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NHS Deficits

7. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): When he last met the Health Minister in the National Assembly for Wales to discuss NHS deficits in Wales. [59253]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I regularly meet the Assembly Minister for Health and Social Services to discuss a range of issues, including the funding of health services in Wales.

Mr. Amess: As the Secretary of State knows, the cumulative deficit for health services in Wales is predicted to reach £71 million; indeed, it is predicted to reach £100 million by the time of next year's National Assembly elections. Who does he think is responsible for that deficit, and will he explain to the House in clear terms why Government targets have been allowed completely to distort clinical priorities in Wales?

Mr. Hain: I see that the hon. Gentleman has applied for Southend to be part of the western tip of Wales. The truth is that his figures are completely inaccurate. The Welsh Assembly Government announced that, according to their best estimate, the hospital deficit will be under £22 million, which is 0.5 per cent. of the £4.3 billion health spend. That is a tiny percentage in the light of an overall record of increasing success and increased spending, which has led to the recruiting of an extra 7,300 nurses in Wales, with more to come.

Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in recognising the excellent levels of service provided by the burns unit at Morriston
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hospital in my constituency? Time and time again, it has proved to be the best unit of its type in England and Wales.

Mr. Hain: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. The performance in health right across Wales—at Morriston hospital and also at Singleton hospital in Swansea—has been extremely good. That reflects the increased investment that this Labour Government have put into the entire health service in Wales—investment that would be threatened under the Conservative spending plans.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Patients waiting for routine operations in Wales have to wait twice as long as patients in England. Does the Secretary of State agree that the NHS in Wales is an absolute disgrace and that Nye Bevan would be spinning in his grave?

Mr. Hain: I certainly do not agree. We are treating and seeing more patients than ever before and waiting times are plummeting. Waiting lists are being reduced, there are more nurses and doctors, and hospitals right across Wales are doing much better. However, all of that would be threatened if Conservative spending plans were ever brought into effect. That is why people should continue to support this Labour Government.

Economic Inactivity

9. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): What progress has been made in reducing economic inactivity in Wales. [59255]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): The number of economically inactive people of working age in Wales fell by 3,000 compared with the same period a year ago, but there is more to be done.

Chris Bryant: The Welsh economy has been transformed in recent years, with more people in work than ever before and a very highly skilled work force ready to do more. My right hon. Friend was unfortunately unable to attend Monday afternoon's launch of the Metrix bid to set up a defence training academy at St. Athan, which would be the biggest ever investment in the Welsh economy. However, does he agree that attracting that investment to south Wales would be a great deal for the Ministry of Defence, and that the Welsh economy would be improved significantly?

Mr. Hain: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. That is a bid to build a world-class defence training facility in the St. Athan area, which is an ideal location. He is also right that the number of economically inactive people in Wales, although it remains high, has fallen, despite there being 9,000 extra students in the figures. That shows again that, under this Labour Government, the Welsh economy is doing better than ever before.

Welsh Language

10. Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): What recent discussions he has had with colleagues in the National Assembly for Wales on the current legislative arrangements for use of the Welsh language. [59258]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I have had recent discussions with Assembly colleagues and the chair of the Welsh Language Board about the Government of Wales Bill, which will give Assembly Ministers important new powers to support the Welsh language.

Hywel Williams: Does the Minister agree that it is the fundamental right of accused people to have the evidence that they present to a court understood by the jury in the language that they choose—Welsh or English? Will he therefore pledge his support for the moves to have all-bilingual juries in certain circumstances in Wales?

Nick Ainger: The Office for Criminal Justice Reform launched a consultation exercise in December 2005. That exercise closes at the end of this month. We will consider the matter further in light of the responses to that consultation.

Energy Policy

11. Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the review of energy policy in the UK as it relates to Wales. [59259]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): The Wales Office is working with the Assembly Government and the Department of Trade and Industry to ensure that Welsh interests are represented at each stage of the energy review.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response, but does he agree that Wales is uniquely poised to take advantage of initiatives in environmental and green energy, in terms of both job creation and the contribution that Wales can make to the renewable targets? However, does he share my distaste for the way in which Opposition Members flip-flop on the matter? [Interruption.] In this Chamber, they say that they support green energy but, on the ground, they say something completely different. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the Secretary of State replies, I once again appeal for order. If they are reached, Questions 11 and 12 are just as important as any others.

Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend. This Government are committed to renewable energy, and we have done more than ever before to drive it forward. He is right to point out the hypocrisy on the Opposition Benches. The Leader of the Opposition says that he is in favour of renewable energy and even takes npower juice. However, he has denounced the wind farm off the north Wales coast that produces that energy and attacked it for being a bird blender. We need some consistency from the right hon. Gentleman, instead of these flip-flops all over the place.

Dee Estuary

12. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the First Secretary on the progress of dredging on the Dee estuary. [59260]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): In August last year, the Welsh Assembly Government, the Department for Transport and the Environment Agency granted dredging and disposal consents to the port of Mostyn Ltd. I understand that the dredging activity to date has been well within the authorised schedule—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry if I have taken the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Ben Chapman) by surprise, but welcome to Welsh questions.

Ben Chapman: Does my hon. Friend appreciate that    the Dee estuary is among the most sensitive environmental sites in Europe and, of course, in the United Kingdom? Does he agree that the dredging issue is important, not just for the people of Wales, but for the people of Wirral, and does he agree that we need to keep a close eye on the situation?

Nick Ainger : I assure my hon. Friend that there are conditions attached to the dredging programme, which include monitoring to safeguard the integrity of the nature conservation assets in the estuary. I hope that he is reassured.

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