Previous SectionIndexHome Page

12 Mar 2003 : Column 392—continued

6.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): This debate has once again demonstrated the important role that Welsh matters play in the affairs of the House. I am delighted that so many Members have taken the opportunity to contribute to a wide-ranging debate. Let me remind hon. Members of the progress relating to Wales that we have been making in this place in the last year.

The Health (Wales) Bill has come before Parliament: the first Wales-only Bill to be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. Other Bills containing important provisions for Wales, such as the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill and the Local Government Bill, have been debated. In the post-devolution world, therefore, Wales's voice at Westminster remains strong, which is what the people of Wales want: a strong voice in Parliament and an influential and strong voice in Government. They would not support proposals from other parties to dilute that influence and weaken Wales's voice. The Tory sham of supporting devolution while constantly sniping at it is not the answer, nor is the nationalists' efforts to undermine it in their claims for separation and for the break up of Britain. The Liberal Democrats agree with everybody—as they always do, depending on whom they are speaking to—and have no answer either.

Many of the speeches today have reflected the progress that the Government, working in partnership with the Labour-led Assembly, have made over the past year.

Mr. Win Griffiths: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Touhig: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not do so, as I must try to make many responses.

12 Mar 2003 : Column 393

Let us make no mistake: we have a good story to tell. I am far happier talking about the record of our Government than about that of our rugby team at present. Confident and ever-optimistic, however, I believe that the Welsh rugby team, like the phoenix, will rise from the ashes.

There are over 60,000 more people in employment in Wales now than there were a year ago. The agricultural and tourism sectors are making a strong recovery from the setbacks of previous years and exciting projects in both private and public sectors are being developed across Wales, such as Airbus, DARA at St. Athan, the Wales millennium centre, the Baglan energy park, and the proposed film studios near Bridgend.

General Dynamics' investment in my constituency is another success story. The Labour Government, working in partnership with the Labour-led Assembly, are delivering results in better jobs and more prosperity for the people of Wales. Those examples are part of our success story and they show the partnership between a strong Labour Government in Westminster and a Labour-led Assembly.

I wish to highlight three areas in which I have personally witnessed the benefits of that partnership in recent weeks. Only last Friday I attended an event to mark the new deal helping 50,000 people into work. I remember the Opposition saying that the new deal would not help to reduce unemployment. What do they say now about the 50,000 people in Wales who have jobs as a result of Labour's new deal initiative? They have no answer. Secondly, we are delivering results in fighting crime. Our investment has delivered a record 600 extra police officers in Wales and overall crime levels are down by 15 per cent.

Thirdly, by working together, we are delivering compensation to miners, and their widows and families, whose lives were damaged by working in the coal industry. Under the two miners' compensation schemes, we have seen almost 25,000 claims settled and £281 million paid out. We are now paying out £3 million a week to miners and their widows in the Welsh coalfields. However, there is much that still has to be done and we must not give up until justice has been delivered to all our miners and their families.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) talked about the problems in manufacturing, and I agree that it has had problems. However, 20,000 new jobs have been created in manufacturing in Wales. One in eight jobs in manufacturing have been created since 2000. The Welsh economy is now much more diverse than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Public investment is important to that, and it is enabling the building of new schools and hospitals as well as providing work in the construction industry. What would a 20 per cent. cut in public investment do for the economy of Wales? Not much. The hon. Gentleman also complained about the council tax. As a result of the support given by this Government to our colleagues in the Assembly, funding for councils in the next year will increase by more than 9 per cent. in Wales, which is almost three times the rate of inflation. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) mentioned council tax increases, but one of the biggest increases is in the Conservative-run Vale of Glamorgan. Its council tax will go up by 10 per cent.

12 Mar 2003 : Column 394

It is important that we ensure that funding goes to our local authorities to deliver improvements in services. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley also expressed concern about waiting lists, but 200,000 more people have been treated in Wales since Labour came into government. We have had to correct 18 years of under-investment. We remember the Conservatives in government, when 70 hospitals were closed between 1979 and 1997 and 8,000 general acute beds were lost as a result of their policies. The hon. Gentleman is also clearly at odds with the Tory health spokesman in the Assembly who has said that the NHS needs extra resources, which should be funded from taxation. That is not what the Tories say when we increase national insurance to fund the health service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) made two important points. She talked about the exciting Petroplus project in her constituency. I recently visited it and I wish it every success. She also mentioned the Bluestone development, which is an important tourist initiative. I hope that the planning authorities will do everything possible to speed up the decision on that development.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) outlined the achievements of the National Assembly, and they are Labour achievements. Labour promises were made and delivered by the National Assembly.

