§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Arbuthnot.]4.23 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt)
This St. David day's debate is the first of the new Parliament and this year it also takes place on our national day. That makes it an especially appropriate day on which to debate our traditional emphasis on the future opportunities for Wales. Of course, we have spent some time discussing my proposals for the reform of local government in Wales and we shall have a further opportunity to do so again at next week's Welsh Grand Committee in Cardiff.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
Some of us are amazed at the Secretary of State's gall and barefaced cheek in introducing local government reorganisation without showing any humility and acknowledging that the present system was established by a Conservative Government. I hope that the Secretary of State will acknowledge in his speech the effect of a Conservative Government on local government in Wales—and perhaps he will give a history lesson to his latter-day colleague, the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), who, it seems, does not know the history of the county of Gwent and of its establishment by a Conservative Government.
§ Mr. Hunt
My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) has made me aware on many occasions of his profound knowledge of history and has used historical analysis often to justify the creation of the county of Monmouthshire. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will use today's debate to concentrate on other matters, bearing in mind the fact that we will have an opportunity next week to discuss local government. I shall, of course, seek to address the hon. Gentleman's point in next week's debate.
I am proud that Wales is pioneering local government reform in the United Kingdom. These debates are traditionally wide ranging and my hon. Friends and I look forward to addressing a range of important issues affecting policies in Wales, including agriculture and rural affairs; tourism and inward investment; health, education and housing; the government of Wales; and our roads and railways.
Perhaps the most important issue of all is how the Welsh economy and the Welsh environment can be improved in years to come. Many right hon. and hon. Members will seek to contribute to the debate, so I will mention some of those matters only in passing.
My own priority for the future is to continue to build a diverse and strong economic base for Wales.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
I remind the Secretary of State of the problems of the Welsh steel industry and of the dumping of east European steel in western Europe and the imposition by President Clinton of tariffs. Does the right hon. Gentleman raise the problems of British Steel in the Cabinet? Does he agree that Britain and Wales in particular must not lose even one tonne of steel-making capacity, because the industry is too important for that to happen?
§ Mr. Hunt
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are many worrying developments, including those that he 35 mentioned. We must have effective anti-dumping measures. As to world trade, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that Wales will prosper, but only if there is full, fair and free trade. I want the Uruguay round brought to an early conclusion and a new GATT that will do much to stimulate world trade and perhaps make unnecessary many of the measures being contemplated or announced by some Governments. Steel is a vital core industry for Wales and it is a matter of pride for me that although many jobs have been lost in the industry, its productivity and output have increased enormously. It is a matter of pride for everyone in the industry that it is one of the most competitive in the world. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise that it is only possible for our competitive industry to prosper if we have full, fair and free trade.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
Will the Secretary of State address his failure to secure objective 1 status for Wales? It was granted to the Scottish highlands and to certain parts of England, such as Merseyside, but Wales has failed in that respect. If we do not secure the maximum possible assistance from the European Community, we will be in danger of missing out on opportunities that are needed in all parts of Wales.
§ Mr. Hunt
No, I must correct the hon. Gentleman: it was Dyfed, Gwynedd, Powys and Clwyd. [Interruption.] I am sorry, the hon. Gentleman is wrong.
Under the territorial distinction, it is possible only for us to see the full region as such. The regionalisation announced by the European Community does not include Dyfed, Gwynedd, Powys and Clwyd, which is a matter of regret. I stress the importance that we give to securing objective 1 status for rural Wales.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)
As my right hon. Friend will know, the President of the Board of Trade has said that, although the Commissioner has not included rural Wales, he intends to put forward the argument for rural Wales at the Council of Ministers' meeting.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is out of order: he is speaking from the aisle.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
If all faults were as small as that, this place would be better run.
§ Mr. Evans
Let me return to the important point that I was making in regard to objective 1 status. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has made it clear that rural Wales is still part of his ambitions in terms of obtaining objective 1 status. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State invite Opposition Members to communicate with the European Commission and Mr. 36 Bruce Millan—who used to be a parliamentary colleague of theirs—and urge Mr. Milian to include rural Wales with Merseyside and the highlands and islands of Scotland?
§ Mr. Hunt
I agree with my hon. Friend. The final decision rests with the Council of Ministers, in the context of the review of the structural funds regulations. I shall certainly continue to press the case for rural Wales. Let me add that, although it is not possible on the NUTS II geographical basis, I very much want the needs of mid-Glamorgan, in industrial south Wales, to he recognised as deserving special treatment. We shall continue to press for that.
As I have said, it is always a pressing responsibility in Wales to forge policies that bring about sustainable prosperity for the future. Difficult times emphasise fundamental strengths and there have been many developments in recent years to support our confidence in the underlying prospects for the Welsh economy, but we still have some way to go.
My message to Wales is that the portents are good. I believe that our economic theme in 1993 must be "go for growth". The current signs are encouraging: for the first time since the 1920s, unemployment in Wales is now below the United Kingdom average—although it is still rising and is still too high. Productivity has risen by almost 26 per cent. since 1985, compared with a United Kingdom rise of only 11 per cent. Overall output has increased by over 18 per cent. since 1985, compared with a United Kingdom increase of some 7 per cent. During the 1980s, Wales gained, on average, about 1,500 net new businesses a year, taking the total of VAT-registered businesses from about 70,000 to more than 86,000.
Of course, we must do more. I acknowledge that, to build on those successes, we need to emphasise clearly the industrial and economic strategy for the next few years. Let me list the matters that I believe need to be addressed.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)
The Secretary of State says that he wants to go for growth and that the portents are good. I hope that he is right.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he is in favour of further reductions in interest rates, which are an essential step towards the stimulation of confidence in the economy, in Wales and elsewhere in the United Kingdom? Will he also confirm that he will resist all cuts in public expenditure, in either capital or revenue accounts? Wales, like the rest of the United Kingdom, needs everything that it can get if we are to grow out of the prolonged recession brought about by the Government's policies.
§ Mr. Hunt
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have never been other than a critic of the economic policies that he espoused at the last general election. His question emphasised his party's unfitness to manage the economy. He knows that it is wrong for the Government to give an indication on interest rates. Our interest rates are at their lowest for years—6 per cent. We do not believe that Government should spend their way out of recession. We must ensure that our public expenditure programmes are relevant and that increasing emphasis is placed on capital, as it was in the autumn statement. I am delighted, therefore, to say that in the coming year Wales will have a record capital programme of £1.5 billion. That represents a good investment for the future.
Secondly, we must do all that we can to sustain or even improve our inward investment record, which is second to 37 none. Thirdly, we must press on with a concerted export drive and I have announced a range of measures that will achieve that. Fourthly, we must continue to invest in the success of Source Wales to maximise the advantage that we take of the new local markets that are created by our foreign investors. I shall do my best to ensure that we not only achieve record levels of inward investment but that we knock on the door of every inward investor to stress the quality of goods and services in Wales under the Source Wales programme.
We must emphasise at every turn the need for Welsh companies to adopt a total quality strategy and to pursue excellence in all that they do. They will then win those much-valued orders.
We must take full advantage of the new co-ordination that is made possible by the transfer of responsibility for training and, from 1 April, for the University of Wales from Whitehall to Wales to ensure a properly co-ordinated training, education and enterprise department. We have led the way in the United Kingdom by establishing such a department in the Welsh Office.
I want us to continue to promote the highest standards of management within companies in Wales. I want us to seek, through the higher education sector and our most forward-looking companies, innovation and research of the highest possible standards. We want to ensure that our co-ordinated approach to policy in the valleys makes the most of the initiative from the people of the valleys, fostering independence, not dependence. I know that many ideas have been advanced about how we should take this approach further and I shall refer to them in a moment.
We must ensure—this is my tenth point—that the new local councils that I announced today do everything possible to co-ordinate our approach to economic needs in Wales, not least by bringing new and relevant ideas from community level to the Welsh economic council.
Those are 10 key pointers for future policy, but, as everyone knows, the Government do not have all the answers. They are primarily a consumer of wealth, not a creator of it, and initiatives for the long-term success of our people must come from the people themselves. Our future policies must therefore have a far more decentralised flavour. We must encourage local initiatives and not swamp them with the dirigiste ideas that are still frequently abroad on the Opposition Benches.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes
At my interview session last Saturday morning, a constituent told me that he had heard that a large concern in Newport, which employs more than 250 people, is considering its position in the town as a result of the Secretary of State's decision to authorise a waste disposal plant. Does not that have serious implications for employment in the town? What is the Secretary of State going to do about it? Let us have some straight answers.
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Gentleman asks about planning. It is not for me to comment beyond the decision that I have reached. Of course, I took all matters into account. He should follow the example of many of his colleagues in making me aware of difficulties in any companies in Wales and I hope that he will let me have full details of the case that he cited.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
The Secretary of State has made 10 points, but I wonder whether he is going to reach the eleventh, which is that there must be good transport 38 links to and from the Principality. Is he aware of the alarming statement by the general manager of the west coast main line that the line will be closed in six years' time and that, if it is not, there will be a catastrophe because British Rail desperately needs £400 million for investment in track and infrastructure? There is a danger that the high speed train through services to north Wales will not continue beyond 1994, unless the Secretary of State assures us to the contrary. Many other hon. Members representing north Wales are extremely worried, so will he meet an all-party deputation to see what can be done to ensure that these vital services continue to north Wales?
§ Mr. Hunt
I have been given differing reports of the meeting, which I did not attend. I have not seen the alleged source of the rumour, said to be an internal British Rail document. I checked with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and nor has he seen it. Therefore, we have no reason to believe that it is anything other than scaremongering. That is not something that I have heard from the hon. Gentleman in the past and I hope that he will join me in making it clear that there is no substance to what has been said.
However, I understand that British Rail intends soon to start renewing the infrastructure of the west coast main line. The precise timing will be decided in the spring, when British Rail has decided on its next corporate plan. It is already carrying out a programme to upgrade the north Wales coast main line. I have heard from Sir Bob Reid the extent of those plans about which I am very pleased.
The future of the north Wales coast main line is important for the area. I was delighted to have held the post of Secretary of State for Wales when the first 125 left Euston heading for north Wales and Holyhead. That was a very good move, but I now want more traffic on that route. The introduction of the 125 cut the journey time substantially and offers a very good service.
Mr. Alex Cathie (Montgomery)
Was the right hon. Gentleman satisfied to be the Secretary of State for Wales who presided over the period when British Rail took Aberystwyth off the main line and relegated the Birmingham-Aberystwyth line to what amounts to a milk train route, which is of no use to any business person and of little use to people who work at the university of Aberystwyth? Is not it a disgraceful apology for a railway line? Is he generally satisfied with British Rail's performance in Wales?
§ Mr. Hunt
I have raised the question of the mid-Wales routes with Sir Bob Reid, but, as we always say at the Dispatch Box, it is a matter for British Rail. There are good local services through to Aberystwyth, although I recognise that there are strong feelings locally which the hon. and learned Gentleman expresses and which he will no doubt also express to British Rail.
I praise the record of Wales in attracting inward investment and all those who help to ensure that we continue to break new records. I have calculated that, since April 1983, there have been more than 1,000 inward investment projects in Wales and 208 new projects in the last financial year alone, promising 16,000 jobs. That is a pretty good record against the present background of world recession.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
We have heard those figures about inward investment many times, but the 39 subject about which the Welsh Office never speaks and on which there is no record is outward divestment, an equally ugly phrase. It is the number of quality jobs which are siphoned out of my constituency and others to Malaysia, France and dozens of other countries. The Government's claim about inward investment is like filling up the bath —the taps are running and one can measure the water going in, but one forgets that the plug is out and that the water is draining away. When will the Secretary of State keep a record and report to the House the number of jobs that are lost to Wales?
§ Mr. Hunt
The statistic is there. The hon. Gentleman has only to consider manufacturing output. Is not it a fact that, despite the rundown in certain key industries, manufacturing output has increased over the past 14 years? Yes, it is a fact. It has increased by more than 25 per cent. since 1979.
One of the examples that I was going to use to stress that Wales is now internationally the first option for new projects and expansion is Newport Wafer Fab which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is promising 280 jobs. I could give many other examples.
§ Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)
To help the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), will my right hon. Friend tell the House how many of the plants and factories which have opened in Wales since 1979 are still in operation and still providing employment?
§ Mr. Hunt
It is staggering that 803 new manufacturing plants that have opened in Wales since 1979 are still in production. My hon. Friend is right to stress their importance. [HON. MEMBERS:"A planted question".] That is not so. If the hon. Gentleman had read further down the Order Paper, he would have seen that my hon. Friend's question was tabled but not called. However, my hon. Friend has found a good way of ensuring that the House knew my answer.
The Government have not only encouraged international partnerships and investment. Since January 1992 —I stress this figure because it has increased since I last mentioned it—210 offers of regional selective assistance have been accepted by new and developing businesses in Wales. That involves a contribution from the taxpayer of £82 million, making a total investment of £543 million, involving 14,200 jobs, many of which are still to come.
I mentioned Newport Wafer Fab—
§ Mr. Hunt
No, the hon. Gentleman has had his opportunity. Other examples include Robertson Associates and Treforest with 195 jobs, the Marshall Food Group at Sandy Croft with a further 313, Flexonics Automotive at Crumlin promising 260 jobs, Amcor Packaging at Mold with 150, and Tillery Valley foods at Abertillery with a further 111.I am pleased to be able to announce further job projects.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that if the Secretary of State, or any other hon. Member who has the floor, does not give way, he must resume his seat.
§ Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the list of job opportunities in the hundreds which he has produced for parts of Wales. However, I am a little disturbed by the possibility that the debate may suggest that Wales is some sort of independent economic and industrial unit. Self-evidently, it is not.
At the risk of boring repetition, I point out that, although my right hon. Friend has talked about 200 jobs here and 300 jobs there, there is the probability—the almost certainty—that if consent is given under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 for a power station at Connah's Quay, 4,000 jobs will be created. I am sad to say—no, it is not sad from my point of view—that some of those jobs would go to Englishmen. I was baptised in Portmadoc, so I believe that I have some right to speak on these matters. Will my right hon. Friend press the Department of Trade and Industry to give a decision about the 4,000 jobs and about the other jobs to come for the gas industry in north Wales and in what I hope will soon become Cheshire again?
§ Mr. Hunt
Were it not for the fact that I should very much like to continue as Secretary of State for Wales for many years to come, I should admit that my hon. Friend has just laid impeccable credentials. In all the many years during which I have served the adjoining constituency, I have been unaware of his Welsh background and of his Welsh baptism.
My hon. Friend will recognise, because he has been fighting hard for the project, that under section 36 of the 1989 Act, it is very much a matter for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. As I said earlier, I shall ensure that I bring my hon. Friend's remarks to his attention.
To promote further success, last year I published proposals to set up a Welsh economic council. The responses, as I said, have been positive and I shall announce my final proposals shortly. The council will be an important forum for discussing positively wealth and job creation.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Is not there a danger of making a quango of the quangos in that council? Is not there a danger of the Secretary of State debasing the election principle? Does he rule out, as a matter of principle, having an all-Wales elected body from the new local authority units, possibly as a step on the way to a proper elected assembly?
§ Mr. Hunt
There are only three more executive agencies than there were in 1979. I do not want the hon. Gentleman to run away with the idea that many more such bodies have been created. Most of the bodies are advisory bodies. I was dealing with the Welsh economic council, which, as the hon. Gentleman may recall, was an idea put to me by the Welsh Association of District Councils. I assure the 41 hon. Gentleman that when the Welsh economic council is announced, it will be seen to contain strong representation from the local authorities.
I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly that there should be a different forum—a parliament or an assembly for Wales. I hope that he will accept that we have a strong difference of opinion on that matter.
Following the autumn statement, I announced that expenditure by the Welsh Development Agency would reach a new record level. Next year, its expenditure will increase by almost £5 million to £171.4 million. I am delighted to announce today that, as a result of the increase, I have just approved a £50 million programme of expenditure by the agency on property development in the coming year. The WDA will continue to ensure that we can meet the property needs of inward investors and of the local business community.
The new programme will continue to emphasise land assembly, bespoke building and the stimulation of private sector involvement in the Welsh industrial property market. The WDA will also have a massive £66 million next year to upgrade the environment and to promote economic activity through the biggest land reclamation programme in Europe. The agency will bring almost 1,500 acres of derelict, neglected and unsightly land into productive use and there are many exciting projects.
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)
Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether the WDA will spend any money on cleaning up the polluted rivers and streams of Wales? That pollution has been caused by former and, possibly, present owners of mineral rights walking away from their responsibilities when mines have been closed. It is a national disgrace that coal owners, for example, once the coal mines have been abandoned, can wash their hands completely of their responsibilities and leave the rivers and streams devoid of life as the ferruginous material mixes with the water and kills the fish and wildlife there.
§ Mr. Hunt
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that 94 per cent. of the rivers in Wales are of reasonable or fair quality. We are talking about particular instances. The WDA will spend about £32 million in the coming year on land reclamation which could include measures to prevent further pollution. Other schemes are in progress to achieve the end that he and I want—a continuing improvement in the quality of our rivers.
The presence among inward investors of strong exporting companies has enhanced the Welsh contribution to the United Kingdom balance of payments. I want overseas markets to be exploited to the full. That is why I have launched a new export drive to encourage small businesses in particular, which are not normally involved in export trade, to seek opportunities overseas. We shall move from an average of three export missions a year to 24 missions over the next three years. I have already announced measures to help those participating in the missions with fares and with expenses.
The direct jobs created by home-grown and inward investment are just the start. The spin-off opportunities are enormous. We dealt with that earlier today when we talked about the Source Wales programme. Since January 1992, the programme has been instrumental in securing £6.1 million of immediate business for Welsh small and 42 medium enterprises. The longer-term benefits will be even greater. Altogether, 1,760 Welsh businesses have been contacted to form part of the south Wales database.
I have discussed with the chairman of the WDA, Dr. Gwyn Jones, how we can ensure that some of our more important investors, such as British Airways, Bosch and Toyota, have direct links with the programme. I am pleased to say that an individual has been seconded by the WDA to each of those three major companies to ensure that more goods and services are supplied by Welsh businesses.
A key development came last year with the establishment of the training, education and enterprise department to give even greater coherence to our investment in the skills and enterprise of the people of Wales. The new department will build on the achievements of the network of seven training and enterprise councils which were established in Wales in April 1991. We have already pioneered the one-step shop approach to ensure that our businesses have immediate access to the information they need, especially if they are responding with new projects and new ideas.
Reforms in the further education sector from 1 April will mean that further education institutions will be able to respond more easily to the needs of students, of employers and of local communities. I was pleased to confirm the provision of £143 million for further education in Wales next year, which will allow a substantial increase in student numbers.
§ Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)
It is all very well for the Secretary of State to present us with fine words on training and enterprise. As he knows, the reality is that training and enterprise councils have had their places, budgets and opportunities savagely cut in recent years. There is no hope of many thousands of youngsters in Wales either getting on a decent training scheme or getting a decent job at the end of it.
§ Mr. Hunt
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The amount spent by training and enterprise councils in the present year is more than £100 million. I have been told that the likely outturn figure is £102 million. That compares with the provision that I am making in the Budget with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for training and enterprise councils to have about £106 million to spend in the coming financial year.
For the first time ever, we will have responsibility for funding the whole higher education sector in Wales. The council will receive more than £157 million for funding in 1993–94. I believe that resources for that year will increase by 9.9 per cent. in cash over 1992–93, including an additional £2.9 million to raise the quality of research.
We need the right environment and infrastructure to sustain business and individuals and promote growth. The programme for the valleys, which was launched nearly five years ago by my predecessor—now Lord Walker—is an outstanding example of effective action to regenerate an urban area. The initial three-year programme was extended for a further two years. We reach the end of that on 31 March this year.
The programme for the valleys is unique in bringing to bear the full range of Government policies on the problems and challenges of a single area. We can take pride in what has been achieved. In a difficult economic period, the valleys have outperformed the Welsh economy and the 43 United Kingdom economy as a whole. It used to be the case that when recession hit the United Kingdom, the valleys would be much worse off.
If the valleys had simply followed the United Kingdom trend since 1988, their unemployment rate would be more than 20 per cent. higher than it is and more than 10,000 people might not now have jobs as a result. That should not be surprising when we have invested the provision of about £800 million which was announced. We have also created 2.6 million sq ft of industrial floor space. We have cleared more than 2,000 acres of derelict land and levered in £700 million worth of additional private sector investment.
When I say "we", I do not mean simply the Welsh Office and the Welsh Development Agency. I am referring to all the partners in the programme for the valleys, including the local authorities and the people themselves. For all the criticism which we receive from time to time, it is striking that the critics of the programme for the valleys seem to be urging me to do more of the same.
I am immensely encouraged by recent progress in developing local strategies to tackle the needs of valleys towns and creating partnerships to implement those strategies. They include joint ventures between the Welsh Development Agency and local councils and community initiatives under the community revival strategies. There is the potential for partnerships with the training and enterprise councils, the Welsh Development Agency, the private sector, local enterprise agencies and the various voluntary bodies as well as local authorities.
§ Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)
When the Secretary of State referred to the uniqueness of the valleys initiative, was he referring to the University of Wales report which shows that, after substantial investigation, it could not see an additional one penny of new public investment into the valleys?
§ Mr. Hunt
Rather than picking some of the remarks out of context, I would ask the hon. Gentleman to examine the whole report, which welcomed what the programme has done for the valleys.
Because I have been encouraged by what has happened so far—I commend my predecessor for his initiative and, indeed, another predecessor, now Lord Crickhowell, for some of the programmes that he initiated—I am announcing today that there will be a new five-year programme for the valleys which will build on the success of the original programme and provide a framework to give co-ordinated support to local strategies.
The new programme will need a clear statement of direction and I propose to give it just that. First, I want the programme to create long-term sustainable employment of improved quality; secondly, I want to make that employment accessible to all people through education, training and transport facilities; thirdly, I want the programme to support and strengthen local communities; fourthly, I want to improve and maintain the environment both as an attraction to business and tourism, but especially for the benefit of the people of the valleys; fifthly, I want to see national health service resources targeted more effectively in the valleys to improve further the health of local people; and sixthly, I want to maximize 44 the extent to which those aims are achieved by local people taking the lead in partnership with central and local government and the private and voluntary sectors.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for financing projects in the valleys. Why is there still a block on the RECHAR money? We desperately need the additional investment. It is new European money. About £20 million a year has been earmarked for the rundown coal and steel areas. Why is there still a problem with releasing those funds?
