HC Deb 23 June 1988 vol 135 cc1294-330
Mr. Speaker

In view of the late start to this debate, I make a special plea for brief contributions. A large number of hon. Members wish to take part. I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.47 pm
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I beg to move, That this House deplores the unacceptable levels of deprivation and disadvantage in Wales; condemns those Government policies which either have failed to address these problems adequately or which have exacerbated them, like the recent changes in social security and housing benefit; and expresses growing concern at the widening gap between Wales and the South East of England. I can well understand that perhaps commentators outside Wales might wonder why we need to have a debate in this form because they have been told by press release, which is a Welsh Office form of nouveau cuisine, that we live in "booming Wales" and that our battling Secretary of State has "won" enormous increases in Government money for Wales; that we have a Japanese industrial invasion that is leading to the establishment of a "little Tokyo on the edge of Cardiff".

We have to live with the real Wales. We have to face the reality that, welcome as all the Japanese employment is—and much of it was there in the 1970s—there are still only 5,000 people working for Japanese companies. We have to recognise that booming Wales as it is seen from Worcester is still the second poorest region of the United Kingdom. We have to see a Wales in which the increased public expenditure battled for so nobly by our Secretary of State was revealed by the Treasury to be a cut of £54 million over the next three years.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Williams

I have only just started a very short debate, but all right.

Mr. Wigley

It is to help the point that he is making. Is he aware that in my own constituency in Aberavon 43 per cent. of households have an income of less than £80 a week and this winter there was 24 per cent. unemployment? That is a reflection of what we are talking about.

Mr. Williams

I am, and I shall be dealing with that sort of issue a little later. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity in managing to get into the debate so early.

Welsh Opposition Members represent 30 of the 38 constituencies in Wales. We see another side of Wales, which the Secretary of State is somewhat reluctant to talk about; a Wales where Unfit … homes set a billion-plus poser"; a Wales in which Social-security changes leave 6,000 without school dinners"; a Wales that is The land that falls below average"; a Wales in which Sickness adds up to 41m lost days each year; a Wales in which a cancer survey shows Wales at top"; a Wales in which we have what are described as "debts of despair", and people snared in the benefits poverty trap. This is the Wales that we see.

The symptoms of the north-south divide are well known to all hon. Members, and we have them all. The symptoms of deprivation are multifaceted, and we in Wales have all those too.

It is worth remembering, as we start this debate, that the circumstances that I have described prevail after nine years of a Government who have had nearly £100,000 million of resources from the North sea to help deal with social problems, if they wished to use them for that purpose.

The deprivation that we see in Wales, and which the Secretary of State prefers not to see, is represented by the increase of 28 per cent. in homelessness and by the record council house waiting list. But these are statistics, figures. We see that deprivation every weekend as faces across a desk in our surgeries in our constituencies as desperate people come to us in search of a solution to their problems. We have to explain to them that one of the reasons why they are on that waiting list is that we have had the lowest number of council houses built in Wales in the last 40 years. Only one house was built, in the last year for which there are complete records, for every five built in the last year of the Labour Administration.

We can hold out little hope. Having dropped to such appallingly low levels of construction of desperately needed houses, Wales is now told by the Government that it is to have no more council house building. People come to our surgeries and tell us that they live in one of the 400,000 houses in Wales that are in need of repair, or in one of the 70,000 houses that are unfit, or one of the 40,000 houses that lack amenities. We tell them that the Government have spent more money on house repairs, but they are spending only half as much on housing now as was being spent when they came to office.

The Government have said that the repair programme in Wales would cost £1.25 billion at 1986 prices. By a remarkable coincidence, the amount of underspend in the time between when we left office and now is also £1.25 billion. So £1.25 billion is needed for repairs, and there has been an underspend of £1.25 billion by the Government.

Mr. Gwilym Jones (Cardiff, North)


Mr. Williams

I would normally give way, but this is a restricted debate.

No hon. Member on either side of the House condones violence, but the Government should ask themselves why there is such deep bitterness about the fact that outsiders can come into Wales and pay more for second homes than our people can afford for their family homes.

Deprivation is also evident in the inadequate provision for health in Wales. If any area deserves priority, it is health—we have the highest sickness rates in the United Kingdom. We have the highest incidence of cancer, heart disease and chest illness, yet the Secretary of State, far from giving health priority, has abandoned the inflation-plus formula used by his predecessor and produced an even more meagre formula. It will mean that over the next three years there will be an average increase in spending of only 1 per cent. If the right hon. Gentleman had only sustained the level of spending of his predecessor, £30 million more would have been spent on health in Wales this year. That would have been enough to provide the Mid-Glamorgan hospital that is needed. Over the next three years, it would have provided £190 million more for Wales—all this if the Secretary of State had merely kept spending at his predecessor"s rate of increase, which itself led to the health statistics that I gave at the start.

Mr. Gwilym Jones

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman wants to be fair about the changing performance in health in Wales. If the same level of spending increases when he was last a Minister had been maintained since 1979, how many fewer patients would now be treated in hospitals in Wales?

Mr. Williams

The hon. Gentleman must know that we went through these statistics with the Secretary of State when he tried to cook the books in the Welsh Grand Committee. Under the Labour Government the annual rate of increase was 4.6 per cent.; under the Conservative Administration it has been 4.1 per cent. Under the plans the Secretary of State has for the next three years the rate will average 1 per cent. So waiting lists would have been far shorter than they are now. The right hon. Gentleman attaches no priority to health needs——

Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Williams

This is a short debate and no doubt the hon. Gentleman has put his name down to speak in it. Three times when he has made personal attacks on me he has refused to observe the conventions of the House by allowing me to intervene. I do not mind attacks; we are used to them here. But the hon. Gentleman ignored the rules of the House, and I shall extend to him the same discourtesy that he extended to me.

Wales now has the lowest number of hospital beds since the National Health Service was set up 40 years ago. Last year the number of urgent cases on waiting lists fell by only 12. No doubt the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Security, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), would tell our constituents on waiting lists and on income support to give up one of their holidays to have a private operation.

Only Northern Ireland has a lower income per head than Wales. We have the highest proportion of men on low pay of all the regions in Great Britain. Half our work force is on wages below the Council of Europe decency threshold. It is not surprising, therefore, that we have the highest proportion of people on social security benefits in Britain. Week after week we see in our surgeries the disastrous effects of the changes in housing benefit and income support on people who are already in desperate need. The problem is typified by the social fund. In the midst of budgetary largesse for those who have plenty, the Government have turned to the DHSS, which was giving £18 million in grants in Wales, and allowed it to give only £3 million. They cut down on the most desperately needy and give to those least in need.

In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), one of the worst areas of deprivation in the country, 61 per cent. of households have incomes of less than £80 per week—three out of five. Yet the social fund has been cut there by almost £500,000 this year. It has been cut by about £500,000 in Merthyr and by £500,000 in Rhondda—the heartlands of the valleys initiative.

It is there that the people live whom the Government proclaim they want to help. The Government tell them that their need is so desperate that they will have to take out loans. At least they have something to look forward to; they are scheduled to be the worst hit victims of the Government"s new purchase tax. As the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) said, it would be wrong to think that deprivation is confined to a limited urban area of Wales. It is just as much a rural phenomenon. The difference in the countryside is that the deprivation is dispersed and so goes unnoticed. It is easy in the pretty countryside to forget the inadequacy of the facilities in its cottages and houses.

It is worth noting that in Wales, the land of low pay, people in the county of Gwynedd are the lowest paid of all. There is evidence of deprivation in our unemployment figures. Unemployment is still double the level it was when the Government came to office. In the past four years, ours is the only region in which employment has fallen. We still have 125,000 fewer people in work, or in self-employment, than when the Government came to office—on the Secretary of State"s own figures. The figures for the past month showed that only Scotland had a lower rate of change in unemployment in the past year than Wales.

As a result, we have lost high-paid jobs, only to have them replaced by low-paid, part-time and seasonal jobs. Earnings in retailing, hotels and catering in Wales are the lowest in the United Kingdom. That led the Low Pay Unit to make an ominous observation about the future of Wales: Poverty that in recent years has been caused by unemployment is gradually being displaced by poverty caused by low pay. When people find work, more and more of them are getting low-paid, part-time work. A recent report has shown that the quality of employment in Wales is falling. We are getting the low value-added, low-paid, low-skilled, part-time work which will be easily engineered out within the next decade, while the high-tech, high-paid, high value-added work is staying in England on the other side of the Severn bridge along the M4. That led one trade union leader to speak of Wales as a coolie economy.

In his statement on the valleys initiative the Secretary of State boasted about the number of jobs which would be created by regional development grants, but that is the very policy which, against our advice, he has chosen to abandon. It is an interesting commentary on what industry thinks of his changed policy that more than one third of the applications for regional development grant in the last 15 months were made in the last month before abolition. Industry made it clear that it preferred the old grant sytem to the new.

Wales is developing a coolie economy. Let us contrast that with the position in south-east England where the average pay for men is over £2,500 more than the average pay for men in Wales; for women pay in south-east England is £1,500 higher. There are more second incomes in south-east England because more women work. Pay in the south-east is rising 25 per cent. faster than pay in Wales. So it is not just that there is a gap; as we have observed before from this side of the House, it is a widening gap.

Another concealed change has taken place. It has gone largely unnoticed, yet its impact on the relative fortunes of the south of England and Wales is massive. That change has virtually obliterated the effect of regional policy. I refer to the year-by-year tax changes that have been introduced by the Government. The tax changes have been geared to help the top income earners who are paying £24,000 million less in tax than would have been paid on the 1978–79 format when the Government came to office. Over half the people who benefit live in the south-east of England. Therefore, in comparison to the small amount of money which has been devoted to industrial generation and to refurbishment in Wales, there has been a massive cash infusion of over £12,000 million into purchasing power in the south-east.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)

Would the right hon. Gentleman care to compare housing costs in the south-east of England with costs in Wales? Will he also say a word about the problems, special to Wales, of derelict land clearance, which do not figure in the south-east? Can he tell us what progress has been made on that in Wales?

Mr. Williams

I understand the hon. Gentleman"s point, but he has got it the wrong way round. Housing prices are very much demand-dictated. Because there is a finite quantity of housing, as virtually no new houses are being built, the high income reflects itself in high mortgage capacity, which reflects itself in higher prices. So there is a spiral. Indeed, in addition to the income gap between Wales and the south-east, there is an enormous capital gap so that people can hardly contemplate moving from Wales to England because of the differential in housing prices. [Interruption.] Muttering from a sedentary position is not constructive.

