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Mr. Williams: This is an important point to me and my constituents. Since Christmas this yearthe Minister will understand this, because I contacted him on itHereford hospital stopped treating Powys patients altogether for orthopaedic conditions. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman says about the future and 2009, those patients are in pain waiting for their operations and being denied them.
Mr. Hain: I understand that it is not acceptable that people have to wait a long time for an operation, and the hon. Gentleman is entitled and right to press his constituents' case, which will help to achieve much speedier treatment times. But he is a fair-minded person and if he looks at the evidence, the programme and the spending that supports it, he will see waiting times coming right down to a maximum of 26 weeks. He should welcome that, and that is something that his constituents will welcome as well, because then there will be no substantial differential between England and Wales in the relief of pain.
If the Conservatives were elected and their plans for £35 billion-worth of cuts over the coming years were implemented as they intend, there would be cuts to the Assembly's budget, meaning less money for schools, hospitals, transport and housingcuts that would mean that council tax rates would rocket up year on year.
Mr. Hain: The Welsh block grant is set against the English budget, and there are consequentials, according to the Barnett formula, which flow from English spending levels. That is not just in health and education spending, but in local government and housing spending and a number of other areas. If the proposal of the shadow Chancellor, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Cabinetthe hon. Gentleman is outside the shadow Cabinet, but he has signed up to its proposalto cut future spending by £35 billion were implemented, Wales would not escape. The flow through would be automatic.
The Conservative party is pledged to cut £35 billion from our planned spending. We will be spending over £600 billion; the Conservatives will spend £35 billion less than that. How does one find that spare money other than by savage cuts, including in Wales£50 million in each constituency?
Mr. Hain: Indeed, and how do we know that it is just for starters? It is not just what the now deselected Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight), a member of the shadow Treasury team, says; it is also what the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said. He said that the approach that the Conservatives plan is just a down payment; it is just the beginning of a process. The former Conservative candidate for Sedgefield described it as a process of creative destruction of the public services. He was dropped as the official candidate for Sedgefield, but he is still in the policy unit at Conservative central office, planning these programmes of creative destruction of public services.
Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend recall the days when the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was Secretary of State for Wales and responsible for returning Welsh money that should have been spent in Wales to the Treasury in London?
Mr. Hain: Indeed, and it was a crime in Wales at a time when hospitals were being closed. Around 70 hospitals in Wales closed under that Government. Nurses were being sacked, doctors were losing the opportunity to practise, teachers were losing their jobs and schools were suffering. To repatriate £100 million of Welsh money back to London was outrageous.
That is not all. On top of all this, the Conservatives want to take at least £60 million from the NHS in Wales to subsidise those who can afford to pay for private treatment in the first placemoney that is being used to pay for 2,400 nurses or 660 consultants. [Interruption.] The Opposition spokesman denies his own party's policy for the patients passport. Funding is being set aside from within the NHS to deliver that, and it is intended to pay for half the cost of private operations for those who can afford the cost of private operations in the first place. I can tell him that very few if any of my constituents could afford to go private, so he is taking £60 million out of the NHS in Wales, equivalent to 2,400 nurses or 660 consultants.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Welsh Assembly Labour-led Government have allocated £100 million for a new state-of-the-art hospital in the Caerphilly borough. Is there any chance that such a hospital will go ahead if there happens to be a change of Government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. Three other hospitals are planned to be built in Wales under the finance that we have set aside, and there is no certainty that they will be built under a Conservative Government because the Conservative party is pledged to cut spending year upon year upon year.
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As for the Liberal Democrats, they say that they will scrap the new deal, which has helped 70,000 people in Wales into work, especially young people, including in the hon. Gentleman's constituency[Interruption.] Is the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) not in support of this policy? Perhaps he could clarify.
Mr. Hain: I take that as a conversion on the Floor of the House. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman is welcome to walk across the Floor at any time to join us on the Labour Benches. He has made a conversion and is now in support of the new deal, which has helped many people in his constituency into work.
Mr. Roger Williams: While my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) might not be right with the party policy, the Secretary of State will know that it is our policy not to support the bog standard new deal, but to give extra resources to people who find it even more difficult to get into employment. At the moment, the new deal does not distinguish between people who find it easier to get into employment and those who are having much more difficulty.
Mr. Hain: I know that the Liberal Democrats are a very small party in Walesindeed, there are only two of thembut now they are split down the middle on the new deal. The leader of the Liberal Democrats, who in other respects is a fine, upstanding Member of Parliament, is denouncing his own party's policy in Wales. That is nothing short of scandalous, and the electorate will wish to take account of it.
Mr. Hain: Now we have a promise of deselection as well. Where the Conservatives set the trend, perhaps the Liberal Democrats will follow, as they are doing in so many of their other policies, where they are moving towards marketisation in the national health service and the scrapping of the new deal. They are following the Conservatives, as they always do, as gentle little helpers in elections.
The Liberal Democrats also say that they will axe the child trust fund, which will give 30,000 youngsters born in Wales each year a nest egg for the future. That is a very important nest egg, as many babies born in Wales will not enjoy the opportunity of having an asset when they reach adulthood, as those who come from higher-income families elsewhere in Britain can. They also opposed this year's increase in the minimum wage, calling it dangerous.
Indeed. The Liberal Democrats wanted a regional minimum wage, which would have meant that Wales had a lower minimum wage than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It is interesting that they called the increase dangerous, as the CBI supported it and the
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Federation of Small Businesses did not get out of its pram on it. Only the Liberal Democrats said that it was dangerous for the economy. They do not understand the problems faced by our communities in Wales. Why else would they vote against our plans to tackle teen gangs and antisocial behaviour, as they did in the House? Why else would they be planning a new local income tax that would put new burdens on hard-working families and nurses, teachers and police officers? In Swansea, for example, according to the Liberal Democrats' own calculations, their local income tax would mean a massive increase of 56 per cent. or almost £500 in the annual tax bill for two people earning the average Welsh wage. When they say in leaflets that they plan to abolish the council tax, we should say the truth in alternative leaflets, which is that that policy would hit many thousands of hard-working families on average wages in Wales.
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