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Welfare Benefits

3. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the Minister for Social Justice and Regeneration in the Welsh Assembly Government on the provision of expert advice for people with welfare benefit problems. [50377]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I have regular discussions with the Social Justice Minister in the Welsh Assembly Government on a wide range of issues of mutual interest, including access to advice for people with welfare benefit problems.

Julie Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. What can he do to stop the closure of the Welsh specialist support service by the Legal Services Commission? The service provides advice on welfare benefits, debt and housing to advisers, citizens advice bureaux and solicitors, offering the expert advice that poor and vulnerable people need and deserve.

Nick Ainger: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her interest in the issue and I read carefully the Adjournment debate that she secured on 2 February. I can assure her that the community legal service, which gives advice to about 11,000 people in Wales, will continue to play a vital role. The proposals to change the funding of the specialist service would not cut legal aid, but would refocus £2.9 million on front-line services in England and Wales. As she knows, the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice), is keeping a close eye on the issue. If there are serious problems, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) believes, I am sure that they will be addressed. However, if she wishes to raise any issues with me, I am happy to take them up with the Department for Constitutional Affairs.
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Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): With fewer and fewer legal firms undertaking legal aid work, increasing numbers of disadvantaged people are turning to citizens advice bureaux for legal advice. CABs frequently do not possess sufficient legal expertise to advise on more complex legal problems. How does the Minister propose that CABs should obtain the specialist advice that they currently receive from the specialist support service?

Nick Ainger: To answer the hon. Gentleman directly, the Legal Services Commission has met practitioners and the specialist advice service that previously received funding and which can bid directly for the new money for the front-line services. We will ensure that there is a first-stop shop so that individuals with welfare benefit problems can receive specialist advice on their initial approach, rather than later in the process. That is the thinking behind the proposals, and we have moved that £2.9 million from the specialist services to the front-line so that individuals can access such advice when they make their initial approach.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): In view of that reply, is my hon. Friend aware that the Legal Services Commission did not consult appropriately with the Welsh Assembly Government or practitioners in Wales before that harsh decision was taken? We are bombarded with telephone messages and e-mails from citizens advice bureaux across Wales complaining about the way in which the whole matter has been handled.

Nick Ainger: I know that my hon. Friend made those points during the Adjournment debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan). We are moving from the specialist services currently provided as a second tier on to the first tier, so that when people go to a CAB they will be able to access specialist advice much earlier. However, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North, if there are specific issues affecting Wales directly, I am more than happy to take them up with the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

Liquefied Natural Gas Terminals (Milford Haven)

4. Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): What discussions he has had with Ministers in the Welsh Assembly Government on liquefied natural gas terminals at Milford Haven. [50378]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): The two LNG terminals are vital to address a series of energy supply problems and will be a major economic boost to the region.

Mr. Crabb: As the Secretary of State knows, his colleague the Home Secretary came down to Pembrokeshire last April and made a specific promise, namely, that

arising from the massive LNG projects. Given that not one single extra penny has yet been forthcoming from the Treasury or from the National Assembly to address the additional impact on local planning, local housing,
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transport and other key public services, will the Secretary of State today make good that promise to Pembrokeshire and ensure that local public services get the additional support that they need at this critical time?

Mr. Hain: I think that I am right in saying that the Home Secretary spoke specifically about any extra policing needs. As far as I am aware, there are no extra policing needs. The hon. Gentleman welcomed the project. In his press release on 22 November, he stated:

However, he is right to say that particular stress has been put on the local housing sector. The Assembly Government are working with Pembrokeshire county council to try and address that. It is a temporary problem caused by the huge influx of construction workers, although 80 per cent. of local construction needs on those projects are provided by local labour.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): Given that the pipeline from the terminal will, I believe, go through the right hon. Gentleman's constituency and mine, is he aware of the two serious explosions that have occurred on LNG pipelines over the past two years in Belgium and Nigeria, both of which involved large scale fatalities? Is he absolutely satisfied that the proposed route will pose no such risks to his constituents or to mine?

Mr. Hain: I am. Indeed, the record of gas pipelines in the United Kingdom is extremely good. I would not take Nigeria as an advert for safety of anything. Although there are particular issues—for example, in the village of Cilfrew in my constituency—about where exactly the pipeline is sited, the hon. Gentleman knows the enormous strategic benefit to Wales and the rest of the   UK of the project and the extra gas that will be brought in, providing about 20 per cent. of UK gas needs.

Bovine Tuberculosis

5. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): What plans he has to discuss bovine tuberculosis with the Welsh Assembly Government. [50380]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I discussed bovine TB control measures with the Assembly's Minister for Environment, Planning and Countryside when I last met him on 12 December 2005.

Mr. Bellingham: The Minister knows that anything to do with badgers is highly emotional. We all have childhood memories of badger toys, often known as Brock. Are the Government any nearer to finding a system of restricting any proposed cull to infected badgers? What everyone wants is a healthy herd of cattle and healthy badgers.

Nick Ainger: In Wales we have the Wales TB action group, which consists of the state veterinary service Wales, the Wales Young Farmers clubs, the farming unions in Wales, the Royal Society for the Prevention of
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Cruelty to Animals, the Countryside Council for Wales, and Wales Environment Link. They have given advice and recommendations to Carwyn Jones, the agriculture and rural affairs Minister. As in England, pre-movement testing is to be introduced, as well as changes in the compensation regime. In Wales, we will test all road-kill badgers to try and establish exactly where the hot spots are. That will inform further studies so that if we move to a cull, it will be in clearly defined areas. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend assure me that the matter will be dealt with on a considered and rational basis? Is he aware that there is grave disquiet in the scientific community about proceeding on the unproven assumption that there is a link between the badger population and the increase in bovine TB?

Nick Ainger: The Wales TB action group will provide informed advice to the Minister before any decision is taken to cull any badgers anywhere in Wales.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Welsh Assembly—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The noise is unfair on the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Williams: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly have failed to set out guidance on how livestock markets should operate when pre-movement testing for TB is introduced. Will the Minister use his good offices to ensure that DEFRA and the Assembly make those conditions clear? The matter is important to Brecon market, which will sell at least 1,000 cattle a month in the next few months. In particular, will it be possible to mix cattle under 15 months, which do not require pre-movement testing, and cattle over 15 months, which do, and sell them together?

Nick Ainger: The hon. Gentleman has made an interesting point. I will get a detailed response from the Assembly on the guidance to livestock markets. Many people believe that the failure to carry out pre-movement testing allows TB to move around the country. After foot and mouth, there was a large influx of cattle into Cumbria, which now has a significant TB problem that it did not have before.

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