With £12,000 million extra spending power going into the south of England, it is small wonder that that area has been able to generate internal growth and internal demand in a way that we have not been able to do in Wales. Instead of the injection of purchasing power, Wales has lost £750 million in the cut in support for councils. By the end of the planning period, on the figures which the Secretary of State has given, we shall have lost £1,000 million in regional aid. While so much money has been going to the south of England, investment in Wales has been cut.

It is little wonder that we have a regional divide. The enormous cash infusion in the south of England is in addition to the natural advantage which that area has through easy access to the home counties, the London market and the EEC. That advantage will be greater when the Channel tunnel is built.

Perhaps the press will now begin to understand why Welsh Members fear for the future of Wales. This is only part of the story. My hon. Friends can give many more examples. Surely the picture of deprivation suggests that, with all the resources of the North sea available to them, the Government should have injected more resources into Wales. Might we not have expected that there would have been more when the Secretary of State boasted in The Observer that he received every penny he asked for? The money was there, and he got all he asked for. Contrary to the much-publicised growth in spending that he has boasted about in his press releases, we find from the Treasury figures that Government spending in Wales will fall by £54 million over the next three years.

So far as we can gather, even the valleys initiative will have to be paid for not by the cash-rich Government but by the communities which are represented on this side of the House. The expenditure will have to come out of the already depleted budget which the Secretary of State has for Wales. There is to be no new money; if there is any, we can be excused for not recognising it. When the statement was made, my hon. Friends and I asked the Secretary of State time after time how much new money there would be. We never got an answer. I tabled a question to the Treasury for answer on Tuesday. For some odd reason I got a holding answer and I still have not received the figure.

We are with the Secretary of State in one respect. We, too, want hope for the people of Wales, but we want real hope for all the people. We do not want a slick, hyped-up public relations mirage.

5.7 pm

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Walker)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: welcomes the success and achievements of Government policies and initiatives in Wales which have raised living standards, improved housing and environmental conditions and set Wales firmly on the path of economic growth and prosperity.". When the motion was tabled, there was considerable speculation in the House about the reason for it. Was it because Opposition Members were so thrilled with the right hon. Gentleman"s performance last week on the valleys initiative that they said, "We must have more of these brilliant parliamentary performances"? Or was it because the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) went to the Leader of the Opposition and said, "The awful thing is that I find it difficult when there is a lot of good news. Therefore, can you give me a Supply day when I can pour out all the bad elements"? Or was it because the right hon. Gentleman was being contacted by members of the Select Committee which was considering overseas aid, who said, "We must warn you that there is a great deal more inward investment in Wales"?

I regret to say that, when the right hon. Member for Swansea, West said that he and his colleagues represented 24 of the 38 Welsh Members, we counted and only 12 were there at the time. That was the extent of their rallying instinct to support the right hon. Gentleman. If he has problems in the future, may I suggest that he has lunch with The Independent rather than a debate in the House.

First, I should like to comment on the adverse effects of a speech like his on the prospects of attracting firms from the south-east and inward investment into Wales. Perhaps that is his objective. Perhaps he is rather disturbed by the growth of the Welsh economy into a free enterprise economy. In 1985, £158 million of overseas investment came into Wales; in 1986, £176 million and in 1987, £239 million.

A further piece of good news which I know will delight the right hon. Gentleman is that, whereas the figure was £239 million last year, in the first five months of this year £248 million of inward investment came into Wales. Obviously the investors had not read his speeches; they would not have ventured into the type of country he described.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about unemployment. I hope that he realises that Wales alone of the regions has had reductions in unemployment for every one of the past 24 months. Unemployment is 43,000 lower than it was two years ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about 1979?"] Again, the proportion of unemployed is lower than it was in 1979.

Let us compare that with the performance of the Government in which the right hon. Gentleman was a junior Minister. What were they doing to encourage diversity in the Welsh economy? They carried out their share of pit closures, as we all know. Consider the past 24 years. During 11 years of Labour Governments, 46 pits were closed. In 13 years of Tory Governments, we have closed 23 pits. They closed their share of pits but they did not do their share of creating the new factory letting that was required. In the last three years of the Labour Government 660,000 sq ft of factory flooring was let per year, on average. In the next three years 1.5 million sq ft of factories per year will be let. The figures have constantly been far higher than under the Labour Government.

The right hon. Member for Swansea, West failed to mention the clearance of derelict land in his speech about the dreadful state of Wales. In the valleys and in every part of Wales, house improvements are taking place, derelict land is being cleared and new factories are going up. He did not mention any of that. In the last three years of the Labour Government 208 acres of derelict land were cleared a year. Under this Government, the figure is 730 acres a year. In the next three years, the figure will be 1,267 acres a year—a sixfold increase on the Labour Government"s clearance programme.

The urban development programme has been doubled. I do not understand how the right hon. Gentleman can say how appalling it is that 430 firms applied for regional development grants in the past three months. When we announced the changes, we said categorically that one of the good effects of moving from regional development grants to regional selective assistance and the use of the Welsh Development Agency was that it would massively accelerate the flow of investment into Wales. We have had 3,300 applications, involving £2 billion of investment and 59,000 new jobs. Yet the right hon. Gentleman decries our policy and says what a rotten policy it is.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

The Secretary of State would sell world war 3 as a great opportunity for the Welsh undertaking profession. Suppose that the principle is sound and that one abolishes regional development grants to flush out more applications. Would it not have been far wiser to abolish the system over five years so that the beneficial effects would have come not over three months but over five years?

Mr. Walker

We abolished on the basis that, if approval was given, there would be a further two years to put in the investment. I am delighted that a lot of firms have decided to take advantage of the arrangements. The only party that is not delighted about the economic growth of Wales is the Labour party. It is pining for the old Welsh economy that was totally dependent on two or three major nationalised companies and upon the direct labour departments of local government. The Labour party does not know how to handle the diversified free enterprise economy that is coming to Wales. Opposition Members do not want to see that change because all their old political patronage is disappearing as a result.

Comparisons have been made with the south-east of England. I do not know what has happened to that older Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes). Perhaps he has been deposed. I am sorry that we shall not hear one of his jocular contributions this afternoon. The Opposition motion mentions the south-east. Opposition Members might have applauded the whole range of major institutions—both Government and free enterprise institutions—that is now moving from the south-east to Wales.

Mr. Morgan


Mr. Walker

I could mention a whole range. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is only one, I suppose that he will oppose the 4.5 million sq ft of office space that is to go up in Cardiff. There is the Chemical bank, the Trustee Savings bank and a whole range—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. I deplore the constant comments coming at the Secretary of State from a sedentary position. What the Secretary of State has to say may be unpopular in some quarters, but he will be heard in the House.

Mr. Walker

It is only unpopular with the parliamentary Labour party. It is very popular with the people of Wales. The Company Registration Office is also involved in the move.

I thought that the height of remarkable political courage on the right hon. Gentleman"s part—he was only a junior Minister in his Government—was shown when he dealt with health. We are spending 42 per cent. more in real terms on health in Wales than the last Labour Government thought was necessary. He mentioned waiting lists. Does he not remember the last 12 months of the Labour Government, when waiting lists for in-patients in Wales went up by 17.9 per cent. in a year? Does he remember what was happening to the disabled? We have had to improve benefits for the disabled in Wales by 70 per cent. in real terms.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was pining for the nurses. When Labour left office, the pay of staff nurses was such that, if we had merely adjusted it for inflation, staff nurses would be getting £43 a week less than they now receive. We have 22 per cent. more general practitioners, 27 per cent. more dentists and the Health Service in Wales is treating many more in-patients and out-patients than were even envisaged by the Labour Government.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Given that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to spend so much money on health in Wales, will he tell me when we are likely to have a new hospital in the Rhondda area?

Mr. Walker

This year alone we are spending 10 per cent. more on Wales. Obviously, we shall consider carefully the applications from health authorities. With a Government who have increased real terms expenditure on health by 42 per cent., one can be much more optimistic for the future than one could be under the last Labour Government, who had a pretty dreadful record.

I have some more good news, so cheer up, folks. It affects a matter which is particularly worrying the hon. Members for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) and for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) who constantly tell us about the very bad housing conditions in the valleys. The Labour party says that it is deeply distressed about bad housing and houses without basic amenities. What did the Opposition do when they were in office? In five years they improved only 44,000 of the many houses in Wales in need of amenities. Over the past nine years, we have improved 161,000 houses. When the Labour party—which so cares about the image of Wales, poverty and bad housing—left office after five years in power, there were 133,000 houses without basic amenities. After nine years of Tory Government, that figure has reduced to 37,000. Look how happy Labour Members are about that news; look at their smiling faces! The Labour party depicts itself as the party that cares about housing, but that has not been borne out by what has happened.

Much inward investment is being made in the Welsh economy. New company registrations increased more in Wales last year than in any other region. Further, more training is being given, the Cardiff hay development is to take place, we have the valleys initiative, and the development of the A55 in north Wales has opened up the area to much activity. Over the next few years we shall have a Welsh economy that will depend not on nationalisation but the free-enterprise economy.

I hope that hon. Members will not entirely blame the right hon. Member for Swansea, West for his speech. Much of it was written by Huw Edwards, who is a lecturer in social policy at Manchester polytechnic. I am sure that he is very knowledgeable about the subject.

Over the past few years, earnings in Wales have begun to increase. I know that the right hon. Member for Swansea, West will be delighted to hear that, according to the latest available figures, the average earnings per adult in West Glamorgan are greater than those in the east or west midlands. I hope that that trend will continue. The right hon. Gentleman might also like to remind himself of the dramatic change that has taken place with earnings. Average male adult earnings in Wales in April 1979 were £97 a week, but in April 1987 they were £204 a week. It is likely, with the increases of the past year, that they are nearer £220 a week. In April 1979, after five years of glorious Socialism, average female earnings were £61 a week, but in April 1987 they were £137. The average has increased from £87 a week to £183 a week.

Whether it be in housing, health or derelict land, this Government are succeeding as never before. I hope that that will not result in any damage to the reputation of the right hon. Member for Swansea, West. I am the president of the "right hon. Member for Swansea, West must stay" campaign.

5.22 pm
Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)

I was interested and amused by the rising temperature of the Secretary of State"s speech. I may keep the level of my speech down, although from time to time my voice has been known to be rather loud.

Where one finds bad housing, high levels of unemployment and poor health, one finds people who are. deprived and disadvantaged. The result is that their standard of living suffers. Whether Conservative Members like it or not, all those conditions are found in the valleys of south Wales. If the Secretary of State ever held a surgery in Wales, he would discover those conditions for himself. Perhaps he is aware of them; if not, what is the reason for the valleys initiative? I think that somebody may have been telling him that there is a need for something to be done in the valleys.