§ Mr. Hunt
I am not aware of the problem. At my next meeting with the Commissioner, Bruce Millan, I shall raise the hon. Gentleman's point. As he knows, the European programmes are enormously beneficial to Wales and a genuine addition to what we might otherwise be able to do. He will also know from the departmental report that I am providing money in the coming year to match substantially the grants from the European regional fund.
The majority of the actions initiated under the programme for the valleys will continue under the new programme. Most of all, the new programme must draw on the strengths of the valleys in tackling problems. I want to see some of the creative thinking that has come out of the valleys—for example, on industrial villages and the creation of a valleys forum—taken forward in the context of the new programme. I make that absolutely clear.
I know that many political parties have made their proposals. I am considering the best way to ensure that their ideas are taken forward in the context of the new programme and I am willing to see any hon. Members who wish to discuss that further with me.
§ Mr. Hain
I am grateful for a second opportunity to ask the Secretary of State a question. I welcome his support for the principle of industrial villages. May I ask him to put flesh on the bones of that announcement, especially the amount of hard cash with which he is willing to back the new initiative? It is clear that the previous valleys initiative programme simply recycled existing funds. We need a massive new injection of investment and jobs which will cost millions of pounds. That money is available in the £300 million which is wasting away financing people on the dole, but which could be recycled into regenerating the valley communities.
§ Mr. Hunt
I acknowledge that the proposal has come from the hon. Gentleman, among others. I welcome the chance to put flesh on his bones and the bones of his proposal and I shall be working hard to do just that.
It is always a question of resources. I argue within the context of government for an appropriate level of resources for Wales. Equally, I hope that the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) will acknowledge that it is necessary to get the structure of the programme right—that is what I will seek to do—and then to justify the resources which can be applied in the direction of the valleys.
The hon. Gentleman will also recognise that over the five-year period provision was made for a figure of £800 million, which considerably exceeds the level of programme which would otherwise have been implemented in the valleys area.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, especially as it is the second opportunity that he has given me. He listed his six objectives for what he describes as his further initiative. Am I wrong in thinking 45 that he did not mention housing in the list, even though it is a comprehensive statement of desirable purposes in many respects?
Given the great housing need of many families, especially young people, in the valley communities and the fact that, by building and improving dwellings for families, he would be making a real attack on unemployment in the valleys, does not he think that priority should be given to housing? In common with the rest of Wales, unemployment in the valleys has increased by 67 per cent. in the time that he has been the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Hunt
The right hon. Gentleman is right, but there are a number of policy areas which I did not mention as such. I was seeking to give a clear direction to the programme which includes a number of areas. Of course, housing is important and that is why a substantial amount of public money is going into the home renovation grants system. That system has done a great deal to improve some homes and houses in the valleys. Of course, it will form an important part of the new programme.
In the next financial year the resources for the WDA's urban development programme will be increased to £13 million—up from £10 million this year. I am increasing the resources available for private sector urban developments through urban investment grant for Wales as a whole from £4.2 million this year to £6.6 million next year. I shall actively promote the take-up of that grant in the valleys. I shall also make available additional resources to launch another round of the community revival strategy competition.
§ Mr. Rogers
The Secretary of State mentioned putting money into the valley communities and the various structures and organisations that he intends to set up. Would not it be better for him to follow the example of one of his predecessors, who put far more substantial amounts of money into house repair grants than at present" I pay tribute to that Government initiative back in 1982, 1983 and 1984. But after that, the tap was closed. As a result, it is enormously difficult to revitalise our old housing stock.
If the Secretary of State wants to put people back to work, house repair grants would be a quick way of doing it. A great deal of skilled labour such as bricklayers, carpenters and so on is available. Those people could immediately get on with the job of refurbishing our housing stock.
§ Mr. Hunt
It is good of the hon. Gentleman to acknowledge the validity of the arguments that were rehearsed extensively in the 1983 general election. Under my right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Sir Wyn Roberts), the Welsh Office spent more in one year on housing repair than the Labour Government spent throughout their five years in office. It is good of the hon. Gentleman to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend. He is right to stress housing repair grants. I was able to provide £80 million of additional moneys to bring the investment up to £143 million in one year for the whole of Wales under the home renovation grant scheme.
§ Mr. Rogers
I am happy to pay a full tribute to the Minister of State for his efforts back in 1983. I know that some of its significance was due to the fact that an election was approaching. It was odd that the tap was closed the following year. Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking to open the tap of money for repair grants?
§ Mr. Ainger
Is the Secretary of State aware that certainly in Preseli, Pembrokeshire and South Pembrokeshire, while the grants available have been increased, there is still an enormous backlog of applications? The applications have been processed by the two district councils, but because funds are not available, people who may have paid their architect hundreds of pounds have to wait up to two years before their grant is completed and they receive the money to pay the architect. It is a serious problem. I have written to the Under-Secretary on the issue.
§ Mr. Hunt
I have given a high profile to private sector home renovation through special help for councils in Wales since the new grant system was introduced in 1990. I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman paid tribute to that. By the end of 1992–93, the special help will have amounted to some £660 million. In the next financial year alone, more than £145 million is available for mandatory renovation grants, with more than £26 million for disabled facilities grants, minor works assistance and other grants. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that a great deal of money is being made available. I recognise that in certain parts of Wales a backlog is building up. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I are considering the matter, but we have made available substantial funds.
In response to the point of the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), I remind the House that in the next financial year the Housing for Wales programme will be at the record level of some £190 million, of which the capital element will be £130 million. I am confident that Housing for Wales will be able to achieve and even exceed its objective of 4,000 new homes this year.
We also have the record capital programme to which I referred earlier. It includes substantial health capital programmes. Two significant developments are the publication last December of "Caring for the Future", the 10-year strategic plan for NHS Wales, and the establishment from 1 April this year of the next 13 NHS trusts. On 1 April the Care in the Community programme will begin. I expect there to be more than 40 GP fund holders in April this year. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, more patients than ever before are being treated by NHS Wales. That demonstrates the success of health authorities.
I must emphasise another golden thread running through the Government's work in developing services For the people of Wales. It is our commitment to enhancing Welsh culture and developing even greater use of the Welsh language. That commitment is clearly demonstrated by the introduction of the Welsh Language Bill, which received its Third Reading in another place last week. The Bill is wide in scope and ambitious in its goals. 47 It establishes the principle that English and Welsh should be dealt with on an equal basis throughout the public sector.
The Welsh Language Board will be established on a statutory basis. It will produce guidelines to illustrate how public bodies should give practical and consistent effect to that principle, subject only to what is appropriate and reasonably practicable.
§ Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
Does the Secretary of State recognise that if the Bill is to have any substantial effect, the Welsh Language Board will require substantial resources to produce its guidelines promptly and vet the development programmes, plans and schemes of various bodies? Is he prepared to ensure that the resources are available for that body?
§ Mr. Hunt
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we provide the Welsh Language Board with resources at present. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has always sought to do everything that he can to increase the amount of grant to support the Welsh language. As I said, the Bill will place the board on a statutory footing. It will have wide-ranging advisory powers and its function will be to promote the Welsh language. That duty is deliberately drawn in broad terms to meet the Government's aim of strengthening the position of the Welsh language wherever it is spoken.
However, I shall never tire of emphasising that the Welsh language will ultimately stand or fall in the pubs, shops and homes of Wales, not on the statute book alone. We have done and are doing everything that we can. The conditions are now propitious and the signs throughout Wales are highly encouraging. Our Bill, supported by the good will of the people of Wales, could transform the standing of the Welsh language for generations to come.
To end any uncertainty that there may be about the status that we intend the language to enjoy, part Ill of the Bill removes legal obstacles to the use of Welsh and legislative provisions which have been construed as giving Welsh a secondary status. That includes repeal of the remaining provisions of the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542.
§ Mr. Hunt
No, my right hon. Friend was not Minister of State then, although I can imagine why the hon. Gentleman said that.
The Bill joins a range of Welsh language measures that the Government have introduced. It will safeguard and strengthen the position of the Welsh language for a long time to come.
§ Mr. Rogers
The Secretary of State said that the Bill is designed to enhance the Welsh language, which has a secondary role in some areas of Welsh life. I am not happy with the Bill's proposals, however, because I do not believe that they go far enough. Unless some sort of legislative binding is introduced, the Welsh language will not be used in the various circumstances that the Secretary of State mentioned.
The Welsh language, however, is in a primary position in Wales in relation to certain jobs. I am greatly concerned that 90 per cent. of my constituents are precluded from 48 applying for jobs in the media and other Welsh organisations, such as the Welsh Arts Council, simply because they do not speak Welsh. The only answer is for the Secretary of State to provide more resources for translation and interpretative services so that the people in the valley communities can apply for those jobs that are now exclusively awarded to a small elite in Wales.
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Gentleman and his constituents need have no fear; we do not discriminate. The hon. Gentleman will understand that, obviously, for certain jobs Welsh is a requirement, but the vast majority of jobs in the public sector and with other bodies do not insist upon that requirement. The increasing use of translation facilities is a good thing, but it is expensive. One must always bear in mind the priority that one accords to resources. However, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point and I would not seek to undermine it.
I hope that the debate will offer a range of constructive, positive suggestions from all sides of the House. This is an important day for Wales. I hope that it will be a happy St. David's day and that we will hear many innovative and imaginative proposals.
I believe that the background is extremely good for Wales to do what most economic commentators now expect it to do—lead the United Kingdom out of recession. I want everyone in the House to agree with me that that should be our aim and that we should go for growth.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
There is no doubt about the desire of the Labour party to ensure that policies take Wales out of recession. The Secretary of State will know that we have put various proposals to the Welsh Office on ways which we believe the valley communities can lead Wales out of the recession and into growth. I am grateful that the right hon. Gentleman's comprehensive speech showed that he has at least read the document that his private office was so desperately anxious to get from me.
§ Mr. David Hunt
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that I rarely complain, but I read about that document in the press last week and I have been pressing his office to send me a copy ever since. It arrived just a few hours ago with a compliment slip. I welcome it none the less, but I hope that he does not expect me to have read it already.
§ Mr. Davies
That is funny, because that is precisely the time that I had this afternoon to consider the right hon. Gentleman's document on local government reform. Perhaps the Secretary of State now understands the difficulty that we face. I am glad he now has our document.
In the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech he offered a glimmer of hope when he understood that a new initiative was needed for the valleys. It was nothing more than a glimmer of hope, however, because the right hon. Gentleman was short of detail on that initiative when he was challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) on the central question of funding. He did not say if any new funding would be made available.
We shall certainly support any worthwhile intiative, but the Secretary of State must understand that the responsibility for getting Wales out of recession and into 49 growth rests with him. No amount of fine words or encouragement from the Opposition will achieve that. We shall monitor progress on the valleys initiative carefully.
The right hon. Gentleman delivered a comprehensive speech, but it represented a departure from the normal Welsh day debates. I have read the previous speeches by the Secretary of State and his predecessor carefully and, normally, he treated us to the good-news offensive or the good-news initiative. In the past, the Secretary of State has announced some startling new initiatives and new programmes to be funded by the Government, and announced new jobs created by the Government and the private sector. Regrettably, no such announcements were made today. The right hon. Gentleman gave a fairly low-key speech. I listened carefully when he talked about the Marshals' announcement, which he made to the Welsh Grand Committee on 1 February. We had a fine debate on that then.
Although the right hon. Gentleman spoke about the Welsh Economic Council, he did not say whether it would comply with the promise given in the election manifesto that, in future, it would include representatives of the trade union movement and local authorities of Wales. That is the proposition that the right hon. Gentleman put to the electorate in Wales at the general election, but just a few months later he retreated from it.
We also heard about the Welsh Development Agency and of the new £50 million to be made available for property redevelopment. However, that money was included in the public expenditure plans that the right hon. Gentleman has already trailed. The Secretary of State may disagree, but there is no new money. I would be more than happy to have a discussion with him about recycling old money.
The Secretary of State has done today what he has done consistently; he announced, re-announced and re-announced yet again the statement about financing for the Welsh Development Agency. But that is not equivalent to new money. That expenditure was included in the public expenditure plans that were subject to considerable comment many weeks ago.
The right hon. Gentleman made such an announcement to divert attention from the central issue. I am sure that is why, at considerable inconvenience to many hon. Members, he chose today to make a statement about local government reform. There was absolutely no reason for that statement today because we shall be debating the issue next week. The document could have been produced tomorrow or on Wednesday so that local government representatives could have been consulted. He could have complied with the undertaking that he gave to the leaders of the Welsh authorities about having discussions with them about his proposals before they were announced. The right hon. Gentleman knew that he had nothing new to announce today, so he wanted to distract attention from that fact by making the statement about local government reform.
If there is one single issue that is clouding every aspect of Welsh life it is unemployment. Twelve months ago, 122,500 people in Wales were unemployed; today, more than 134,000 people are unemployed, which is equivalent to an increase of 9.5 per cent. Every day since our debate last year, while the Secretary of State has held on to his job, 32 people have lost their own. Unemployment is a symptom of past failure and the cause of the present failure of the right hon. Gentleman's economic policies. It 50 is blighting the national economy of Wales, it is undermining the health of our communities and it is wasting the talents of thousands of our people.
The right hon. Gentleman may want to ignore unemployment or to disguise the reality of it, but, as year follows year, it becomes ever clearer that constant high unemployment is a fact of economic life under the Conservative Government. Even allowing for the manipulation of the figures, a comparison of the unemployment rate under each year of Labour Government with each year of Conservative Government since 1965 is dramatic. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), let me say that the unemployment rate was lower in every year of a Labour Government than the lowest figure achieved under a Conservative Government. The highest rate of unemployment in Wales under a Labour Government was 5.7 per cent. in 1978; the lowest rate of unemployment under a Conservative Government was 6.6 per cent. in 1990.
Throughout most of the 1980s the rate of unemployment in Wales was in double figures. Those figures were put to the Secretary of State at the last meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee and I should like to put a further point to him today.
High levels of unemployment are either a conscious act of policy by the Government or the inevitable consequence of the disastrous policies followed by the Government. Whatever the answer, it is unacceptable. After 15 years of continuous government—history did not start in 1985, as the Secretary of State suggested by the statistics that he gave us today—billions of pounds from North sea oil and gas, and the one-off windfall receipts from privatisation, the position is doubly unacceptable. No amount of synthetic compassion will divert attention from the fact that the Government are responsible for the 94 per cent. increase in unemployment since 1979, and the fact that it is now costing the Welsh economy 35 million working days every year at a cost to the Welsh economy of £1.2 billion a year.
§ Mr. Richards
I am a little concerned that the House may rely too heavily on the statistics and data given by the hon. Gentleman. He may recall that on 10 February in the Welsh Grand Committee he gave figures on unemployment and made comparisons with European countries, and I asked him:Is he comparing like with like when he compares this country with others?"—[Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 10 February 1993; c. 18.]He replied in the affirmative. The research division of the Library—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is anticipating a speech that he may wish to make later, but not now.
§ Mr. Davies
It was a lengthy reply, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take the trouble to read the whole of it.
This year, the Secretary of State said, in his new year's message to the people of Wales in the Cardiff Herald & Post:there are now clear signs that better times are on the way.There is precious little evidence of that, and it certainly will not happen if the Secretary of State continues to follow the policies that he has followed so far. He is a member of a Government with no strategy for those better times. When recovery does come—if it does—it will be despite 51 Government policy, not because of it. We may eventually limp out of recession on the back of a low pound and lower interest rates, but if we do it will be due to the failure of Government policy on black Wednesday.
The worrying fact is that there are no mechanisms in place to build a sustained recovery. Much of our industry has been destroyed by past policy, and what remains is weakened by under-investment, a neglected infrastructure and an under-skilled work force.
In the same new year message, the Secretary of State said that he hadlaid the foundation for our future prosperity.He also predicted the following:as spring follows winter, day follows night and Rowland Rat brought a new dawn for breakfast time T.V., economic recovery will certainly come.It is no surprise that no one in Wales believes that. Rowland Rat might have brought a new dawn to TV-am, but the Government's policy soon put a stop to that. The sun set on puppet Rowland when TV-am lost its franchise last year. We can laugh about that at the Secretary of State's expense, but his policies are not much of a laughing matter for the people of Wales.
The cycle of unemployment and recession can be broken by a programme of strategic investment and by building on the partnership between the private and public sectors. The Secretary of State may talk a lot about partnership, but clearly he does not understand its meaning. How can he talk about partnership when he has undermined local government to such an extent that it is unable to play its full part in joint ventures with the Government and the private sector.
Blaenau Gwent's programme of urban regeneration was almost wiped out by the Secretary of State's recent revenue support grant settlement, despite the fact that the Welsh Development Agency provides 80 per cent. of the money for that programme. In Mid Glamorgan, all the capital programme has been wiped out by the same RSG settlement, including much-needed infrastructure investment.
Last week's unemployment rate reached 10.6 per cent. nationally. In some of our communities in Wales the figure is double the national rate. In the valleys of south Wales, unemployment—in reality a claimant count—is as high as 25 per cent., and everyone now accepts that real unemployment rates are much higher. If we take the claimant count and add to it the figure for economic inactivity—those out of work and not seeking work—we obtain a figure for male unemployment locally of about 40 per cent. Despite being given every opportunity, the Secretary of State has given no sign of what he intends to do about such high levels of real unemployment. The latest available figures from the 1991 census show that the inactivity rate for males aged between 16 and 64 jumped from 12.5 per cent. in 1981 to almost 19 per cent.—one in four for men of working age—in 1991.
The Secretary of State claims that Wales has not suffered as badly as the rest of the United Kingdom from increases in unemployment, but that is not true. A comparison of increases in unemployment since the beginning of the recession shows that, while Scotland's jobless rate increased by 26 per cent., Northern Ireland's 52 and the northern region's both increased by 41 per cent. and the north-west's increased by 46 per cent., Wales' unemployment rate grew by 62 per cent.
However, unemployment is not a problem in isolation. Regions of high unemployment are associated with regions of low wages, poor working conditions and part-time work. All those factors mean that less money circulates in the local economy. Mid Glamorgan has the lowest levels of per capita gross domestic product and household income of any county in the United Kingdom. When less money circulates in the economy, local businesses and services lose jobs.
What is the Government's latest offering to help our beleaguered communities? They place right at the heart of Government policy measures that will further undermine the lowest paid and most vulnerable, take up parliamentary time, cause offence to the public and serve no useful purpose. The Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill has a benign enough title, but is a measure to abolish the wages councils and remove from more than 109,000 of the lowest-paid workers in Wales the meagre protection that they presently enjoy. Even if the effect of that measure was to reduce the wages of the low paid by 20p an hour, the loss in spending power to the Welsh economy would be more than £390,000 a week, or £20 million a year. The lowest paid are concentrated in the poorest regions. The Secretary of State will be adding misery to already heavily deprived communities. Wales has the lowest average earnings for men in full-time employment of any region in the United Kingdom.
The Government place right at the heart of their policy taking away part-time employment. They are alienating themselves in international opinion through their manic determination to opt out of the social chapter. That chapter does not affect wage rates, bargaining procedures or trade union rights, but confers some small measure of employment protection. Why should not a single market with common laws on finance, trade, consumer protection and travel have common measures to offer some protection to working people? The Government say that Britain cannot enjoy such measures. Unique among all those in Europe, we cannot afford them. They are okay for the Germans, French, Italians, Irish and the rest, but the British economy is in such a desperate state that the Government cannot afford to give British citizens the same protection.
§ Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the abolition of the wages councils, far from reducing the amount of money available in the Welsh economy, will increase it by increasing the number of jobs at the margin?
§ Mr. Davies
No, I do not accept that. There is no clearer sign of the failure and waste of the past 14 years than the Government's fear of these minimal measures of protection for low-paid Welsh workers. The absence of decent, regular full-time employment, without even the prospect of such employment, will have ever increasing social consequences.
The Secretary of State for Wales has not even begun to count the cost of his policies, which have led to the progressive casualisation of employment. The reduction of full-time jobs and the knock-down impact on pensions, decent conditions and rights of employment, both in the 53 private sector and increasingly in the public services, will have growing social consequences throughout Wales, and especially for the valley communities.
During the past decade Wales has suffered a decline compared with the rest of the United Kingdom and Europe. The recession places additional burdens on local authorities, because they have to house the homeless, provide support for the unemployed and disadvantaged and care for the poor and the elderly. If we are to get out of the slump it will be in no small measure due to public expenditure on infrastructure, new roads, development programmes and investment in education and training. It will also come about by providing jobs in the building of new homes, schools, roads and environmental improvements.
Government policies are hostile to democratically accountable local authorities, which can be the key to the regeneration process. Education and health are two vital services which vividly demonstrate the Government's approach. It is intended to take away service provision from local democratically accountable structures and to push through unpopular opt-out reforms. Of course, they have been a miserable failure. Wales's first NHS trust, in Pembrokeshire, saw its waiting list soar within months of being set up, and across the Principality other applications for trust status have been bitterly opposed by the communities that they serve. Only last week it was revealed that two-year waiting lists have shown the patients charter to be nothing but a sham.
The number of schools in Wales has been cut and class sizes have been increased throughout the sector. The Government threaten and bully and talk of the need to reduce surplus places. What happens when local authorities try to comply? There is no better example than what happened in Cwmcarn. The places are possibly surplus to the requirements of the LEA, but they are ideal for the Government. They are not surplus to their requirements, because they needed just such schools to opt out, to allow the Welsh Office to arrogate even more power to itself.
Meanwhile, quangos multiply and flourish, while elected authorities, responsible and accountable to the public and with high standards of financial propriety—ensured through internal and external audit, arid full public scrutiny—are denied essential resources. Quangos in Wales now control more than ,£1.4 billion of public expenditure—but they do not represent the communities over which they have so much influence.
