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Business Incentives

4. Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): What assessments he has made of the effects on businesses in border areas of Wales of the provision of more advantageous incentives to businesses in Wales. [5062]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): Businesses on both sides of the England/Wales border continue to prosper from the stable economic climate created by this Government. Support for business in England is excellent, as it is in Wales.

Daniel Kawczynski: In Shrewsbury and Atcham quite a few businesses are shutting up and moving across the border to take advantage of the better grants from the Welsh Development Agency. That is leading to significant concerns for me about unemployment in Shrewsbury. In Europe we are trying to get a level playing field for business, but we do not seem to have that in England and Wales. Can the Secretary of State give me an assurance that he will get the Government to create a more level playing field for business in England and Wales?

Mr. Hain: Unemployment in the hon. Gentleman's constituency has fallen by half under the Labour Government, and more jobs are being created all the time. Indeed, there are now 300 new businesses starting up each week in the west midlands, compared with 1,000 businesses that were closing each week under the Conservatives when they were in power. Wales is an attractive climate in which to invest. It has a high skills base, an attractive environment, and its economy is booming under the Government—but all investors, whether they are transferring from England or coming in from outside the UK, have to abide by the same rules for grants and selective regional assistance. The European state aid rules apply equally in Wales and England, so there can be no discriminatory favouritism in Wales compared with England, because we abide by the same rules.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a fiction to suggest that businesses move to Wales because of assistance? Wrexham does not have regional selective assistance, objective 1 status or objective 2 status, but it has an excellent co-operative work force and a background of economic stability. That is why there is 1.9 per cent. unemployment in my constituency.

Mr. Hain: Yes, and Wrexham has an excellent MP who works hard on his constituents' behalf. My hon. Friend makes the very good point that even areas like Wrexham, which do not attract, for example, objective 1 funding, as west Wales and the valleys do, still attract a lot of inward investment because they are great places to locate for the reasons that he explained. Whereas Wales was failing under the Conservatives, it is now
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going from success to success under the Labour Government, right across the country—north, south, east and west.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Nevertheless, does the Secretary of State welcome the apparent recognition by the English Conservatives of the benefits of devolution and European investment in Welsh agriculture and industry? Does he recognise that those achievements are threatened by the current impasse in European negotiations, and will he give an assurance to the House that economic support for these vital Welsh sectors will not be damaged by delays in, or the outcome of, European negotiations on funding?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and I am happy to respond to it. There has been some mischief-making by Opposition politicians, especially in The Western Mail recently, suggesting that Wales's objective 1 funding is at risk because of activity by the Government. The truth is that the impasse in the European Council is nothing to do with structural funds; it is due to the stance taken by the President of France, in particular, over the British rebate. We intend to resolve the matter and to get the best possible deal for Wales. We will resolve it as early as we can in order to achieve that deal right across Wales, particularly in respect of objective 1 funding for west Wales and the valleys.

Knife Attacks

5. Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab): If he will make a statement on measures being taken to eradicate knife attacks in (a) north Wales and (b) the rest of Wales. [5064]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): Earlier this month, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced a comprehensive package of measures to combat violent crime. The Violent Crime Reduction Bill will ensure that the police and local communities across the country have the necessary powers to reduce violent crime, including crime involving knives.

Mr. Jones: My hon. Friend knows that a number of serious knife attacks have recently occurred in north Wales. Does he agree that the measures relating to knives in the Violent Crime Reduction Bill will help to improve the situation?

Nick Ainger: Yes, I do. The new powers included in the Bill, which applies to both England and Wales, will make it an offence to use other people to hide or carry guns or knives, increase the age limit for purchasing a knife from 16 to 18 and introduce powers for head teachers and other members of school staff to search pupils for knives. The issue must be dealt with, and I am aware of the three incidents in north Wales in which young men were killed in knife attacks. We must work with the police, the community and schools to ensure that young people do not carry knives.

Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): To counter the growing knife culture, we obviously need to work in
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schools. Does the Minister accept that making teachers responsible for checking for knives would put them at undue risk and, more fundamentally, harm their relationship with pupils? Does he agree with my union, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, that teachers should commission the police to undertake searches rather than doing it themselves?

Nick Ainger: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that head teachers and staff should have the power to intervene to search pupils, where it is necessary to do so. The Government and the Association of Chief Police Officers will support head teachers if they judge that it is best to call the police. We want to give head teachers the maximum support and options to keep good order and protect everyone in their schools, and we will discuss those proposals with representatives of all school staff.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the best way to reduce violent crime is to ensure that police officers are out on the streets on patrol, not stuck behind their desks filling in forms invented by the Government?

Nick Ainger: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that we have put an extra 172 police officers on the beat in his police force area since 1997, and we have also recruited 300 community support officers throughout Wales. If his party had won the general election, we would have seen a £35 billion cut, much of which would have come from the Home Office budget.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): Cardiff Crown court recently jailed a man for life for threatening to kill his girlfriend and stabbing another man in the stomach. He had five previous convictions, including a prison sentence for beating his girlfriend so badly that she spent three days in intensive care with seven fractures to her skull. That man will serve a maximum of six and a half years in prison. Does the Minister agree that the best way to reduce such attacks is to end early release and make sure that dangerous criminals stay where they belong—in prison?

Nick Ainger: I cannot comment on the individual case mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. The Government have made it clear that stiff sentences for violent crime and murder are acting as a real deterrent. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government have introduced a series of Bills to address violent crime, and I hope that the Conservative party will support us.


6. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Whether he has met the National Assembly for Wales Minister for Health to discuss the cross-border implications of the Assembly's plans for the provision of prescriptions in Wales. [5065]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I have regular meetings with the First Minister on a range of issues, including health.
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Dr. Lewis: I thank the Secretary of State for that uninformative reply. When he had his last such meeting, did he raise the question of prescription tourism, which already costs the Welsh Assembly £3 million a year? Did he raise the £37 million cost to the Assembly of implementing free prescriptions in Wales? Did he raise the question of the 100,000 people who waited more than four hours for A and E treatment and the 284,000 people who are on waiting lists? Does he think that those are proper uses for limited NHS resources?

Mr. Hain: That was an impressive recitation of dodgy statistics that simply do not apply in Wales. The fact is that waiting times are coming down and more patients are being seen and treated. In respect of prescriptions, yes, it is the case that there is a cross-border flow between Wales and England; it is roughly equal in terms of English patients being served by Welsh GPs and Welsh patients being served by English GPs. However, it is true that Welsh patients who go to see English GPs do not get free prescriptions and the Assembly is considering that.

Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): Does the Minister accept that while cross-border differences in prescription charges are a big positive benefit for Wales, other variations are a big negative—for example, the massive increase in ambulance response times, with some areas achieving only 40 per cent. of their target emergency call-out times? Will the Minister commit to discussing those differences with the Welsh Assembly Health Minister at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Hain: Obviously, we want a first-class ambulance service as we develop a first-class health service, and I shall certainly bear in mind the points that that hon. Lady makes. However, I am sure that she would want to welcome the 450 more consultants and the 7,300 extra nurses in Wales under Labour, compared with cut after cut under the Conservatives.

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