Last week the right hon. Gentleman spoke in Llandudno of his plans to make it easier for poorer council tenants to buy their homes, which we welcome. Even before I became the Member for Neath, councils in my constituency operated a policy of sales, provided they did not interfere with the right of people to be housed decently.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the level of owner-occupation in Wales has always been the highest in the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) recently told the House that the majority of his constituents were house owners. That is common throughout the valley constituencies.

In case the Conservative party believes that it is the promoter of something new in Wales, I must make it clear that it is not. By its past opposition to leasehold enfranchisement, it stands as a significant opponent of home ownership in Wales. Conservative Members must understand that the high level of home ownership in south Wales and its valleys was the means of escape from the tyranny of those who, in the past, found their political home and ideology in the Conservative party.

Welcome as the right hon. Gentleman"s housing plans are to assist the poorer of our council tenants to buy their homes, the people of Wales would have been afforded more satisfaction if he had said in his Llandudno speech that he was concerned about the dramatic rise in homelessness that has taken place in Wales since the Government took office in 1979. The right hon. Gentleman may well counter my argument by saying that the figure for homelessness in Neath has decreased, but Lliw Valley also forms part of my constituency, and there the position shows my complaint about homelessness to be valid.

We would have liked to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he will make use of the funds that have accrued from council house sales, and that a programme of new build by local authorities and housing associations in Wales was to be embarked on. If that were to happen, those bodies could begin to wipe out the problem of homelessness, which is rising so rapidly in Wales under this Government.

Poverty and low pay are major problems in Wales, especially in the south Wales valley communities. Government figures show that one fifth of the population in Wales has an income below or on the poverty line. Although recently there has been a decrease in unemployment in Wales, which we welcome, the problems of unemployment and low-paid jobs are still greater than in any other region of the United Kingdom.

My involvement in the work of the Council of Europe —a body that deserves more attention than it gets in the House—is known to the House. It describes the decency threshold for earnings as £135 a week, yet in Wales nearly half our work force earn less than £135 a week.

On Monday this week, The Times carried an article entitled "Breadwinners of Wales" by Sally Brompton, who has put her finger on the malaise in the Welsh valleys, which Conservative Members have shown by their behaviour they wish to ignore. In Wales, working women outnumber working men, a situation which has had a mixed welcome in Wales as a means of providing a livelihood. A Cardiff Business School survey shows that there are now 558,000 women in full-time or part-time employment, compared with 484,000 men in the Welsh valleys. That does not and will not create confidence among those who live in the valleys, especially as the women workers find themselves on low wages. One in four women working full time in Wales earns less than 100 a week, half the national average.

Last week, the Secretary of State announced his valleys initiative. He did a good marketing job and, in a way, it is a shame to attempt to reveal that it is not all that it seems. In The Times article we read: Despite last week"s pledge by Peter Walker, Secretary of State for Wales, to create 25,000 jobs in the valleys over the next three years, for the men who live there it is all a long way ahead. "There"s no real big employer coming to Wales, is there?" surmises 53-year-old Leslie Hall, secretary of the Ruperra Club. It is no good the Secretary of State trying to pass off as something new, in a good marketing job, schemes which often, when looked at carefully, turn out to be nothing more than a regurgitation of schemes already announced, and sometimes completed and financed. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware—if he is not, he has much to learn about Welsh people—that many people in Wales like Mr. Leslie Hall are capable of analysing and assessing the worth of such plans and schemes.

In my constituency, the inclusion of the missing link of the A465 Aberdulais to Glyn-neath road in the three-year programme gives us nothing. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), when he was the Minister in the Welsh Office responsible for roads, gave us the year 1990. That time scale was confirmed by the predecessor of the present Secretary of State, the noble Lord Crickhowell, during a meeting with him in the Welsh Office some three or four years ago. The scheme is mentioned in some information I have had from West Glamorgan county council. It is listed in the Welsh Office publication "Roads for Wales in the 1990s and Beyond" and is to be carried out in the mid-term period before 1990.

At periodic intervals, the Welsh Office produces a review of the trunk road programme. It produced such reviews in 1980, 1983 and 1985. In the current publication, issued in 1985 and entitled "Roads in Wales 1985", the scheme was listed in table 4 among the schemes expected to start between January 1988 and December 1990, so the A465 road announced in the glossy book is nothing new. If the Secretary of State had said that building of the road would start next year and that he would assist by making known what progress had been made, this would have been something for us to welcome and a real initiative.

Again in my constituency, no one is going to persuade the people living in the Dulais valley that a new era is dawning, with schemes such as the removal of the Onllwyn aerial ropeway. It will mean nothing to them because they knew about it years ago, long before the Secretary of State became interested in Wales. The same can be said about the health centre mentioned for Gwaun-cae-Gurwen. That idea was accepted by the West Glamorgan district health authority and the community council. It was to involve money from British Coal. All this was way back in 1983–84, when Gwaun-cae-Gurwen became part of the Neath constituency.

A new dawn for the valleys of my constituency would have come from plans for opencast mining operations more compatible for those who have to suffer from the problems that such operations cause. The Secretary of State and his party have much more to do before there is any chance of our not pointing out to them problems that we know exist in our valleys and that sustain the charge that Wales suffers deprivation and devastation.

5.36 pm
Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

The economic and industrial transformation, of which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke, is no more evident than in north-east Wales. Over the past two years, unemployment in my constituency has fallen faster than in any other constituency in the Principality—by 36.4 per cent. It has fallen not just in my constituency but in the two neighbouring constituencies of Alyn and Deeside and Wrexham. I am sorry, but not surprised, that the hon. Members for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) and for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) are not present. Perhaps they realise how weak is the Opposition"s argument in support of the motion.

A crucial aspect in the decline in unemployment in my constituency is that male unemployment is falling as fast as female unemployment. Wage levels have been rising for the past two to three years. House prices are rising too, but what is so bad in that? The hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) talked about the experience at his surgeries, as did the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams).

I remember an experience at two of my surgeries about three years ago. Two constituents came to see me because they had lost their jobs. There was massive structural unemployment in Delyn, with the decline in the steel industry and the closure of Courtaulds. Both constituents had been forced to take jobs far away, one in Dumfries and the other in Weston-super-Mare. Neither had been able to sell his house because the market was non-existent. By now, the value of their houses has greatly increased and I am glad to be able to say that neither has sold up because they have returned to work in the constituency.

North-east Wales is an area on the rise, as the chief executive for Delyn borough council, John Packer, said yesterday. That economic growth is making possible the public expenditure on communications, health, housing and education. The problems which we are experiencing are those of success—shortage of land for housing and for industrial and commercial development and the shortage of certain skills among the work force.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State so rightly said, the dualling of the A55 expressway, driving that road through north Wales, is transforming the area"s economy. It has made my constituency accessible to commuters travelling to Chester and the north-west—to the Wirral and other parts of Lancashire—and enabled my industrialists and business men to transport their goods more easily. That arterial road is making possible the economic miracle in north-east Wales.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales would be surprised if I did not mention the need for a link road between the A55 and the A548 to increase accessibility to the Greenfield business park and to the Delyn enterprise zone. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) is here, I am sure that he will be grateful when I mention also the need for a link road to the towns of Rhyl and Prestatyn to ensure that those important tourists centres are not bypassed now that north-west Wales is so much more easily accessible. These link roads are not, however, primarily matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I only wish that local authorities such as Clwyd county council would respond more speedily and effectively to the initiatives that the Welsh Office is taking.

Many housing statistics have been thrown around this evening. It might help if I referred to the experience in my constituency. I am enormously proud to represent the borough of Delyn. It has more sheltered accommodation units—1,300—than any other local authority in the Principality. That is 35 per cent. of the total number of sheltered accommodation units in Clwyd. Delyn has just introduced a care alarm system that will help many elderly people to stay in their own homes, which, in the past, they were unable to do.

There has also been a massive renovation of council houses; 300 of them have been completely renovated. A local house condition survey is being undertaken, with the object of targeting future improvement programmes. The waiting time for repairs has been cut drastically. Improved services for tenants have been introduced, including newsletters that have led to a beneficial dialogue between tenants and the borough council.

The borough council also has an ambitious scheme to replace all the doors and windows in every council house in the borough within three years with UPVC double-glazing. That may seem to some people to be a minor improvement, but it will have a dramatic downward impact on rents. UPVC double glazing will not only improve insulation but will require no maintenance for up to 30 years.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Raffan

I shall gladly give way when I have finished this point. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to do that.

What is just as important is that the council has cleared the backlog of home improvements grants. I am now delighted to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Griffiths

Is the hon. Gentleman able to say how much the Delyn borough council asked for from the Welsh Office to allow this housing improvement to take place? Is he able to compare that capital allocation with the borough of Ogwr? It put in a claim for £13.5 million to be spent on housing but its total capital allocation was fractionally over £5 million. The Secretary of State for Wales says that far more money urgently needs to he allocated to improving housing in our valley communities.

Mr. Raffan

The improvement of which I spoke, the double glazing of windows and doors, was largely financed by the raising of rents. Rents had not been raised substantially for a significant period. Perhaps other councils should take a similar initiative. Why should they always look to the Welsh Office? Why do they not look to themselves? I respond with that question, which I hope will not be treated as a rhetorical one. I look forward to hearing the answer from the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths).

I refer also to the improved facilities for rural communities in my borough. The hon. Member for Bridgend will be delighted to hear that that improvement has been helped directly by the Welsh Office. As part of its drive towards strengthening traditional village life in my constituency, the borough council plans to ensure that every single village—there are more than 30 of them—will have, within three years, its own sports field, children"s play area and community hall.

The Opposition have been rabbiting on about health, but when they were in office they lamentably failed to improve health care, particularly during their last year in office when waiting lists soared. The right hon. Member for Swansea, West was a member of that Government. I do not know how he has the gall to come to the House and attack this side. Why did he not resign then? He might as well resign now before he is pushed by certain members of his own party. We know what is going on. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales was in his usual generous and benign mood this afternoon because he failed to mention the real reason for this debate: that the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) went to see the Leader of the Opposition and told him what he thought about the right hon. Member for Swansea, West. The Western Mail said that the hon. Member for Newport, East was "thoroughly dissatisfied" with the way the Welsh portfolio was being handled.

