Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Evans: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hain: I want to make progress because many other hon. Members wish to speak.

In health, a sustained period of investment has led to real improvements in treatment. In 2004–05, the Assembly Government have been able to allocate almost 95 per cent. more to the health budget than was spent when we inherited it from the Conservatives in 1997. As a result of that increased investment, there are now nearly 19 per cent. more NHS staff in Wales, including 30 per cent. more whole-time-equivalent hospital consultants and nearly 16 per cent. more qualified nurses. Nearly 200,000 more patients were seen in 2001–02 than in 1996–97.

There have also been significant decreases in the number of people having to wait long periods for targeted procedures—cardiac, orthopaedic and cataract

26 Feb 2004 : Column 464

surgery—as was demonstrated by the latest figures released yesterday. However, all that hard-won progress in rebuilding public services in Wales is now threatened by the shadow Chancellor's announcement that he intends to slash an estimated £1 billion from public spending in Wales, leaving a black hole in our finances that would inevitably lead to service cuts and tens of thousands of job losses throughout Wales—a £27 million cut per Welsh constituency from the Conservatives.

I challenge the hon. Member for Leominster to tell us today—I hope that he will do so from the Dispatch Box shortly—whether he was consulted on that £1 billion cut in spending for Wales. Exactly where should the axe fall?

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): The Secretary of State misrepresents what the shadow Chancellor said. As this is an intervention, I will explain very briefly that if the Government continue to spend at greater rate than the economy grows, they will have no choice but to increase tax. We believe that that is the wrong thing to do. We will not increase tax. That is why he is misrepresenting our policy.

Mr. Hain: The shadow Chancellor is not even proposing any difference in taxes until 2011. Meanwhile, in the first two years of a Conservative Government, if they were to be elected at the next election, there would be a two-year cash freeze. I quote the shadow Chancellor:

That would have affect lots of jobs in Wales and many of my hon. Friends' constituencies.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): I fear that my right hon. Friend is too generous to the Opposition, because defence cuts will almost certainly have a disproportionately adverse effect in Wales. The proposal for a freeze is a disaster and will do enormous damage to defence now, not in the future. It will be factored into decision making, and is reckless and outrageous.

Mr. Hain: Indeed, there will be a £1.5 billion cut in defence, a £900 million cut in Home Office and criminal justice spending, a £600 million cut in transport—what will happen to our railways and buses?—a £400 million cut in housing, a £2.4 billion cut in local government, which will affect council tax, and a £250 million cut in international development. That is just for starters, and we will not get anything in return, such as tax cuts that would at least offset the cuts that the official Opposition would make. Which schools will be closed in Wales, and how many teachers will be sacked? Which hospitals will be shut and how many nurses will be sacked—[Interruption.] Ah, they say that they would maintain health and education spending, but they would rob the health budget across Britain by £2 billion to fund their patient passport scheme and a similar school passport scheme. That would allow rich patients to take money out of the national health service and go down the road

26 Feb 2004 : Column 465

to a private hospital. The NHS will be robbed of much-needed funds so that those people can top up their ability to pay.

How many nurses will be sacked? How many bus and rail services will be chopped? How many thousands of Welsh defence-related jobs will go, and how many Welsh companies will close? In general, we know the answers to those questions because we have been here before in the miserable decades under the Conservatives in the 1980s and 1990s. By contrast, our Labour Government have built a strong economy and are investing in our children's future. However, we must protect our communities. Strong communities have been a feature of our way of life in Wales, whether in the urban centres of the south and north-east or the rural villages of the north and west.

The Leader of the Opposition recently told us that Welsh communities "revived very considerably" under Margaret Thatcher. What planet is he living on? Welsh communities were decimated by Thatcherism, and life and hope was drained from them by 18 years of economic mismanagement, neglect and misery. Our Labour Government have revitalised them with new jobs, new public investment, objective 1, the Communities First programme, and by reviving the public transport network. That is why we have increased the numbers of police officers in Wales by more than 760, and introduced more than 110 community support officers. Progress has been encouraging—crime in England and Wales has gone down by 25 per cent. since we came to power and the chances of becoming a victim of crime are the lowest for 20 years. Too many people's lives, however, are still plagued by antisocial behaviour. Vandalism, graffiti, dumped rubbish, fly-tipping, abandoned cars, relentless noise and nuisance have a long-lasting and corrosive effect on the quality of people's lives.

Many people, especially those living on their own, feel that there is little that they can do to tackle those problems, but the truth is that the community, working together, can take a stand against antisocial behaviour and deliver change. The Government have made provision for antisocial behaviour orders, which prohibit specific antisocial actions, and acceptable behaviour contracts. The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 includes measures to give local authorities permission to apply for antisocial behaviour orders, disperse groups causing harassment or intimidation, widen the use of fixed-penalty notices and place restrictions on the ownership and possession of airguns. The Government cannot, however, do everything on their own. We have given powers to local authorities and the police, and now people must work together both to reassert our traditional community values of respect for one another, and to ensure that we do not allow a minority to spread fear and distress in their area.

This is a time of great opportunity for Wales—opportunities for work, opportunities for business, opportunities to learn. Employment has risen to record levels, and new markets in eastern Europe and across the world are opening to Welsh businesses. Higher education is becoming available to people from low-income families who never had the chance to study before. We also have an opportunity to renew the

26 Feb 2004 : Column 466

community values for which Wales is renowned. We aim to ensure a diverse, vibrant society in which, through tolerance and respect for one another, people are able to shape their own lives and fulfil their individual potential. The evidence of the past 12 months is clear—we are moving forward, and Wales is changing for the better. By working together, our Labour Governments in Westminster and Cardiff are making the difference.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Mr. Speaker has imposed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

3.35 pm

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): Before the Secretary of State got into his usual stuff, he made some important comments, particularly about Welsh men and women who had passed away. We, too, would like to pass on our condolences to the friends and family of John Charles, Members of the other place and other Welsh people who served our country so well.

I do not want to talk Wales down—the Secretary of State usually accuses me of doing so—but I shall examine exactly what is going on in Wales. We heard from the Secretary of State exactly how much has been put in, but we must look at what is coming out. It used to be thought that the NHS was the envy of the world, and all that it needed was a touch more cash. That myth has been well and truly scotched. The Welsh Assembly Government have increased the Welsh health budget by 40 per cent., to £4.55 billion, which is £822 per capita, compared with £740 in England. That is the largest health budget in the UK, and has not altered the status of the Welsh health service as the worst in western Europe. The truth, proven by the Labour Government's huge increases in tax and spending, is that it still fails to fulfil patients' wishes. That is not the fault of the doctors, nurses or even the administrators, and it is not that they do not try to do their best. The mountain of rules and regulations has become a barrier instead of a method of improvement.

Lembit Öpik: Is it not the case that we have difficulties in the Welsh health service because when the Labour party took office they insisted on carrying out the Conservatives' bankrupt health policies for three years?

Next Section

IndexHome Page