Over the past year public disquiet has grown about the cynical way in which the Secretary of State for Wales uses his power of appointment to increase the political power of the Conservative party in Wales. I do not need to remind anyone that the constituency secretary of the Under-Secretary of State was appointed to the board of South Glamorgan health authority but was forced to resign in the public outcry that followed.
Twelve months ago Ian Grist was a devoted Back-Bench supporter of the Government. The voters of Cardiff, Central did not show much devotion to him, and they booted him out at the general election. Now, he is the chair of South Glamorgan area health authority. Rejected by the voters, appointed by the Tories—that is what public life in Wales in 1993 is all about.
§ Mr. Davies
Indeed. It occurs to me that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) owed his whole existence in public life before he was elected to this place to the patronage of the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Sweeney
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the appointment of Mr. Ian Grist as chairman of the South Glamorgan health authority reflected his ability and experience, and that it was therefore a highly suitable appointment of which no criticism should be made?
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Gentleman should understand that my colleagues and I saw the then Member for Cardiff, Central, Mr. Grist, here in the House, so we fully appreciated all his abilities. Wherever the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) intervenes, I am forcefully struck by how well served the voters of his constituency were by John P. Smith.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. Davies
I will give way to the Minister, but I must warn him that his hon. Friends are queuing up behind him.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
I am glad to hear that they are. Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the point about the non-departmental public bodies, does he acknowledge that there has been a net increase of only three quangos since we took office—quangos of an executive character? Also, will he deal with some of the appointments made to the 16 quangos that existed in the days of the Labour Government?
§ Mr. Davies
The fact is that three trusts have been established in the course of this year. We have only to look at the thrust of Government policy to see what is going on. The measures to reform the national health service are designed to promulgate further quangos. The Education Bill, now going through the House, is deliberately designed to strip away from elected education authorities responsibility for the strategic management of education. That responsibility will go directly to a new quango being established by the Welsh Office. The whole purpose of Government policy is to take power to the Welsh Office —and I understand why. The Tories will never win elected power in Wales. The only way that they can exercise power there is by appointment and by patronage. That serves only to strengthen the argument for an assembly to democratise our public life—an argument that is growing apace in Wales.
Why does not the Secretary of State want democratically elected local government to bring together in partnership private and public sector interests? Who knows better than the communities themselves what needs to be done and how the regeneration process can begin? The Secretary of State talks of partnership and consensus with local government. What he means by consensus is, "I decide, you abide." Why does he not have a strategy for revival? Why does he not listen to the advice he has given and give an immediate boost to jobs by a programme of 55 housing, construction and repair—the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers)? Why does he not put the building industry back on its feet, get the homeless off the streets and give families homes of their own? He could do these things tomorrow if he had the political will.
Why does the right hon. Gentleman not restore the successive cuts that he has made to local services and allow the provision of services determined by communities within communities? Why does he not put in place the ingredients for long-term economic recovery: training and skills development, innovation, nurturing indigenous industry, and a supply initiative of real value to integrate our manufacturing economy? Instead he has cut the training and enterprise councils' budgets for youth training by 8.5 per cent. and employment training by more than 10 per cent. The Treasury discount rate makes borrowing from the WDA prohibitive for innovative enterprises while the Welsh Office supply initiative has little chance of success while training and innovation are starved of funding.
In a Welsh Office press release on 15 February the Secretary of State claimed:The central responsibility of the Welsh Office is, without doubt, to enhance the economic strength of Wales.That is true, but he will not fulfil that responsibility with his present policies. Unveiling the Welsh Office spending plans for next year the Secretary of State cut housing expenditure by £23 million in cash terms alone. Spending on industry, employment and training was cut by £24 million and roads, transport and infrastructure also suffered. Those services are vital for regeneration and are the means by which we can pull ourselves out of recession.
The Secretary of State's job is to represent the people of Wales in the Cabinet, not to represent the Cabinet in Wales, but it was the President of the Board of Trade who announced pit closures in Wales. I am told that that was much to the Secretary of State's surprise because no one told him. It was the President of the Board of Trade who announced that he would redraw the map for assisted area status in Wales and it was the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who announced cuts in the hill livestock compensatory allowance, threatening the very existence of economic activity in the Welsh uplands.
When the Secretary of State for Wales gets around to making a decision for the people of Wales he always seems to make the wrong one. When he was given the training and enterprise councils by the Secretary of State for Employment his first act was to cut their budgets. However, in a Welsh Office press release issued on 11 February last year to launch the White Paper entitled "People, Jobs and Opportunity" he said:People, jobs and opportunities are at the heart of our work to make Wales prosper. I have always laid great stress upon that most valuable resource—the skills of our people.Those are fine words but they are followed by destructive actions. If the Secretary of State understands what needs to be done, why on earth does he not do it?
In the absence of positive action to get Wales back to work, the Government are building a dependency culture. Communities are unable, although willing, to work and they have no alternative but to turn wholesale to derisory state benefits which serve only to break the confidence of communities that are already under siege from economic 56 decline. The 1991 census for Mid Glamorgan reveals that 22.2 per cent. of households with dependent children had no adult in work and depended on unemployment benefit as the sole source of income. That benefit is one of the lowest in Europe and it is widely recognised that it is not enough to live on.
Recent research by the Joseph Rowntree trust concluded that income support meets only about two thirds of the budget that is needed to sustain a family with children in a modest lifestyle and that even with family credit incomes would be too low. I shall give three examples. Since 1979 homelessness in Wales has increased by 109 per cent., male suicides by 19 per cent. and divorce by 19.6 per cent. Families and whole communities come under the strain of economic decline. For me the most tragic and dramatic evidence of the cost is the mounting toll of vandalism and lawlessness. Now the Government promise a crackdown on crime. Tough sentences without tough remedies for their causes are, they say, the answer. They are too ashamed of their record to acknowledge the link between poor health, crime and vandalism, educational under-achievement and unemployment. Those problems are epidemics and, like the health epidemics of Victorian times, they will not be stopped until the causes have been identified and eradicated. Only the British Prime Minister, facing a crisis of his party's own making, can tell us that we need less understanding. It is the greed and prejudice of Tory philosophy which has got us into this state. No wonder they do not want people to understand.
§ Mr. Rogers
My hon. Friend is right in imputing the smell of hypocrisy to the Prime Minister's proposals for a crackdown on crime. Welsh Members in the South Wales police authority area know that when that authority applied for 40 extra constables the year before last it did not get even one. It has received a derisory amount for every application. The trouble with the Government is that they do not put their money where their mouth is.
§ Mr. Davies
My hon. Friend is correct and he reminds me of a further matter which we see clearly in his constituency—the growth of vigilante groups. That is a clear illustration of how communities who feel that they are under siege are losing confidence in the ability of the authorities to maintain law and order on our streets.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes
My hon. Friend is naturally concerned about the welfare of the family. Has he noticed the speculation in the press and the media generally, some of which has apparently been inspired, about the possibility of VAT on food? What effect would that have on poorer families in Wales?
§ Mr. Davies
It is clear that that would be a further burden. When the Government were desperately trying to get out of the poll tax fiasco, they had no compunction about increasing VAT by 2.5 per cent. across the board. The Secretary of State was the architect of that. We all know that that has had a devastating impact. Any further VAT increase, especially if VAT is imposed on items that are currently zero rated, would be devastating for the poorer people in our communities. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery wishes to intervene about the police, in which he has a particular interest. I happily give way to him.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
I echo the hon. Gentleman's comments about crime, which is a matter of great concern, and about the Government's attitude. Does he share my suspicion that the Government want to dismember some efficient police forces in Wales in order to save money, and that what they say about crime and what they do about it are often far distant?
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a powerful case to which I cannot add much. He will have seen the valuable research developed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) which graphically demonstrates how the Government are long on words and short on action.
During the past 15 years the Government have vilified and undermined all the social institutions that help to keep the fabric of society together and who dare to speak out against Government policy, be they trade unions, local authorities, churches or chapels. The Government now try to tell us that there is no such thing as community, echoing Lady Thatcher's words that there is no such thing as society. The individual is all, they say. They are wrong, and the evidence is all around us.
Since 1980, violence against the person has increased by 113 per cent., burglary by 63 per cent., robbery by 61 per cent. and criminal damage by 154 per cent. The numbers convicted of drug abuse have increased by over 20 per cent. Those are all symptoms of the growing social malaise afflicting our society.
§ Mr. Flynn
Does my hon. Friend agree that a further example of the undermining of our public health services is that at this very moment Gwent area health authority is trying to persuade BUPA to take 50 operations in plastic surgery that could be carried out at Chepstow? Surgeons there are angry that before 1 April when the Glanhafren trust is set up this could be a way in which BUPA could profit from the continued underfunding of the health service in Gwent.
§ Mr. Davies
That point is relevant to the case that I was making earlier about quangos and the way in which the national health service is being restructured to take powers out of democratically accountable bodies and put them into the hands of the private sector. We know that that will always be ineffective.
Let me return to the problem of crime. The Tories will always claim that they spend more on the police, but that is not true. While crime rates have rocketed, we in Wales have had proportionally lower policing levels since 1979. The South Wales constabulary, for example, has experienced a 138 per cent. increase in crime levels since 1979, while policing levels have increased by a mere 3 per cent. compared with a 6.7 per cent. increase in England and Wales as a whole—an increase that is higher than that in every one of the Welsh constabularies. Dyfed-Powys police experienced a 132 per cent. increase in crime since 1979, but only a 1 per cent. increase in policing levels.
All that, and the Prime Minister tells us that we need to condemn a little more and understand a little less. What we need is not less but more understanding. Do the Government not understand why crime has increased so much in the past 15 years? The poorest, most vulnerable communities, which are condemned by the Prime Minister and have suffered most under the Government, understand why, because they have to live with the reality of Government policies every day of their lives.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson
When he looks at the effect, of public expenditure cuts on the crime budget, will my hon. Friend look not only at the freeze on police numbers but at the long saga of our attempts to get a secure unit in south-west Wales?
§ Mr. Davies
Again, all that I can say is that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth has demonstrated clearly the Government's failure, despite repeated promises, to make adequate provision for persistent young offenders.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
The House should be aware that a joint Welsh Office-West Glamorgan working group is now engaging consultants to find a site to establish a secure unit.
§ Mr. Davies
That promise was made two years ago—two years in which those persistent offenders who should have been receiving the proper treatment for whatever affliction causes them to be the menace that they are to society were left to themselves. Our communities in Wales have suffered from that recurring menace while the right hon. Gentleman and the Welsh Office have done nothing.
§ Mr. Davies
The Minister cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that everything is in hand because the Welsh Office is planning and discussing and will fund a project and then say, when he full knows that local authorities are underfunded, that it is their responsibility. What he and his Secretary of State have to understand is that if they follow policies that recreate mass unemployment and impoverished communities that waste the potential of individuals, nobody should be surprised at the consequences. Their policies beget poverty and deprivation and poverty and deprivation breed crime and alienation. We need no lectures on morality from a party whose very policies have created those evils.
We do not need a knee-jerk reaction from Tory Members who neither understand nor care, or a reintroduction of the short, sharp shock, which failed, or locking young criminals away into a prison culture. We need a policy that tackles the problem at its heart. We must re-examine our communities, we must break the cycle of unemployment, poverty and deprivation—all the things that lead to the breakdown of community spirit and precipitate the growth of violence. There is no sign from the Secretary of State that he has even started to understand the nature of the task that he faces.
§ 6.4 pm
§ Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)
I have sat here listening to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) for some time now and have had a severe attack of déjà vu. Before I go any further, let me say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how gratifying it is that you are wearing the national emblem of Wales in your lapel.
On 10 February, when the Welsh Grand Committee debated unemployment in Wales, I said:The hon. Member for Caerphilly said that the Labour party had an economic strategy to reduce unemployment in Wales. I listened with great interest to his speech. When he sat down, I was amazed that he had not said a word about strategy or job creation.I am equally amazed now, if not even more so, because on that occasion the hon. Gentleman said: 59Indeed, we have a strategy, and I look forward to the debate on Wales that we shall have on the Floor of the House on 1 March, and to one or two events before that. I shall explain, in as much detail as the Secretary of State or the hon. Gentleman wants, the course of action that should be followed.We have not heard a word about strategy. The hon. Gentleman has not offered any details. If he would like to summarise his strategy now, I would be more than happy to give way.
§ Mr. Ron Davies
I will happily do that. I spent some time explaining in full detail what those proposals were. I have even sent a copy of them to the Secretary of State for Wales and, if the hon. Gentleman would feel happier, I shall send him a copy as well. It is a 52-page document, which will take some reading, but it may help him to sleep at night.
§ Mr. Richards
The hon. Gentleman is clearly too embarrassed to summarise what is in the document.
I have said before that the House should not rely on the data that the hon. Gentleman presents to it. In the debate on 10 February, I intervened in the hon. Gentleman's speech to ask him whether the average wage statistic that he quoted included overtime. I also asked:Is he comparing like with like when he compares this country with others?"—[Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 10 February 1993; c. 18–31.)He replied, "Of course I am." I asked the statistical section of the research division of the House of Commons Library—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that it is impartial—about the statistics that he quoted then and again today. It said:International comparisons of social security are fraught with difficulty. For example, unemployed people in the UK do not just receive unemployment benefit but they can also receive income support (which can include help with mortgage payments), housing benefit, community charge benefit and national insurance credits … Thus looking at the standard rate of unemployment benefit tells one little about the actual social security benefit being received by the unemployed. This problem is greatly magnified when one starts trying to make comparisons with 11 other countries where the benefit systems are equally complex.In other words, the data and statistics that the hon. Gentleman offered the House were spurious, and I believe that he knows that.
We hear much from Opposition parties about democracy and democratic rights. I want to expose the difference between what they say in public and what they do in practice. I could have chosen any one of several issues as examples, but, so as to be as fair as possible to them, I have chosen a subject that they claim is close to their hearts—education.
When enacted, the Education Bill will provide the framework for an education system that will take Wales into the next century and ensure that our children are equipped with the skills that will enable them to meet the demands of a new millennium. Against that background, I feel that it is important to discuss the role of Opposition parties in undermining the democratic choice of parents who want grant-maintained schools in Wales. Grant-maintained schools have provided the opportunity for teachers and parents to determine how a school is run and the quality of the education that is offered to the children who attend it. I am fortunate to have a school in my 60 constituency—Ysgol Emrys ap Iwan—that rose from under the yoke of local education authority control in January.
§ Mr. Richards
I should like to make some progress. I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman because he will drag my family into the debate, which I am not having.
I wish Ysgol Emrys ap Iwan the very best of good fortune as it forges a new path towards academic excellence.
Two other schools in my constituency have voted in favour of becoming grant maintained. They are Ysgol Uwchradd Eirias and Ysgol Pen-Y-Bryn. Unfortunately, both suffered from some devious tactics to undermine their wishes. In due course I shall shed some light on those tactics. A third school in my constituency, Ysgol Bryn Elian, is soon to ballot parents on grant-maintained status.
The critics of grant-maintained schools would do well to note recent figures that have been made available by the grant-maintained school centre, which is an informed and professional establishment. The figures show that, of the schools that have opted out, 100 per cent. of primaries and 77 per cent. of secondaries are employing more teachers. That means smaller class sizes, and smaller class sizes means more attention being given to the specific needs of each child.
More and more schools across Wales are starting to recognise the benefits that grant-maintained status allows them. Over the next few years we can expect to see more schools leaving the control of LEAs, providing that the LEAs discontinue their destructive campaign, which is motivated by self-interest. The Western Mail survey recently revealed that more than 100 schools have expressed an interest in opting out of council controls, despite the best efforts of the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, who has been urging his members to work within their communities to develop grass-root opposition to the Government's plan to allow schools to decide their own future.
A week or so ago, one of the Badge Messengers brought a green piece of paper to inform me in the Chamber that the National Union of Teachers in Clwyd wanted to lobby me. To my surprise, I found that the NUT's representative was no other than my Labour party opponent at the general election. He had come all the way from Rhyl to lobby me in the House. A supply teacher had to be found to fill his place at school while he came here to lobby me.
That is typical of the fossilised attitude that schools in my constituency have been confronted with time and time again. Those who seek to place road blocks in the way of progress do so for political reasons. They care little about the welfare of those they claim to represent. Unfortunately, we frequently see such displays of selfishness by Opposition Members.
I see the faces of many Opposition Members who have abused their position in the education system. They do not advance what is best for children. Instead, they teach what is best for their political ends. They have little interest in improving education because they are more concerned with keeping happy their union friends, who have helped to place them in the House. It is—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name them."] For example, the hon. Member for Caerphilly lists education as a special political interest. I browsed through 61 Hansard to see what contribution the hon. Gentleman had made to debates on education since his unfortunate election to the House in 1983. Not much is the short answer. By his own admission, his first contribution to an education debate was on 11 November 1992.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it open to an hon. Member to accuse other hon. Members of abuse of their position in the education system? The hon. Gentleman appears not to be a fast learner about what is and what is not parliamentary. He seems to be making a direct allegation of dishonesty and corruption. I submit that he should choose his words rather more honourably and carefully.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
The Chair would not tolerate any accusation of dishonesty or corruption, but there is the cut and thrust of debate, in which we seem to be engaging so far.
§ Mr. Davies
This is all part of the cut and thrust of debate. I think that all my right hon. and hon. Friends would recognise that the hon. Gentleman is an odious little man.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That is a bit too much thrust. I ask the hon. Member to withdraw the word "odious".
§ Mr. Davies
I thought that it was being sizeist that was causing you some concern, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If "odious" is not acceptable, I withdraw it. I wish to cause no offence to you, but the hon. Gentleman is a different matter.
As the hon. Gentleman has chosen to engage in some research on my behalf, I wish to put on record that prior to my election in 1983 I was a senior education officer with Mid Glamorgan county council. Quite properly, therefore, I maintained a close interest in education matters. From 1984 to 1987 I was a member of the Opposition Whips' Office. The hon. Gentleman will know that that places certain restraints on what one can and cannot do. Since 1987, I was an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on agriculture, which meant, quite reasonably, that I did not involve myself in education debates. If the hon. Gentleman researches the questions that I have asked, he will find that the position is entirely different.
§ Mr. Richards
The hon. Member for Caerphilly is well known as a hard cheese that has an odour of its own.
On 10 November 1992—of course, he has a special interest—the hon. Gentleman said:This is my first opportunity to take part in an education debate.That was after nine years. The hon. Gentleman then bored the House for well over 40 minutes with a garbled hotch-potch of accusations and demented mutterings to which we Welsh Members are accustomed. I am sure that it came as something of a shock to other hon. Members who were in the Chamber on that day. I have always believed that it is possible to learn something from the greatest fool on this earth, but the hon. Gentleman has made me change my mind.
62 I took particular exception to the hon. Gentleman's vicious and scurrilous attack on Cwmcarn school, which was as follows:I know where Cwmcarn school is. I taught a couple of miles up the road at Newbridge school.That was geography GCSE. The hon. Gentleman continued:I know, too, that that school is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn".The right hon. Gentleman is now, of course, no longer in his place. The hon. Member for Caerphilly then said:I also know that it would not have been granted permission to opt out. That decision had nothing to do with the educational merits of Cwmcarn school. It was an act of deliberate malice to try to embarrass the leader of the Labour party."—[Official Report, 10 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 770–75.]Really, the hon. Gentleman should not judge everybody by his own standards. I thank the hon. Member for Caerphilly for giving the House an insight into the twisted machinations of the socialist thought process. Indeed, if the Labour party ever returned to power, which is unlikely, it would conduct its education policy along party political lines, using the education system as a tool of socialist dogma, just as it has done in the past. I am glad that the Conservative party has no truck with such devious and evil scheming.
§ Mr. Llew Smith
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the examination results of Cwmcarn school are probably the worst in Wales and that the number of pupils is down to about 300?
§ Mr. Richards
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should judge the school after only two years of grant-maintained status?
§ Mr. Smith
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the community from which I come we have a quaint old tradition—it is that when people pose a question, an opportunity is given to answer it. Will the hon. Gentleman follow that fine tradition? He has asked me a question and he should give me an opportunity to answer it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that that has nothing to do with the Chair. I hope that we will have no more points of order of that sort.
§ Mr. Richards
The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) knows full well that the local education authority had run down the school for many years prior to its attaining grant-maintained status.
Cwmcarn attained GMS despite being the victim of a vicious campaign by Gwent education authority. Since attaining GMS the school's access to the feeder primary schools has been cut off, which is causing the school some hardship. However, it is overcoming these hardships because of the quality of education that it offers.
Gwent is waging a campaign of non-co-operation, thereby interfering with the education of children whose parents pay the community charge and have a right to have their wishes respected by Gwent county council. Indeed, I understand that the council has prevented the schools under its control from even playing games with Cwmcarn. The school has shown an amazing tolerance in the face of such an unjustified assault on its wish to choose grant-maintained status, even going as far as allowing 63 Gwent's attendance and careers officer access to its information files while being denied the reciprocal courtesy.
Cwmcarn is not alone in its struggle against hostile authorities that are terrified of having their shortcomings exposed for all to see. Caer Geiliog school in Ynys Môn has also suffered at the hands of Gwynedd county council and the nationalists who run it. It had an 80 per cent. vote in favour of GMS, but it has been subjected to a catalogue of abuse by an authority that refuses to acknowledge the wishes of the community.
While the school's application for GMS was being considered, the headmaster was approached by senior figures in the education department and offered a £30,000 lump sum, together with £11,000 per annum pension, which included six years enhancement, if he would slip away quietly. They even implied that he should feign sickness to retire early. After he refused that obscene offer, he was informed that if the school failed in its application for GMS he would be sacked.
Gwynedd education authority has allowed itself to be hijacked by the nationalist movement, to the detriment of the education needs of the children whom the authority is supposed to serve. Caer Geiliog has decided to leave the LEA's stranglehold as the headmaster and parents feel that no interest is being taken in the school's welfare because it is 95 per cent. English speaking. However, despite that, Her Majesty's inspectorate has recorded that the quality of written and spoken Welsh at the school is of a standard equal to that in schools where Welsh is the predominant language. That is purely as a result of the dedication of the headmaster and his staff to the importance of the Welsh language. In fact, the headmaster has previously been headmaster of a Welsh-speaking school.
