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Session 2006 - 07
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Welsh Grand Committee Debates

Welsh Grand Committee

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Martin Caton
Ainger, Nick (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales)
Brennan, Kevin (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
Crabb, Mr. Stephen (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
David, Mr. Wayne (Caerphilly) (Lab)
Davies, Mr. Dai (Blaenau Gwent) (Ind)
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth) (Con)
Flynn, Paul (Newport, West) (Lab)
Francis, Dr. Hywel (Aberavon) (Lab)
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl (Chesham and Amersham) (Con)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Hain, Mr. Peter (Secretary of State for Wales)
Hanson, Mr. David (Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office)
Havard, Mr. Dai (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Minister for the Middle East)
Irranca-Davies, Huw (Ogmore) (Lab)
James, Mrs. Siân C. (Swansea, East) (Lab)
Jones, Mr. David (Clwyd, West) (Con)
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) (Lab)
Michael, Alun (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine (Bridgend) (Lab)
Morden, Jessica (Newport, East) (Lab)
Morgan, Julie (Cardiff, North) (Lab)
Murphy, Mr. Paul (Torfaen)(Lab)
Öpik, Lembit (Montgomeryshire) (LD)
Owen, Albert (Ynys Môn) (Lab)
Price, Adam (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC)
Ruane, Chris (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab)
Smith, John (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab)
Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
Touhig, Mr. Don (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
Watkinson, Angela (Upminster) (Con)
Williams, Mr. Alan (Swansea, West) (Lab)
Williams, Mrs. Betty (Conwy) (Lab)
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon) (PC)
Williams, Mark (Ceredigion) (LD)
Williams, Mr. Roger (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)
Willott, Jenny (Cardiff, Central) (LD)
Alan Sandall, Chris Shaw, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Welsh Grand Committee

Wednesday 13 December 2006


[Mr. Martin Caton in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
9 am

Mental Health Bill

1. Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): What assessment he has made of the effect of the Mental Health Bill on rural communities in Wales; and if he will make a statement. [108131]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): The Mental Health Bill 2006 will amend the Mental Health Act 1983 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The 1983 Act operates across both rural and urban communities without significant disparity, and it is not anticipated that the amendments proposed will alter that position.
Mark Williams: I thank the Under-Secretary for that response. He will be aware that the Joint Committee on the draft Mental Health Bill stated:
“Mental health services in Wales are significantly less developed than those in England. The fact that Wales is a sparsely populated and bilingual country brings further challenges to the delivery of mental health services.”
With that in mind, will he clarify whether the Bill was rural proofed in any way? Mind, the Mental Health Alliance and other voluntary sector organisations are concerned that the Bill as it stands is unworkable in rural Wales.
Nick Ainger: I do not accept that last comment. The Welsh Assembly Government have established an implementation project for the Bill and are working with stakeholders throughout the community to ensure co-ordination between the voluntary and the statutory sectors. The project includes pilot sites that will take account of rural and urban impacts, differences such as the Welsh language, diversity and cross-border working., so I do not accept that the Bill will have the impact to which the hon. Gentleman referred. We should remember that more than 50 people are killed every year by mentally ill people. One in 20 homicides are committed by people with schizophrenia. Many of those deaths are preventable, and that is what the Bill is trying to achieve.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Here we have the Under-Secretary, as is usual with the Government, chasing headlines. The Daily Mail will be very happy to see that tomorrow morning. Why not rename the Bill the “Mad Axeman Bill”? This is about chasing headlines by quoting the numbers of people killed.
Will the Under-Secretary concede that running a day centre in a rural area is more of a proposition than running one in the middle of London? What extra resources are the Government going to make available to facilitate the implementation of the measures in the Bill in rural Wales?
Nick Ainger: It is not chasing headlines to tell the truth about what has been happening and what is still happening in our communities. It causes genuine outrage, especially for the innocent victims of such crimes, when it is found that patients who commit crimes have not been receiving the treatment or were not taking the medication that they should have been. That is what the Bill intends to tackle. I thought that there would be cross-party consensus about that, rather than people saying that it is headline-grabbing legislation.
Patients and their families in rural communities will benefit from the introduction of supervised community treatment, which will allow suitable patients to receive services closer to home. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will at least welcome that.
Clearly, the issue of resources is a matter for the Assembly. In past years, mental health resources have kept pace with other expenditure in the health service. It has not been a Cinderella service: more investment has been going in and I am sure that that will continue.