As for health care in my constituency, the Mold community hospital is brand new and of a revolutionary design. The Japanese and the Swedes have beaten a path to its door. That new hospital cost £1.7 million. The first phase of a fully fledged community hospital in Prestatyn has been completed at a cost of £247,927.As for Holywell, that was not left out. The Government remembered Holywell hospital. It has a brand new out-patients department and its wards have been upgraded. The Government have spent £120,976 on that hospital.

I admit—one has to concede something to the Opposition because they have put forward such paltry arguments today—that Flint had to wait until the beginning of this year. Earlier this year I had a meeting with the chairman of Clwyd health authority, who told me that the hospital would have to be closed for three months to remove asbestos. I asked him to take this opportunity to upgrade the wards and the medical facilities there. Within 48 hours he came back to me and said that the authority intended to spend £60,000 on upgrading wards and medical facilities. In the event, it spent over £100,000.So Flint has been upgraded as well.

Now we have four superb cottage and community hospitals in my constituency which we did not have when the Opposition were in power. Yes, my constituency was deprived and disadvantaged when that lot were in power and did nothing. What really upsets the Opposition is that we have done far more for their political heartland in the valleys than they ever did. That is what has really got their goat and upset them so much.

I do not want to be accused of missing anything out, so let me turn to education. Clwyd has a proud record, because only 6.7 per cent. of its pupils leave school without any qualifications, the lowest percentage in Wales. I do not deny that the number of pupils who leave school without any qualifications is still far higher than it should be, but we are bringing it down. I believe that the Education Reform Bill and the establishment of a national curriculum will help to raise standards. I am sure that the Chairman of the Select Committee will not mind if I say in the broadest terms that when we were in Japan one of the lessons that the Select Committee learnt was the importance of improving education and training. I am sure that we shall have something to say about that in our next report.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State had to bear the brunt of the Opposition"s gloom and doom about the GCSE. They continually described the early introduction of that exam as being disastrous, but yesterday the Western Mail quoted the Welsh joint education council and school heads as saying: We are delighted with the impact of the new examination.… It has all gone very well indeed… has so far proven a success far greater than anyone could have predicted. That is what those who are at the sharp end of education are saying. They are not pontificating about it in total ignorance, as the Opposition do. They say that the GCSE is a blooming good exam and is going very well.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I play down a little his valleys initiative. One has to concede that the Opposition have also been taking the initiatives. There was the initiative of the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), who rang up Mr. Chris Moncrieff at 1 am. We wish that that initiative had succeeded in depriving us of the Leader of the Opposition. There was also the initiative of the hon. Member for Newport, East who went to see his leader and said, to quote from the Western Mail —I am sure it is accurate; I always believe everything that is in the Western Mail—how "thoroughly dissatisfied" he was with the way the Welsh portfolio was being handled. It was quite clear who he was getting at. We all know who he meant, but I shall not embarrass him by mentioning his name.

There has been a sad contrast in recent days between the vision of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the imaginative scale of his valleys initiative, and the petty small-minded sniping with which it has been met by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West. When the right hon. Gentleman was elevated to the position that he now holds as Shadow Secretary of State, we had hopes that he would replace the mediocrity of the performance of his predecessor on the Labour Front Bench with an opposition altogether sharper, more acute and more responsible. However, far from the right hon. Gentleman rising to that challenge, he has sunk beneath it. He has lost the respect of the Government side of the House and lost the support of his own. It would be no deprivation to Wales and no disadvantage to his own party if he were swept aside when the autumn comes.

5.50 pm
Mr. Richard Livsey ( Brecon and Radnor)

It is time to inject a certain amount of objectivity into this debate. However, the amount of time allocated to the debate is a disgrace because we need more time to discuss Welsh problems.

Wales as a whole—industrial Wales and rural Wales —is undoubtedly deprived, but it is right to acknowledge that the Secretary of State is at least trying to do something about it. My leader, prior to the general election, my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells), stated that the Secretary of State—any Secretary of State—must utilise to the full the facilities and the functions that are available to him. They are the Welsh Office and the bodies responsible for industry—the Welsh Development Agency, Mid-Wales Development, the Wales tourist board, the Welsh water authority and the other bodies that cover education, health, housing and agriculture. The present Secretary of State is trying to do that. He is clearly an interventionist in the Welsh economy. Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen must recognise the fact that they could be faced with an out and out monetarist who, in the common parlance of Kensington at the moment, would be as dry as dust. They might get an even dustier answer than the one that they got this afternoon from the present Secretary of State.

Therefore, I welcome the valleys initiative and especially the inclusion in it of Ystradgynlais in my constituency. However, I offer a word of caution. Although there is a promise in the valleys initiative of 25,000 jobs and of £500 million of public money, that must be set against what has happened in south Wales during the past 15 years. In 1973, 107,000 people were employed in the coal and steel industries, whereas in 1988 only 32,000 people are employed in coal and steel in south Wales. That is a drop of 75,000 people. Is the Secretary of State"s cock-shy satisfactory in trying to create 25,000 jobs because that number represents only one third of the jobs that have been lost in the past 15 years? I do not believe that that is a good enough cock-shy. It is not enough to replace just one third of the jobs lost. The Secretary of State should look at that again and redraft his initiative into a more ambitious plan.

Mr. Rogers

The hon. Gentleman said that he welcomed the valleys initiative. Why?

Mr. Livsey

I welcome the valleys initiative because it at least recognises that there is a problem and makes the rest of Britain aware of it. I am not saying that the problem has been addressed adequately or properly, but at least the initiative is a step in the right direction. We would be churlish not to acknowledge that.

Unemployment and low pay suggest that we have lost a great deal of quality in our male employment, especially in mining and steel. With the loss of jobs in collieries which have closed recently, such as Abernant and Lady Windsor, miners who, in some instances, have earned a decent wage of up to £150 a week, can do so no longer. At the age of 35, or younger, many miners are losing their jobs. Those jobs are being replaced by work done by women and, although one welcomes female labour, it is paid at only roughly half the rate of male labour, and that is a disgrace. That major problem must he addressed in Wales because, though female labour is increasing, it is poorly paid, and that is unsatisfactory.

I draw the notice of the Welsh Office to the fact that the GDP per head in Wales is the lowest in Britain. It is £3,922 per person as against £5,335 in the south-east of England. Those figures come from the third periodic report of the EEC. The GDP of Wales is 88 per cent. of the EEC average. Until it equals the EEC average, none of us should rest.

In Wales, half the work force earns less than the amount that the EEC has decreed as being the decency threshold—that is £139 per week. Wales has a higher proportion of low pay among men than any other region of Britain, and one quarter of Welsh women earn less than £100 per week. There is much low pay in the NHS in Wales, especially among ancillary workers. Some NHS ancillary workers in my constituency earn only £60 per week.

I draw the House"s attention to the plight of mid-Wales, which is the lowest paid area of the lowest paid region of Britain. The figures produced by the Cardiff Business School have already been given and I draw to the attention of the House the conclusion of the hon. Member for Neat h (Mr. Coleman) that at present, in Wales, more women than men are in work. We should ponder that fact.

Obviously, I welcome the EEC"s integrated operations award for mid-Wales and Mid-Wales Development of £108 million. However, that is a drop in the ocean compared with the needs of rural Wales. I regard it as only a starting point. We must look at the overall employment situation and the deprivation resulting from it. There are 56,000 people on short-term employment schemes and 211,000 in part-time employment. In total about 400,000 people are on short-term schemes, unemployed or in part-time work.

The situation was illustrated in an article in The Times of 20 June, which referred to the case of Mr. and Mrs. Mills. Mr. Mills lost his job and Mrs. Mills is now the family breadwinner. That account should be read by every hon. Member because it is symptomatic of what is happening in Wales at present. We need higher quality and better-paid jobs. We do not want screwdriver operations; we want high-quality jobs. We need more skills training and further education for all our 16 to 19-year-olds.

There has been a slump in agriculture in Wales. Many farm incomes are now £6,000 per annum, which is very low. If one relates that to the creamery closures that have taken place in Felinfach, Ceredigion, and Anglesey, one realises that we are facing severe problems. The slump in rural Wales must be set against the £40 million of farm capital grants that have been lost in Wales in the past two years.

However, I believe that it is in housing that the most serious deprivation occurs. Hon. Members have already referred to the problems in urban housing. I should like to draw the House"s attention to the crisis in rural housing. One reads in today"s Western Mail that in Wales as a whole 56,000 council houses have been sold since 1979, and only 10,000 have been built. That is a shortfall in the rented sector of 46,000 council houses. In my constituency of Brecon and Radnor, one third of our council houses have been sold and that is reflected in towns such as Brecon and Hay. Half the council houses in Crickhowell have been sold. Many of those houses are now being sold for the second time, to wealthy people from the south-east. They can pick up a council house for £30,000 and, having sold a two-bedroomed house in the south-east for £150,000, they are still left with £120,000.

How can young people in my constituency, many of them earning between £70 and £80 per week, possibly afford to buy a house of their own? The council housing stock is now so reduced that it is impossible to find a council house to rent. There are 1,000 people on the housing waiting list in Brecknock alone. Those people want to rent a house, but they cannot find one. It is a serious state of affairs.

The Secretary of State should put a limit on the various abuses that are taking place. We have the yuppification of the second home syndrome and the woopification of the early retirers, who are coming into Wales and making bonanza purchases. Those two abuses are undermining the local housing sector. I believe that there should be a limit on the percentage of second homes available in any Welsh district council area. A crash programme of council house and housing association building must take place to house local people. The rented sector should be restored so that there are more houses available for rent. That means that another 50,000 houses must be built to compensate for those that have been sold. I am not against the sale of council houses, but they must be replaced by a new stock of rented housing to meet the demand.

The Welsh Office must launch a major investigation into what is happening to rural housing. It must consider how low-paid local people can find a house to buy or rent. That is a major problem which must be addressed or the Welsh language and our rural communities will be undermined.

The Secretary of State is trying his best, through a public relations exercise, to put over a fine picture, but he has a long way to go. His PR is good, but his achievements in the next three years will have to prove as good as that PR before I am fully convinced by his strategy.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. At the start of this debate Mr. Speaker appealed for short speeches. Unless speeches are dramatically cut from now on a lot of hon. Members will be extremely disappointed.

6.2 pm

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

I shall take note of your injunction, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall sit down in five minutes.

I listened with great interest to the opening speech of the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). I travel across south Wales to reach my constituency in west Wales and I pass through Newport, Cardiff, Bridgend, Port Talbot, Swansea and Carmarthen. That gives me an opportunity to see what is happening to the Welsh economy. I do not recognise for one moment the picture of gloom, doom and despair that is so often painted by the official spokesman for the Opposition and other Labour Members. They will not open their eyes to see the new factories that are being built. They do not appreciate the new investment from the Welsh Development Agency or the investment from local authorities. They do not appreciate the investment that is coming in from England, Japan and Germany that is changing the whole base of the Welsh economy. The old days, when Wales depended upon steel and coal, have gone and it now has a much wider economic base. I should have thought that Opposition Members would welcome that, because it means that we will get out of the cycle of structural unemployment that has affected Wales for the past 60 years.