Since the school's application for GMS, the headmaster has been threatened with physical violence, as has his wife and 10-year-old child. The chairman of the school's board of governors has lived in Wales for 20 years, but he has been told by nationalists to get out of Wales by 1 March —today, St. David's day—or be burnt out of his home. The irony is that his teenage daughter, who was born in Wales, shoots competitively for our national team.
What 1 also find distressing is the total lack of concern about such indefensible behaviour shown by the local Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Ynys Win (Mr. Jones), and his supporters, presumably called the Ynys moaners. They have failed to condemn the nationalists' actions.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. He is asking me to make a decision from the Chair, so it must be a matter on which I can give a ruling.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is correct to suggest that it is usual practice in this Chamber for an hon. Member to forewarn another hon. Member if he intends to mention him. It is also normal practice for the hon. Member to give way to the hon. Member whom he mentions if that hon. Member is in the Chamber. However, the decision rests entirely with the hon. Member who has the floor.
§ Mr. Richards
In fact, I did inform the hon. Member for Ynys Môn that I would raise the matter. He is not in his seat, which is a matter for him.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams
I am aware of the school to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, so I believe some of his comments. If he has definite evidence, will he make it public outside this House? On the point about the threats that have been made, I have met the chairman of the governing body and I can vouch for that. Similar threats have been made to three people in my constituency who have resisted compulsory Welsh medium education. In fact, they are standing up for the rights of English speakers to have an education in the English language, in the same way as we want Welsh speakers to have an education in the Welsh language. I ask my hon. Friends to listen carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Although I dismiss much of his earlier remarks, the comments relating to that particular school are important.
§ Mr. Richards
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for supporting the evidence that I have put before the House about the behaviour of some education authorities.
§ Mr. Dafis
The hon. Gentleman said that Gwynedd county council had fallen into the hands of the nationalists. Does he accept that those nationalists have had absolutely nothing to do with the threats to which he referred? They would condemn them, as we would all condemn them and just as much as the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) has condemned them.
§ Mr. Richards
I would like to know how the hon. Gentleman knows what all the nationalists in Gwynedd education authority are doing or thinking.
§ Mr. Richards
I will not make that differentiation, but I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that such threats have been made.
There are examples of other LEAs deliberately obstructing schools which are in the process of becoming grant maintained or which have achieved that status, but time prevents me from going into greater detail.
In my own constituency, Ysgol Pen-Y-Bryn voted on 14 December to become grant maintained by the overwhelming majority of nine to one in favour. Even after that resounding endorsement by parents to opt out of local authority control, Clwyd education department wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales 65 claiming that it had not been properly consulted. That claim was spurious, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will reject it.
Clwyd education authority has an unenviable record of opposing schools that express an interest in grant-maintained status. Two years ago, when Ysgol Emrys ap Iwan first balloted for GMS, the authority's behaviour was scandalous. Since 1978, it had been listed by Clwyd county council as a priority for building extension and refurbishment. Despite that status, numerous presentations and representations were made by the governors and parents to Clwyd LEA to highlight the decades of neglect in the maintenance of existing buildings—all to no avail.
During the first opt-out campaign in 1990, parents and teachers were unconditionally promised a £1 million building programme if the school did not opt out. Shortly after that school's unsuccessful attempt to opt out, the building programme became conditional on the sale of four hectares of its playing fields. Fortunately, the land remains in school and community use pending a decision on its disposal. I shall fight to ensure that the land remains with the school.
The final straw for Ysgol Emrys ap Iwan came in early 1992, when Clwyd education authority again delayed the building programme promised in 1990. The excuse given was lack of funds, but the real reason was political malice. Influenced primarily by the authority's failure again to deliver the promised programme, the school voted 91 per cent. in favour of opting out, and was accepted for GMS by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last December.
Similar interference has been experienced by other schools in Wales. When Brynmawr school in Gwent initially expressed a desire to opt out, the county council withdrew its support for projects currently under way and allowed the school's maintenance to lapse. In Penarth, Stenwell school, despite keeping the council informed throughout its first ballot, was forced to nullify that ballot and start the lengthy process again on a rather dubious technicality. The frustration that that caused prompted parents to take matters into their own hands a nd to conduct a parental petition to ensure that the school's wishes were respected by the LEA.
I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of Slate to ensure that such behaviour is not permitted to continue to the detriment of not only schools and children affected but those schools that are deciding whether or not to opt for GMS. Support must be given to all the schools that are suffering rabid and destructive opposition. Hostile authorities must not be allowed to undermine democracy and to play politics with the future of the children of Wales.
It is amusing that the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who is staring at the ceiling, said on the Second Reading of the Education Bill on 9 November 1992:The last thing they want"—meaning education experts—are grant-maintained schools in the south Wales valleys or in the inner parts of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport. Is it any wonder that of the 692 ballots for opt out in Britain only 121 came from Labour-controlled local authorities?"—[Official Report, 9 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 709.]What I say is that it is a wonder that so many applications came from Labour-controlled authorities when one considers that their bully boys were hard at work.
I have given many reasons why the number is so low, and the bully boys have certainly done their work in the 66 time-honoured fashion. Labour has never been particularly comfortable about allowing choice and freedom, and will do anything to deny it to the people. Who are the experts that the hon. Member for Torfaen so freely quoted? Are they the parents of the children who attend the schools—or the unions, which are determined not to lose any of the power that they currently wield?
The people of Wales deserve democracy, for their opinions to be taken into account, and for their wishes to be respected free of any party political considerations. No school will be forced into opting out of LEA control, but parents must have the freedom to choose the best for their children. They are tired of their schools being neglected and run down because LEAs choose to spend their money elsewhere on pet projects—such as county halls—instead of on school repairs and general maintenance.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) pointed out, education authorities in Wales have underspent their capital allocations by more than 15 per cent. this year, in addition to the underspend in the previous two years. Those years of neglect have mounted up. In south Glamorgan alone, the backlog of maintenance work amounts to £40 million. The local authority finds it convenient to blame the Government for that horrific state of affairs, but—
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you remind me whether this is the Committee stage of the Education Bill or whether we are still conducting the St. David's day debate? The hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) seems to be taking the House into areas in a way that encroaches on the time of other right hon. and hon. Members.
§ Mr. Richards
I do not have far to go—[HON. MEMBERS:"Too true."]—but the whole purpose of choosing the subject of education is to explain and to emphasise how Opposition parties undermine democracy in Wales while at the same time talking about the need for democracy.
In last November's education debate, the hon. Member for Caerphilly said:There is a need for reform. We want decent buildings and an end to overcrowding.He then accused the Government ofappalling interference with the good practice that has been developed by our local education authorities."—[Official Report, 10 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 772.]If he calls the catalogue of LEA abuses that I listed in the past few minutes good practice, he is living on a different planet from the rest of us. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman knows anything about grant-maintained schools. If he did, I am sure that he would change his definition of good practice. Good practice is when 72 per cent. of grant-maintained secondary schools and 88 per cent. of primary schools have improved their pupil-to-teacher ratio. Good practice is when 65 per cent. of grant-maintained secondary schools have introduced new subjects to their curriculums. Good practice is being able to offer more books and equipment along with improved facilities. That is good practice—not the LEA neglect and shirking of responsibility to which the hon. Gentleman so fondly referred.
Labour's manifesto at the last general election pledged to ensure that no primary school child would be taught in a class of more than 30 students. Labour was suitably 67 vague about how that would be achieved. It is probably safe to say that it did not know. As usual, we were way ahead of Labour and had already developed a way of achieving that goal. In 80 per cent. of grant-maintained primary schools, currently the teacher-to-student ratio is 25 to one or less. That success is called going out and meeting the challenge—yes, and making the change. That is something of which Labour has always been incapable.
The Labour party in Wales has accused the Government of playing politics with the education system, yet it is Labour Members who are union-sponsored and must report back to their puppet masters. That was never more obvious than when the former shadow Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), said:Grant maintained schools are not a reality in the political firmament in Wales.As I have tried to illustrate, this is yet another example of Labour playing politics with education. When will the party break the link, and realise that the people of Wales, rather than the Labour party, must be allowed to choose whether to accept grant-maintained schools?
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
Given the time available, I shall not follow the characteristic speech of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards); I think it better to leave him to wallow in his obsessions and in the idea of his forebears.
When you entered the Chair wearing a nice daffodil in your lapel, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you may have thought that you had put Maastricht behind you for a short time. [Laughter.] I note certain nervous reactions to the word "Maastricht"; I do not know whether they are withdrawal symptoms, or something else. In any event, I shall not speak for long: certainly, I shall not speak for 35 minutes. I want to speak briefly about regional policy, which was touched on by the Secretary of State, and by some of my hon. Friends in interventions.
It is, of course, impossible to discuss regional policy in Wales without discussing the European Economic Community. Most regional policy is now determined not even by the Welsh Office, but according to the structures laid down by the EEC. We had a debate last week on the various protocols and articles of the Maastricht treaty which relate to regional policy—they are very important to Wales—as well as a debate on the Committee of the Regions. My complaint is that, apart from the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Neath (Mr. Hain) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands)—who cannot be present this evening—nearly all the speeches dealt with the membership of the Committee of the Regions.
It was rather depressing to note the number of speeches, made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, about the membership of that Committe. The speeches questioned whether the Committee would include community councillors, county councillors, nominated persons or other members. Personally, I do not care who is appointed to that Committee; it is just another quango. I thought that we were against quangos. The Committee has no authority and no power: it merely enables those who are fortunate enough—as they may see it—to be members to take nice trips to Brussels.
68 We heard nothing in those speeches about the problem of Wales and the regions. We heard nothing from the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office—which is not surprising, because he replies to such debates in a very perfunctory fashion. Sadly—I say this more in sorrow than in anger—we heard nothing from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, who dealt almost entirely with the subject of the Committee of the Regions and completely omitted to deal with the real problems—and the real consequences for areas on the periphery such as Wales—of the contents of the Maastricht treaty and, indeed, of the regional policy of the European Community.
The Liberal Democrats, too, said nothing about the Committee of the Regions, or, indeed, about the way in which regional policy in Wales is dealt with in the Maastricht treaty. Members of the party that sometimes likes to describe itself as the national party of Wales were queuing up to debate the membership of the Committee, but we heard very little about that—except at the very end of the speech of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones): I am sorry that he is not present. He made a plaintive plea to the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office for more railways and for the money to finance them. Of course, there is no money in the Maastricht treaty for more railways, or more infrastructure, for the western part of Britain.
The western part of Britain comprises Wales, along with other parts of Britain. My argument is that Wales and other parts of the west of Britain will suffer grievously as a result of the way in which the Maastricht treaty was negotiated. Where was the Secretary of State for Wales then? Where, indeed, was the Minister of State? During Welsh questions, I was able to ask where the Secretary of State had been during the negotiation of the EC directive on abattoirs: that may strike hon. Members as a small matter, but many people do not see it as such.
Where was the Secretary of State for Wales, and where was the Welsh Office, when the Maastricht treaty was negotiated and provision was made for regional policy for peripheral areas such as Wales? Nothing in the treaty will benefit Wales; many aspects of it will be harmful to the economy of Wales and, indeed, many other parts of the west of Britain. We have read in the newspapers recently that Liverpool may be able to sidle into category I of the present regional policy: we do not know how Community democracy works, but, if that is true, I am glad. The best of luck to Liverpool; it deserves it. The treaty, however, contains nothing about regional policy for Wales.
Let me briefly suggest three reasons why Wales should have had a special negotiating position in respect of Maastricht and why the absence of such a position will be very damaging to the country. First, the treaty is a centralisation measure. We should forget the talk about subsidiarity; I know that there is an opt-out, but economic and monetary union is about centralisation. I have always believed, and argued with sincerity, that centralisation in the United Kingdom was bad for the economy of Wales, and other parties in the House have presented the same argument. I am sorry to say, however, that certain Members of Parliament—members of Plaid Cymru, for instance, and Liberal Democrats—are now going overboard in their support for a centralisation measure.
If it is bad to centralise the United Kingdom economy on Westminster—if that is bad for Wales—it must be had to centralise the United Kingdom economy on Brussels. 69 Indeed, that must be even worse for Wales, because Wales is further along the periphery of that area. A centralisation measure is bound to be harmful. Nothing in the treaty attempts to redress the balance, however, and no attempt was made to negotiate a concession for Wales.
There is also the problem of public expenditure. I seem to remember, from the days when, years ago, I was Opposition spokesman for Wales, that Wales is probably more heavily dependent on public expenditure and employment in the public sector than England—and, perhaps, even Scotland. Money and assistance have been channelled through the public sector to areas such as Wales, which are on the periphery of the United Kingdom.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
The hon. Gentleman seems to be contradicting himself. On the one hand, he says that centralisation has benefited us in Wales because we have been given resources by the United Kingdom Government. Surely he is not saying, on the other hand, that we have not benefited considerably from our membership of the European Community.
§ Mr. Davies
The Minister is not quite as sharp as usual. I was not contradicting myself; nor was I making as large a point as he suggests. I was merely saying that areas such as Wales are heavily dependent on public expenditure. I am sure that that is a statement of fact and I am sure that it is correct.
I am sorry to repeat myself ad nauseam, but it is clear from the Maastricht treaty—the Government accept this —that there must be a gradual reduction in public borrowing from the present 9 per cent., or whatever the figure will be on Budget day, to 3 per cent. That may take a few years. That will reduce public expenditure, which will affect Wales, because Wales is more heavily dependent on public expenditure than are many areas in England—perhaps the whole of England. That is another respect in which the treaty affects Wales directly.
It is interesting to consider the cohesion fund, which deals with the environment, the infrastructure and the railways. The treaty agrees that certain countries with a percentage below 90 per cent. of gross domestic product should be allowed more money in the cohesion fund; but that is conditional on progress towards the 3 per cent. of public borrowing and the 60 per cent. of GDP public expenditure.
§ Mr. Llew Smith
The right hon. Gentleman refers to 3 per cent. borrowing rates. Would not they result in public expenditure cuts of £25 billion? How could our support for such a measure link with our defence of public services such as health, education and so on, which are so important to valley communities in south Wales?
§ Mr. Davies
Such expenditure can be increased by cutting public expenditure or raising taxes, but it is a narrow and inflexible choice. The Maastricht treaty demands reductions that will not be good for Wales, which is heavily dependent on public expenditure.
There must be an automatic stabiliser to the Maastricht treaty. A long time ago, a civil servant called McDougall was commissioned by the European Commission to consider the notion of a European income tax to correct imbalances in the European economy. He concluded that 70 the EC's budget would have to be 5 per cent. or 7 per cent. of European GDP. It is now less than 2 per cent. and even after the Edinburgh summit it will not reach 2 per cent. for many years. His figure was arrived at before Spain, Portugal and Greece became members. It has now been calculated that a European budget, financed by European income tax of at least 12 per cent. of European GDP, would be required to compensate the peripheral areas of Europe—and Wales is very much a peripheral area of Europe—for the centralisation provisions of the Maastricht treaty.
Under one of the protocols we find something called the cohesion fund, which apparently can be paid, subject to progress towards the 3 per cent., to countries whose GDP is less than 90 per cent. of the average of the countries of the EC. I understand that the United Kingdom figure is probably about 93 per cent., or may be slightly higher next year if we achieve 1 per cent. growth. The latest figure for Wales puts our GDP per head at 81 per cent. or 80 per cent. of the EC average.Liverpool is about 79 per cent. Liverpool, happily, has been placed into category 1, but Wales has an average below the United Kingdom average and below the 90 per cent. and in parts of mid-Glamorgan and of my constituency—my hon. Friend the Member for Neath made a powerful speech on this in the debate on the Maastricht treaty—we are talking about a GDP per head of almost 70 per cent. or 75 per cent. Those areas get nothing from Maastricht. We shall be worse off than Spain, Greece, Portugal and, I concede to Plaid Cymru Members, Ireland, which at least was able to negotiate a better regime.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson
My right hon. Friend ignores the fact that, irrespective of Maastricht, the regional funds will remain and that the cohesion fund for the four countries that he mentioned was simply part of the package that was agreed at that time, which can by its very nature be only temporary because the new wave of enlargement with richer countries such as Austria and Sweden is bound to recast the basis of the cohesion fund.
§ Mr. Davies
My hon. Friend hopes that the Swedes and Norwegians will bail out the cohesion fund, but that will not happen because the Swedish economy is experiencing the same difficulties as other western European economies. It was a bad package. The question that 1 put to my hon. Friend is, how can he support a treaty which is so damaging to Wales and its regional development and which has been negotiated so badly that we have to ask, where was the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office when it was negotiated?
I have never believed that a centralised union was good for the Welsh economy. Five hundred years ago we joined the union of the United Kingdom. I am no great expert in history, but I believe that at that time the Welsh establishment was in favour of the union. We have since been trying to maintain our identity in that union and to ameliorate its centralising effects by getting money back. It is now proposed that we should join a European union, not even a British union.
§ Mr. Davies
I oppose both the nonsense of budgetary control and the way in which these norms are written into a treaty and entrenched into a constitution, which seems ridiculous, as well as the idea of forcing countries into a centralised European union. We have spent a long time ameliorating the effect of British union on the Welsh economy. The Welsh establishment is still, as it was 500 years ago, very much in favour of the new union. Will we ever learn?
§ Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth)
The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) has focused clearly on the vital issue of the Maastricht treaty—the convergence criteria that limit the amount of national debt. By stopping profligate politicians from corrupting the money supply, the treaty gives Wales and the whole of Europe the first opportunity since 1914 of sound money and fairly based economic growth.
Interestingly, the right hon. Member for Llanelli concluded with the issue of the Welsh political classes and their views on union with England or the wider Europe. One might have supposed that on St. David's day we would have been promoting, with greater enthusiasm, the benefits of Wales rather than tearing ourselves apart in the best and most highly articulate Welsh arguments about various forms of structure.
Driven by the speech of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), I read the White Paper that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State published today. When we fall out among ourselves about the structures of government in Wales, about which there are substantial divisions, it is important to underline the achievements of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has almost miraculously obtained general political agreement to his proposals. I am aware that various people who went along with it now wish in part to unravel it, but his success in persuading Welsh local government that unitary authorities are the necessary way forward is a considerable achievement. However, it is an achievement based, I suspect, on the recognition in most quarters that the present system set up in the 1970s is deeply flawed and has failed in practice in many ways. [Interruption.] It is amazing to hear the instant, ignorant, knee-jerk reaction of the Opposition when they hear a Conservative Member suggest that something done by the Conservative Government in the early 1970s was less than perfect. I have no hesitation in making such a suggestion. It was before the period of Aufklärung under Baroness Thatcher. A number of aspects of Conservative policy from the early 1970s were not successful, as has subsequently been realised.
The interesting feature of the local government reform of the 1970s was that it followed Richard Crossman's difficulties as a Minister, described in his diaries, in contemplating the problem of extending the boundaries of the city of Plymouth into the surrounding countryside of Devon. Under the pre-1974 system, there was a division between counties and county boroughs, in which there were unitary authorities, and the countryside where there was a dual system which did not work.
Despite the proud history of Abergavenny or Monmouth urban district councils, they faced and generally agreed to their extinction because their financial powers and means were so limited. There was a general 72 welcome for the fact that something new had to happen. However, the fatal flaw of the 1974 legislation was that the model of the counties—the double tier—was imported for the first time into urban areas where there was no such tradition. It was absurd that the ancient and noble city of Cardiff should be subject to a division of its powers with south Glamorgan, as was the case in Bristol and many other great cities and towns.
In practice, the question was whether the new system would work. I hope that I strike a fairly common note of general agreement by saying that when our constituents come to see us about direct, practical problems, they genuinely do not know whether they should be seeing their county councillor or their district councillor, so they come to see their Member of Parliament. I cite the simple example of flood water coming into people's homes from the highways. The district council has drainage powers and responsibilities, the highway authority is the county council and the county council often subcontracts the district councils to deal with its highway problems. It is a confusing and unhelpful conflation of duties which has not worked.
The system has produced serious divisions and tensions between county authorities on the one hand and borough authorities and district councils on the other. Such difficulties are inherent in the complex arrangements of structure plans and borough development plans. As I understand it, the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) is opposed to the fact—as am I—that Torfaen borough council recently gave itself planning permission for an opencast coal mining exercise at Garn-yr-erw in defiance of the views of the county council and those of his neighbouring borough council. It is not satisfactory when different layers of local government have different responsibilities but no common thread.
The third issue is whether existing, large-scale county councils are felt to be sufficiently close to the people whom they represent or whether they are regarded as remote. No doubt each hon. Member has had experience of his own county council, but in Gwent the system works well in many ways, although there is a perception that the problem of weight limits in Bridge street in Usk was decided by Gwent county council for reasons that ranged more widely than the inherent interests of the people of Usk. The continuing argument about the Chepstow bypass, which is so badly needed, is another example of a case in which it is perceived that Gwent county council covers too large an area to be able to decide the outcome.
When I spoke about Monmouthshire in an intervention, I think it was the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr.Rogers) who said that I should be aware that Monmouthshire is not what it was. Of course, he is historically correct. The new Monmouthshire created under the proposals is not the old Gwent and certainly not the old Monmouthshire before it. However, it reflects the large rural area in my constituency.
At the moment, we have a council, originally a district council and termed a borough council for want of a better expression, but a borough council representing four ancient boroughs within it and a very wide rural area. It is far better to call the council what it should be—a shire county council to be called Monmouthshire. It reflects the reality and the division that has grown up in the past 150 years in the area that was formerly Gwent.
§ Mr. Flynn
In an earlier intervention, the hon. Gentleman made a plea for the retention of the lord lieutenant of Monmouthshire. Will he make it clear what he means? Is he suggesting that we have a separate lord lieutenant for Monmouthshire, one for the new Newport area, one for the Heads of the Valleys area and another for Torfaen?
