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Sure Start

4. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the (a) National Assembly for Wales Government and (b) Cabinet colleagues on the effects of Sure Start in Wales. [162545]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I regularly meet Cabinet colleagues and National Assembly Ministers to discuss a range of areas, including programmes such as Sure Start, which are helping to secure better outcomes for children, parents and communities.

Julie Morgan : Does my right hon. Friend agree that investment in the early years is the key to the future for children? Does he further agree that Cymorth, the umbrella organisation that includes Sure Start in Wales, is doing a really good job of reaching the most deprived children, and, together with Assembly policies such as free breakfasts for school children, is making a significant difference?

Mr. Hain: I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Support for that age group is crucial to opportunities later in life, and that is why the Assembly Government are funding Cymorth to the tune of £42.4 million during the coming year, a figure increased year upon year. It is interesting that, although the Opposition would apparently ring-fence the schools budget, the shadow Chancellor's plans, which I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in condemning, will result in savage cuts to precisely the programmes, such as Sure Start, that are providing life-chance opportunities for many of our poorer children.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC): Why then is the level of Sure Start funding per child in Wales half that in England, even though Wales has a

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higher rate of child poverty? Does the Secretary of State think that we should match the Chancellor's commitment in England and build a children's centre in each of the most deprived 20 per cent. of wards in Wales?

Mr. Hain: Clearly, Wales wants to do at least as well as England in every area of policy, and the National Assembly will want to consider the hon. Gentleman's points, but I do not think that he can take away from the Welsh Assembly Government the record investment that has gone into Cymorth in supporting pre-school children, in terms of educational opportunities and in other ways. That programme needs to be taken forward, and it will be, under Labour.

Air Ambulances

5. Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): What discussions he has had regarding the provision of air ambulance services in Wales; and if he will make a statement. [162546]

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

Air ambulance services have been provided in Wales since March 2001. Since 1 December 2003 the service has increased its coverage across the whole of Wales to seven days a week.

Hywel Williams : Should not this vital life-saving and successful service be publicly funded, as is the case in Scotland, or does the Minister agree with the Health Minister in Cardiff, Jane Hutt, who told me in a letter that we should be following

Mr. Touhig: I am aware of the correspondence that the hon. Gentleman has had with my colleague, the Assembly Health Minister, in Cardiff, but the Scottish ambulance service includes the provision of aeroplanes and helicopters and is centrally funded, as he says; and it has been built up over the last 40 years, recognising the need of island populations that have no health services and where air transport is the only way to get to hospital. It is estimated that some 75 per cent. of all air ambulance missions in Scotland involve patients being air-lifted from islands off the Scottish mainland. The same situation does not apply in Wales.

As for the operation of the air ambulance service, I could not put it better than the hon. Gentleman did in a recent press release when he said:

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): But would the Minister not accept that there is great rurality in Wales and it is sometimes difficult to get people to hospital in time to save their lives. Had it existed, the air ambulance would probably have been able to save the life of Councillor Hugh Taylor from Welshpool, who died a few years ago. Would he be willing at least to

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discuss the prospect of greater financial support from the Government to ensure that people do not die simply as a result of lack of access to fast transport to hospital?

Mr. Touhig: In March 2003, the Assembly announced the provision of £100,000 for the cost of air ambulance staff in Wales in 2003–04, and funding for future years will also come from the national health service. My colleague, the Assembly Minister in Cardiff, has made clear how she will take the issue forward.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I pay tribute to the work of the air ambulance, which must come as a great relief to those who are in pain on mountainsides in Wales and other rural areas. Can the Minister examine the point that charitable money is available only to fund the air ambulance and not paramedics? People like to give money to charity, and the point needs a great deal of attention.

Mr. Touhig: I note the hon. Gentleman's point, but I understand that paramedics are a matter for the Assembly.

Community Support Officers

6. Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of police community support officers in Wales. [162547]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): CSOs have been warmly welcomed by the communities they serve and the police officers with whom they work. The Government are carrying out an ongoing programme of research into the effectiveness of CSOs throughout England and Wales, and a summary assessment will be published shortly.

Mr. David : CSOs are doing a great job throughout Wales and a tremendous job in my constituency, and they undoubtedly contribute hugely to cracking down on antisocial behaviour. Has the Minister received representations on what would happen to the police budget in Wales and CSOs if certain plans, which were mentioned earlier, came about?

Mr. Speaker: Order. If the hon. Gentleman is talking about the policies of Her Majesty's Opposition, it is not for the Minister to reply.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab): In my constituency, CSOs have been a resounding success. There are plans under which communities can make a 50:50 contribution with the police towards CSOs. Will the Minister explore the extension and improvement of that idea so that we get more CSOs, which would be welcome in my village of Cefn Cribwr?

Mr. Touhig: CSOs provide public reassurance through visible patrols and free up police officers to do the job that they are trained for, and there are currently 126 of them in Wales. It is important to extend the CSO scheme, which was piloted in my local police division, Caerphilly, where it was hugely successful. I will certainly explore my hon. Friend's point. The

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Government are determined to defend and invest in the police service, and will not allow it to be subjected to the cuts proposed by the Conservative party.

Primary Legislation

7. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the effectiveness of present arrangements in relation to enacting primary legislation affecting Wales. [162548]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): The arrangements have been working well. The partnership between the Wales Office and the Assembly Government has delivered 24 legislative measures that have given the National Assembly additional powers.

Gareth Thomas : My right hon. Friend describes the effective partnership between the Government and the National Assembly. Does he agree that good reasons would need to be advanced to overturn the current arrangements, which were endorsed by the people of Wales in a referendum?

Mr. Hain: I accept my hon. Friend's point that a persuasive case would need to be made, but I am sure that he will join me in saying that if it were made, we would examine it properly and sympathetically. We will all read and digest the Richard report when it is published next week.


8. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): What percentage of the population are in full-time employment in Wales; and if he will make a statement. [162549]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): During September to November 2003, 74 per cent. of the working population in Wales was employed on a full-time basis. The labour market in Wales continues to perform well, and better than the average for the UK economic regions.

Paul Flynn : Does the Secretary of State agree that part of the wonderful success story of employment in Wales has been the relocation of civil service jobs from the south-east of England to Newport, where the Patent Office, the UK Passport Service and the Office for National Statistics have all settled happily? The move has also improved efficiency by reducing costs. Does he agree that if jobs are lost in the Newport area as a result of the changes announced in the Budget, they should be replaced by new jobs, as recommended in the Lyons report, which states that the relocation to Newport is a model that should be copied by other areas?

Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend. Newport is a centre of employment excellence that offers great opportunities, not only for public sector jobs, of which he described many good ones, but for jobs that may be transferred in future as a result of the Lyons review. It is important that we continue to build up the employment

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base of areas such as Newport in both the public and private sectors, and that is exactly what the Government are doing.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend noted that between the beginning of 2002 and last autumn, unemployment in Newport fell by nearly 18.5 per cent.? Is it not the case that under this Government we have been seeing the creation not only of higher levels of employment, but of more diversified and sustainable patterns of employment, giving new hope and opportunity to all too many people who in the past saw few prospects for themselves?

Mr. Hain: Indeed. Our record in Wales on employment and on the economy generally compares extremely favourably with that of our predecessors. At that time, unemployment reached 160,000—now, it is well down to around 40,000. With employment rising all the time, economic inactivity rates coming down and average earnings going up, Wales is a good place in which to invest, to work and to achieve greater prosperity.

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