I welcome the valleys initiative that my right hon. Friend has introduced, which is a courageous policy. It is a unique initiative that combines, for the first time, public and private investment to tackle the problems of the valleys. Opposition Members representing the valleys criticise a Conservative Secretary of State, but Labour Government after Labour Government did nothing about the dereliction in the valleys. My right hon. Friend has had the courage to invest in an area where, in the short term, there are no political votes to be gained by the Conservative party—although in the long term I am sure there will be. I find it extraordinary that Labour Members criticise my right hon. Friend for his courage.

When we debated the valleys initiative, I read the report in Hansard of the speech by the official Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Swansea, West. He painted a miserable picture and I am not surprised that he is now facing problems within his party. There are so many splits among the 24 Opposition Members for Wales that I find it extraordinary that they have any time to think about anything other than their own internal divisions and dissensions.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the fact that, two weeks ago, £108 million was provided by the European regional development fund for the counties of Powys, Dyfed and Gwynedd. It is estimated by Dyfed county council—the council for my constituency—that that money will create 8,000 new jobs. The press release issued by my council stated: Also at the request of the three councils, the Secretary of State for Wales, Mr. Peter Walker, intervened and visited Brussels to pursue the application. That is a measure of the work that has been done by the Welsh Office to support the initiatives that are necessary not only for the valleys, but for the rural areas, such as my constituency.

Last week a number of us who are members of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs went to Japan and Korea to discuss with business men why they chose to invest in Wales, which is attracting overseas businesses in their hundreds. Wales accounts for 5 per cent. of the population, but 20 per cent. of all inward investment comes to Wales. We were told that foreign businesses come to Wales because of the component supplies that we are able to provide. They come to Wales because of the tax regime, which is conducive to companies and which allows companies to make profits.

They come to Wales because of good labour relations. Mr. Norman Willis of the Trades Union Congress should note that one of the most important things that those businesses want is the single-union agreements that the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union has introduced. I warn the TUC that, if its intention is to destroy jobs, it should carry on with its internecine warfare against the electricians, and possibly against the engineers.

The Welsh economy contains the recipe for success. It depresses me that, time and time again, Labour Members, instead of talking up the prospects of Wales, instead of fighting for jobs, talk Wales down. They are miserable and depressing about Wales. The motion that we are discussing has more to do with the poverty of creative thinking within the Labour party than it has to do with the realities of life in Wales.

6.7 pm

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

Because of the shortage of time, I shall not follow the nonsense spoken by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett). We have spent many years fighting for our communities and talking them up. We have gone wherever we needed to go to get money for our communities. The Secretary of State will be aware that that is why we made contributions and suggestions about his valleys initiative and that is why we have every reason and every right to assess how successful he has been.

I have not been churlish and I have welcomed individual items that have resulted directly from the right hon. Gentleman"s efforts. I welcomed the Pentrebach-Dowlais road scheme, which was helped by the right hon. Gentleman"s valleys initiative. We are right, however, to complain when the right hon. Gentleman claims credit for things that he has had nothing to do with. The Pant junior school has not been completed and is still not occupied because of cuts in the county council"s education capital programme that were undertaken by the right hon. Gentleman"s predecessor. If those cuts had not occurred, that school would have been built four years ago. The right hon. Gentleman cannot blame us for not welcoming such cuts. The £40 million that the brewers have spent is nothing to do with him, nor is the money that has been spent by British Telecom. That money had been spent before he arrived on the scene.

Why has the right hon. Gentleman missed out two vital factors? He is aware of the representations that many of us have made to unlock home repair grants. In my constituency there are 2,000 people who have been waiting since 1984 for that money. If the right hon. Gentleman got all the money he wanted from the Cabinet, why did he not allocate money for home repair grants? Many of our elderly owner-occupiers have been waiting for that money since 1984.When he comes to reply, I hope that he will tell us why he has not unlocked that money.

Why did he not get any money for our desperate Health Service? The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) spoke of the new community hospital. I give him a modest warning—in my constituency the brand-new unit for the elderly critically ill that was opened in April last year by the Queen Mother was closed in January because of lack of money to sustain it. His constituency might have a new hospital, but will it remain open? We failed to keep our unit open, because the Government did not allocate sufficient money.

In the few moments available to me I want to discuss something of immediate concern to my constituents. During the past week or so in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, people came to see me—not on my initiative—for advice on how to fill in a form called "Housing benefit new rules". The completed form is sent to a special unit in Glasgow to ensure that the applicant loses only £2.50 a week in housing benefit. Who is entitled to fill in the form? I know because I am helping some of my constituents to do it, and the form actually describes those eligible very well. It states: You may be able to get transitional payments if one of these descriptions apply to you:

  • you are bringing up a child
  • or you are a widow who gets Widow"s Pension
  • or you are 60 or over, or your partner is 60 or over
  • or you are a long-term sick or disabled person."
Those are the people who will lose a minimum of £2.50 a week in housing benefit.

What stand did the Secretary of State take in the Cabinet when those nonsensical proposals for the elderly and the poor were made? There is great concern about the rules, which have been introduced. While the Government are giving £2 billion to those at the top end of the taxpayer ladder, benefit is being taken from the poor and the elderly.

When the Minister replies, will he say why the elderly, the long-term sick and the disabled have to pay a minimum of an additional £2.50 a week in rent? I heard the Secretary of State for Social Services say that the dependency culture must be destroyed and that people must be made to be more independent. Does that mean that a 60-year-old or a long-term sick or disabled person must work part-time —perhaps scrubbing our schools? Will the Government withdraw benefit if those people do not return to the labour market? It is not a question of there being a dependency culture—those people have worked all their lives and many of them have fulfilled their service to the community.

How is the dependency culture destroyed and independence encouraged by taking £2.50 a week from such people? Where was the right hon. Gentleman when those nonsensical proposals were put to the Cabinet"? Why did he not defend the people of our communities? He has described his valleys initiative as a programme for the people. How can it be that elderly and poor people have to pay an extra £2.50 while others receive enormous tax benefits? That is not the sort of society that we want, but unfortunately it is the sort of society that we represent.

At the 1987 general election, my majority rose by 6,000.Some people say that it is the traditional vote, and it is —yet 75 per cent. of the electorate voted for me, most of whom were taxpayers benefiting from the Government"s tax policies. However, they rightly said that they would prefer that the money was spent on health, housing, their elderly parents, better education and better social services. That is the case that the Labour party put to the electorate and on which I gained the support of my constituents.

The phrase used for the scheme is "transitional protection". It is a good description of the Secretary of State. He was supposed to be our transitional protection againt Thatcherism. I am sorry to say that he is failing.

6.14 pm
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Time is short, but I want to read a letter from a constituent. He typifies the problems that people in the valleys face and the sort of letters that I receive from those suffering badly under the Government"s policies. My constituent wrote: Since September 1980 I have been redundant. I receive no redundancy payment. I looked for work… far afield. But to no avail. I am now nearly 61 years of age and have given up hope. My health has, because of this I am sure, suffered, and I have been treated for anxiety for a long time. But I don"t think I"ll ever be cured. For a number of years I have been receiving invalidity and supplementary benefit and for approx. the last year I have been receiving £51.94 a week. This has now been dropped to £50.68.The DHSS say this is because the mortgage interest rate has dropped since last December. When I pointed out to them that for years the interest rate had been up and down like a yo-yo without affecting the allowances I was informed that they had been instructed to alter everybodies mortgage allowance every time the interest rate changed. This I find hard to believe, to put into practice I mean. The result of the drop of £1.26 in my weekly benefit means that it is going to be difficult for me to exist. My house is small, two down and one up. The water rates have gone up from £6559 to £86.62.The house rates from £69–54 to £73.83.Even if I get a rebate on this amount, I will still have to pay 20 per cent. as you know. With Gas and Electricity at the present rate and most of my other commitments, my weekly payments, most of them that is, have gone up to £43.11 and they drop my money. Instead of being left with £10 to buy food and other home bills which always crop up, I am left with £7.57.How can one buy food on this amount. I do not eat meat. I can"t afford it. A small tin of tuna, 57p is made to last three days and frozen kippers with frozen vegetables the rest of the week. I had been giving myself a treat of fish and chips £1.10 on Saturdays that will now have to go. I don"t know what to give up next. I sold my car and my motor-bike years ago, and gave up drinking and smoking when I became redundant. I no longer have a social life and have virtually become a hermit. I have recently had repair work carried out on my gas fire, which will cost about £60.The only way I will be able to pay this is by Barclaycard. Between my house and the Barclaycard without any further use of the card I will owe them at the moment £760.I will be paying back until I am 70. I can see no point in appealing to the DHSS. Because with the dealings I have had with them over the matter of the mortgage, both at the office and on the phone, I feel that it will be a waste of time. I know that you are busy but if you can help me or advise me please do so urgently, as I am desperate. I"m sorry about the writing. I assure you I could write better a few years ago, but my nerves are really bad. That man, and many others like him, are typical of those who live in our valley communities and are affected by Government policies. In my constituency more than 60 per cent. of people live on a gross annual income of less than £4,000.I found that difficult to believe when I first saw the figures, but they are in official statistics. That is the extent of poverty in the Cynon valley and also in many other valley communities.

The Secretary of State visited the Cynon valley when he was first appointed, and he showed considerable interest in and sympathy for the plight of many people. I have repeated time and again the statistics for the Cynon valley. For example, more than half the privately owned houses are unfit for human habitation and there are very high levels of unemployment—28 per cent. for males. Those figures have remained more or less static during the past nine years.

There is very little change or hope for change in the current situation. The health statistics are well known to the Secretary of State, as are all the statistics. When he came to Wales and talked to people, they believed that he would do something about the situation and offer them some hope for the future. Although I welcome some parts of his valleys initiative, there is also a deep feeling of disappointment because he promised so much and has delivered so little. I am not being churlish; that is a fact of life.

Mr. Peter Walker

Will the hon. Lady name one promise that I made and have not kept?

Mrs. Clwyd

The Secretary of State gave the impression that the Government would do something about unfit housing. More than half the private housing in Mid-Glamorgan is unfit for human habitation. The Secretary of State has given the valleys initiative an extra £8 million for housing. The Cynon Valley council estimates that it will cost at least £64 million to put right that unfit housing. I do not think that that is an adequate response after the promise that he made.