§ Mr. Evans
Not at all. From the hon. Gentleman's opening remark, it is clear that he misunderstood what I said on the previous occasion. However, he is right to think that I believe strongly that a city and county such as Cardiff should be independently represented by a representative of the Crown. It should have its own high sheriff. I am sure that the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) will agree that it would be inconceivable to treat Newport any differently from Cardiff these days. Once we have accepted that, it would be eminently sensible to grant each new unitary authority its own lord lieutenancy and high shrievalty. Those offices are much appreciated and serve a very valuable function.
The present distinguished gentleman who is the lord lieutenant of Gwent is unhappy at the prospect of being divided. He is a well-known and popular figure. But there is a strong feeling that it is consistent with tradition and with the thrust of the proposals that there should be a proper shire authority in Monmouth, properly constituted on traditional lines.
Some of the proposals in the White Paper are interesting, but rather vague. I should be grateful for clarification of some issues, although I appreciate that the clarification may not be offered now. First, what happens to education? I do not believe that the so-called democratic control of schooling has been a happy experiment. I believe that it has been fairly disastrous and Conservative Members at least would prefer schooling to be taken wholly out of local authority hands. At the moment, it is unclear to what extent the proposals, in conjunction with other Government measures, will create that happier and better state, so the position must be clarified.
The second issue involves the social services responsibilities of county councils. Far from praising democratic accountability, Conservative Members would prefer such services to be run by authorities similar to the health trusts or authorities which are professionally organised and not meddled with by politicians. Again, there is scope for clarification.
My final tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is that he has fulfilled, in a most important and imaginative way, one of the pledges in the Communist party manifesto of 1848, which was to abolish the conflict between town and countryside. He will happily have done that in Monmouthshire by granting us the Monmouthshire council and my constituents will be very pleased. They say no to a Welsh assembly, but definitely yes to the new Monmouthshire authority.
§ 7.8 pm
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
It is becoming a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), although I do not agree with everything that he said about local government reform. I am pleased for 74 Monmouthshire. I hope that I and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) will have his support in our attempts to retain our old shire counties. I shall return to that point.
I am relieved to have followed the hon. Member for Monmouth rather than the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards). His speech was so full of odium and bile that it would have been a surprise had he not already made it clear that he was making an attempt to be one of the least-liked Members of Parliament. I am sorry that he has now left the Chamber—something that he criticises everyone in sight for doing. I feel no compunction about criticising him in his absence in that respect. I noticed that during his more extravagant and wild criticisms, even his daffodil managed to turn its head away from him.
The St. David's day debate is an occasion on which we should do a little bit of talking Wales up, a point echoed by the hon. Member for Monmouth. Wales has tremendous advantages to offer. Wales welcomes people who come to live there from outside. I returned to Wales 30 or so years after having been born there and we and many other families found a welcome in Wales. There have been recent stories of entirely contemptible threats to incomers which are not typical of Wales. People in Wales deplore the extremist behaviour about which there was some talk earlier. I hasten to add that I accept entirely the point made by Plaid Cymru Members that such threats have nothing to do with them.
Wales has an environment second to none, with a beautiful landscape and not a bad climate. When it is warm it is warm; when it is wet, it does not trick people: they know that it is wet.
Wales has had a good educational tradition. Although the Government—I would deal with this point at greater length if there was more time—have started to dilute the education system's effectiveness in Wales, the strong tradition of good education and the belief in education in Wales will continue to serve us well.
Wales has energy resources. It has coal, although that resource is unfortunately now being neglected by the Government in an energy strategy which I believe to be unwise. I believe that the policy will be reviewed in years to come. Wales has water—plenty of it—and some has already been harnessed in imaginative schemes for the generation of power. Although we are not all happy about the developments off the coast of Wales, it appears that there are likely to be reserves of coal and of gas which will add to the prosperity of Wales and of the whole of the United Kingdom.
Wales has what I call the four "Es": environment, education, energy and enthusiasm. It has an enthusiastic work force, who suffer from too great unemployment. Those in work are often underpaid because Wales has a low-pay economy. However, as many foreign companies have found, the work force is willing to work effectively for whoever brings industry into Wales. We can say, on this St. David's day, that Wales offers as much—I believe more —to those who wish to find somewhere to bring businesses and to create prosperity as does any other part of the United Kingdom and possibly any other part of Europe.
Unfortunately, Wales also faces increasing problems, and I shall draw attention to just a few of them. It faces a problem of debt. The number of mortgage repossessions in Wales in the past two years is 17,826, which is a shocking figure. It is indicative of the economic climate that Welsh 75 people have had to sufer. Research has shown that the greatest contributory factor to mortgage repossessions has been the unresolved reduction in income.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans
I do not make light of the hon. and learned Gentleman's point about mortgage repossessions. I am sure that, like me, he welcomes the news that during the past six months there has been a remarkable reduction in the level of repossessions. That is some good news against which to set his remarks.
§ Mr. Carlile
I am pleased by any news of a reduction in mortgage repossessions. The figure has been shockingly high. The evidence shows tht 23.8 per cent. of mortgage repossessions have been as a direct result of the unresolved reduction of income, a fact which shows that there is continuing uncertainty. Even when building societies foreclose, the families involved face desperate uncertainty.
We have the connected problem of a lack of council housing and other housing to rent in Wales. In 1979 in Wales, 29 per cent. of all occupied dwellings were council houses. In 1991, the figure was 17 per cent. In 1988, 30,804 council houses were renovated by local authorities. Some four years later, only about 23,000 were renovated. I accept, of course, that more is being done through the housing association movement, but I believe that that movement is not meeting the shortfall and, as a result, there is increasing homelessness in Wales.
It is estimated that in 1991 more than 60,000 people in Wales were experiencing homelessness. The homeless who come to our surgeries include young men and women, often in jobs, who are forced to drift from sofa to sofa, where friends allow them to rest their heads. I do not believe that the House regards that as satisfactory.
We have a problem of unemployment. The national average for unemployment in the United Kingdom was 10.6 per cent. in January 1993, within an overall figure of more than 3 million. Some 20 constituencies in Wales are above that figure, which is unacceptable, especially when one bears in mind the fact that the Treasury estimate, confirmed by the Secretary of State for Employment in evidence to the Select Committee on Employment, is that it costs £9,200 per annum per unemployed person in social security payments and loss of revenue from taxation.
There are also indirect costs. It has been proved beyond doubt that high unemployment correlates with a high level of homelessness. Shelter has shown that. It correlates with a high level of marriage breakdown, as Relate has shown. It correlates with a high level of suicide and illness, as the Campaign for Work has shown. There is a worrying increase in suicide among farmers as they become progressively unemployed.
It has also been shown that high unemployment corrrelates with a high level of crime. We used to debate whether that was true, but now even the Metropolitan police emphasise strongly that it is true.
§ Mr. Sweeney
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that the apparent correlation between rising unemployment and poverty and a rise in crime is merely a correlation? We have seen crime rising during periods of prosperity. Crime rose during the record period of eight years of sustained growth of the 1980s. It is rather 76 dangerous to extrapolate from the recent increases in crime the theory that unemployment or poverty is responsible.
§ Mr. Carlile
I understand what the hon. Gentleman says. With respect, I prefer the evidence given by the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police to his theory.
We also have the problem of transport deficit in Wales. The privatisation of British Rail is seen as a serious threat to rural transport. The future of the Birmingham to Aberystwyth railway line is unlikely to be secured as a result of privatisation. Privatisation of itself does not concern me so much as our essential need to hear from the Government a real commitment not simply to the status quo on that line, but to seeing that there is some development of it. The environmental damage that is done to villages throughout rural Wales by trundling articulated lorries could be greatly alleviated, for example, if goods were carried on the railways. Goods are now off the railways.
I mentioned crime. That brings me to another, connected question—the structure of the police. There is a lateral reference in today's White Paper on local government to the future of police forces in Wales. The Home Office is reviewing those forces. In addition to the £65 to £150 million of extra money which will he spent on local government reform, I hope that we will not see another £10 or £15 million spent on reforming police forces which already do a good job.
I refer specifically to the Dyfed-Powys police which, against manpower cuts in real terms, is doing a phenomenally successful job. It has civilianised, it has developed new technology and it carries out community policing with skill. Its chief constable has placed great emphasis on a management culture which works. Above all, it is catching a greater percentage of criminals than any other police force in the country. It would be absurd to abolish that police force. Surely it should be the model for new police forces, not the victim of centralising tendencies.
This is a sad St. David's day for me. I am one in an only briefly interrupted long line of Liberals who have represented the great historic county of Montgomeryshire. Montgomeryshire has Norman origins. If one were to walk with me on a summer's day up to Montgomery castle and look down on the scene as it spreads around into Shropshire or the west of Wales, one would look on a scene which has been Montgomeryshire almost always, and for much longer than anyone alive today can remember. One would look on a scene which is recorded in the annals of history as Montgomeryshire—Sir Trefaldwyn.
The county has a history of great assizes and quarter sessions and has contributed musicians, poets and, dare I say it, the odd lawyer, great teachers and doctors to the whole of the United Kingdom. Twenty years after the creation of the white elephant of Powys, there still exists a real pride in Montgomeryshire. When Montgomery district council chose to change its name to Montgomeryshire district council, it attracted wide approval and caused much rejoicing.
The Secretary of State may want to get rid of the Sir Trefaldwyn, but I can promise that he will have a fight before he does so. He will never get rid of the spirit of Montgomeryshire, which is called Mwynder Maldwyn. 77 Why do the Government want to fly in the face of the will of the people? How can the Secretary of State square it with his conscience that he said with one breath,We are interested in local government based on natural communities",and yet with the other breath he destroys one of the most natural communities in Wales, Montgomeryshire?
How can the Secretary of State for Wales justify having one local authority in Wales which is twice the size of the second biggest proposed authority—509,000 hectares against 262,000 hectares? I advise the Ministers on the Front Bench to think again. If they do not think again, they will find that their permanent epitaph in Montgomeryshire at least will be as "those who destroyed Montgomeryshire".
I end with five substantive points. These are not emotional. They are not about history or the spirit of Montgomeryshire. They are facts which might help the Secretary of State to change his mind and decide to have a unitary authority in Montgomeryshire.
First, I remind the Secretary of State that Montgomeryshire has been one of the lowest rated or charging authorities in Wales for many years. Secondly, it has a council which has always spent at or below its standard spending assessment or earlier targets. Thirdly, in its submission to the Welsh Office in the autumn of 1991, Montgomeryshire district council showed projected savings for a Montgomeryshire unitary authority of £1 million per annum as compared to Powys. That is equivalent to £25 off the community charge. That submission was used by many other authorities in Wales and set the tone for some of them.
Fourthly, the submission from the present Powys county council showed no similar projected savings. I challenge the Secretary of State to show in his White Paper any projected savings from the Powys council with which he is proposing to tinker. Fifthly, despite Montgomeryshire's excellent record as a low-spending authority, it has shown that it can provide service, with significant capital projects such as the £3 million Bro Ddyfi leisure centre, the £4 million leisure centre at Welshpool which enjoys the name The Flash, the Montgomeryshire airport and village workshops which are distributed throughout the county and which have brought employment through Montgomeryshire district council in places where it might never have appeared. Those points seem to be facts which can be relied on as evidence in favour of Montgomeryshire.
We have been told that there will be yet another meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee. It will be a showpiece meeting in Cardiff next Monday. I want none of it. I am fed up with that talking shop. We do not want to go to Cardiff to a powerless, gutless meeting in which the Government—even if the meeting votes against them, as it always does in the Welsh Grand Committee—will simply ride roughshod over its will.
I will go to Cardiff to meetings when there is at least an element of democracy and when we can change things in Wales through those meetings, but I will not go to a meeting which will simply give the Secretary of State the opportunity to make a few more glib announcements and tell us for a second time what he said this afternoon without our having the opportunity to amend it.
Wales is a great country, but it will not become any 78 greater with the White Paper announced today—especially if we destroy our natural communities and, above all, if we do not attend to the urgent needs and problems of Wales.
§ Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)
I have listened with great interest to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). I know that they are shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans).
I should like to put the issue of the White Paper in context by praising it as strongly as I possibly can so far as it affects my own constituency of the Vale of Glamorgan. In the past couple of years since my election, I have been inundated with letters, telephone calls and visits to surgeries from people who have been anxious about the future of the Vale of Glamorgan and who have felt deeply concerned about the prospect of being swallowed up by Cardiff.
The rather cynical decision of South Glamorgan county council to spend probably large sums of public money erecting new signposts all over the Vale of Glamorgan proclaiming, "For Cardiff and the Vale" aroused considerable resentment among people. They felt that it was a little late for South Glamorgan county council to start worrying about the vale when previously it had demonstrated only too clearly its preoccupation with Cardiff. Those people will be delighted with today's news. They could not have had better news to help them celebrate St. David's day.
Law and order has been touched on several times in the debate. Mention was made of the prospect of creating a secure unit for young offenders to serve the South Glamorgan area. Recently there has been considerable debate in the press about where the blame should lie for the fact that we do not as yet have a much needed secure unit to serve magistrates courts in that part of Wales.
It should be placed on record that when I inquired about the secure unit early last year I was advised that money was on the table from the Welsh Office for the provision of a secure unit but that South Glamorgan county council was being obstructive. It had failed to get round the table and get on with the job of providing that secure unit. I corresponded with South Glamorgan county council to find out whether that was true.
I was advised that the county council did not like the type of secure unit which the Welsh Office envisaged. It thought that it was too large and impersonal and that it would be better to have a small secure unit to serve South Glamorgan. I strongly disagree with that view. The argument adduced by South Glamorgan county council was that putting people into a large unit encouraged them in a life of crime; it introduced them to experts on crime who would train them to become more criminal than they were on admission.
That argument ignores the fact that by the time young offenders end up at a secure unit, the chances are that they are already highly experienced in the art of crime. One of the problems is that many of them have had several cautions before they even encounter the judicial process. I spoke to a trainee magistrate at Barry magistrates court who had been told to expect on first encountering juveniles in the judicial process that they would have had six or even eight cautions. That is appalling and we must address it.
79 A caution should be regarded as a last chance. If young people are given a caution, they should realise that the next time that they get into mischief they will go to court. Otherwise, a caution is simply seen as a pat on the head. Young people get away with committing an offence simply because they admit it and their parents consent to the administering of a caution. They keep getting away with it. We must impose a finite limit on the number of cautions that can be given to juveniles before they are charged with an offence.
An Opposition Member said that in recent years the number of police had increased by only 3 per cent. That ignores the considerable increase in resources for the police which our Government have provided, the enormous increase in real terms in the salaries paid to the police and the considerable civilianisation of the police. Civilianisation has helped to make police officers more efficient. It allows them to delegate some parts of their duties to white collar workers at police stations.
However, I freely acknowledge that we do not have enough police officers. We certainly do not have enough in my part of Wales, where we have seen a rapid escalation in crime, especially burglaries and crimes involving vehicles—taking vehicles without consent, theft of vehicles and taking property from vehicles.
I welcome the initiatives which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has announced for dealing with the problem of law and order. It is the most important problem that we face in Wales, and indeed in the rest of the United Kingdom. It affects people's confidence. If people believe, rightly or wrongly, that it is not safe to go out into the streets, they are not happy as citizens.
The speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been referred to. He said that we needed more condemnation and less understanding. That remark has been misinterpreted. My right hon. Friend meant that we must pay less attention to the do-gooders whose prime concern is keeping the villains first out of court and then out of custody, and more attention to the needs of victims. After all, where should our true concern lie in a compassionate society? Surely it should lie with the person who suffers as a victim of crime. We should worry more about such people and less about the people who cause the suffering.
The debate on law and order boils down to the need to spell out to our young people the difference between right and wrong. One of the problems that we encounter is that we now have a generation of parents who, in many cases, grew up without sufficient discipline in the home or the fundamental understanding of the difference between right and wrong.
Hon. Members have referred to the correlation between crime and rising unemployment. If I understood him correctly, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said that unemployment led to a rise in crime. It is perfectly true that unemployment has risen and crime has risen, but it is wrong to jump to the conclusion that the one follows from the other. As a criminologist, I certainly am not aware of any single factor which is an overrding cause of the increase in crime. I am sure that if I did, I would earn a fortune as a consultant.
80 It is essential that we grapple with the root causes of crime. We must tackle it among younger people. The age of criminal responsibility is 10. We all know from anecdotal evidence that most children know the difference between right and wrong earlier than 10. But they are not criminally responsible. We must bring pressure to bear on parents to take responsibility for their children and make sure that they grow up knowing the difference between right and wrong.
The Government have already made some progress in making parents responsible by, for example, making them responsible for the payment of fines imposed on their children. That was a sensible move. The difficulty is that the fine is assessed on the basis of the child's means, not on the means of the parents. If a child has pocket money of, say, £2 a week, clearly the maximum instalment of fine that could be imposed is £2 a week. If the parents are working, £2 a week out of their income is a derisory amount.
I would like the Government to tackle the question whether the parents exercise appropriate supervision over their children. In Llantwit Major, in my constituency, children wander the streets at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. I cannot believe that they are not up to no good wandering the streets at that time of night. When I mitigate on their behalf and those children enter a plea of guilty, I ask them for an explanation of their criminal behaviour. The most common answer is, "I did it because I was bored." What right has any parent to allow their children to wander the streets and get bored in the early hours of the morning? Any parents worth their salt should see that their children are at home and in bed.
I believe that a statutory offence should be created to charge parents who wilfully neglect their children. I know that there are parents who are totally inadequate or incapable of coping, and if they can produce medical evidence to that effect, they should be acquitted of that charge. The Government have introduced legislation whereby parents can be bound over to ensure that their children keep the peace. That is a worthwhile and useful law, but we need to go further and we should be able to impose penalties on parents who fail to control their children.
If we in Wales, and people elsewhere, can get to grips with the problem of law and order, we will dramatically increase people's confidence in the way in which Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom is run. I am particularly concerned about the effect of lawlessness on old people. They often complain to me that their cars have been vandalised, their windows broken or their homes burgled. Some have even been horribly assaulted. We have all seen the gruesome pictures in our newspapers of the battered faces of septuagenarian and octogenarian members of our society. I do not believe that the young people responsible should be allowed to get off the hook by blaming it all on unemployment or boredom. We must get our priorities right and tell people the difference between right and wrong.
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)
I should like to make a number of preliminary remarks before I come to the main thrust of my speech, which must be about, unfortunately, unemployment in Wales.
My first point relates to the patients charter produced by the Government. I would like the contents of a Welsh 81 Office circular issued in 1991 regarding the discharge procedures for elderly people from hospitals to private nursing homes to be included in it. That circular states that there is no need for any elderly person to be means-tested and discharged from a hospital to a private nursing home if that elderly person or his or her relatives do not wish to be means-tested. It is the responsibility of the health authority to pay in full for the private nursing home, or it must find a hospital bed for that patient. I would therefore like the patients charter to be amended so that the main thrust of the circular is included in it.
I would also like the patients charter for Wales to explain certain rights that exist for people who are encountering difficulties in obtaining dental treatment under the national health service from their general dental practitioner. They should not have to worry about whether a salaried dentist is available, employed by the family health service authority. They should he able to make use of the community dental service, which is financed by health authorities, which are, in turn, financed by the Welsh Office. Anyone in Wales who needs dental services can receive full treatment from the available community dental facilities.
If the Government had the wherewithal—I mean if they had the courage—to include in the patients charter the contents of the two Government circulars, they know very well what would happen. The actue bed service in the NHS would collapse virtually overnight, as would the community dental service. However, those circulars exist and that means that people who know their rights know that their relatives can stay in hospital beds, financed by the NHS. In the same way, those who know the law relating to community dental services can enjoy those services. Those people do not have to go privately to a general dental practitioner, who may refuse to take them on. They can enjoy the benefits of the community dental service.
When the Minister replies to such debates, he always covers every pont that I have ever raised. I hope that he will continue that tradition on this great St. David's day. If he made a commitment to include those circular details in the patients charter, he would be the hero of Wales and he would be able to wear his leek with dignity, as he does so well.
I look forward to what will happen when the GP fund holder, that new animal, comes into being in Wales. I hope that the Minister is preparing a leaflet about that. It should not necessarily be dropped from aircraft, as that could cause litter, as he well knows. It should be distributed widely throughout Wales to tell people what they can get from their fund holding GP.
Imagine if the Minister told every patient of a potential GP fund holder that he could say to that person, "Doctor, bach, I would like the following things in the next few weeks. For mother, I would like the following list of pills, which would benefit her enormously. For father, similarly, I would like this. For myself, I would like a little treatment and here is the name of the surgeon I would like to see; and, by the way, this is the anaesthetist that I would like for that op."
The Minister and the House know that when the GP fund holders of Wales and Britain really know what they have let themselves in for, when they are inundated with patients exercising patient power and negotiating what services they want, those GPs will not be as happy as they are now.
82 I was delighted that the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) were present at the opening of part of the missing gap of the M4 between Earlswood and Lon Las on Friday morning. I thank the Minister warmly for the kind invitation which he extended to me.
The M4 is the only motorway in Britain that had a gap of four miles about 30 miles from its western end. Today there is still a two-mile gap before we have a complete motorway from Pont Abraham all the way to London. The Minister is doing well, however, and 1 am glad to note that by 1995—after all, the Government have only been in power since 1979—the missing gap on the M4 will have been filled. I hope that when that great event occurs and we at last have a motorway from Pont Abraham to Hammersmith, inward investment—which has been lyrically mentioned in the House and has become a continuous drip over a long time to give a flavour to the Welsh debates—will flood across the Briton Ferry bridge. Inward investors can use places such as the monument—it still has a roof, so it cannot be called an ancient monument in the strict sense of the term; perhaps it is an historic building—of the Felindre tinplate works, which can eventually be put to good use. I am pleased that the project is now on target, and I hope that the Minister will fill the missing gap by 1995.
The Secretary of State must answer the question: how far are he and his Government prepared to let Wales—especially the 139,500 unemployed people—sink before statesmanship, a coherent, long-term economic strategy and effective policies to deal with the deep employment crisis are visible from Nos. 10 and 11 Downing street? The endless, aimless, leaderless lack of policy and purpose betrays the efforts of business and workers in Wales today. Public spending is sky high, but there is no forward planning or strategy to improve the economy or industrial activity through spending.
