Future of Energy in Wales


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Huw Irranca-Davies: I assure the hon. Gentleman, who raises important points about the nature of community pharmacies in Wales, that the Assembly Health Minister and I have met Community Pharmacy Wales, as I mentioned. We have listened to its concerns and are in active discussions with the Assembly and United Kingdom Health Ministers about them. The good news is that action is already under way in response to that to forge an agreement between the Assembly Health Minister and pharmacy representatives in Wales to have a staged action plan for further development of a community pharmacist role in Wales. The Welsh Assembly Minister envisages completion of that later this summer.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The Minister knows that Wales has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe. As many young people in my constituency have said to me, pharmacies are important in making sure that they have access to contraception and to emergency contraception in particular. Will he talk to Welsh Health Ministers about extending the pilot scheme that has been advanced in some areas whereby emergency contraception is available free across the whole of Wales? Will he also ensure that free contraception is more readily available to youngsters so that they can take safe precautions?
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I understand the comments of the hon. Member for Rhondda. He will know that his constituency has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in not only Wales, but the United Kingdom.
Chris Bryant: I do not know that actually.
Mark Pritchard: If the hon. Gentleman wants to check the facts, I think he will find that that is the case. [Interruption.] I checked the figures last week. When was the last time he checked them?
The fact remains that the only way in which we can deal with the issue is to improve sex education. I hope that the hon. Gentleman at least agrees with that. The way to reduce teenage pregnancies is not to encourage the use of emergency contraception, which I believe will only increase teenage pregnancies. Does the Minister agree that we need to improve sex education and access to contraception? What we do not need is quick fixes. We need to get to the root of the problem.
Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. An immediate magic bullet solution will not solve the problem. The solution is joined up to education, and good quality appropriate sex and relationship education is certainly a key part of that. I take his comments on board and, once again, in my discussions with Assembly colleagues, I shall pass on his concerns. It is certainly right that we should take a joined-up approach to resolving the problem that has been long embedded in many of our areas.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): As my hon. Friend knows, Remploy in my constituency makes products only for the NHS. Unfortunately, it has failed to secure public procurement contracts in Wales. Will he do everything possible to ensure that the process is assisted because it is essential for the future of Remploy in the Cynon Valley?
Huw Irranca-Davies: Perhaps I can meet my right hon. Friend to discuss the matter further. The Wales Office will certainly be more than willing to assist in whatever way it can in advancing the case for the workers within her Remploy factory. I know she has already done a sterling job in advancing that case already.

Telephone Boxes

4. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): What recent representations he has received on the announcement by BT that it is seeking to reduce the number of its public telephone boxes in Wales; and if he will make a statement. [210774]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): I have a one-word answer here—none. We have had no representations as yet.
Mr. Llwyd: It is better than two words. I welcome you to the Chair of the Welsh Grand Committee, Mr. Atkinson—I hope that you have a wonderful day out.
May I draw attention to my early-day motion 1680, which is currently doing the rounds? BT intends to cut at least 25 per cent. of pay phones throughout Wales, and I understand that rural areas will be hardest hit. My concern is that many rural areas do not have any mobile telephone coverage, and that the cut will cause danger. In the county of Conwy, 28 per cent. of pay phones are going to disappear; in Gwynedd, the figure is 27 per cent; in Powys, it is 43 per cent; in Ceredigion, it is 35 per cent, and in Ynys Môn, it is 35 per cent. There is a big issue here, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary will engage with BT on it.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I am more than happy to do so. The hon. Gentleman is right. Although there are high levels of mobile phone ownership in Wales and higher than average take-up of private land lines, we must recognise that mobile phone blackspots cause major challenges. I know that the hon. Gentleman has been leading a vigorous campaign in his area. We urge hon. Members to make clear to BT their concerns about their local areas, and we, too, will convey those concerns.
Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): One potential solution to the mobile blackspots problem that the Under-Secretary correctly identifies, which would partly solve the problem that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy raised, is to encourage mobile phone operators to share networks. It is technically possible, because we can make emergency calls even in mobile blackspots. Will the Under-Secretary look at the private Member’s Bill being promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), which seeks to achieve exactly that, as part of the solution for Wales?
Huw Irranca-Davies: I have not yet come across that private Member’s Bill.
Mr. Crabb: Ten-minute Bill.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I will, indeed, look at it. As with many such issues, it is important that we do the right thing for our constituents and consider the best way forward. If, under the auspices of the Wales Office, we can apply a little pressure here and there to examine how we can better join up connectivity across Wales, not only for mobile phones but for land lines, we will certainly bring it to bear.