Mr. Walker

I have seen the remark by the chief executive of the local authority saying that £8 million was not enough. As a result, the next day I put out a press handout to explain that the £8 million was an additional amount for this year alone on what had already been granted and that, over the three years of the valleys initiative, £430 million will be spent on housing.

Mrs. Clwyd

Will the Secretary of State explain how long it will take for Cynon Valley to right its unfit private housing under the progrmme which he has announced? He has not answered the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) has asked him time and again: how much new money has he announced in the valleys initiative?

Mr. Walker

Thirty-two thousand houses will be improved. As the hon. Lady knows, I took the initiative of ensuring that the Welsh Office went to her local authority to help a great deal to work out a housing strategy for the three years.

Mrs. Clywd

I am afraid that the Secretary of State has still not answered the question: how long will it take for the Cynon Valley, with all its unfit housing and with a bill of £64 million, to put that housing right?

Mr. Walker

It will be far quicker than under the minor programme of the last Labour Government.

Mrs. Clwyd

By our estimates, on the present level of Government expenditure it will take at least 50 years. I realise that the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to put a figure on it. I quite understand why.

Mr. Rogers

The Secretary of State says that 32,000 houses will be improved, but in my constituency of Rhondda 18,000 houses are waiting for improvement grants now.

Mrs. Clwyd

People on low incomes do not have the money to improve their houses. The Secretary of State seems not to be able to understand that.[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. One debate at a time in the Chamber, please.

Mrs. Clwyd

In 1986, 64 per cent. of people in my constituency said that they had no savings. The Government"s reaction is to withdraw tax relief on home improvement loans. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, in a letter to me a few weeks ago, stated: there has been much abuse which has needed to be curtailed. But he could give no evidence of the alleged abuse in the valleys. Was the Minister saying that my constituents with poor housing, low incomes and no savings are applying for home improvement grants to take holidays or to buy furniture instead of installing an indoor toilet? I can tell the Minister that there is no evidence of any abuse in Wales. The Chancellor"s statement was based on abuse in the south-east of England and it is not proper that people in Wales should be tarred with the same brush.

The Secretary of State said that his programme was bigger and better than anything that the Labour party had done. It is nine years since the last Labour Government, nine years of neglect and procrastination, during which time the Government have allowed the situation to deteriorate. In 1987, only Scotland and the south-west of England had average earnings lower than those of Wales. In 1978–79, wages in Wales were higher than in Britain generally. Even the Government are forced to do something about that.

While we welcome part of the valleys initiative, the Secretary of State must accept that it is far more packaging than content. It is a collection of current and proposed activities. It is not a strategy; essentially, it is more of the same.

Local authorities are pushed into the background to play a role only in education, housing and transport but not in economic development, tourism and social services. I hope that the Secretary of State will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that Mid Glamorgan will get £1.15 million of the £500 million that he mentioned. There is no evidence that any more money has been won from the Treasury. Instead, it has been shifted around from other Welsh public expenditure.

Mr. Peter Walker

I confirm that the hon. Lady"s figure is totally and completely wrong.

Mrs. Clwyd

Will the Secretary of State correct me?

Mr. Walker

A high proportion of the £500 million will go to Mid Glamorgan.

Mrs. Clwyd

Even when there are increases to councils, they are tied to clauses which increase the power of the Welsh Office and not that of local government.

The Secretary of State made great play with jobs. I have a right to question him closely about jobs as 28 per cent. of men in my constituency are still unemployed. It is worth commenting on the programme"s claims about job creation and economic regeneration. The programme estimates that unemployment will fall by 25,000 to 30,000 as a result of the proposed actions. But by the programme"s admission, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West pointed out, almost all those jobs will come from applications for regional development grants submitted in 1987 and the first quarter of 1988 which are expected to create 23,460 jobs through investment worth £620 million. Clearly, that is the main plank of the Government"s job creation plans. The Government are abolishing RDG in favour of a discretionary scheme. If RDG provides almost all the new jobs expected, presumably the other proposals will have no impact at all, or the estimate is a conservative and easily achievable aim.

Finally, while an additional 25,000 to 30,000 jobs will be extremely welcome, that goes only some way towards alleviating the massive unemploymnt problems. In April 1988, 28,272 people were registered as unemployed in Mid-Glamorgan. That is a rate of 16.4 per cent. and is the fourth highest county unemployment rate in Britain. The recent improvements in unemployment in the west of Wales have not been experienced in Mid-Glamorgan, where unemployment is increasing. The Government should be truthful when they make claims about reducing unemployment.

In April 1986, unemployment in Mid-Glamorgan was 10 per cent. of the Welsh rate. In April 1988, it was 27 per cent. above the Welsh rate. That is the extent of deprivation in the valley communities and that is why we are angry, disappointed and frustrated with the Secretary of State"s proposals, which do not go far enough. He hyped them up and he must now expect a very strong reaction to that hype. I described it as a hot air balloon. The hot air balloon came down to land and there was very little inside it.

6.29 pm
Mr. Gwilym Jones (Cardiff, North)

I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in questioning the need or relevance of the Opposition motion. It is hard to find a topical relevance. The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) did not tell us why we were debating it. Perhaps the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) will explain why we are doing so. I shall not attempt to offer an explanation.

We could have debated the Health Service in Wales. I know that various hon. Members have referred to it, but it is not specifically referred to in the motion. I had the temerity to try to draw the right hon. Member for Swansea, West on that subject. I asked him how many fewer patients would be treated in hospitals in Wales if we had the same spending, with only an increase for inflation, as we had under the Government in which he was a Minister. He did not give us an answer. I shall offer the answer instead. Almost 200,000 fewer patients would be treated each year in hospitals in Wales if we were to return to the spending levels of the Labour party. To be specific, an additional 99,000 in-patients and 88,000 out-patients are being treated now and Government spending is 42 per cent. up in real terms since 1979.Of course, I did not get that admission from a member of the only Government ever to cut spending on the Health Service.

I welcome the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State just before the spring bank holiday recess about the setting up of a further two new kidney dialysis treatment units in Wales. One of them will be in my constituency in the University hospital of Wales and the other will be in Merthyr. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said that he believed in welcoming additions, but he did not mention that unit. I have an interest in kidney treatment and it is important to welcome those two new units, not least because when the Government took office Wales had the worst record for kidney treatment in the United Kingdom. Now we have the best record in the United Kingdom and virtually the best in Europe.

The motion could have been about the valleys initiative. It has been referred to, but there is no mention of it in the motion. I was not here last week and I had to look at Hansard to find the questions asked of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he made his statement about the valleys initiative. Unfortunately, the same questions came from Opposition Members. They were negative and full of the same synthetic bitterness, depression, gloom and doom. Incidentally, I could find no reference to the statement in the Western Mail. Perhaps, with no disrespect to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), that reflects the standard of some of the questions in the absence of those of us who were on Welsh Select Committee business.

In every sense that was a major statement, envisaging £1.5 billion being spent over the next three years. Outside the House it has been warmly welcomed. It has been welcomed in the newspaper articles and editorials I have read. Those articles give the impression that the people of Wales and their newspapers recognise the need for the most positive approach towards my right hon. Friend"s statement.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Has it occurred to my hon. Friend that one reason why there is so much glumness about the valleys initiative from Opposition Members is that. if the conditions in their constituencies improve, they could become vulnerable? There are no fewer than 11 seats in Wales that are vulnerable to a swing of less than 2.5 per cent. or 2,500 votes for the Conservatives.

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend makes his point so well that I will not take it any further.

When the Welsh Select Committee was in Japan last week we met Yuasa Batteries, which is already in Wales. The head of that company posed a question to the Select Committee—it is usually the other way round. He wanted to know how the British economic miracle could be applied to Japan. That is the perception abroad, very much in contrast to the way in which the right hon. Member for Swansea, West tried cynically to dispose of what he denied was booming Wales. The right hon. Gentleman tried to claim that Wales has one of the lowest incomes per head in the United Kingdom. After all this time, we know from looking at international comparisons of figures that such bald comparisons are pretty nigh meaningless. At the very least we need to take into account the buying power. When the buying power of people in Wales is taken into account, we see that the income level is above average for the United Kingdom. Again, that is conveniently missed by Opposition Members.

None of us can be completely satisfied with the progress that has been made under the Government. However, I am entitled to be at least equally worried about the perception that is being created by the Opposition as they try to claim that they speak for the majority in Wales. The right hon. Member for Swansea, West was worried that the new jobs in Wales would be "engineered out" within the next decade. He said that he feared for the future of Wales. My fear is that the image that the Labour party is projecting abroad is the most conducive to us being described as the "coolie economy", the phrase used by the right hon. Gentleman. Any foreign investor listening to what the right hon. Gentleman said would be interested only in establishing a screwdriver plant in Wales. There would be no interest in placing anything more substantial there.

Am I being unfair to the Labour party? Perhaps I should be criticising only the right hon. Member for Swansea, West. I notice that as other Opposition Members mouth the same phrases they have smiles on their faces. The right hon. Member for Swansea, West gives the impression that he believes what he says. Our Japanese investors and potential investors must surely feel that the kamikaze approach of the Labour party can only be worthy of a far higher cause than theirs.

More investment is coming to Wales, not just from Japan but from Korea. I have the impression of a common spirit among business people in Wales towards doing business with Japan and of a common approach that we share with the Japanese and other leading economies. I believe firmly that business men from Wales and the United Kingdom can hold their heads high as they seek to do business in any part of the world. We have achieved that spirit and we must overcome any remaining psychological barriers about difficulties involved in doing business with Japan. We are not interested only in further investment from Japan. We want an increasing slice of the Japanese market, which is one of the fastest increasing markets. Only by retaining the necessary spirit will we achieve an increased share of that market.

Unless we can compete for our fair share of the Japanese market—one of the foremost markets in the world and which may become the foremost market—we shall upset our share of the rest of the world market and the rest of our domestic market. We need the right spirit to achieve that.

I will not repeat the unemployment statistics that have already been given. I am privileged to represent the constituency of Cardiff, North. For a long time we have had the lowest unemployment rate in Wales. It is still too high. There are still more than 2,000 too many people unemployed in my constituency. We are not self-satisfied about having the lowest unemployment rate. More new jobs have been created in Cardiff, North since 1983 than the total number of people unemployed in 1983.If our new jobs had gone solely to residents of Cardiff, North, we would have eliminated unemployment. Of course that did not happen. We are not selfish about job creation. We see ourselves as having a role to create employment not just for Cardiff, but for the valleys and south Wales. That is typical of the new spirit abroad in Cardiff.