Departmental Expenditure

2. Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): What assessment he has made of the effects of changes in expenditure by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Wales. [108132]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): Within its budget review, DEFRA is reviewing allocation within its own funding streams. However, its overall budget remains unchanged.
Mr. Williams: I thank the Minister for his reply, but I find it puzzling. Already, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced £200 million of cuts. DEFRA is a serial offender as far as budget mismanagement is concerned. It has underspent in recent years and now has a £200 million hole in its budget caused in part by its mismanagement, via the Rural Payments Agency, of the single farm payment.
I am particularly concerned with what will happen to the canal system in Wales, and particularly in mid-Wales, which has proved to be a huge asset to the tourism industry. Now it will be allowed to subside again. It will no longer carry the same attraction, and businesses will suffer as a result.
Nick Ainger: Clearly, the budget for DEFRA is not directly a matter for me, but it is important to remember that the overall budget remains the same. The Barnett consequences for the Welsh Assembly Government are therefore not affected. The changes being made are to the internal architecture of the DEFRA budget.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned British Waterways. Since this Government have been in power, British Waterways has received substantial investment. The Government have invested £524 million in it since 2000, as a result of which it has been able to participate in massive regeneration, for example in Birmingham, totalling £10 billion. It has also upgraded and brought into use more than 200 miles of derelict canals. It is acknowledged that canals are a major tourism asset, in which the Government have invested and will continue to invest irrespective of the short-term problems of the DEFRA budget for this year. There appear to be no problems for next year—it is projected that the budget will increase to more than £3.6 billion. That is a substantial sum, and investment will continue to be made in British Waterways.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Does the Minister agree that the recent reversal of the cuts in payments to the tir mynydd and tir gofal environmental schemes in Cardiff are most welcome, that the schemes are vital to the economy of rural Wales, and that any further cuts would not be acceptable?
Nick Ainger: The hon. Gentleman asks me to welcome further investment in rural and upland Wales, which of course I do. As he knows, the Assembly budget is being debated and voted on this afternoon, and I am sure that tir mynydd will feature in that debate. The Government have ensured that substantial sums are going to rural and upland Wales, and the Assembly will continue to do that. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues constantly talk down what has been happening in rural Wales. If he looks at the facts on employment and prosperity, he will see that rural Wales is doing okay. He should be careful not to talk it down.

Welsh Economy

3. Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the performance of the Welsh economy; and if he will make a statement. [108133]
5. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the recent performance of the Welsh economy. [108135]
6. Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the performance of the Welsh economy; and if he will make a statement. [108137]
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): The Welsh economy is strong, and has shown considerable improvement in recent years. Employment is now consistently at historically high levels.
Mark Tami: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He will be aware of the announcement earlier this week of a £34 million research programme at Airbus in Broughton, which will develop and enhance the UK’s position as a world leader in wing design. Does he agree that such an investment is a perfect example of how a Labour Government here in Westminster can work with a Labour Assembly in Wales to help to secure jobs in Wales and invest in the future of Wales?
Mr. Hain: Yes, I agree about that investment, which included a contribution from the Welsh Assembly Government, in Airbus, which is the jewel in the crown of the regional economy not just of north-east Wales but the area the other side of the border. It is important that Airbus goes from strength to strength, and we as a Government will continue to support it in exactly the way that my hon. Friend describes—as a partnership between the Labour Welsh Assembly Government and the Labour Government in Westminster.
Ann Clwyd: As my right hon. Friend knows, Tower colliery in my constituency has made a significant contribution to the economy of the Cynon valley and Wales, despite the best efforts of the Conservative party to shut it down. It is thanks to a Labour Government and a co-operative work force that the colliery has been such a success. However, the coal at Tower is coming to a end and much hope is being pinned on developments at Margam. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that there will be opportunities for men from Tower colliery and elsewhere in south Wales when the Margam development eventually takes place?
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Prepared 14 December 2006