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Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Hon. Members on both sides of the House have quoted percentages and numbers600 jobs here, 500 jobs there. Unemployment is a personal tragedy for the person who becomes unemployed. What would the Secretary of State say, therefore, to my constituents who are to lose their jobs in Caernarfon and Porthmadog because of his Government's policy of concentrating the processing of benefit claims in Wrexham and closing down local offices, which, incidentally, will have a deleterious effect on the quality of service to the public?
Mr. Hain: Yes, high-quality call centre jobs, which are important and will remain in Wales. I remind the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) of the unemployment statistics for his constituency. There has been a 58.8 per cent. reduction since we came to power; youth unemployment is down a staggering 88 per cent.; and long-term unemployment is also down by 88 per cent. He ought to welcome those figures, because they show that his constituents are doing better, even if he does not recognise it.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): My right hon. Friend's announcement of the nomination of the place that he describes as Cardiff, which we in Newport call Newport Far West, as the headquarters of the Galileo project, will be welcome, because that has been our travel-to-work area. The project brings enormous possibilitiesup to 10,000 or 12,000 jobs. It has huge potential and is even more important in that it represents the development of a new type of industry in Wales in the intelligence high-tech sector, such as Cogent in Newport and many other firms, and will be a vital part of a transformation of the Welsh economy. Is it not marvellous news that the Government have such faith in the Welsh economy as to nominate Cardiff?
In Neath we regard Cardiff as Far East Neath. Seriously, though, my hon. Friend is right.
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Those jobs are extremely important for what they symbolise. There may not be many at this stage, but it is significant that out of the entire United Kingdom, Cardiff was chosen as the place to situate the headquarters of such a crucial European project. Of course we still have to beat the opposition across the rest of the European continent, but at least we are trying to do so from a strong base and signs of increasing Welsh success.
The House need not take my word for all this Welsh success. It is clear that the Conservatives and the nationalists are not doing so. Just look at recent national newspaper headlines: in The Observer, "Welsh resurgence"; in The Wall Street Journal, "High work ethics plus a pro-investment culture bring wealth to Wales"; in The Daily Telegraph
Mr. Hain: I knew the hon. Gentleman would pick up that point. It is his paper. The Daily Telegraph headline reads, "Everyone turns out to be a Welshman"; and The Sun says, "Why Wales is so hip it hurts". Those are examples of national newspapers recognising the big dynamism that now exists in Wales, which is proving to be so successful under the policies that we have implemented.
I am proud of what our Government have achievedproud that we have thousands more nurses, doctors, teachers and police officers than ever before in Wales. I am proud that we have 40,000 more staff in public services in Wales. In a fiercely competitive world, with eastern Europe, not to mention China and India, taking more and more trade and jobs each month from Europe and America, I am proud that the Government have built a stronger economy in Wales than anybody can remember.
Today Labour is not just the party of social justice but the party of economic prosperity and business success. In Wales, and right across Britain, Labour means full employment, low mortgages, economic stability and continuous growth, which allows business to plan and invest for the long term. In the past two years the Conservatives have had 40 Opposition day debates in the House, yet not a single one has been on the subject of the economy. They do not want to discuss it, because they know that on the economy Labour is a winner, and Wales and Britain as a whole are winners too, because Wales is working, Britain is working, and people do not want the Conservatives to wreck it again.
The Conservatives mean riskthe risk of economic failure, mass unemployment, public spending cuts, high interest rates and high mortgages. They are pledged to make £35 billion of cuts in public spendingthat is, £50 million of cuts for every constituency in Wales, or up to £2 billion less public spending in Wales, at a time when we need sustained investment in our public services and social and economic infrastructure. [Interruption.]
I hear heckling from the Conservative Front Bench and comments that that is not true. The shadow Chancellor published a graph showing that Labour's spending in the coming few years would rise to £668 billion, and the Conservatives' planned spending was £35 billion less than that. That is a £35 billion cut in
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Labour's spending plansthe plans that we have for building new hospitals, opening new schools and taking forward the new deal. All those plans for extra expenditure would no longer be committed because there is a gap of £35 billion, as the shadow Chancellor himself announced, with the accompanying graph showing that Labour's planned spending of more than £600 billion over the next few years would be reduced by £35 billion, amounting to £2 billion less public spending in Wales.
Mr. Evans: Will the Secretary of State say something about the NHS? Why does he believe that with all the extra money that has gone into the national health service in Wales per head of the population compared with England, there is a worse health service in Wales, compared with England?
Mr. Hain: I shall come to that point, but as the hon. Gentleman has raised it I simply say this at this stage. As he knows, there has been a big legacy of ill health in Wales. That does not mean to say that everything that has or has not gone on in the NHS in Wales can be excused as free of criticismof course not. But we have now seen, with the announcement by the First Minister only a few weeks ago, that Wales's waiting times for key operations, such as hip operations and heart bypasses, to relieve people from pain, are coming down to a six-month total wait from the moment one sees one's GP to the moment one enters the operating theatre. That is about 26 weeks, which is comparable with the target that we are setting in England and that we intend to meet.
Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC): At the last election, the Welsh Labour manifesto promised the people of Wales that waiting times would be cut year on year. That promise was not kept, so why should the people of Wales believe Labour now?
Mr. Hain: That is actually not true. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the latest figures, published only recently, he will see that waiting times are now coming down and there has been significant progress in reducing lists. In the last month, out-patient waits of over 18 months have been cut by over 2,000, and waits of over 12 months reduced by 3,500. We are making progress. I agree that it has not been fast enough, but we will bring waiting lists down to a level of which I should have thought everyone in Wales would be prouda maximum of 26 weeks from the moment that a patient in pain sees their local GP to the moment that they walk through the door for an operation. That fantastic achievement will be secured only as a result of the huge investment that is being poured into the NHS in Wales under Labour.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Will the Secretary of State explain to my constituents why they have to wait 18 months to go into an English district general hospital, whereas English patients have to wait only 12 months, and why they are artificially put back in the list to allow the hospital to reach the English waiting list target?
If the hon. Gentleman had made that point to me a month ago, it might have had real force, but we
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now see a costed, clearly set-out programme to bring waiting times for his constituents and those of every other Welsh Member right down to the level that will be achieved by 2009 in England. I should have thought that he would welcome thata maximum of 26 weeks for an operation to relieve pain. That was completely out of the question under the Conservative Government's policies, and would be completely out of the question without our huge investment in the Welsh health service.
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