It is only from the approach that we display in Cardiff, North that the necessary prosperity can spread throughout Wales. Only a Conservative Secretary of State would come forward with the necessary comprehensive intitiative for the regeneration of the political heartland of the Labour party.

6.39 pm
Mr. Martin Jones (Clywd, South-West)

We are told how well we are doing in Wales under this Government and are showered with the usual plethora of statistics proving upward trends. We are told that unemployment is down, but that is due in no small part to extensive massaging of the figures, borne out by the number of my constituents who cannot claim unemployment benefit but must claim other benefits, training scheme allowances, and so on.

We still do not have in Wales the number of people in work who were employed in 1979.The Secretary of State says that he intends to remove Socialism from Wales. I do not believe that he will, because of the good sense of the Welsh. In any event, he has not said whether he intends to replace Socialism with Thatcherism or with Walkerism. Either will mean the majority of Welsh people being worse off and a small minority—mostly English—being better off.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Mr. Paul Flynn.

Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a matter of some concern to me, as the leader of a party that has three Members in Wales and 8 per cent. of the popular vote, that I am not able to take part in this debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Flynn.

6.40 pm
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Our reason for selecting this subject for debate has hardly been mentioned. It is that never before in this century has the gap between the poor and the rich widened so much and so quickly as in the past two years. There are many people outside the House waiting for news of the debate, and who will rightly be angered by the self-indulgent, synthetic and snide remarks of Conservative Members, and their deliberate attempt to ignore the serious nature of the debate.

Many things have happened and will continue to happen in Wales. There has been a substantial improvement in unemployment levels, although it is difficult to discern because of the now routine fiddles and distortions, which have been evident for several years. Of course we should try to be optimistic. All of us in public life have a duty to build confidence and optimism in the Welsh economy, and my party has generously praised all those responsible for improving it.

However, there is no use exaggerating the improvement and pretending that there has been a boom. Sadly, it may be not a boom but a bubble—rather like the south sea bubble. Commentators have pointed to the fragility of the improvement. It does not help that we have a Secretary of State for Wales who has attracted a great deal of attention to himself--much of it not critical. In his task of reshaping the Welsh economy, it does not help if he vastly exaggerates job prospects, and if there are claims of instant regeneration or overnight miracles by a braggart politician using Wales as a rung in his own career ladder.

A report published by the Cardiff Business School a fortnight ago commented: It is still too early to consider that recent events in Wales represent a turning point and a shift towards a basically stronger economy. We still feel the fundamental weaknesses remain. Employment in Wales has declined significantly since 1979 and the performance of the Welsh economy in this respect is poorer than any other region. As a result the likelihood of becoming unemployed in Wales is higher than in any other standard region, whereas the probability of ceasing to be employed is the fourth highest of the twelve standard regions. Good things are happening, but there is no use believing a public relations hype that goes far over the top.

Wales is deprived and disadvantaged. There may be a little ripple of improvement from the valleys initiative, and of course it contains many good local authority plans. However, as has been said, there is a great danger that the initiative will put all the goods in the shop window, leaving the store room empty. There is more to it even than that. The Secretary of State has taken all the goods from all the windows in town, and he has put them in his own shop window. It is likely that if anybody in the valleys paints his front door in the next few years, the Secretary of State will come along with a sticker proclaiming "Sponsored by the valleys initiative".

Following the social security changes in Wales over the past few months, many people have found their lives impoverished. A total of 350,000 households will be hit, with living standards falling as the combined result of those changes and the "loadsamoney" Budget. The ripple of improvement created by the initiative will be washed away by the tidal wave of hard Thatcherite legislation that is moving towards Wales. Why would the Secretary of State not answer my question about the poll tax? Why did the Prime Minister refuse to tell the BBC interviewer from Llandudno what will be the effect of the poll tax in Wales, and especially in the valleys?

The valleys will be hardest hit by every one of the Government"s proposals. We have all heard about clause 28 of the Local Government Bill, but other clauses will cut a swathe of unemployment and reduce wage levels in precious local government jobs. The Housing Bill will also hit the valleys by increasing rents. All of the hard Thatcherite legislation will hit the valleys very seriously. There are no glossy publications and no hype about those matters.

All we have seen is the mean and muddled housing benefit changes affecting nearly 400,000 Welsh households. Islwyn borough council has published figures showing that 73 per cent. of the recipients of housing benefit—who are anyway the worst off in society—will be losers in a scheme that was supposed to simplify benefit. It is so simple that recipients must claim some money from the local authority, some from the DHSS, and some from Glasgow. There is now such chaos that the Cardiff office responsible for administering those changes has been closed to the general public for two weeks, while that at Newport has closed for a week.

Hon. Members say that the amount of reduced benefit involved is only £2.50 after the transitional payments have been made—and even they are a form of deferred robbery, because claimants will miss out on changes in inflation. However, if £2.50 represents one tenth of a recipient"s disposable income, its loss is a severe blow. That affects not just one or two recipients but hundreds of thousands of people throughout Wales. No glossy publication heralds that situation.

Wales is deprived and disadvantaged by low pay, by a neglected Health Service, by unemployment being twice the level it is elsewhere, and by the alien free-for-all to which the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) referred—the cheque book colonisation that is spreading from north Wales to every other part of Wales. The precious wedges of council housing in villages that give them a balanced community will now be up for grabs by the Porsche-owning yuppies from south Wales. There will be an extension of the cultural invasion from which the north and west have suffered for many years. We suffer from deprivation, and from the disadvantage of having a poor economy while being next door to a very rich neighbour.

I repeat that never before this century has the gap between the poor and the rich widened so much and so quickly. There is probably little point in repeating the question that was put last week and again today, and which has been put by the press to the Secretary of State, but we live in hope that he will answer it. Where is the new money, and how much new money will there be for the valleys initiative? I could quote many cases of hardship, of people suffering from the changes in housing benefit and social security, but I will give the House just one example, of a constituent who has expressed anger to me. She is a disabled pensioner and one of those the Government targeted to gain, but she, like so many others, is really a loser. Mrs. Dorothy Grear of the Bettws centre in Newport writes: The new system is unfair. Even those with a bit of works pension are losing. There are thousands of unhappy pensioners all over the country. Living here on a large council estate, I am right in amongst it. I hear the grumbles, I hear the worry, I hear the despair. When will the Government hear it?

6.49 pm
The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. Wyn Roberts)

There are two views of Wales, one expressed rather pessimistically in the motion and the other expressed more hopefully in the amendment. Both views have been put forward in the debate.

Much of what has been said is attributable, as I think hon. Members will agree, to the Low Pay Unit report. Some of the LPU"s findings for Wales are based on Great Britain estimates and appear to be at variance with the published figures. For example, we know that in 1979 there were 172,000 recipients of supplementary benefit in Wales, but LPU refers to 289,000 dependent on supplementary benefit in that year.

While I am in a correcting mood, let me say that the hon. Members for Neath (Mr. Coleman) and for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) referred to the Cardiff Business School report stating that more females than males are now in work in Wales. That is not the case. The latest data show that in December 1987 478,000 males were in employment, while the female total was 392,000.I shall not pursue the evidence.

There is of course a brighter side, which I feel obliged to draw to the attention of the House. Hon. Members will be interested to know that average adult full-time wages in Wales, at constant April 1987 prices, are now more than £19 a week higher than when we came into office. Between 1986 and 1987, average gross weekly earnings for adults working full-time rose by 7.7 per cent. in Wales, compared with 7.8 per cent. in England and 6.4 per cent. in Scotland. Earnings in west and Mid-Glamorgan rose by 8.7 per cent, the same percentage increase as in the south-east of England. Of the regions of England, only Greater London exceeded the increase in Wales.

Of course wages are higher in the south-east, but, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, so is the cost of living. The average household in the south-east spends far more on housing than the average household in Wales—just over £40 a week, compared with £25 in Wales. We have the lowest domestic rates of any region in the United Kingdom, with the exception of Northern Ireland.

I was surprised to hear some comments on spending on the National Health Service. I remind hon. Members on both sides of the House that in the final year of the last Labour Administration the weekly spend on the NHS in Wales was £16.3 million at 1988–89 prices, whereas we are planning to spend £23.2 million each week in 1988–89.Expenditure on the NHS in Wales in 1978–79 was some £5.85 per person per week, whereas our plans provide for expenditure in this financial year of £8.25 per person per week.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)


Mr. Roberts

The hon. Gentleman has not been here, and I shall certainly not give way to him. I have very little time.

I am surprised that so many Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Neath, should attack us on our housing record. After all, as my right hon. Friend says, Labour left us with 133,000 houses lacking basic amenities, and we have had to reduce the number to 37,000—just below 5 per cent. of our housing stock. I was also surprised that the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) referred to an increase in homelessness. The number of places accepted by local authorities fell by 11 per cent. last year to just under 5,300.I might say that the solution is not simply building more council houses; it is partly to do with making better use of existing stock.

Opposition Members must make up their minds about the valleys initiative. Do they now realise that it is only the parliamentary Labour party that does not like the initiative and has failed to welcome it? Do they not want the record factory building programme of 1.25 million sq ft, at a cost of £40 million? Do they not want a record derelict land clearance programme of 2,500 acres for the valleys? Do they not want a record level of urban programme allocations? That is £15 million this year for the valleys alone—I hope that the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) is listening to this—compared with £11.7 million, at today"s prices, for the whole of Wales in the last year of the Labour Government.

Do Opposition Members really not want our plans to improve 32,000 homes and provide over 10,000 new ones? The truth is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing something for the valleys, for the heartlands of the Labour party, which they did not dare—did not have the courage—to do themselves.

It is typical of the Opposition to have chosen to concentrate on disadvantage and deprivation in Wales. It is, I believe, an outward sign of their inner gloom and doom. I thought that the eschatological gloom and doom —the "end of Wales is at hand" approach—belonged exclusively to the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) when he was on the Opposition Front Bench. Even the Leader of the Opposition became so depressed that he retired the hon. Gentleman to the happy hunting grounds of the Back Benches. But the gloom-and-doom approach is still with us, and the right hon. Member for Swansea, West and the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) are simply new prophets of the old terminal message. I suppose that the end of their world is at hand—the old world where masses of people were employed in nationalised industries, dependent on state subsidies to keep them going, or in the high-spending public sector, where employment could be sustained at the cost of ever higher inflation. All that is changing, and the Opposition are completely at a loss for policies.

