26 Jan 2005 : Column 285

House of Commons

Wednesday 26 January 2005

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales Government on plans to mark the 50th anniversary of Cardiff being made capital city of Wales. [209956]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): First, I pay tribute to the people of Wales, who have responded with typical generosity to the tsunami appeal, in particular, Paul Sergeant at the millennium stadium in Cardiff and his team, who organised Saturday's fantastic concert, in record time, which has already raised more than £1.2 million.

I discussed this unique anniversary on Monday. The year 2005 is a red-letter year for Cardiff—100 years of city status and 50 years since it became the capital of Wales. It is Europe's youngest capital and one of the most dynamic and attractive cities with a world-class stadium, millennium centre and business and leisure environment.

Kevin Brennan: I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer and join him in saying how proud I was of the organisers of the tsunami relief concert in Cardiff, which raised more than £1.2 million. Is that not testimony to the generosity and the tremendous organisational skills of the people of Cardiff and of Wales in general? What will my right hon. Friend do, as Secretary State for Wales, to help highlight Cardiff in its important double celebration this year, to make people even more aware that Cardiff has developed into a truly economic, cultural and political capital for Wales?

Mr. Hain: For example, in my visits to China, Australia and New Zealand last year, I referred to Cardiff as a dynamic and expanding city. I know that there was a BBC website report of a European-wide survey in 2003, which identified Cardiff as the best city in which to live in Britain. As Neath is a town and not a city, I can agree with that.
26 Jan 2005 : Column 286

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC): I know that the Secretary of State is fond of marching. Will he join me, in this special year, at the annual parade on St. David's day? Will he bring pressure to bear on Cabinet colleagues to make St. David's day an annual public holiday so that everyone in Wales—not only those in the capital—can join in the celebrations?

Mr. Hain: I think that I will be in the Chamber to speak in the St. David's day debate, so I am not sure that I will be able to join the hon. Gentleman at that event.

As for St. David's day becoming a public holiday, it is a request that has been made over the past few years, and one that we will continue to consider. When there is a proper case for it rather than just a Welsh Assembly resolution passed to us, including consultation with the business community on its views and on the effect on the Welsh economy, we shall consider the matter further.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that as part of Cardiff 2005, the Small World theatre is going to primary schools and secondary schools in Cardiff, particularly the Gabalfa primary school and Corpus Christi school in Cardiff, North, helping to promote understanding of what it feels like to be a refugee or an asylum seeker in Cardiff today? Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a positive thing to do in the year when Cardiff celebrates 50 years as a capital? What other things can he suggest to increase tolerance and understanding of the diverse communities that we have in Cardiff?

Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend that Cardiff is a living symbol of a culture that is rich with diversity, different ethnic groups and different faiths. It is a city that is thriving and learning from the different communities that exist together in a dynamic way.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I add my praise to the organisers of the tsunami appeal event on Saturday night in Cardiff. When we consider that it took just three weeks to put that event together, it is testimony to what can be achieved with vision and focus.

As for the 50th aniversary celebrations in Cardiff, is the Secretary of State aware that while the Millennium Commission has offered £1.3 million for those celebrations, to date the Welsh Assembly Government have offered no financial support? Is the right hon. Gentleman willing to have conversations with his opposite numbers and Rhodri Morgan to see that this omission, in my view, can be rectified?

Mr. Hain: I will happily refer the hon. Gentleman's request to the First Minister when I next see him, which I think will be next week. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in saying that both football cup finals are held in the best stadium, I believe, in the world, which is in Cardiff. The Wales Rally GB has its headquarters in Cardiff and we now have in the millennium centre in Cardiff the best performing arts centre in Europe. Everybody should go there and enjoy it because it is absolutely marvellous.
26 Jan 2005 : Column 287

Wrexham-Bidston Rail Line

2. Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): If he will discuss the future of the Wrexham to Bidston railway line with the Secretary of State for Transport and the Minister for Economic Development and Transport of National Assembly for Wales. [209957]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues and Assembly Ministers on transport matters affecting Wales. I understand that the Wrexham to Bidston line is included in the Strategic Rail Authority's community rail development strategy, which is aimed at securing the longer-term viability of the line.

Ian Lucas: Merseyrail has put forward proposals to electrify the Wrexham-Bidston line, which would greatly improve links between Wrexham and Merseyside in the lead-up to Liverpool becoming the city of culture in a couple of years. Will my hon. Friend ensure that there are close discussions between the Assembly Transport Minister and the Secretary of State for Transport, to ensure that that exciting proposal is taken forward so that the economy of north-east Wales can benefit?

Mr. Touhig: I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. The consortium of north Wales transport authorities, together with other parties, is asking for expressions of interest to undertake a study of the potential electrification of the Wrexham to Bidston line. It would be premature to speculate on any conclusions, but I understand that my hon. Friend has been having discussions with Merseytravel passenger transport executive on these matters. Should he care to come and brief me in the Wales Office, I shall be happy to arrange a meeting with him and make sure that his expressions of interest and concern are passed on to Assembly Ministers.

NHS Emergency Services

3. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): What discussions he has had with the National Assembly for Wales Government on proposals for changes to emergency services provision across Wales. [209958]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with Assembly colleagues on matters affecting Wales.

Dr. Lewis: I thank the Minister for that rather uninformative reply. With the out-of-hours service described as a postcode lottery, and with the chief executive of the Cardiff and Vale Trust saying that the problem is a crippling lack of capacity, does the Minister feel even the slightest twinge of guilt about that claim made eight long years ago that the country had only 24 hours to save the NHS?

Mr. Touhig: I am aware of the concerns that have been expressed, but I point out to the hon. Gentleman that £35 billion-worth of cuts in public services will do little for the health service or the blue light services in
26 Jan 2005 : Column 288
Wales. As he makes a particular point about the health service and the trusts in Wales, we can get a clear indication of what his party would do if we look at the words of the co-chairman of the Conservative party, who told the Conservative Medical Society that the Conservatives had two objectives, first:

The clear message is that the election of a Tory Government would spell the end of the national health service.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op): When my hon. Friend next meets his ministerial colleagues in the Welsh Assembly, will he ask them to look at the provisions of the delayed discharges and transfer of care Bill and how it has worked in England to reduce bed blocking, and will he try and persuade them to learn from the experience of England and to adopt similar measures in Wales?

Mr. Touhig: As my hon. Friend is well aware, the new Health Minister in the Assembly has said that it is important that all of us in the United Kingdom—the devolved Administrations and the Government—learn from each other. As my hon. Friend knows, the new Health Minister in the Assembly will be addressing Parliament in the next week or so. I am sure he will put that point to him and receive an appropriate response.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): One of the hardest-hit emergency services is the accident and emergency department at University Hospital of Wales Cardiff, where patients were described as being treated worse than animals. Dave Galligan of Unison said in The Western Mail that he was horrified at the conditions and that, over the past 25 years he had heard it all, and this was not the NHS of the 21st century. Is this just a January thing, or what will the Minister do?

Mr. Touhig: It is important that all of us who are concerned, interested and supportive of the national health service take those comments very seriously. I have no doubt that my colleague the Assembly Minister for Health and other Assembly Ministers in Cardiff will take them seriously. I am sure an appropriate response will follow. It is important to recognise that we are making good 18 years of under-investment in the health service in Wales as a result of the cuts that the hon. Gentleman's party imposed when they were in power. He will have to answer to the people of Wales how £35 billion-worth of cuts will benefit them. They will destroy the health service and other public services in Wales. Those are the issues that he will face, should there be a general election this year.

Next Section IndexHome Page