HC Deb 27 October 1999 vol 336 cc1005-7
5. Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

When he next plans to meet the Assembly First Secretary to discuss the block grant for 2000–02. [94077]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy)

I meet the Assembly First Secretary on a weekly basis to discuss a range of issues.

Mr. Griffiths

Will my right hon. Friend make one of his first acts in office the achievement of the triple crown by Wales? We secured the first part by brilliant negotiations in Brussels to achieve objective 1 status in Wales and the second part with the provision of money in the first year to ensure that objective 1 status gets fully under way. The sooner the Opposition stop carping about that, the more the private sector in Wales can be confident of what we want to do. In carrying out the block grant negotiations, can he achieve the third part of the triple crown by ensuring that we have the additional funding necessary for objective 1 to continue right through its course to success in terms of jobs and prosperity for people in Wales?

Mr. Murphy

I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. I recently met my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to discuss objective 1 and he is fully aware of the significance of such funding for Wales. He has instructed his officials to meet those of the National Assembly to start negotiations on those important issues.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

I wish the Secretary of State well in his work, but I must return to the question of the adequacy of matched funding for 2000–01. Does he accept that the budget for the coming year was set before there was any suggestion of European strategic funds becoming available? Therefore, if the matched funding of up to £180 million has to be met from within the Welsh block, there will be correspondingly less money available for health, education and the other services. He cannot have it both ways. If the money has to come from within the block, is he telling us that the people of Wales will have to pay in terms of health and education for taking up the money available from Europe?

Mr. Murphy

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's opening remark. No, I am not saying that. As he is a Member of the National Assembly, he will understand that it is for the Assembly to determine its budget, but it has assured me that the £75 million to which I referred earlier is made up of former European regional development fund moneys, overhang from those and end-of-year flexibility, and in other ways as well, and that it will not affect those services to which he referred.

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the UK Treasury has a crucial role in relation to objective 1 funding, it is equally important at the moment to ensure that we have good-quality private-public partnerships in place to take full advantage of this excellent opportunity? Does he further agree that the constant and negative carping by opposition parties about the role of the UK Treasury can serve only to undermine the whole project?

Mr. Murphy

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to emphasise the positive aspects of obtaining objective 1 funding. We must ensure that it is used for jobs, to change the economy of Wales and to help our rural areas. It is important that we pull together as a team in Wales to ensure that we benefit from good, high-quality schemes. The more we concentrate on the positive aspects, the more important it will be for us to obtain that money.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)

When the Secretary of State meets the First Secretary, will he discuss the funding of the arts in Wales? He will have heard the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) complaining about the treatment of Theatr Gwent. The same thing has happened to Theatr Powys and the result is underfunding of the arts in Wales. Will he please try to do something about that when he discusses block grant with the First Secretary?

Mr. Murphy

Yes, I will.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the First Secretary the Government's major research report on disability in Great Britain? Will he particularly draw to the First Secretary's attention the finding that Wales has the highest incidence of disability in all of Great Britain? Will he also discuss with him the possibility of using objective 1 status for high-quality projects involving the disabled, both in the private and the public sectors?

Mr. Murphy

Yes, I will—I assure my hon. Friend that I will do precisely that. After today's events in the House, I shall have a very long discussion with the First Secretary. Like me, my hon. Friend represents a valley constituency that has been scheduled as an objective 1 area for precisely the reasons to which she referred, such as the number of disabled people and the deprivation levels that we face. That is why we have objective 1, and that is why we must not waste the opportunity of a lifetime.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset)

I must continue to press the Secretary of State on the issue of objective 1 funding and the block grant. Although any discussions that he will have with the First Secretary will be dominated by the requirement to provide £885 million of Government money in the next seven years, objective 1 starts in Wales next year, whereas the block grant negotiated under the comprehensive spending review takes us through to 2002. The CSR does not contain any provision for objective 1 funding.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State told the Welsh Affairs Committee that he was having discussions with the Chief Secretary. However, we do not know the outcome of those discussions. In the Assembly election campaign, the Prime Minister said that he would not let Wales down. The Secretary of State is committed to providing £374 million in the next two years. Where will the money come from?

Mr. Murphy

The last people from whom I want lectures on public spending are Conservative Members. Almost everyone has mentioned the fact that no one expected us to obtain objective 1 status, but we did obtain it. We did so because of the negotiating skills of my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister. Now that we have objective 1 status, it is very important for us to be able to use it properly. We have the money to ensure that the scheme flows next year. In the comprehensive spending review, we have the assurance of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that he will not let Wales down.