Seaside Towns

5. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab):What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet and Welsh Assembly Government colleagues on co-ordination of policy for the regeneration of seaside towns in Wales. [210775]
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I regularly meet ministerial and Welsh Assembly Government colleagues to discuss issues affecting Wales, especially the co-ordination of policies.
Chris Ruane: May I inform my right hon. Friend of the hundreds of millions of pounds that have been pumped by the private sector into Rhyl? Modus has invested £85 million; there has been £60 million of redevelopment for the top of the high street, and local developers Lee Webber and David Hague are redeveloping the whole of Rhyl promenade. However, in the public sector, the fire service and the police have relocated their headquarters outside the town of Rhyl; the Department for Work and Pensions closed down the benefits agency three years ago at a cost of 150 jobs; and HMRC now proposes to close the tax office in Rhyl, with a loss of 50 jobs. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that there is a joined-up approach to regeneration in seaside towns?
Mr. Murphy: First, I want to say how well my hon. Friend has worked as the leader of the unemployment group in Rhyl. His tireless efforts have, I believe, led to the transformation of the town from what it was 10 or 15 years ago. I entirely agree that there is a case for looking at Welsh Assembly Government, UK Government and local authority policies across the board—whether city strategies, the old objective 1 funding, lottery money, and so on—and bringing them together to ensure that the best possible solutions are found to regenerate towns like Rhyl, which has been a success story.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): The Secretary of State knows that amusement arcades are major wet weather attractions in seaside resorts. Since the implementation of the Gambling Act 2005, arcades across the country have experienced a decline in income of approximately 21 per cent. The Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) is considering reviewing the 2005 Act to increase the stakes playable on arcade machines and to permit an increase in the number of machines in amusement arcades. Given that we are now at the start of the season, will the Secretary of State have words with the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and urge him to complete that review as quickly as possible?
Mr. Murphy: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s points, especially in view of the weather that Wales has from time to time. It is important to have attractions other than the beach. I am not an expert on arcades or gambling machines, but I will take the matter up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Employment Guidelines

6. Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the potential impact on Wales of new employment guidelines for temporary and agency workers. [210776]
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I begin by placing on record my appreciation and recognition of the work my hon. Friend has undertaken in this important field. Last week, the Government reached agreement with other European member states, which will mean that agency workers receive equal treatment after 12 weeks’ employment. That will give increased protection to agency workers and guard against unfair wage undercutting without putting jobs at risk or cutting off a valuable route into employment.
Nia Griffith: As my right hon. Friend knows, the use of agency workers is widespread in my constituency and across Wales. For many years, agency workers have worked in well established companies and in the public sector, receiving far lower wages and working in far worse conditions than permanent employees. Will my right hon. Friend give assurances that the implementation of the agency worker directive will apply to workers who are already working for agencies under existing contracts with their employers?
Mr. Murphy: As far as I know, I can give that assurance. I will have to check the detail of the legislation with my colleagues in the Government. I think that my hon. Friend would agree that somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000 agency workers in Wales will benefit from the measure. It will lead to benefits in basic employment conditions that agency workers did not previously have, relating to pay, holidays, overtime, breaks, rest periods, night work and duration of working time. I will take up the specific point up with my Government colleagues.

Cross Border Health

7. Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): If he will hold discussions with the Secretary of State for Health about health inequalities between border counties in Wales and England, which share acute and primary services. [210777]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): I regularly discuss a wide range of issues with my colleagues in the Department of Health, including the delivery of health care for Welsh and English patients in border areas.
Mark Pritchard: When it comes to the NHS in Wales, the fine people of Wales are unfortunately treated as second-class citizens. I was surprised last week when the First Minister admitted before the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs to having no aspiration or policy to increase health solutions in Wales. That must come as not only a shock, but a disappointment to the people of Wales, who want more in-Wales solutions. Does the Under-Secretary share the aspiration for more in-Wales health solutions or does he agree with the First Minister, who seems ambivalent on the issue?
Huw Irranca-Davies: It is important that patients in north, south or mid-Wales receive the appropriate treatment, whether or not that comes from an in-Wales solution. As the hon. Gentleman said, there is a case for delivering as much as possible through in-Wales solutions, but we cannot ignore the cross-border flows or the fact that some delivery is provided on both sides of Offa’s dyke. There are strong relationships between trusts on both sides of Offa’s dyke. While I understand his point, we cannot be overly prescriptive—to misuse the phrase—and say that there should be one model. We cannot say that there should be an in-Wales solution or an out-of-Wales solution. The rational way of proceeding is surely to do what is best for the patient.
Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): The hon. Member for The Wrekin must have attended a rather different meeting from the one that I attended. The tone and approach of the First Minister were positive, and the two words that came over were “practical” and “pragmatic”. Does my hon. Friend agree that the approach of the First Minister at that session should be welcomed?
Huw Irranca-Davies: My hon. Friend makes an important point, because I was struggling to recognise which part of the transcript the hon. Member for The Wrekin was citing. It is right that people want a pragmatic, rational approach to health care. Ultimately, it is down to the experience of the patient. They want the best possible care in the best possible way, and that requires a pragmatic, rational approach.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Is the Under-Secretary not aware that my constituents in Montgomeryshire are repeatedly told that they would get treatment more quickly if they lived in England, and that, because they come from Wales, there are longer waiting lists and they have to wait longer to have their suffering alleviated? Is he not aware that that does untold damage to the reputation of the Welsh Assembly Government? When will my constituents and those of other constituencies along the border of England and Wales be treated on an equal basis when they require the services of the health service in England?
 
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Prepared 19 June 2008