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Lord Burnham: My Lords, perhaps I may take the Minister a little further on the matter. She said that it was the Government's intention to maintain the Trident system. Can the noble Baroness say whether it is the Government's intention to keep the number of boats on patrol the same as it is at present, and also to keep the same timing of such patrols?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I recognise the importance of the question. I refer the noble Lord to the answer I have just given in response to a previous supplementary question. These matters will be considered in the defence review. I hope that next year we shall be able to answer fully such detailed questions as the noble Lord has asked. It is in the context of the defence review that they must be answered.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, is the Minister aware that is not an entirely satisfactory reply to the previous question? The maintenance of a certain number of Trident boats on patrol at any given time is an essential element of a credible deterrent. Will the Minister confirm that whatever may happen in the Strategic Defence Review, it remains the clear and unchangeable policy of Her Majesty's Government that this country will retain a credible nuclear deterrent?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that I have made clear that we shall retain a credible nuclear deterrent until such time as we have verifiable balanced reductions of nuclear weapons. Our examination in the Strategic Defence Review and elsewhere of all aspects of our nuclear policy will of course include an examination of nuclear warheads and boats on patrol. If we conclude that the circumstances allow reductions in the number of warheads while maintaining a credible deterrent, we shall make those reductions. However, I am afraid that while this work is still in progress I cannot comment any further on numbers.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, can the noble Baroness inform us how many nation states currently possess nuclear weapons, and how many nation states are expected to possess nuclear weapons in the next 10 years? What are Her Majesty's Government doing to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as your Lordships' House is aware, the number of nation states in possession of nuclear weapons is not necessarily verifiable at the moment. I shall make inquiries in relation to the question that the noble Lord asks to see whether I can obtain any more detailed information. The noble Lord asked about the spread of nuclear weapons. In this House we have recently debated the comprehensive test ban treaty. That measure is now before another place. As I am sure the noble

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Lord knows, the P5 countries have already signed up to the treaty, and over 130 other countries have also put their names to the treaty.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is my noble friend aware--and is she in a position to say--that it is the Government's policy to press for a convention so that nuclear weapons can at least be put in the same category as chemical and biological weapons; namely, that of banned weapons?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we are examining a number of different ways to make good our commitment to press for multilateral negotiations on nuclear weapons. A number of different measures are being pursued.

Wales: Gross Domestic Product

3.3 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to increase GDP per head in Wales.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the Welsh Office is currently consulting on An Economic Strategy for Wales. The consultation document is in the Library. It sets out the Government's proposals to increase and spread prosperity throughout Wales. It sets a framework and identifies priorities with the aim of ensuring that the public and private sectors work together in a partnership that is underpinned by sound teamwork. Inward investment is a good example of where the quality of Team Wales has achieved a large measure of success. We intend to create an economic powerhouse--that is, the merger of the Welsh Development Agency, the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Land Authority for Wales--to provide a simplified institutional framework to lead on co-ordination of economic development strategies. We are also undertaking a comprehensive spending review to determine how the resources of the Welsh Office can best contribute to increasing economic prosperity for people in all parts of Wales.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. In view of the exchange at the beginning of today's Question Time, will he give a firm assurance that as Wales is near the bottom of the regional league table of GDP per capita, average earnings and disposable income, the Government will give the highest priority to raising the standard of living of the Welsh people by promoting investment and the creation of worthwhile jobs? Furthermore, does the noble Lord agree that as the farming community is a substantial contributor to GDP in Wales, the Government should give urgent consideration to falling incomes as a result of the strong pound and the

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continuing BSE crisis, especially as I understand that some surplus European funds are available to give assistance?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, all the points which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, identifies are valid points. It is true that Wales is low in the league. Wales has 83.3 per cent. of UK GDP; it was 84 per cent. in 1994. Therefore the figure has declined further. As the noble Lord rightly implied, apart from Northern Ireland, Wales has the lowest GDP in the UK. There is no doubt at all that a high priority of this Government is inward investment into Wales to produce worthwhile, high quality jobs of value. The noble Lord rightly referred to that point. We believe that the Welsh Assembly, which we shall discuss in the New Year in your Lordships' House, will have an important part to play in that area. The farming community has a special place in the life of Wales, not simply a special economic place but also a cultural place. I assure the noble Lord and your Lordships that the Secretary of State for Wales is well alive to the problems of the farming community in Wales.

Lord Mottistone: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Isle of Wight has a lower GDP than Wales and a similar unemployment figure? For the past 20 years I have pursued successive governments to try to persuade them to accept that fact. In his original Answer the Minister spoke of all the nice things he intended to do for Wales. When will that happen in the Isle of Wight which, although always classed as part of the prosperous south east, has in fact a similar framework to that of Wales?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have an eyeglass but even using it I cannot detect that the Isle of Wight is entirely within the scope of the noble Lord's Question as tabled. All I can say is that, as always, I shall note carefully what the noble Lord said and transmit it to the appropriate quarter.

Lord Islwyn: My Lords, is not the real answer for the Government to encourage the development of indigenous industries in Wales through tax and investment incentives? Does the noble Lord further agree that investment in public transport could provide greater mobility and help those people from the valleys and rural areas who are anxious to seek employment?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is no doubt at all that the transport facilities in Wales which this Government have inherited are not entirely suitable for the needs of a modern economy. No one who knows Wales or who has tried to travel from north Wales to south Wales by motor car could dissent from that proposition. We need to develop what is presently indigenous to Wales and to benefit--I readily pay tribute to the previous government in this respect--as we have significantly, from the efforts of the Welsh Development Agency in encouraging and securing inward investment of high quality in Wales.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, without in any way disparaging the inward investment which has been so

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important in Wales, will the new development agency have the right or the power to take equity in indigenous companies to promote them? I have had some experience of seeing indigenous companies develop in Wales. Those companies are then taken over and have their headquarters moved outside Wales. Often the highest salaries are paid to employees of those companies who are not in Wales. Is it not possible for the new development agency to have a strategy to deal with the problem of encouraging indigenous industries and of retaining a certain degree of control over them through taking equity?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is one of the aspects which the economic powerhouse will have in mind. I referred to that a moment or two ago. It is, of course, one of the reasons that we issued our consultation document, An Economic Strategy for Wales. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that the remarks he made are entirely apt and will be given the greatest possible scrutiny.

Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Bill [H.L.]

3.10 p.m.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision with respect to interest on the late payment of certain debts arising under commercial contracts for the supply of goods or services. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord Haskel.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

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