Some of the brighter Opposition Members are trying to reconcile themselves to the change, and to adapt Labour policies to the new Britain of economic growth and falling unemployment. I am surprised that there are no Welsh Members among this avant-garde. They are members of the old guard to a man. Who do they really think will benefit from the dismal picture of Wales that they conjure up? Certainly not the people of Wales, who stand to lose investment and development to other parts of the United Kingdom where people are more hopeful about their future prospects. Nor do I think that the Opposition themselves stand to gain much. People simply do not like to hear endlessly how miserable they should be, especially when they are not.

I have given the House a choice between the Opposition"s motion and the Government"s amendment. I believe that the majority of people of Wales would prefer the amendment, and with unemployment falling for the 24th month in succession, including that in Mid-Glamorgan, and with job prospects still extremely good, Wales is indeed firmly set on the path of economic growth and prosperity. I commend the amendment to the House.

6.59 pm
Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

As I was not called earlier in the debate, I am now taking the opportunity to say in half a second what I would have said.

We have heard two constrasting views of Wales in the debate. Both views are right, but both views are wrong. The real future for Wales is to be a modern European economy which will develop on the basis of the skills and activity of its own people. To do that, it must have effective political control over its resources. Clearly, in this House, Wales does not even have a voice.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 192, Noes 267.

Division No. 376] [7pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Fyfe, Maria
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Galbraith, Sam
Alton, David Galloway, George
Anderson, Donald Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Armstrong, Hilary George, Bruce
Ashton, Joe Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Gordon, Mildred
Barron, Kevin Gould, Bryan
Beckett, Margaret Graham, Thomas
Bell, Stuart Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bennett, A. F.(D'nt'n & R'dish) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bermingham, Gerald Grocott, Bruce
Bidwell, Sydney Harman, Ms Harriet
Blair, Tony Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Boateng, Paul Haynes, Frank
Bray, Dr Jeremy Heffer, Eric S.
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Henderson, Doug
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Hinchliffe, David
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Hogg, N.(C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Buchan, Norman Holland, Stuart
Buckley, George J. Home Robertson, John
Caborn, Richard Hood, Jimmy
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cartwright, John Howells, Geraint
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hoyle, Doug
Clay, Bob Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cohen, Harry Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Coleman, Donald Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Corbett, Robin Illsley, Eric
Cousins, Jim Ingram, Adam
Cox, Tom Janner, Greville
Crowther, Stan John, Brynmor
Cryer, Bob Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)
Cummings, John Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Dalyell, Tam Kennedy, Charles
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Lambie, David
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Lamond, James
Dewar, Donald Leighton, Ron
Dixon, Don Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Dobson, Frank Litherland, Robert
Doran, Frank Livsey, Richard
Duffy, A. E. P. Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth McAllion, John
Eadie, Alexander McAvoy, Thomas
Eastham, Ken McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Evans, John (St Helens N) McKelvey, William
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) McLeish, Henry
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) McNamara, Kevin
Fatchett, Derek McTaggart, Bob
Faulds, Andrew McWilliam, John
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Madden, Max
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Fisher, Mark Marek, Dr John
Flannery, Martin Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Flynn, Paul Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Martin, Michael J.(Springburn)
Foster, Derek Maxton, John
Foulkes, George Meacher, Michael
Fraser, John Meale, Alan
Michael, Alun Sedgemore, Brian
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Sheerman, Barry
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Skinner, Dennis
Moonie, Dr Lewis Smith, C.(Isl'ton & F'bury)
Morgan, Rhodri Spearing, Nigel
Morley, Elliott Steinberg, Gerry
Morris, Rt Hon A.(W'shawe) Stott, Roger
Morris, Rt Hon J.(Aberavon) Strang, Gavin
Mowlam, Marjorie Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mullin, Chris Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Murphy, Paul Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Nellist, Dave Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
O'Neill, Martin Turner, Dennis
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wall, Pat
Patchett, Terry Wallace, James
Pendry, Tom Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Pike, Peter L. Wareing, Robert N.
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Primarolo, Dawn Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Quin, Ms Joyce Wigley, Dafydd
Radice, Giles Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Randall, Stuart Williams, Alan W.(Carm"then)
Redmond, Martin Wilson, Brian
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Wise, Mrs Audrey
Reid, Dr John Worthington, Tony
Robinson, Geoffrey Wray, Jimmy
Rogers, Allan Young, David (Bolton SE)
Rooker, Jeff
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Tellers for the Ayes:
Rowlands, Ted Mrs. Llin Golding and Mr. Frank Cook.
Ruddock, Joan
Adley, Robert Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Aitken, Jonathan Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Alexander, Richard Cash, William
Allason, Rupert Chapman, Sydney
Amess, David Churchill, Mr
Amos, Alan Clark, Sir W.(Croydon S)
Arbuthnot, James Colvin, Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Cope, Rt Hon John
Ashby, David Davies, Q.(Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Aspinwall, Jack Davis, David (Boothferry)
Atkins, Robert Devlin, Tim
Atkinson, David Dickens, Geoffrey
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Dicks, Terry
Baldry, Tony Durant, Tony
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Dykes, Hugh
Batiste, Spencer Eggar, Tim
Bellingham, Henry Favell, Tony
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Benyon, W. Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Fookes, Miss Janet
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Forman, Nigel
Body, Sir Richard Forth, Eric
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fox, Sir Marcus
Boscawen, Hon Robert Franks, Cecil
Boswell, Tim French, Douglas
Bottomley, Peter Fry, Peter
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Gardiner, George
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Bowis, John Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Glyn, Dr Alan
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Goodhart, Sir Philip
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Goodlad, Alastair
Brazier, Julian Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bright, Graham Gorst, John
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Gow, Ian
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Budgen, Nicholas Gregory, Conal
Burns, Simon Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Burt, Alistair Grist, Ian
Butcher, John Ground, Patrick
Butler, Chris Grylls, Michael
Butterfill, John Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mudd, David
Hampson, Dr Keith Needham, Richard
Hanley, Jeremy Nelson, Anthony
Hargreaves, A.(B'ham H'll Gr') Neubert, Michael
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Harris, David Nicholls, Patrick
Haselhurst, Alan Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hawkins, Christopher Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hayes, Jerry Oppenheim, Phillip
Hayward, Robert Page, Richard
Heathcoat-Amory, David Paice, James
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Patten, Chris (Bath)
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Porter, David (Waveney)
Hill, James Portillo, Michael
Hind, Kenneth Powell, William (Corby)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Price, Sir David
Holt, Richard Raffan, Keith
Hordern, Sir Peter Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Howard, Michael Redwood, John
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Renton, Tim
Howarth, G.(Cannock & B'wd) Rhodes James, Robert
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hunter, Andrew Roe, Mrs Marion
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Rossi, Sir Hugh
Irvine, Michael Rost, Peter
Jack, Michael Rowe, Andrew
Janman, Tim Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Johnson Smith, Sir Geotfrey Sackville, Hon Tom
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Sayeed, Jonathan
Key, Robert Shaw, David (Dover)
Kilfedder, James Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Knapman, Roger Shephard, Mrs G.(Norfolk SW)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Knowles, Michael Shersby, Michael
Knox, David Sims, Roger
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lang, Ian Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Latham, Michael Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Speed, Keith
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Speller, Tony
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Lilley, Peter Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Squire, Robin
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Stanbrook, Ivor
Lord, Michael Stanley, Rt Hon John
McCrindle, Robert Stern, Michael
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Stevens, Lewis
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Maclean, David Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
McLoughlin, Patrick Stokes, Sir John
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Stradling Thomas, Sir John
McNair-Wilson, P.(New Forest) Sumberg, David
Madel, David Summerson, Hugo
Major, Rt Hon John Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Malins, Humfrey Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mans, Keith Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Maples, John Temple-Morris, Peter
Marland, Paul Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Thorne, Neil
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Thornton, Malcolm
Mates, Michael Townend, John (Bridlington)
Maude, Hon Francis Tracey, Richard
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Tredinnick, David
Meyer, Sir Anthony Trippier, David
Miller, Sir Hal Twinn, Dr Ian
Mills, Iain Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Monro, Sir Hector Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Waldegrave, Hon William
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Walden, George
Morrison, Sir Charles Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Moss, Malcolm Walker, Rt Hon P.(W'cester)
Waller, Gary Winterton, Mrs Ann
Walters, Sir Dennis Winterton, Nicholas
Ward, John Wood, Timothy
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Woodcock, Mike
Warren, Kenneth Yeo, Tim
Watts, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Wheeler, John
Widdecombe, Ann Tellers for the Noes:
Wiggin, Jerry Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Richard Ryder.
Wilkinson, John
Wilshire, David

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on Amendments) and agreed to.

Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the success and achievements of Government policies and initiatives in Wales which have raised living standards, improved housing and environmental conditions and set Wales firmly on the path of economic growth and prosperity.

Mr. Wigley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, arising out of the last debate. I put it to you that it is wholly unreasonable and unacceptable that all four parties that represent Wales in the House should not have at least five minutes to put their viewpoints in a debate that has to do solely with Welsh affairs. This matter has been raised before and there have been difficulties about it. In the past there has been agreement between the usual channels and the Chair that representatives of all parties would be allowed to speak. May we have an assurance now that what happened in the last debate will never be allowed to happen again?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I well understand the hon. Gentleman's disappointment. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House could not participate in this very short debate. I can only express sympathy with all who were not called. It would have been so much easier if those who were called had made briefer speeches.

I should also make it clear that Mr. Speaker exercises his discretion to the best of his ability. He never makes any commitment before any debate begins to any individual hon. Member or party.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I entirely understand your difficulties, and I understand that the Speaker cannot make such a commitment. In view of the difficulty created for you and Mr. Speaker, is not the solution for the Government to provide time in which to debate Wales's difficulties? After all, they created them. The Labour party provided time today and the Government should follow its good example. If they had the interests of Wales at heart, they would take notice of these comments and provide time in the near future for a full debate in which everyone can take part.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We should now get on with the next business.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I shall, of course, listen to the hon. Lady, but I must say to her and to the House that we are now trespassing on the time that has been allocated for the consideration of private Bills.

Mrs. Ewing

Would it not be possible to distinguish between hon. Members and parties? Surely minority parties have a right to be heard. That differentiation should be taken into account by the two larger parties, which are perhaps more concerned with safeguarding their own rights than with listening to the viewpoints of others.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand the hon. Lady"s point. I assure her that anyone who occupies the Chair has to listen to complaints by hon. Members on both sides, including Government supporters, who feel that they should have been called when unfortunately time did not allow. The Chair does its best in such circumstances.

There is a motion on the Order Paper for 10-minute speeches. At the moment, the Chair has not the power to limit speeches. If the House so decides, it will be easier to call more hon. Members from both sides in major debates.