The cost to Wales alone of keeping almost 140,000 people on the dole is just over £9,000 for each person. It costs the Chancellor well over £1 billion. However, we are not talking merely of financial costs. Employment provides purpose, pride and an identity that unemployment denies. Employment provides the confidence and spending power that will encourage the return of consumer confidence to get the economy moving again.
The Government seek to increase their revenues by privatising coal and the railways, by shedding public accountability and responsibility for public services such as the Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority in Swansea, the DVOIT and the vehicle testing stations. In doing so they introduce a demoralising tone into the local job market in Swansea—in the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). The Government also seek to raise revenue by increasing the rate of oil and gas extraction, and encouraging exploration perilously close to vulnerable beaches in Cardiganshire, Pembrokeshire and my constituency of Gower.
Now the Government are raising revenue by taxing, as income, payments for redundancy counselling paid by firms to help their staff when they are made redundant. Such petty-minded penny-pinching is offensive. It was bad enough, throughout 1992, when the Government watched aimlessly as 2,425 businesses went under and job losses climbed remorselessly, but now they want to make a fast few pounds by taxing, as income, costs spent by an 83 employer on easing the difficulties faced by redundant people. I hope that the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister will draw the Chancellor's attention to early-day motion 1269, which stands in my name and is supported by 65 hon. Members. It calls for changes in this year's Budget to eradicate that idiotic policy.
In the Budget we need measures to combat unemployment, which means, first and foremost, a reversal of the announced changes in the employment training budget that are to come into effect on 1 April this year. The first change will be that, from April, the training and enterprise schemes, which have provided so much support to unemployed people who want to start their own businesses, will be available only to those who have been out of work for six months. In Swansea, GP Services—through short and intensive business training courses several of my constituents have been helped to start up successful businesses and keep them on the right lines—estimates that half of the start-up businesses that receive training assistance at present will be ineligible for help under the new scheme. GP Services has found that the majority of people who intend starting up on their own do so as soon as possible after losing their job. They are the most enterprising of new starters and the ones most likely to succeed.
If a worker is made redundant and has £10,000 redundancy pay, it disqualifies him from state benefit. If he has to wait six months for enterprise training, he will have no capital left. If he has been unsuccessfully applying for jobs during that time, his confidence will have been shaken and his home ownership may be threatened. No amount of compulsory counselling by the employment service will alter that. It defies belief that the Government think that introducing a six-month delay in providing help to the most hopeful squares with their professed aim of encouraging enterprise in the economy. The Government can demonstrate their genuine support for enterprise in Wales by immediately withdrawing the proposed change.
When the Minister replies, I hope that, in the time-honoured fashion, he will respond to all the points that I have made. I hope that he will announce this evening that he can vouch for the fact that he will do what I am urging him to do.
Unemployment among 16 and 17-year-olds continues to rise, despite repeated promises that all youngsters in that age group would be guaranteed an employment training place. Research shows that one in three 16 to 17-year-olds is now out of work and that one third of the job losses that have occurred during the recession have been suffered by teenagers. An estimated 1 million young people under 25 years of age are now unemployed.
§ Mr. Richards
What is the hon. Gentleman's understanding of the Labour party's strategy for the so-called regeneration of the Welsh economy as claimed by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies)?
§ Mr. Wardell
That intervention has no relevance whatever to the point that I was making. I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) and end up making the sort of speech that he made earlier. I was just going to say that many of those young people have never worked in proper jobs in their lives. We are talking about a lost generation—a disaster 84 that we ignore at our peril. The hon. Gentleman should not try to make party-political points. I am sure that the young people of Wales will not thank him for that. I am merely pointing out that, by looking only at the short term, the Government ignore this generation at their peril.
Such a massive dislocation and abandonment of the talents of such large numbers of young people is bound to affect the fabric of society. Young people become more and more disillusioned and despairing as they see their chances of a job or a training opportunity decline as the number of job losses increases. Yet during the recession the Government have cut the number of training places by more than 100,000. Such a policy defies logic. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West, may I point out that I am looking forward in the Budget to a reversal of this part of what the Government have been doing. It is a disgrace that the Government should make it a condition of a young person's receiving benefit that he must first be on a training programme when the training places do not exist.
Thirdly, I am worried about the long-term unemployed. It is appalling that more than 1 million people should have been unemployed for more than a year. The only jobs initiative that the Government have offered during the recession has been the employment action schemes—a promise of 30,000 training jobs by March 1992. The promise was not delivered. In Wales, only 2,000 places have become available—2,000, for 139,000 unemployed.
As from April, a new training for work scheme comes into force. The ideas behind it represent a reversal and a betrayal of promises to the unemployed and the electorate. The first U-turn that the Government have made is to abandon the commitment to securing CBI-sponsored national education and training targets. The second about-turn has been cutting the link between the national vocational qualification schemes and training. Both measures went a long way to ensuring that employment training was meaningful and that trainees gained a recognised qualification at the end of a properly constructed and organised course. That quality control is to cease. Instead, and by way of part replacement, the Government are giving more money to the employment service. The money will be used not for training people in new marketable skills but for compulsory counselling and confidence-building schemes. It seems to me that the employment service is planning a great confidence trick of its own. It is cutting training places and cutting out the standards and controls of quality among the remaining places. Instead, it seeks a cheap way of dealing with more jobless people.
The unemployed do not want counselling about why they cannot get a job. They know that there are no jobs and that, in Wales, with about 20 people chasing every vacancy, a skill is basic equipment. They do not need compulsory attendance at counselling sessions to have that explained to them.
As for confidence building, the best confidence boost for the long-term unemployed is a job. I trust that the Secretary of State will tell the Chancellor that if he cannot announce on 16 March worthwhile, meaningful schemes to get people in Wales back to working for Britain's prosperity, he may as well abandon the Budget until the autumn. If he cannot get Britain back to work, he cannot restore confidence in the economy: and if he cannot restore 85 confidence in the economy, he will oversee more lost jobs as we spiral into ever deeper recession and ever higher spending to keep the unemployed on the dole.
I hope that the Secretary of State or the Minister will respond to some of my points, but I am certain of one thing: the Government must identify the basic industries of the next century, such as biotechnology and the other rapid growth industries of tomorrow. They must put in place the necessary tax breaks and restore confidence for the future. If they do not do these things, the country will have to adjust to a lower standard of living, which I am sure no one wants. Economic growth needs to be at the centre of the Government's proposals, and some of the remarks that I have made this evening point in that direction.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)
It is always a great pleasure to follow the eloquent hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell). During the short time I have been a Member of this House I have come to know him as an hon. Gentleman of the highest integrity. No doubt it was that integrity that led him to the admission in his speech that public spending stands, as he put it, sky high. That being so, what was the prescription that we heard from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman for the way out of the real difficulties facing us as a nation and in Wales? The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) proposed more money for councils; more money for social security. He also proposed statutorily imposed higher wages—or so it seemed from his complaint about wages in the Welsh economy. He did not even shy away from complaints about the police and law and order—a bit rich from an Opposition Member. I wonder how far back Opposition Members' memories go. Mine goes back to the 1970s. Have they spoken to people who were in the police then? They would remind them of the despair in the police force during the 1970s, following years of underspending on the police service.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) made a pertinent remark about the crime problem. Society should highlight not only citizens' rights, although they are important and must be defended in this Chamber; we should stress that parents have responsibilities too, an aspect that has unfortunately been left out in recent years.
It was perhaps inevitable that we should hear one other plea from Opposition Members on St. David's day. They are united in asking for a Welsh assembly, as they call it. It was of course on a St. David's day in the mid–1970s that the St. David's day declaration that Wales demanded a Welsh assembly was published. It was drawn up by all the people who considered themselves leading authorities—academics, churchmen, Labour politicians, trade unionists and many others who liked to feel that they represented the people of Wales and who claimed so often that they did. Only a few years later did Wales have its opportunity to vote on that proposition. I remember it because I was involved in the campaign. It was one of the few occasions on which I shared the same side of an argument as the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). Wales did not support the propositions that were presented for such a long time by those who are now in Opposition. The 86 contrary was the case. The vote was four to one against —an 80 per cent. rejection. Not one county in the Principality was prepared to support the proposals.
Opposition parties subsequently promoted the Welsh assembly proposal. Why are they so reluctant to promise to put the matter to a referendum? The proposition for a Welsh assembly was decisively rejected by the people of Wales and if the Opposition have new proposals they should subject them to the popular will. It seems that this time there would be a Welsh assembly but no referendum. That exposes the bankruptcy of Opposition arguments about a Welsh assembly.
It is inevitable that in such a debate our attention should turn to the fundamental issue that unites us all— unemployment in Wales. The hon. Member for Gower and other hon. Members spoke about that. The Opposition have made some extravagant claims. They often speak about unemployment in the valleys and I am the first to recognise that there is high unemployment in many parts of the valleys. It is arrogant of the Opposition to presume that they are the only people in the House who speak for the valleys. I have the distinction of having a valley community in my constituency, if I am able to retain it following local government reorganisation. I shall make a few observations about that.
As the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) knows, I speak for the valley community of Ystradgynlais, which I hope will be considered and recognised as such by the Opposition. Last Friday I visited that community and saw in the local library a project that has been given an award by Environment Wales. It is the Ystradgynlais 2000 project and involves the local community in identifying its exact historic roots and what its future should be. That community probably owes its existence to iron, steel and anthracite mining. Those industries died out in that area but the post war period brought to the area Smiths Industries which manufactured clocks and watches. It remained there for many years until the late 1970s. Following that a new diversified job opportunity structure had to be created. Fortunately, that community is within the area of the Development Board for Rural Wales and, as many hon. Members will know, Lucas has been involved in expanding its operation in the area. In recent weeks the development board has worked with Morris Cohen, which supplies Marks and Spencer, and that has created more job opportunities.
Many statistics have been quoted and it is important to stress the key to addressing unemployment. That valley community, cheek by jowl with many communities represented by the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), has a male unemployment rate of 9.1 per cent. I agree that that is unacceptable, but it is below the national average of 14.4 per cent. The female unemployment rate is 3.9 per cent., giving an overal rate of 7.1 per cent. compared with the national rate of 10.7 per cent.
The people in Ystradgynlais recognise that the pohcies to assist job creation in the area have been successful. No doubt that is why they are anxious to remain within the structure that gives them that support. I shall say more about that later. Of course it is not only in Ystradgynlais that that support is available. In the past month it was announced in Presteigne, on the Shropshire border of my constituency, that a company in the forefront of microwave technology, Labtech, was creating 100 new jobs. Such matters should not be dismissed by the Opposition who have stressed how important it is to look 87 to the direction from which new jobs will come. That company and many others such as Motorway Remoulds, which employs 152 people in my constituency in Knighton, have secured contracts abroad by going out to look for business. Kayes in Presteigne has obtained work from an export drive in France and Sweden.
It is generally considered that many job opportunities in rural Wales are directly attached to agriculture which, of course, underpins the local economy. However, there are other ways in which job opportunities can be created and the work undertaken by the Development Board for Rural Wales, supported by the Welsh Office, has been crucial in underpinning those job opportunities in my constituency. The Secretary of State has recognised that there should be a specific initiative, his own rural initiative, the details of which he recently announced to the Welsh Grand Committee. Some of us in the rural parts of Wales are a little disappointed that a proportion of the money for that initiative is to be spent in the constituency of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) because that will diminish the pot for the rest of rural Wales, although I do not begrudge the hon. Gentleman a penny of that money. The projects supported by that initiative are important.
§ Mr. Ainger
I understand the hon. Gentleman's disappointment that the West Wales task force has top sliced £2.5 million from the total budget of £6.6 million for the rural initiative. Does he agree that the schemes for which he will be seeking support from the rural initiative should be supported by that initiative and that the restructuring of the west Wales economy that is required by the task force should be funded not by the initiative but by completely new Welsh Office money?
§ Mr. Evans
I shall leave the hon. Member for Pembroke to conduct his own negotiations with the Secretary of State, not through me. We can make common cause on the fact that we would have preferred the overall rural initiative budget to remain at £6.6 million.
There are other ways in which support for infrastructure can be secured. I referred to those in interventions. I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade proposed that rural Wales, comprising the four rural counties, should be designated for objective I status. I presume that all hon. Members were disappointed to note that when the European Commission subsequently presented to the Council of Ministers the list of areas that are apparently to be recommended for that status, the only two on the list were Merseyside and the Scottish highlands and islands. The President of the Board of Trade has subsequently made it clear that, when he goes to the Council of Ministers, he intends to continue to press the case for rural Wales and, through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I should like to encourage him because rural Wales needs such assistance.
The housing situation has already been mentioned. I recognise—I would, would 1 not—the difficulties that there are in providing adequate housing for the homeless throughout Wales. However, insufficient attention has 88 been given to the work that has been undertaken by housing associations, particularly the Mid-Wales housing association—here I gently chide the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), who is my neighbour. I had talks with that housing association, which operates both within my constituency and his, a few weeks ago and it was particularly grateful for the £1 million of extra funding that was made available out of the £750 million that was announced by the Chancellor in the autumn statement. I know that that was useful and will enable it to make additional housing provision.
That is not to say that any of this is ever enough. We must try to address the problems caused by homelessness. The rough sleepers initiative in London has been very successful. Although the phenomenon of rough sleeping in London is regularly raised, the numbers sleeping rough have diminished, substantially as a result of that initiative. Among those engaged in housing matters, the initiative is widely supported and praised. I wish to see a similar project in Wales. At the moment it is geared towards the metropolis and there is no equivalent structure in Wales, even though we all recognise that homelessness is a problem in Wales and even manifests itself in some rural areas.
I am bound to end my speech by referring to the statement on local government made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State this afternoon. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery will not take it amiss if I say that this is the second occasion on which I have found something in a speech of his with which I am able to agree. In the Welsh Grand Committee, I praised his speech and I hope that he will not find it an embarrassment in his constituency if I do so on a second occasion today. He was right in what he said about the reaction in mid-Wales to the statement made by the Secretary of State.
Within my constituency, the town of Brecon, so long the county town of Breconshire, is this year celebrating its 900th anniversary and had been hoping to do so within the context of the return to Breconshire as a unitary authority. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for agreeing to meet representatives from it, as he also met representatives of Radnor district council. Those discussions took place within the context of the consultation document—a document that speaks of local government being relevant to local communities and in touch with them.
I do not wish to be churlish about Powys county council. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery went rather further in calling it a white elephant than I dare to go because I think that Powys county council has suffered substantially—for example, through lack of morale—ever since the consultation paper was announced. I do not begrudge it the feeling of relief that it may have today. However, elsewhere beyond county hall, there is no doubt that the Secretary of State's announcement will be greeted with dismay in my constituency.
Conservative Members have spoken about extending the role of local government. In that context, the size of the authorities is of far less importance than the way in which those authorities are in touch with the people whom they serve. I sought to make that point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State before he made his announcement. I am sure that the announcement will be substantially fought in mid-Wales and my right hon. Friend will hear many further representations on the subject.
89 The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery gave an eloquent apology for his absence from the Welsh Grand Committee next Monday. I shall be telling the Committee, perhaps in rather more detail, about the local reactions to the announcement.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will reconsider, and will listen closely to the strong views on the matter that will be expressed by representatives from Mongomeryshire, Radnorshire and Breconshire. I hope that his consultations with local opinion will lead him to the view that those are authorities that he should not end through the policies in the White Paper.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
I was intrigued to note that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) was coy about singling out Ystradgynlais in the litany of problems that will affect his constituency. The Secretary of State may come bearing gifts for him in a different context. I know Ystradgynlais well. It is at the top end of the Swansea valley in terms of both travel-to-work and major shopping centres. It looks down the valley and was put into Powys in local government terms in the early 1970s because of the need to find additional rateable value. In community terms, it probably relates rather more to the south than to the north.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans
I do not want to detain the hon. Gentleman, but he may be aware that 5,000 of the people of Ystradgynlais have signed a petition asking to remain within Breconshire.
§ Mr. Anderson
They are wonderfully traditional people. I am delighted that the Secretary of State is here because the points that I wish to make are addressed to him. However genial, listening and open he is, he is clearly fettered by a decade of Thatcherism and the remains of it —for example, in terms of the planning framework that he has inherited and with which he has to deal and of the infrastructure and the post-Thatcherite privatisation measures that are still in the pipeline and can still do such enormous damage to Wales.
I shall deal first with the lack of a planning framework and of a strategy for Wales. The very word "planning" was anathema in the last decade. The buzz words were "rolling back the frontiers of freedom" and the move was away from planning. Now, the balance has swung so far that Wales does not have a proper framework within which to set its plans. The Secretary of State will know that a number of exercises are under way. One is Wales 2010, which is no more than a "futureological" exercise—I understand that it will shortly be published. There is the economic forum in Cardiff university, which is focussing essentially on the labour market and modelling.
Lastly, there is a rather odd exercise which I and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) attended a year or so ago. That amounted to a sub-contracting by the Welsh Office to the county councils, and only to the physical planning departments of those councils, to look at future problems in Wales. It was an edging, crab-wise—teetering, tottering—towards a partial planning framework such as that in "Wales: The Way Ahead", which we all remember with some affection.
Having destroyed the instruments of regional planning, the Government have left themselves without a framework within which Wales can he planned. That is wrong and the 90 gap will have adverse effects in Wales. I believe that the Secretary of State, personally, would favour a more forward-looking planning system, but planning within his party, for ideological reasons, is still a word which dare not breathe its name. He has, therefore, to proceed cautiously and in a crabwise way.
There are two other elements that go to make up the Government's ideological clothes which substantially harm the prospects of tackling the problems of Wales. One of those elements is the road-rail infrastructure. Even the most right-wing of Governments who dislike intervention in the market accept that it is a proper role of government to provide a road-rail infrastructure.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) said, on Friday the Minister of State opened the Earlswood to Lon Las section of the M4—the "missing link". Some people may wonder what I am grumbling about. They may take the view that the Welsh Office has come bearing gifts. Let us consider the history of the venture. In the early 1970s, the M4 from Hammersmith to Pont Abraham was completed with the exception of the missing link. In the very early 1970s, the consulting engineers, Sir Owen Williams and Partners, were asked to undertake a feasibility study. By 1977 or 1978, the preferred route was published. From 1977–78 until now, there has been silence apart from that. It will not he until early 1995 or thereabouts that the small missing link will be completed. The long delay from the time when the preferred route was published—in October 1977—until now has been caused by the Government's unwillingness to give priority to the road, which is of major importance to the area.
I refer the Secretary of State to the report which was discussed at the regional conference of south Wales counties, which highlighted the fact that west Glamorgan has been the least successful area in attracting overseas investment. It cannot be coincidental that the missing link or bottleneck has had such a damaging effect on the perception, for locational purposes, of incoming industrialists. That has been the result of the lack of action of the Conservative-controlled Welsh Office over the past decade. Delay and obstruction have frustrated private motorists and have deterred the inward investor.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
We have always recognised the need for the Baglan-Lon Las link. There were other areas in south Wales, however, which suffered from far worse congestion and had to be dealt with before the Baglan-Lon Las link.
§ Mr. Anderson
The Minister of State is a little coy about how he looked after his own patch. The victim was the economy of south-west Wales. There was a missing link to Swansea, and, indeed, to the whole of south-west Wales.
The high-speed train, about which we have heard so much, was the technology of the early 1970s. It is now clapped out. We are being denied electrification and that will have an adverse effect on Wales when the channel tunnel opens. I am thinking especially of our ability to link into the channel tunnel system. We have seen the deterioration since the early 1970s of the rail service to south Wales in terms of sleeper trains, early morning and late evening services and so on. As I have said, Wales has been short-changed over the channel tunnel. There are no plans for any through day trains to the continent from Wales and it is not clear how many, if any, of the 125 HSTs 91 —the Paddington services—will divert to Waterloo to provide a cross-platform interchange with the Euro-style services.
The connection between the Western regional line and Waterloo via the west London line has been made more complicated due to the removal of the link or cord where the west London line crosses the Western region.
Passengers are losing out because of our lack of access to the continent and freight problems are manifold. There is likely to be a collapse in the volume of freight carried as a result of the Government's industrial and energy problems. It will be extremely difficult for freight services to have any prospect of success when it comes to trying to take advantage of the channel tunnel. The Secretary of State must be aware of the major question marks over peripheral rail services in Wales as a result of the privatisation proposals. Under the first tranche of privatisation, the Paddington-Swansea line will be privatised. From Swansea westward the contract may be won by Badger line or whoever. I understand that Badger line will make it a condition that it is able to interchange or integrate with its own bus services. A question must be posed for the HST services from west Wales that link into the Paddington rail service. There are many threats that arise directly to our south Wales services from the Government's privatisation ideology.
Perhaps the greatest threat of all to Swansea derives directly from the Government's policies. I have in mind the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and other governmental operations in south Wales. The Secretary of State will know that more than 4,000 jobs in south Wales which come within the Department of Transport are threatened because of the move beyond agency status. In the Swansea area, 3,000-plus jobs are threatened at the DVLA. There is also the driver and vehicle information technology sector of the Department which is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). The Secretary of State must be aware that there is no loyalty in the Department of Transport to the DVLA. It is clear that it regards it as an outstation. The Department is under pressure to say that it has got rid of civil servants and that it puts people into the private sector. The result is the destruction of the policy of dispersal of Government jobs, which has been the only direct weapon available to the Government to enable them to take jobs to areas outside London. As the Government divest themselves of that weapon, there will be devastating job implications.
Has the Secretary of State been involved in any of the Government's decisions? We have the sad memory of his sidelining of pit closures and of the Inland Revenue deciding to close two repayment offices in Wales, one in Wrexham and one in the Swansea valley. Wales alone was left without the benefit of an IRRO and had to turn to Belfast, with all the language and other problems that arose from that.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the threat is even more profound? Privatisation, which is one of the Government's dogmas, is in conflict with one of the policies about which they are least enthusiastic in implementing—regional policy. At the same time, they are revising regional policy, possibly in favour of English regions and to the disadvantage of 92 Wales. Over the next few years, the combination of privatisation and the loss of regional support could mean that the position in Wales worsens.
