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House of Commons

Wednesday 6 April 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. Alan Howarth (Newport, East) (Lab): What his latest assessment is of the change in the number of jobs in south-east Wales since 1997. [224369]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): According to the labour force survey, 622,000 people were in employment in south-east Wales over the 12 months to November 2004—47,000 or 8.2 per cent. more than in 1997.

Alan Howarth: Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in Newport, unemployment has fallen by more than half since 1997 and that, in the last year alone, more than 1,700 new jobs have been announced in Newport by a wide variety of employers, including the Office for National Statistics and the Prison Service? Is that not a tribute to the quality of Newport's work force, as well as to the efforts by Newport city council and Newport Unlimited to attract employers to Newport? Does he share my pride about how Newport's people and economy have grown in strength and confidence in the past eight years under this Labour Government?

Mr. Hain: I do indeed. Newport is now one of the fastest-growing cities in Britain, with business start-up rates very high, a lot of confidence and more jobs being attracted by the Office for National Statistics, the Prison Service and world-class companies, such as Cogent and others. That just shows that, under Labour, Wales is working—do not let the Conservatives wreck it!

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC): Today's decision by Dairy Farmers of Britain to close the Llangadog creamery, which will also affect the milk bottling plant in Cardiff, shows the difficulty that we have in the dairy industry in Wales at the moment. What can the Secretary of State say for dairy farmers throughout south Wales and about the job losses being experienced by that industry? What steps can he, with the National Assembly Government, now take to ensure
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that there is a farming co-operative that can take over plants such as Llangadog and continue to run them for the benefit of the dairy industry in Wales?

Mr. Hain: I understand the problem: the closure notice faced by that creamery is indeed very disappointing and disturbing, although I understand that efforts are being made to find an alternative purchaser and operator. We hope that those are brought to fruition because we want to see a healthy industry in the milk sector, as indeed it is in many other respects.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) (Lab): As someone who represents south-west Wales, may I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind that, although unemployment in all three Swansea constituencies has fallen by more than 50 per cent., we stand to lose some jobs because of civil service changes? Will he try to ensure that Swansea and south-west Wales—his own constituency included—stand to benefit from the UK redistribution of civil service jobs?

Mr. Hain: Indeed. As my right hon. Friend knows, 500 jobs were recently relocated by the national Pension Service. We are looking for more opportunities, as a result of the Government's plans to redistribute jobs from the over-congested parts of England into parts of Wales, such as Swansea, that need more jobs—although, as he knows, Swansea has been doing very well with business start-ups, the SA1 development and the two techniums there. Swansea is now a city that is really buzzing, as the Prime Minister recently saw for himself, and that is partly due to the excellent representation of the two Swansea Members of Parliament, including my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The fact is that the Secretary of State for Wales uses one set of statistics but ignores another. He never mentioned anything about manufacturing decline in south-east Wales at all. He talks about going forward, not back, but is it not a fact that anyone who votes Labour at the next election will be going forward to even more manufacturing meltdown in Wales?

Mr. Hain: That is from a Conservative Member who supported the policies of the last Conservative Government that saw more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs decimated in Wales. What we have seen is that the Welsh manufacturing sector continues to account for 21 per cent. of Wales's national wealth—a higher proportion than in the rest of the United Kingdom—employing 17 per cent. of the Welsh work force. Indeed, Welsh manufacturing output for the past four quarters was 0.3 per cent. higher than in the previous four years. Welsh export orders were up 7.3 per cent. on last year—bigger than the UK rate. Welsh manufacturing is now healthy, expanding and growing, compared with contracting and in a dismal position under the Conservatives.

Child Poverty

2. Mr. Martin Caton (Gower) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet and National Assembly for Wales Government colleagues on measures taken to combat child poverty in Wales.[224370]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with colleagues here and in the National Assembly about our shared objectives of eradicating child poverty in Wales. As I told the House on Monday night, I am deeply proud of this Labour Government's historic commitment to halving child poverty by 2010 and eradicating it within a generation.

Mr. Caton: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the issue of child poverty should be at the centre of the general election debate in Wales? Does he recall that, in 1997, Britain had record levels of child poverty and that, in Wales, the situation was even more acute? Do we not need, in the weeks ahead, to contrast that with the situation today when UNICEF can report that Britain is leading the developed world in tackling child poverty? We are on track to meeting the targets that he has just mentioned.

