HC Deb 19 April 2000 vol 348 cc967-9
6. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

When he last met the First Secretary to discuss the Government's legislative programme and its impact on rural communities in Wales. [118439]

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

I meet the First Secretary regularly and we discuss a range of issues. In addition, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales and I presented the Government's legislative programme during two plenary sessions of the National Assembly for Wales in November and December last year.

Mr. Winterton

Does the Secretary of State accept that the hard-pressed rural areas of Wales rely mainly on agriculture for their existence? Although he has announced some additional help, which is very welcome and wholly justified, does he accept that further assistance is required for those areas? Does he also accept that the caning of the motorist through Government policies does not help those areas where farmers rely entirely on their own transport and where most of their equipment is petrol or diesel-driven?

Mr. Murphy

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the importance of agriculture to our rural areas. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer addressed transport matters in the Budget in terms of the fuel duty escalator. The Government have also given help to hill farmers, beef farmers and dairy farmers. The Assembly is helping Wales through the rural development plan. The combination of the Government's policies and those of the Labour-led administration in Cardiff are suiting the rural areas of Wales well, and they could not have obtained a better deal.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)

I welcome the addition last night of new clause 1 to the Postal Services Bill, which will provide possible financial support for post offices when they move to automated credit transfer. It will provide an important safety net, especially for rural post offices. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, in his discussions with the First Secretary, the Welsh Assembly is fully involved in drafting the detail of how the financial support will operate?

Mr. Murphy

I give my hon. Friend that assurance. I shall raise the matter with the First Secretary when we next meet. I agree with my hon. Friend that rural post offices in Wales play a vital role in our communities. As he knows, we are updating our post office network through a major investment in automation. It is untrue to maintain that people in Wales will not be able to receive cash benefits in post offices after 2003. The Cabinet Office is soon to report on rural post offices, including those in Wales. I am pleased to say that, yesterday, the House approved what was then new clause 1, which will allow subsidies to be paid to post offices in Wales.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset)

Legislation for Wales is enacted in the House. The First Secretary and his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), whom I am pleased to see in his place, are both Members of this place. Will the Secretary of State tell the House when those Labour Members who sit both in the House and in the Welsh Assembly will participate in the Government's legislative programme? The latest figures show that the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) and the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) have attended half time in Cardiff and have not voted once in the House since the summer. The First Secretary and his predecessor have voted only seven or eight times. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when the by-elections will be held and when the people of Wales will be properly represented in the Government's legislative programme?

Mr. Murphy

I am not quite sure what that has to do with rural areas and the original question. What right hon. and hon. Members do in this context is their own business. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, when the general election comes, those Members who hold a dual mandate will lose it. They will then concentrate on the National Assembly for Wales. Before the hon. Gentleman bandies his figures, he should take account of some of the figures that appeared in the list in The Western Mail.The Conservative Member who represented Clwyd, North-West, who is now an Assembly Member, came bottom of that list.