§ Mr. Anderson
Yes, and that is a direct result of the Government's policies. I understand that the Secretary of State is on the Cabinet Committee that is considering ways of attracting jobs to Wales and other areas. What is being done about safeguarding those jobs that are already in Wales and under the direct control of the Government?
We are aware of the notorious memorandum issued last October. The position is not that suggested by the Secretary of State during Question Time—some sort of academic exercise that must be carried out because the contract ends in April. The Government imposed the exercise on the chief executive. He said that, in his judgment, it was worth further examining the contractor option. He admitted that if they went ahead with that option, almost all the 3,000-plus jobs in Swansea would go —yet that was the option that he appeared to be recommending to the Government.
As the Government set off further along their ideological path, there will be even greater threats to jobs in Wales. Even on the WDA figures, it costs about £14,000 to attract each new job to Wales. On the Government's figures, every unemployed person costs the Exchequer about £9,000. At a time when the ideologues are pressing forward, who will say, "Stop, hold on, is it in the public interest for the Government to go ahead with such ideological frolics and make people in Wales unemployed? Is it in the public interest for the Government to threaten 3,000 people in the DVLA with unemployment?"
Is the Secretary of State to be sidelined again, or will he fight in Cabinet to prevent the danger to Wales? The local economy of Swansea will be undermined if the DVLA is closed. We know that the exercise has been taking place for several months and, according to the chief executive's memorandum, was likely to start in October and to last for three months—so it may have ended already. It would not even have come to the Secretary of State's attention had it not been for a leak. I appeal to him to intervene to prevent such nonsense and to save those valuable jobs in Swansea.
§ Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if, in speaking about Wales—as is proper on St. David's day in a Welsh debate—I begin with my constituency and, in particular, the town of Aberystwyth. Historically, Aberystwyth is second to none in national importance in Wales. It is the site of the first college of the University of Wales, built—according to popular mythology, which in itself is important—with the pence of the poor. That is an expression of Welsh nationality. It is part of the aspiration of the people of Wales to join the modern world and to aspire to higher education—the children of the gwerin, the ordinary people.
The first principal of the college was Thomas Charles Edwards, son of the great Lewis Edwards, who was principal of the theological college at Bala and grandson of the great Thomas Charles of Bala—one of the greatest of all Welsh men—who was one of the Charles family of Carmarthenshire, noted for their contribution to poetry and scholarship.
Aberystwyth university college is an education establishment of world renown. It has now been joined by 93 other, similar establishments such as the national library, the Welsh agricultural college and the pioneering and wonderful Welsh plant breeding station, now the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, one of the prime world establishments of its kind. The college of librarianship is now a part of the university college. I could go on and on with the list.
On the western seaboard of Wales we have a centre of higher education and research that is of great significance. I am sure that Ministers would agree that it is vital that its prosperity is preserved—indeed, enhanced. Aberystwyth should become the cultural capital of Wales and certainly the capital of mid Wales. If we ever have a permanent site for the national eisteddfod, it should be Aberystwyth. It would be an appropriate headquarters for the Welsh Language Board. It is already the headquarters of many other institutions.
The future of Aberystwyth is vital not only for its own sake, but for the sake of a proper balance in the social, cultural and economic structure of Wales, which needs a centre of gravity on the western seaboard to counteract that of Cardiff in the south-east and Deeside in the north-east.
The Development Board for Rural Wales, in its strategy, now emphasises developments further west. Having achieved some success in the eastern area of mid Wales—in New Town and adjoining areas—it is now prioritising Ceredigion; and, within Ceredigion, Aberystwyth is crucial to the board's strategy.
Some say that the remoteness of Aberystwyth is a problem. Remoteness is a subjective judgment, depending on where one is. Aberystwyth is not particularly remote from Talgarreg, where I live. I can get there in 40 minutes, so it is not half as remote from Talgarreg as London is. The remoteness of London and other centres of power from Aberystwyth is a problem. That is why communications are crucial for the staff at the education and research centres. Already in Aberystwyth, and indeed in other parts of Wales, there is a sense of being inadequately represented on the councils and committees that determine research grants. That is a disadvantage. At a meeting of a research council committee, one man is reported as saying, "We tend to forget you at Aberystwyth, out beyond the hills." That committee is repsonsible for awarding research grants. Obtaining money from research councils is crucial at a time of change in the arrangements for research funding generally.
Communications are also important in attracting students to Aberystwyth's colleges, and they are obviously important for business people and for holidaymakers. Therefore, for the retention and enhancement of the importance of Aberystwyth in the west, an efficient railway service is absolutely essential; yet that very service is now under serious threat. Over the years there have been significant improvements to the main line from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth, although it is true that we have lost the InterCity direct connection to London. That has been compensated for partly by the introduction of the 158 sprinters, which are pleasant, comfortable and fairly rapid.
There has been substantial investment in the infrastructure, amounting to millions of pounds, from local authorities and the DBRW. There were plans for improvements in timetabling, journey times and connections, but of late the reality has been quite different. Not long ago the news broke that Shell was transferring its 94 weekly oil train from Stanlow to Aberystwyth from rail to road as from 1 May. I think that that is due to increased charges by Railfreight, the effects of which are seen elsewhere. They are generally recognised as part of the process of preparing for privatisation. That change is bound to be madness. How a train comprising 15 wagons can be uneconomic beats me. Imagine the effect of moving 19,000 tonnes of petrol products weekly from rail to road in terms of danger, congestion, wear and tear to the roads, and environmental damage. The roads in question are particularly busy during the summer.
Recently, two letters mysteriously found their way on to my desk. They are from a person named J. D. H. Russell, a Regional Railways civil engineer in Birmingham, to a Dr. N. N. Higton, infrastructure manager at Shrewsbury. The first, dated 19 January, states:It is becoming increasingly clear that resources and funding to maintain the true rural railway will be very scarce in 1993/94. The Cambrian main line is a 'green' route, and the coast 'yellow'.With this background, and knowing that Freight will be ceasing to serve the oil terminal at Aberystwyth shortly, the consideration of additional loco hauled traffic is unwise. The future for this railway, west of Shrewsbury, is becoming clarified as 'sprinter only'.The second letter, to Mr. Mark Causebrook, states:Thank you for your letter of 1st February 1993. I confirm that my letter of 19th January referred to both the Cambrian Main Line as well as the Coast.I am aware that next summer's timetable includes a few locomotive hauled trains to Pwllheli. I am not happy about this, but it would appear that there is no alternative for this year.In the light of the proposed 'Maintenance Holiday' I am unwilling, at this time, to agree to any additional locomotive hauled trains west of Shrewsbury. I am aware that occasionally I may need to run a locomotive hauled ballast train for my own purposes, but in such a case I take the responsibility for safety and I can specify any particular conditions of passage.
§ Mr. Llwyd
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the green route means essential maintenance only and that the yellow route means no maintenance whatsoever? Is it correct to say that the Cambrian coast line will receive no maintenance in the foreseeable future, despite its importance to the whole of north-west Wales?
§ Mr. Dafis
I much regret that my hon. Friend is right. A green route is one that receives minimal maintenance, and the yellow is one that receives no maintenance.
What will be the practical consequences? The removal of the freight function will be damaging in itself—it is one less service for which the line will be used. It means also that maintenance can be reduced. Freight and locomotives have the heaviest axle loading. Bridges will be allowed to fall to lower safety levels. Bringing freight back to the line in future—which is what ought to happen, and the Secretary of State says that he wants that to happen—would be very difficult.
The "maintenance holiday"—a fine euphemism for neglect—will inevitably mean speed restrictions on certain sections of the line. There will be more and more in time, especially on bends. Broken fences will not be repaired, with the result that animals will stray on to the track and create delays and perhaps derailments. The service will be less attractive, there will be poorer adherence to timetables, journey times will be longer, and there is he the 95 implication of reduced use as travellers choose other options, such as using their cars. There will also be reduced revenue.
It amounts to nothing short of rundown. At some points, the arguments for closure would become compelling. I am told that those developments all spring from a reduction in the public service obligation grant and the rumoured favouring of the eastern peripheral area of central regions, for reasons that I will not explain now.
What else might one expect from a reduction in the PSO grant that has been made, especially from the smaller amount available to the Welsh periphery? One would expect a reduction in the number of services, and that is happening. One might expect also the use of cheaper rolling stock. I am unofficially advised that in April the line will lose the 158 sprinters that were introduced to compensate for the loss of the InterCity stock, to be replaced by 156s and 153s—which are inferior, less comfortable, and slower.
On the Pwllheli line, the occasional locomotives will be replaced by commuter 150 sprinters—which are cramped and far less attractive. Imagine the effect on the thousands of travellers from the English midlands who use that service to travel to Butlins in Pwllheli in the summer and on Pwllheli's general holiday business and that of the Lleyn peninsula.
I ask the Secretary of State for Wales to tell the Secretary of State for Transport that the rundown of the Welsh rail service is intolerable. Privatisation or no privatisation, we want the whole existing network to be retained. We want possible new routes explored, rather than see a reduction in existing routes. We want enhanced, improved services, proper maintenance, and more freight.
The electrification of the line through Cardiff, Swansea and Carmarthen all the way to Fishguard and Milford, with a link to Pembroke Dock, should also be given serious consideration. In the north, the same facility should be provided through to Holyhead. There should be the development of central and southern corridors to the Republic of Ireland—a Euroroute, no less.
The best way to ensure that is to stop Wales being a periphery at someone else's core. We need an integrated transport policy for Wales of the kind that the Welsh Select Committee and Welsh transport experts have long advocated. If privatisation must come, it should incorporate a franchising authority for Wales, and the Welsh Office should be made responsible for the public service obligation grant, to ensure that we receive our fair share.
In the context of the broader environmental framework, it is important to realise that the realities of the environmental crisis facing our planet mean that we have reached a turning point in world history. The requirement to move towards environmental sustainability has massive implications. The Community's fifth environmental programme on sustainability and the United Nations conference on environment and development document "Agenda 21" are both compromise documents and less radical than they ought to be, but they show that environmental sustainability means deep-seated radical changes. Crucial to sustainability are far-reaching adjustments in transportation, including a substantial shift from road to rail.
96 If we allow the railways that link west Wales to the rest of Britain, and to the European continent, to decline and to be closed, we may as well say that we will close down Aberystwyth, and, indeed, a great part of Wales. To fail to develop the railways of central and southern corridors will be to miss an enormous opportunity. If we shut down the railways, we may as well shut down Wales—and, at this juncture, Wales is not particularly in a mood to be shut down.
§ Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)
When researching for the debate, I looked up some details about St. David. I discovered, among other things, that he practised a lifestyle involving immersion in cold water—something that I would recommend to his namesake, the Secretary of State. Certainly many of my constituents would love to tip some cold water over the right hon. Gentleman, following the speech that he made today: it offered them little hope. That applies especially to the 2,895 people who are officially unemployed in the Neath area—a figure to which can be safely added the 5,000 who are economically inactive. The Government would prefer us not to notice that figure, but it describes those who fall off the unemployment register for one reason or another, although they are of working age.
When those two figures are added together, we find that some 8,000 people are out of work in the Neath constituency—about 30 per cent. of the working population. The youth unemployment figures are frightening: figures released only last week show that Neath is the worst-hit area in Britain. A staggering 36 per cent. of people under 25 are unemployed in the Neath area: more than one in three. If we add those who are temporarily off the dole—people in dead-end training schemes that lead them nowhere—we find that about 50 per cent. of our youngsters are without jobs in the Neath area. That is a disgrace, not only for the people of Neath but for the people of Wales as a whole.
There is a clear correlation between the youth unemployment figures and the youth crime figures. For example, 2,345 serious offences by juveniles were recorded in 1991; that figure is clearly linked to the rise in youth unemployment. I believe that it is hypocritical for the Government to proclaim themselves the party of law and order when it is their policies that have produced the increase in crime from which we have all suffered.
The figures for Wales, for example, show a 138 per cent. increase in crime since 1979 and only a 3 per cent. increase in police staffing provision. In other words, the increase in crime is 46 times more than the increase in police provision by the Secretary of State. No wonder there has been a massive slump in the clear-up rates in south Wales, from 41 per cent. to 29 per cent. In Neath, crime has risen by 96 per cent. since 1979; yet police staffing in Neath has fallen from 104 to 90—admittedly, partly because of the relocation of some senior officers.
Many of my constituents want to see more police on the beat, assisting their local communities to deal with a crime wave for which the Secretary of State and the whole Conservative Government in Wales are directly responsible. They have virtually encouraged the development of the conditions for crime; in a sense, they have incited crime.
§ Mr. Hain
The hon. Gentleman spoke for so long that I am surprised at his arrogance in seeking to intervene.
Not content with encouraging the crime wave, the Secretary of State has also encouraged attacks on education provision. In west Glamorgan, the county's fine tradition is currently at risk. Nursery funding, for example, is seriously endangered: the county has one of the best records in the country in that regard—if not the best record—with over 90 per cent. take-up rates for three-year-olds; yet there is no specific revenue grant for nursery education and the new funding arrangements under the Education Bill will give it no protection. I seriously fear for its future.
I also fear for the county's outstanding record in education and for the work of its officers, local people and councillors. It has had to cut its budget by £6.4 million, £2.2 million of which has come off the education budget as a result of the Secretary of State's instructions. As a result, its record in special needs, music, arts and sport is threatened. I am worried about that and I hope that the Minister will reassure me when he replies. I am especially anxious about village primary schools which, only a few years ago, were threatened as a result of a Welsh Office edict. I think that primary schools in my constituency—such as Rhifawr, Clun, Tonmawr and Pontrhydyfen— deserve a thriving future. They are at the heart of local villages, yet they are all threatened by the cuts forced on schools by the Welsh Office.
It is vital for the Secretary of State to stop cutting the provision for local counties such as West Glamorgan and any of its successors. It is disgraceful that he should have bullied West Glamorgan into cutting its budget so savagely by threatening it with capping proposals.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order I think that there has been some misunderstanding. The hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) had concluded his speech and was not giving way.
§ 9.4 pm
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) for being brief. I shall try to be the same to accommodate my colleagues.
Fortunately, Carmarthen has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Wales—5.3 per cent. We have a problem with low pay, with which the Government's plans to abolish wages councils will not help. Unemployment is high in rural areas around Carmarthen. Last week, the front page of the local newspaper, the Camarthen Journal, said: "Superstore jobs bonanza". Fortunately, because of our geographical position, the service sector is doing well, but there were 2,700 applicants for 230 jobs—12 for each job—80 per cent. of which were part time. That shows how desperate people are for work. I am sure that in other parts of Wales there are 20, 30 or 40 applicants for each vacancy.
There are 3,248 unemployed people in the constituency of Carmarthen. That is below the constituency average for Wales, but a third of them are young people aged between 18 and 25. Each constituency has more than 1,000 people aged between 18 to 25 out of work. How do they plan their lives? Our generation was lucky to have higher education and all of life's chances lay ahead of the Secretary of State.
98 I represent an area where 65 per cent. of the population are Welsh speaking. The Education Bill will not help and the Welsh Language Bill may help only modestly, but the biggest threat to the Welsh language is unemployment. Young people are having to leave rural areas and are going to Swansea, Cardiff and across the border, taking their families with them. The problem for the language is outward migration: young people planning their futures outside Dyfed and Gwynedd.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State is involved in preparations for the Budget, but I hope that the top priority will be jobs, which is the biggest problem facing the economy. The Government must first stop destroying existing jobs in the coal industry and local authorities and by privatisation, market testing and many of their other philosophies. Local authority capital receipts from the sale of council houses should be released to allow local authorities to build houses and to help tackle the desperate social need for housing. Opposition Members would like major capital investment to be funded by a windfall profit tax on privatised industries.
Some 300 jobs could be lost at Pendine. I have written to the Secretary of State asking for a meeting with him as soon as possible with my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger). Is there any way in which he can bring his influence to bear on the Ministry of Defence? In Dyfed we have lost nearly 1,000 jobs because of defence cuts in the past few years and we will lose more in the next two to three years. We have already had our share of cuts, so I hope that we can arrange an early meeting and that the Secretary of State will make representations about Pendine to the Ministry of Defence on behalf of myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke.
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)
The past 14 years have been disastrous for the majority of people in Wales. It has been a disastrous period for the environment, jobs, housing and indeed the poor. Hon. Members highlighted many of the disasters in the past 12 months.
On the environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) brought to the House's attention the fact that Browning Ferris had made a successful application to the Secretary of State. The firm's record speaks for itself. In 1987 it was found guilty of felony charges, of price fixing in Ohio, and was fined $1 million. In 1984 it was fined $350,000 for price fixing in Georgia. In 1987 it was fined $6 million for price fixing and attempted monopoly of Vermont hauling market. In 1984, an informant testified to BF's association with organised crime before a state investigatory committee. In 1987 the Department of Justice announced action on an Environmental Protection Agency complaint, filing charges of 2,800 violations at the Livingston toxic dump. In 1988 the company settled the law suit for $1.1 million, an additional $900,000 to the state and $500,000 to Louisiana university. Its record goes on and on.
Most sensible people would have thought that, with such a record, there was no possibility of the firm's planning application being accepted in a town such as Newport, but that was not the case. The Secretary of State for Wales has agreed to a planning application from that company, which has links with organised crime in the United States, and it is not a one-off example.
99 We can cite the case of ReChem in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). My hon. Friend and I have been pressing for a public inquiry for many years. The Secretary of State told us that if we could bring evidence of contamination to the House, he would re-think his position on a public inquiry. Some months ago I provided evidence that, even using its own measuring rod, ReChem had broken environmental guidelines more than 2,000 times. The Secretary of State's response was total silence.
ReChem has now made an application to build a new incinerator and its application is being considered by the pollution inspectorate. However, the investigation is a farce. Some months ago, I and many Members of the European Parliament had a meeting with the Secretary of State. I asked him a question three times and he gave the same answer: ReChem was building an incinerator. We now know that the decision on that application was taken before the pollution inspectorate had reported. That is scandalous and an insult to the people in the communities involved.
The waste is not only local but comes from many other countries. For example, in December last year it came from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Greece, Ireland, Italy, and Luxembourg. We have said that each country should be responsible for its own waste. That is not a nationalistic demand but a demand for responsible government. Governments should not allow goods to be produced unless they are capable and willing to deal with them once they have come to the end of their natural life.
There have been other disasters, for example, in housing. In Blaenau Gwent, 4,000 people are on the council house waiting list. There is no possibility of their receiving accommodation in the months or years ahead. In addition, hundreds of people are waiting for renovation grants but those grants have been stopped.
The past 14 years have also been a disaster for unemployed people. Young people with tremendous skills, talents and creativity are not being given the opportunity to use them to benefit their communities and to benefit the great industries in which they should be working. As a result of an act of economic madness, the Government are now paying £9,000 per person to keep people on the dole. That money should be used to breathe life into our communities in south-east Wales.
The past decade has been disastrous. It is to the credit of the people of south-east Wales that they have not given in. Increasingly, they are raising their voices in protest. As they do that more in the years ahead, we shall see an end to this Government and to the disasters that they have inflicted on our communities.
§ Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke)
I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith), for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) and for Neath (Mr. Hain) for keeping their speeches short so that I can make a brief contribution. As I mentioned when I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), west Wales faces the problem of a total restructuring of its economy following the closure of RAF Brawdy, the proposed closure of RNAD Trecwn in 1996 and the closure of the Milford mines depot in April 1992.
100 In the energy industry, which has been a mainstay of the local economy, especially in the form of the former Central Electricity Generating Board power station which is now controlled by National Power, there are plans to halve the work force shortly from approximately 300 to 150. Dowty Seals, with the support of regional aid, came to Milford Haven some years ago. It is now cutting back and has announced 50 redundancies.
We need a total restructuring of the economy in west Wales. Agriculture has faced cut after cut after cut and will never return to the level of employment that it used to provide. The manufacturing sector in Pembrokeshire has shrunk, as shown by the example of Dowty Seals.
The cuts have shocked many people in all walks of life in Pembrokeshire. On Friday night, I went to the second meeting of the Pembroke chamber of commerce which was formed only at the beginning of the year. I was accompanied by the two chief executives of the district council. The chamber of commerce wanted to hear the proposals, the plans and the strategy for rejuvenating and restructuring the local economy put forward by the task force which was set up 13 months ago by the Secretary of State. We reported fairly that, although the task force had striven for 13 months to produce a report, the Secretary of State unfortunately had not matched the strategy with the cash required to implement it. Some £2.5 million of rural initiative money has been directed for this financial year and for the next three financial years towards restructuring the economy which, from the closure of the Ministry of Defence depots alone, will remove from Pembrokeshire £25 million per annum, irrespective of other structural changes.
People were shocked when they were told that the task force which was given responsibility by the Secretary of State to try to reinvigorate the local economy had not met since 19 November. They were shocked to know that the director, who was in post until January, had not been replaced. If that is a measure of the commitment to west Wales, to Pembrokeshire and to the restructuring of our local economy, we shall not see the radical improvement required. To take 12 months to produce a final report is unacceptable. To then say to the people of Pembrokeshire and of Cardigan that all that they will get is £2.5 million to restructure their economy is not on.
We had hoped that the need to improve the rail and road communications to which many hon. Members have referred could have been a pleasant announcement and schemes to invigorate and restructure our economy could have been brought forward. When we are asked about placing new Government jobs in Pembrokeshire, the reply is that our communications are bad.
We expected that some of the bypasses which have been planned for three, four or five years time could have been brought forward, but all that we were told was that we are getting the improvements to the M4 around Baglan. That does not solve the problems in Pembrokeshire. It does not solve the problem of communications to our ferry ports, such as Fishguard, and on to Ireland.
The message that I bring from the Pembrokeshire chamber of commerce is that the Secretary of State's response to restructuring the economy in west Wales is wholly inadequate. If the Secretary of State gave a commitment, it would certainly be worth a lot more than £2.5 million per annum.