Mr. Touhig: My hon. Friend is quite right. I remember the days when the Tories said that they wanted wealth to cascade down the generations. We know in Wales that it was poverty that they passed down through the generations. The great Scottish socialist MP, James Maxton, said that poverty is man made and therefore open to change. This Labour Government are doing just that.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab): Given the correlation between higher incomes and better health, can my hon. Friend tell me whether any studies have been commissioned—if not, will he commission them?—to see at which point children can benefit from the prospects of better health and the increase in family income?

Mr. Touhig: My hon. Friend makes an important point: there is a correlation. What is important is that under this Government, we are seeking to make work pay and make families better off. That is why we have had record increases in child benefit; that is why we have the child tax credit; and that is why we have the national minimum wage.

I pay tribute to my colleagues in the Assembly who do a great deal of work to ensure that we end poverty, the problem of child poverty and continue to invest in the health service. Coming from the valleys, there is no doubt in my mind—and as my hon. Friend knows—that poverty has been exacerbated over the years, and ill health has been a consequence of that. It is only by putting in the investment that this Government are putting in—not the £35 billion of cuts that the Tories would put in—that we will do anything about it.

Hospital Trusts

3. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): what discussions he has had with (a) the First Secretary of the National Assembly for Wales and (b) Cabinet colleagues on the financial position of hospital trusts in Wales. [224371]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I regularly meet the Assembly First Minister to discuss health and funding matters.
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Miss McIntosh: In thanking the Secretary of State for that less than full reply, may I ask him whether he agrees that to improve the health service in Wales, he will have to increase its budget? Why, then, has he cut the health budget for the forthcoming year?

Mr. Hain: I do not know where the hon. Lady gets her figures from—perhaps from the shadow Chancellor. His figures are about as trustworthy as Mickey Mouse's.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): That is an insult to Mickey Mouse.

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman says that that comment was an insult to Mickey Mouse. In that case, I withdraw it.

The truth is that the Welsh health budget will have doubled under this Labour Government and compares with the situation in which patients lost treatment from NHS dentists under the last Conservative Government, nurses' jobs were cut, hospital jobs were cut and hospitals were closed. I should have thought that the   hon. Lady would have got up to apologise for the dreadful Conservative record and to welcome the doubling of the Welsh health budget.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend bring his Cabinet colleagues to the Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust, whose financial position has allowed us to have a new community hospital in Chepstow, a new day surgery unit in Nevill Hall, a new CT scanner and a new coronary care unit costing £2.5 million? We are also about to start work on a new health and social care facility in Monmouth, as well as a new orthopaedic centre at St. Woolas. Does he agree that the people of Wales want that investment in the health service and not the public expenditure cuts promised by the Tories?

Mr. Hain: Absolutely—that is why the people of Monmouth will re-elect my hon. Friend as their Member of Parliament on 5 May. They will take note of the fact that the Conservatives, as part of their £35 billion of cuts, will rob the health service and public services in Wales of £2 billion. In addition, with their patient's passport, which will charge people to have operations, they plan to take £60 million out of the Welsh national health service and to encourage people to go down the road of having their operations done privately. That £60 million is the equivalent of 2,400 nurses or 660 Welsh consultants. If the Conservatives were elected, such a cut would damage the health service in Gwent and right across Wales.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): Can the Secretary of State confirm whether it is true that, according to the Evening Post, Swansea faces debts of up to £15 million, and Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend £10 million each? The fact that the British Medical Association has passed a vote of no confidence in the Assembly clearly shows how badly it feels it has been let down. Given the headline that appears in The Western Mail today, I could sign that motion. Why could not he?
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Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman can sign a pledge in the knowledge that it would be totally worthless, because as a result of the spending cuts that the Conservatives intend to introduce, the Welsh health service would be back to the dismal state that it was in when we began to rescue it in 1997.

As for the deficits in the health budgets, this is the third year running in which the deficit has fallen. The Assembly is on target to achieve financial balance by 2008–09, thus eliminating the deficit, including in Swansea.

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