Lembit Öpik: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Touhig: I regret that I cannot give way, because I have to respond to so many contributions to the debate.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) talked about the economic problems that we still have, but he acknowledged that we have made a good start. He made a powerful case for exercising caution before making the further constitutional changes advocated by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) also raised the issue of waiting lists. Long waiting lists are not acceptable and my colleagues in the Assembly are taking steps to meet that challenge. Vast sums of money are going into the NHS, and reforms are being made, so that we can deliver. My colleague Edwina Hart, the Assembly Minister for Finance, Local Government and Communities, has called in Derek Wanless, who will carry out a review of NHS spending in Wales, and we look forward to that.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about the problems of match funding. Well, this Government said that we would not let Wales down when we won objective 1 funding, and we did not. The spending review in 2001–02 delivered above-Barnett consequentials for funding in Wales, and we have benefited from that. His criticism of the WDA was unfair. The WDA is setting higher targets; next year, it aims to create or safeguard 48,000 jobs in Wales. That is important to the Welsh economy and we should welcome it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones) welcomed the way in which pre-legislative scrutiny has been handled. He mentioned the Health (Wales) Bill in particular and I thank his Committee for its work. I suspect that further work for it will be coming down the track.

12 Mar 2003 : Column 395

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) raised concerns about his unitary development plan. New legislation that is going through the House may help his constituency, but I was very concerned about his remarks. If he has not already done so, I suggest that he brings these matters to the attention of Assembly Ministers. I will undertake to ensure that a transcript of his comments is passed on to Assembly Ministers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) welcomed a number of measures, such as the working families tax credit and the minimum income guarantee, mentioning the benefit that they have brought to his constituents. I pay tribute to him for his campaign to improve the health of air passengers on long-haul flights. He has done a tremendous job.

The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) popped up and made a contribution. He was concerned about maternity services. His party, when in Government, presided over a 25 per cent. cut in nursing and midwifery training. That is his party's record. We were left to clean up the mess and to overcome the nursing shortages that we inherited. Our target is to employ 6,000 more nurses in Wales by 2010. We are on target.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) spoke about the dramatic cut in unemployment in his constituency and about the importance of the minimum wage. I agree with what he said. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) spoke about KTH at Llanidloes. I know that Team Wales has been asked to see what it can do to save those jobs. My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Gareth Thomas) mentioned that today's debate is closer to St. Patrick's day than St. David's day. He should not worry too much about that because St. Patrick was a Welshman. He came from Gwent. I know that for a fact.

My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard) talked about economic inactivity. He is right: 300,000 people in Wales are economically inactive. We have to use projects such as workstep to find ways of getting them into work. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) spoke passionately about the steel industry in his constituency. I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will do all that we can to help to protect the jobs at Corus in Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) spoke about the importance of manufacturing, training and modern apprenticeships, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) spoke about equal pay. I share her hopes and aspirations on that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) reminded us of the suffering inflicted on communities as a result of steel job losses. That suffering has been all too stark in parts of Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) raised important issues to do with rail transport. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) welcomed the improvements in his area as a result of objective 1. He also highlighted the fact that we have a terribly badly run Welsh nationalist council in Caerphilly; we have good officers and staff in Caerphilly but a lousy council leadership that is failing the people of Caerphilly. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith) welcomed the minimum wage. It is right that we should build on that.

12 Mar 2003 : Column 396

People in Wales face a choice on 1 May. They can return a Labour Administration to the Assembly, based on our record of managing a sound economy and improving the health and education services. They can choose a Wales that is going forward and working in partnership with the Government here in Westminster—a Labour Government that is undoing the legacy of the Tory years. That is choice that they face. We want no more Thatcher policies in Wales. We will ensure that the people of Wales understand that as we come towards the election.

There is something else that people will have to remember in a few weeks' time. Our own daffodil Tories, the nationalist party, would take us back to the time of Redwood and Thatcher. The nationalists' choice is a path of separation and isolation, leading to mass unemployment and a divided society. The nationalists' vision is a Wales of elites and divisions—a country savaged by unemployment and cut off from our closest friends and neighbours just to satisfy the delusions of an extremist nationalist elite. The people of Wales will certainly turn that down. That vision is a nightmare.

On 1 May, the people of Wales will have a choice of returning a Labour Administration or of returning a Tory Administration that is committed to 20 per cent. cuts in public expenditure. They will have a choice of returning a Labour Administration in Wales that will give Wales a world-class economy, or of returning a nationalist party that will cut Wales off from the rest of the United Kingdom, leaving a barren outcrop of deprivation, unemployment and poverty. Labour wants a Wales in which the people of Wales can be confident of their future. I believe that the people of Wales will make the right choice on 1 May. I believe that they will turn out in their thousands to elect a Labour Administration in Cardiff.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Next Section

IndexHome Page