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
It has been the usual St. David's day debate so far—not always in the charitable Christian spirit of St. David. Obviously, we would like to be able to agree on everything on St. David's day, but there is a wide gulf not simply across the Dispatch Box. To be honest, the gulf sometimes seems about 1,000 miles wide.
The Secretary of State told us in the House, as he did in the Welsh Grand Committee, that it was our obligation as an Opposition to talk Wales up. We regard it as our job to tell the truth as we find it. We object strongly and it tends to catch the Secretary of State on the quick when we say that the most rapidly rising medical science in Wales is that of statistical physiotherapy—it is sometimes known as massaging the figures. The Secretary of State wears pink contact lenses and then tells us that everything in the garden is rosy.
I shall give some examples of things that tend to puzzle us. The Secretary of State referred to the training and enterprise councils. He has been in charge of them for almost 12 months and has assembled the training and employment division so that he can co-ordinate employment and training activities in Wales.
The Secretary of State said that the budget for the training and enterprise councils for next year will be £102 or £103 million, which is roughly the same as the outturn figure for training and enterprise council expenditure this year. Of course, it is not the same as the budget expenditure for training and enterprise councils this year which was about £115 or £116 million. Something strange seems to have been going on which perhaps the Secretary of State may care to think about.
An unintended profit seems to have been made on the activities of the training and enterprise councils in Wales under the first year of the Secretary of State's administration. I asked a question about the matter recently. Training and enterprise councils are not allowed to make a profit: they make a surplus. Of course, it is the same thing. It simply means that they have not spent the money that they should have done. The Secretary of State was looking after them and should have insisted that they spend the money.
The worrying thing is that the councils are people-oriented activities. They are supposed to spend their money on training, but they appear to be going into property speculation. They will use the £15 million surplus on at least two occasions as far as we are aware. Perhaps the Secretary of State can either confirm or deny that or tell us the policy of the Welsh Office on the councils going into property speculation.
We understand that the councils will build headquarters for themselves in north-east Wales and in west Glamorgan. Not only that, but they will build space in the Northop business park on the A55 and the new business park on the old A48 near the Velindre tinplate works, which they will sublet. I am not sure whether that is what the Welsh Office intended the companies to do and that is probably why the Secretary of State has cut their budget for next year.
If the right hon. Gentleman disapproves of the councils going into property speculation, why did not he administer them properly in the first year? Is that good news or bad news? We think that it is wrong. It is a great criticism of the Welsh Office's administration of the training and 102 enterprise councils that the Secretary of State has not stopped them becoming property speculators when they should be spending 100 per cent. of their money on such an important activity as training.
Another matter on which we tend to see things from the opposite end of the telescope to the Secretary of State is the Welsh Development Agency budget for next year. The Secretary of State proudly boasts about the new £50 million property programme. He says that he announced in the autumn public expenditure statement that the WDA's budget would increase to a new record of £171 million in the year which will start in a month's time. Everything is a record in the eyes of the Secretary of State.
Yet when one examines the WDA budget, the Secretary of State is providing not more but less money for the WDA next year. He is reducing the grant in aid to the WDA. So what is the WDA supposed to do next year? It is supposed to get 63.4per cent. of its expenditure back from the users of the WDA's services. So that will mean sharply increased rents for tenants and vast numbers of existing industrial estates being sold over the heads of their tenants, or more bespoke work rather than advance factory building work.
We are not sure what the change will mean, but certainly more Welsh Office money is not going to the WDA. But the Secretary of State presents it as more Welsh Office money. He has a tendency to reinforce his rose-coloured spectacles with pink contact lenses. We are not happy about that way of looking at things. If the WDA grant is to be reduced, it is better to say so. The Secretary of State should say, "I cannot afford to keep up the public expenditure because those swines in the Treasury have cut my money." It is much better to say that so that the people of Wales know exactly what the truth is.
There is a crisis about objective 1 status. If the four counties for which the Secretary of State applied for it through the President of the Board of Trade had achieved it, we would have had 75 per cent. grants and could have obtained grants for a much wider range of activities such as health, hospitals and training centres. Virtually anything can be covered in an area which has objective 1 status. It is an enormous boon.
Unfortunately, Merseyside has been given objective 1 status and the four counties of rural Wales have not. Perhaps the Secretary of State can tell us whether his area of the Wirral is included in Merseyside. I am not sure what is the definition of Merseyside, or whether it extends to the terribly deprived areas of the Wirral. We always think that the Secretary of State tends to see Wales as nothing more than a pretty view from the Wirral.
Sometimes we feel that the Secretary of State should pay attention to our problems rather than see Wales as a jumping-off point from which he might achieve promotion to a Cabinet job that he would really like to do. That is why he tends to go in for self-promotion. He hopes that self-promotion of the Secretary of State will lead to promotion for the Secretary of State at the next Cabinet reshuffle. Then he could forget about whether he should have tried harder for Wales rather than thinking about the interests of the Wirral and Merseyside.
The message about whether things are going well or badly must be handled carefully and with sensitivity. We do not believe in depressing the people of Wales about the difficult conditions which everyone goes through in a recession. It is difficult. One has to mix up the messages about what are the problems and what is the potential. One must give equal emphasis to both. Opposition 103 Members believe that that is important. We are as keen as the Secretary of State—if not more so, because we represent constituencies in Wales—to see economic regeneration of Wales take place at maximum speed.
However, we do not accept that it is our job to cover over the problems in the way that the Secretary of State wants when he asks us to talk up the market. We see problems in the health service. The Secretary of State produced figures for waiting times. The Government have stopped talking about waiting lists now. They can say that waiting times are down. They cannot say that waiting lists are down because they are up.
I take an example from my constituency. One would love to cheer on the sidelines when the Secretary of State or one of his Ministers announces an initiative. A month ago the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, who has responsibility for health, announced an extra £0.75 million fund called the waiting times initiative fund. He was going to release last-minute money, before the end of the financial year, for operations to be carried out on people who were in serious danger of having to wait beyond the maximum time when treatment should be given, as set out in the patients charter.
I did a lot of checking and the money was genuine. The Government were releasing an extra £750,000 and much was to be spent in hospitals in my constituency, such as the Prince of Wales, on artificial knee joint and hip joint operations. I felt that I could get into trouble because I could not find anything to criticise. I thought that I might have to give one and a half cheers. I did not know what to do. I thought it was best if I kept quiet, because I believed that things looked really good at first sight. I kept quiet to see whether those extra 200 operations would be carried out in that hospital in Cardiff for patients in south Glamorgan. Apparently, 100 knee and 100 hip operations were to be performed. That had to be a good thing, but I wanted to know whether it would happen.
I am glad that I waited, because today I received my first complaint about a cancelled cartilage operation that was due next Friday. I thought that perhaps those operations were being cancelled, but that the artificial hip and knee operations would still go ahead. I rang the hospital administrator of the Cardiff Royal group to see what had happened to those 200 extra operations. He said, "There is no problem with the contracts. We just have a problem with the medical staff. We have not got the medical staff that we thought we had."
It looks as though the promise to spend an extra £200,000 on hip and knee operations in south Glamorgan —I believe that an extra £750,000 was allocated in total, but I do not know about expenditure outside my area—has become yet another Tory broken promise. I was right not to cheer. Those operations will not be done before the end of the financial year.
Leaving that problem aside, our health authority is now run on a blitz at the beginning of the year and then it enters freeze mode: it worries that it has overspent because it is working too hard. Finally, at the end of the financial year, the authority goes into blitz mode once again when the Welsh Office gives some extra money to protect the waiting time initiative if the authority is in danger of exceeding the waiting limit set in the patients charter.
104 We know from the experience of my constituent today, which was confirmed by the hospital administrator to whom I spoke, that the blitz-freeze-blitz mode is no way to run a hospital service. The only way to run it is to give an authority the budget to run an effective service which works throughout the year. An authority should not have four months off in the summer when the consultants play cards because the budget has run out until the Welsh Office releases the last-minute blitz money.
I hope that the Minister will confirm the exact position with regard to the waiting time initiative. Will hospitals be allowed to carry money over into the first few months of the next financial year if they cannot spend it this side of the old financial year?
§ Mr. Morgan
I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I know that the hon. Gentleman made an absolutely wonderful speech, which bowled everyone over. I understand that he did not insult me and I hear that it was better in the original German.
The Secretary of State mentioned Tillery Valley Foods as one of the big firms that he hopes will bring great prosperity to the north Gwent valleys. The House might be interested to know that that company held its opening ceremony today and a jolly good thing, too. Another person who was mentioned in connection with that company was Mr. Ian Grist, who was defeated at the last election by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones). [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"l I thought that that would raise a cheer.
Mr. Grist was on the guest list for the opening ceremony of Tillery Valley Foods, as were most senior personnel of most of the health authorities in south Wales and of the NHS executive, including John Wyn Owen, the boss man of the NHS in Wales and probably the No. 2 civil servant at the Welsh Office. Why were they all at that opening ceremony?
§ Mr. Morgan
Well, it was not just to have lunch. That company is a food producer, but it produces a particular kind of food which is of interest to me when I am trying to decide whether everything in the garden is rosy. We want to be able to count the extra jobs at Tillery Valley Foods against the unemployment in Abertillery district. However, the reason why the company invited Ian Grist, John Wyn Owen and the other directors of supplies and purchasing of the health authorities was that it makes cook-chill foods. Therefore, the firm will replace the in-house catering at schools and hospitals in the region. Any additional jobs created at Tillery Valley Foods will probably be jobs lost in hospitals, health authorities, meals-on-wheels services and schools. No net additional jobs will result from Tillery Valley Foods. If that firm is successful, it will only be because jobs have been lost in public sector catering.
If the public sector wins through its in-house bids and keeps the work in the hospitals, Tillery Valley Foods will not sell many cook-chill foods. It wants John Wyn Owen from the national health service directorate in Wales, Ian Grist and others at the launch to ensure that the company is given a fair crack of the whip when the contracts are dished out. That is the worry that we have and that is why we are suspending judgment on the wonderful inward 105 investment and new-start businesses that the Minister has been emphasising today—as he does every time he makes a speech.
One of our great worries is that, as Wales is apparently ineligible for objective 1 status, some areas will be granted less money from the EEC under objective 2 status even if objective 2 status is maintained in some regions. There is a fairly restrictive list of projects for which grants are awarded and there may be less money for the United Kingdom if Merseyside, the highlands and islands and Northern Ireland are granted objective 1 status, which was previously given only to Northern Ireland.
Have the grants been fairly awarded? Has the EEC decided fairly that Northern Ireland, the highlands and islands and Merseyside are in one category and south Wales, the industrial north-east of Wales and the three counties of rural Wales—north, mid and west Wales—are much worse off than the rest of Wales? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Despite the Secretary of State's picture of Wales as the land of milk and honey, in the final statistical analysis of relative levels of prosperity, it is the average family income that counts. If we compare region by region, the south-east would generally be at the top of the league table, the midlands would be in the middle, Scotland would come next and finally, next to the bottom, would be Wales. Northern Ireland would be at the bottom, with Wales just above it. The Secretary of State is not making the case for Wales and obtaining the EEC grants—based on average family income—that he should.
The Secretary of State also tried to say that, in terms of support for businesses, he had solved the problem of one-stop shops. The Secretary of State—who should pay attention for a minute—claimed that, under his leadership, the one-stop shops problem of duplication of effort in giving support to businesses had been solved. However, a recent parliamentary reply to me shows that he has set up a working party of 12 people which is not even to report until May. Only after that working party has reported in two months' time will the Secretary of State start to give serious attention to making a decision. However, he is quite willing to tell the House today that he has already made the decision. There is a serious problem.
A strong part of our philosophy involves setting up a network of one-stop shops. We have five one-stop shops for small business advice in Cardiff and many other regions in Wales have three or four. The Secretary of State must decide whether he wants the job to be led by training and enterprise councils, the regional offices of the Welsh Development Agency, local enterprise agencies, local authorities or someone else, and what the one-stop shops are supposed to do.
We want them to provide innovation advice, training and small premises. We would like them to be able to offer seed capital and venture capital to help small and medium-sized firms to survive and grow and to come into being more rapidly, to form the basis of the local Welsh economy, alongside those inward investments—when we get them.
That is how we feel about how the Secretary of State has handled our affairs and I do not think that the Minister of State will say anything very different. Although he does at least represent a Welsh constituency, he tends to wander about in a daze and not to see the problems that we face. Both of them are part of a Government happy to be led by a Prime Minister who believes that we should understand 106 less about crime. He also believes in the obscenity of going to the Carlton club and demanding that the unemployed do work as a requirement for benefit—and this from a man who claims to believe in a classless society. In the case of the Carlton club, one might say that he has replaced noblesse oblige with jobless oblige.
We do not want to live in a world in which we wander the streets of Cardiff on a Saturday and see young teenagers behind cardboard signs saying, "Hungary and homeless: please help". That problem was mentioned by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), who talked of the need to take the rough sleepers initiative from London down to Cardiff. That is a condemnation of the society that the Conservative Government have brought about after 14 years in power.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts)
All times in the history of Wales appear to be times of momentous change, and our time is no exception. At this time a great deal of the steadfastness that characterised our patron saint is called for. I do not intend to speak as my right hon. Friend's hagiographer, but he has certainly shown a great deal of steadfastness in the face of questioning today on the effects of the recession and of local government reorganisation in Wales. Neither of those problems faced St. David. I suspect that they would have been as light relief to him—as they appeared to be to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan).
Education might certainly have concerned St. David as a way to eliminating ignorance and paganism and to teaching people the difference between right and wrong. It is a sobering reflection on the human condition that we still need lessons of this kind—now more than ever—as a number of hon. Members have pointed out.
I should like to think that the saint would approve of the state taking direct action as envisaged in the Education Bill—[interruption ]I note that there has been no intervention from above, even though there has been from below. I would also like to imagine that our saint would approve of the provisions of the Welsh Language Bill. It is a civilised measure, weak according to some, strong according to others, and about right according to most.
We have heard a number of speeches about my right hon. Friend's local government reorganisation proposals —from my hon. Friends the Members for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney), and for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans). We heard a powerful plea for Montgomershire from the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). I heard some but not all of his speech.I heard his final remarks expressing his warmly favourable feelings for a directly elected Welsh assembly. We are due to consider the governance of Wales at Cardiff next Monday. No doubt we shall hear a great deal more then about every aspect of that fascinating subject—except perhaps from the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, who was eloquent today about his impending absence on Monday.
What surprised me about the speech of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr.Davies) was the total absence of an alternative strategy for the Welsh economy. We were promised one at the last sitting of the Welsh Grand Committee, and we were told that it would be fully costed and presented today, but we have had nothing positive from the hon.Gentleman. Why is that? Would it have cost 107 too much and involved increased taxation which would not have fitted in well with the current thinking of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith)? On 15 January this year in Paris the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:It is, I believe, economic madness to contemplate net increases in taxation on ordinary taxpayers at the moment.I am glad that the hon. Member for Caerphilly approves of his leader's remarks.
I know that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is remodelling his party's policy on law and order. Therefore, I was not surprised to see the hon. Member for Caerphilly lending a hand. Crime has been on the increase since the second world war, not only here but in other industrialised countries. We have always believed in tackling crime with tough, practical measures and it is difficult to take lessons on that from the Opposition, especially when we remember the Acts that the Labour party has opposed. To remind the Opposition, I shall list those Acts: the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which strengthened police powers to stop and search suspects; the Public Order Act 1986, which gave the police better powers to deal with street disorder; the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which raised the maximum sentences for serious crimes and gave the Attorney-General a right of appeal against lenient sentences; the Criminal Justice Act 1991; and, of course, the annual renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan was absolutely right to say that we have increased the number of police officers by about 16,700 since 1979. However, we are transgressing on the sphere of responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
§ Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)
As the Minister has become an expert in crime figures, will he acknowledge that they have not risen inexorably year after year but that there have been fluctuations up and down? The policies and decisions of his Government on matters such as unemployment have played a part in creating the environment in which crime has increased. For instance, his Government have failed to provide the secure units that we need in Wales. He should take lessons from the Opposition.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
I dealt with the problem of the secure units earlier in the debate when I do not think the hon. Gentleman was present.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly spoke about wages councils. I remind him again that the last Labour Government abolished 11 wages councils covering some 600,000 workers. Subsequent studies did not reveal any general reduction in wages as a result. Two thirds of workers covered by wages councils are paid significantly higher rates than those set by the councils. Only seven countries in the European Community have any form of national minimum wage legislation and independent research shows that the average take-home pay of United Kingdom workers is higher than that of most European countries, including France, Italy and Germany. I hope that we will not hear much more of the wages council argument.
The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) made a notable speech. I do not accept his assertion that the 108 Maastricht treaty is all about centralisation. Much of the acknowledged success that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had in representing the United Kingdom in the Maastricht negotiations was in resisting tendencies elsewhere in the Community towards centralisation.
Wales has much to gain from the Europe of Maastricht. We are not merely a region on the periphery of the continent. Our success in attracting inward investment underlines that point. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already emphasised that our level of inward investment is four times what we would be expected to get in terms of our population. Our relationship with the four motor regions of Europe has brought a sustained interest in Wales as a place to do business. Through the series of structural fund programmes in recent years—for example, in industrial south Wales, Clwyd, Dyfed, Powis, and Gwynedd—and with RECHAR in the coalfields, Wales has benefited from Community funding. Our objective in the current mid-term review of the structural fund—this will interest my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor—will be to argue for continued and increased EC assistance for as much of Wales as possible, including the rural areas.
There have been a number of references to education, again beginning with the hon. Member for Caerphilly. The implication was that the very fact of grant-maintained schools represented a grave threat to local democracy. The Education Bill, which we shall be debating tomorrow and the next day in the House, does not oblige schools to become grant maintained. Our reforms are driven by parental choice and grant-maintained status is a matter for schools' governors and parents to decide. It cannot be imposed on a school against the wishes of parents. It gives schools the ability to control the whole of their budget and it means that decisions are taken by those who are closest to the pupils. It is important to remember that grant-maintained status cannot be forced on a school. The decision rests with the school governors and the parents. Rather then eroding local democracy, we are extending it by delegating decisions to those in the best position to make decisions about priorities within schools. That is the motivation behind grant-maintained status.
The Education Bill does not weaken or abolish LEAs, although clearly the role of LEAs will evolve as more and more schools decide to leave their control and become grant maintained. We expect to see a significant grant-maintained status in Wales.
§ Mr. Ron Davies
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Education Bill removes the requirement on local authorities to be education authorities?
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
No, it does not remove the requirement that an education authority be a local authority. When we discuss the Bill tomorrow and the next day, those matters will be revealed to the hon. Gentleman.
A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Gower (Mr. Wardell), for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis), have referred to roads in Wales. Communications have greatly improved since we came into office and the significance we attach to a high quality road network is clearly demonstrated by the high level of expenditure. Since 1979, we have spent more than £2 billion on the construction and improvement of the M4 and trunk roads in Wales, providing 22 miles of motorway 109 and more than 151 miles of trunk roads. More money is being spent on the M4 and trunk roads in Wales than at any time in the past. The rate of spend per head of population is greater in Wales than it is in England and Scotland. This high level of expenditure will continue. Next year, we plan to spend a record £201 million. Six major schemes are planned to start.
I announced on 8 February the acceptance of the £23 million tender from Costain Building and Civil Engineering Ltd. for the M4 link in Gwent to the second Severn crossing. Work is due to start this month on a 33-month contract. I am sure that the business community will warmly welcome this latest development and recognise that the new crossing, when completed, will provide greater economic opportunities for south Wales and many job opportunities for the area as a whole.
In addition to about 300 construction jobs that will be created by the scheme, according to the CBI, for such a project, a further 700 jobs in ancillary industries will be created or safeguarded. As I have said, our estimated expenditure on road construction in Wales for the coming financial year is a record £201 million. Again, using the CBI formula, this should provide employment opportunities for more than 6,000 people.
§ Mr. Flynn
The Minister and the Government generally can take pride in the fact that they will create 13 new jobs in Wales by local government reorganisation, if the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) is right: we shall have 13 new lords lieutenant in Wales. What is the description of a lord lieutenant? All the past lords lieutenant for Gwent have had careers in the military, been important in the freemasons' movement and have been rich enough to take a full-time job without wages. They have all been white male gentiles. Will the Minister give us a job description for the 13 new lords lieutenant so that the long-term unemployed in Wales may apply for the posts?
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
I implied at the beginning of my speech that we would leave matters to do with local government reorganisation until we dealt with the governance of Wales next Monday.
Earlier this year, work began on the final section of the A55 to be dualled at Aber. Work is also under way to fill 110 the gaps on the M4 in south Wales. Indeed, on Friday I opened the Earlswood-Lon Las section. We hope to have the remainder open by early 1995.
Local authority roads are also to benefit. In the coming year, transport grant settlement will provide support for about 27 schemes, all, I am sure, of great interest to Opposition Members.
It is clear that the Opposition cannot forgive us— especially my noble Friend Lord Walker—for introducing the valleys initiative. They have sought to belittle that achievement at every opportunity. A week ago today they launched a document that was much heralded in the press. Until a few hours ago neither my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State nor I and our officials had seen a copy of that document. We had read only reports in the press of its contents. As I understand it, the document condemns our valleys initiative in spite of the positive achievements which were described by my right hon. Friend when he announced his new five-year valley programme to begin on 1 April. I can conclude only that the Labour party's chagrin is inspired by some sort of curious pique.
In spite of all the gloom and doom of the recession, which Opposition Members have sought to magnify in every conceivable way, they cannot even accept the adjusted or unadjusted unemployment figures. They seem to have to magnify them still further.
I have to say to the people of Wales and to the House that we can take heart from my right hon. Friend's exhortation to go for growth. It is reflecting the call of our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Of course, we can take heart from the fact that we have laid the foundations for recovery. Headline inflation is at its lowest for more than 25 years. Interest rates have been much reduced, productivity is growing at the fastest rate for five years, unit wage growth is lower than that of our principal competitors, and confidence is now improving.
We should be cheered by the Financial Times headline of 22 February:Wales will lead economic recovery".That newspaper was reporting the views of the National Westminster bank, which said—
It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.