to be looked into carefully. That sounded like a perfect recipe for kicking the matter into the long grass. The long grass no longer needs to be that long, because we now understand that in a couple of months' time when the elections are over, a decision will be made on what exactly will happen.

Peter Hain: May I correct the hon. Gentleman? Is he seriously suggesting that examination of the transfer option should be conducted quickly just to complete it ahead of an election campaign, and that perhaps we should short-change Wales? Surely not. If such a transfer were to be agreed, we would have to bottom out the costings in very detailed terms. There are about 8,000 English students studying in Wales and about 6,000 Welsh students studying in England. There are all sorts of issues like that. Officials at the Assembly and in the Department for Education and Skills are getting to the bottom of those cost implications and working out how much money would follow students if the transfer took place.

Mr. Evans: It is the money that follows the students that we are interested in. On one hand we have the Treasury, which might not provide the full amount of money for Welsh universities, and on the other we have the Assembly, which might want to say no to any top-up fees. That would put universities into a straitjacket. We know that there will be a black hole of many millions of pounds, which means that many English students might attend universities in Wales but there will be no investment in those universities because they will not be able to raise funds.

Mr. Williams: I am sure that everyone in the House would want to give young people from disadvantaged

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homes and areas the opportunity to go into higher education. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree, however, that the problems started with the abolition of maintenance grants for students and the introduction of student loans, which were his party's idea? Did he support that at the time?

Mr. Evans: That is rather ridiculous. When I went to Swansea university, I received a small maintenance grant, and of course was charged no tuition fees whatever. When I entered the House to sit on the Government Benches—as we shall shortly do again—I had to listen to Labour politicians shouting at us for attempting to introduce tuition fees to top up maintenance grants. Maintenance grants have been abolished under this Government, and tuition fees have been introduced. I find that amazing. The Dearing report on funding universities recommended that the Government should do one or the other, but they chose to do both. It is appalling and shocking that people who themselves received free education, and maintenance grants as well, should have have removed the ladder from beneath many students.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): My hon. Friend's historical lecture is entirely correct; the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) seeks to misrepresent the position. Does my hon. Friend recall that on 14 April 1997—Welsh students will be conscious of this—the Prime Minister said:

and his position was reinforced 10 days later by the Leader of the House of Commons?

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it not a convention of the House that those who wish to participate in the debate should be present for the opening speeches? I believe that the hon. Gentleman wandered in towards the end of the speech of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans).

Madam Deputy Speaker: The hon. Lady is correct: Mr. Speaker has made it clear that he wishes to see hon. Members in the Chamber for opening speeches—but on this occasion the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) was allowed to intervene by the Opposition spokesman.

Mr. Evans: We are always grateful for the expertise and wisdom of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who has reinforced my point. I suspect that the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) is embarrassed by what her Government did. How can she say to her constituents, "Yes, we are the Government who removed your grants. We are the Government who introduced tuition fees, and we will be the Government who introduce top-up fees." Let us see how she gets on with that line in elections to the Assembly and at the general election. I look forward to visiting her constituency and to debating that issue with her.

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On the national health service—another subject that I look forward to debating with the hon. Lady—we have heard all the statistics from the Secretary of State for Wales, but we know that the number of people waiting for in-patient and out-patient treatment has gone up since 1997; 82,460 people have been waiting more than six months for outpatient treatment. That figure is up 221 per cent. since 1999. The 1999 Welsh Labour manifesto stated that by the end of a Labour Assembly's first term, no one would wait more than six months for out-patient treatment or more than 18 months for in-patient treatment. The Assembly elections are on 1 May. The target has not been met.

However, the number of bureaucrats in the NHS has gone up dramatically—three times the rate of the increase in the number of nurses and doctors in the NHS. We heard the Secretary of State for Wales proudly say how wonderful the health service was, and how wonderful the doctors and nurses thought it was—but why do we see in the The Western Mail the headline, "A third of Welsh nurses to quit early"? The article states:

The same edition quotes a nurse as saying:

No wonder so many nurses say that they will retire early from the NHS. Those are the very people whom we should support.

All that is happening despite the fact that in Wales, the amount of money spent per head of population is £822, whereas in England it is £740. The Secretary of State mentioned the cross-border issues that need to be confronted, particularly in the NHS. The Maelor hospital in Wrexham is at risk of losing £840,000 that it receives from English trusts if it does not meet the targets set in England. The problem is that the targets are lower in Wales than in England, but they are more readily met in England, in spite of the extra funding going into Wales. I find that appalling. It is a disgrace that £15 million is to be wasted on bureaucratic change.

The Secretary of State paints a rosy picture of Wales, but the reality is far from that. Wales needs a dedicated, strong voice at the Cabinet table to fight its cause. In The Independent on Sunday the right hon. Gentleman is quoted as saying:

Yet we find out from another article that he still has a CND membership card in his wallet, next to his heart. Is he a member of CND or is he just a poseur? If the Secretary of State wishes to intervene to clarify that, I shall be more than happy to give way. Is he still a member of CND?

Peter Hain indicated assent.

Mr. Evans: The right hon. Gentleman is still a member of CND, so he is not a poseur. That probably makes him unique among his fellow Cabinet members—apart from one, about whom we have heard much in

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recent days. I am staggered that the right hon. Gentleman acknowledges that, but at least we have put it on the record.

Mr. Bercow: Given that in this debate we are concerned about the interests of the people of Wales, would they not be intensely disturbed to discover that they are represented by a Secretary of State for Wales who remains a member of an organisation whose initials, CND, were memorably described by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) as standing for communist, neutralist and defeatist?

Mr. Evans: The Prime Minister himself might be staggered to find out that his Secretary of State for Wales is still a card-carrying member of CND. After all, the Prime Minister let his membership lapse a long time ago, when he thought it was convenient. Membership may not be the most career-enhancing move.

Peter Hain: This is old news. The Tory Front Bench came up with this dramatic discovery a couple of years ago and made a fuss about it. I do not intend to withdraw my membership from Wales CND, to which I pay £15 a year, just because the hon. Gentleman gets up and has a rant about it.

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