§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chapman.]4.15 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Walker)
Hon. Members in all parts of the House will regret that this debate takes place today at a time when a number of people in the Principality are suffering from the dreadful effects of high tides and winds and the storm damage.
I begin by reporting on the latest situation. I am pleased to say that the tides today are far less than they were earlier in the week and that further flooding has not resulted. Many problems must be met. About 2,000 people have been evacuated, and hon. Members will join me in paying tribute to those who have worked hard and effectively in tackling the problems involved.
The Minister of State visited the site earlier in the week and discussed the problems with various people. We have sent from the Welsh Office the senior engineer, who I fed is the person most suited to give professional advice and to examine the detail of some of the problems that are, and will be, involved. Again, hon. Members in all parts of the House will be delighted that their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales have visited the distressed areas today. Their visit will be much appreciated and welcomed.
Some of the problems have involved the rail link, a matter of particular concern to Anglesey and elsewhere. We have been in contact with British Rail, which is determined to get the rail link in order and proceeding as quickly as possible. BR is unable yet to assess the full extent of the damage but has organised the resources that will be required to bring a speedy reconnection of the activities on that important link.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
I associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends totally with the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the situation, about the splendid work of the emergency services and about the efforts that are being made by everybody to put everything right as soon as possible.
The right hon. Gentleman correctly says that the rail link is of supreme importance to, for example, the island of Anglesey. Can he say, from the communications that the Minister of State has had with British Rail, whether it will be days, weeks or months before that vital link is restored?
§ Mr. Walker
Neither I nor British Rail can give the hon. Gentleman a definite answer to that question. Until BR has assessed the nature of the damage, it is impossible to answer definitely. The line is, in parts, completely flooded. Depending on the damage, BR would hope that it would be a matter, if weeks, of one or two weeks, or days. but I do not want to commit BR when it has not properly assessed the damage and the extent of it. However, I know from having spoken to BR that it is determined to get the service back at the earliest possible moment and will commit all the necessary resources to achieve that purpose.
I shall be going there early next weeek to meet the local authorities concerned and to discuss, having had reports from our engineers, the nature of what is involved. As always, alas, in distressing cases of this kind, personal 403 hardship will be involved. There will be people who are uninsured or underinsured and serious damage faced by families in financial distress.
In that context, I am glad that the mayor of Colwyn has launched an appeal fund, and I know that he has had an early and good response. I felt that it was appropriate in the circumstances that the Welsh Office should make a contribution to that fund, and we have informed him of that. As yet, the trustees have not been appointed, and the trust deed has not been made. As soon as that is in place, the Welsh Office will provide a donation to that appeal of £50,000. I hope that our example will be followed by others so as to help some of the personal distress problems that will be involved in the area.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Having once experienced flooding myself I know precisely what it can mean, especially for old people. Will arrangements be made for local authorities to have gangs of workpeople who can clear up after the flooding has receded and make certain that the homes are reasonably habitable, even if they take a long time to dry out? It is all right for young people, but difficult for old people. Would my suggestion be a practical way of dealing with the problem?
§ Mr. Walker
I have some constituency experience of flooding myself. I represent a constituency in which there are floods most years, mainly of the cricket ground and race course, but frequently of housing, too. I know well the human problems involved, particularly for old people. I know, from what the Minister of State has said, the care that local authorities are taking with some of the problems of the old people who are involved. Early next week, I shall discuss with the local authorities the detail of what is taking place.
I need parliamentary approval for a donation to such a fund. That will be sought by means of a summer supplementary estimate. Pending that approval, the contribution will be met by a repayable advance from the contingency fund.
§ Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
On the issue of coastal defences, this is not the first time that we have seen the problem: British Rail constructs an embankment to protect the railway; the embankment then becomes a barrier to protect the community; it then gives way. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the need for a full review of coastal defences so that we can ensure that such a disaster does not happen again?
§ Mr. Walker
I shall certainly look into any lessons that may be drawn from these floods. The matter is not one only for British Rail; local authorities are also continually involved in standards of defence. Earlier this month, when there was some damage to part of a defence wall, quite rightly there was an immediate inspection both by British Rail and the local authority. Local authorities have a fundamental duty in this respect.
§ Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)
I am sorry to labour the point, but it is important. The wall at Ffynnongroyw, which has been breached, was a British Rail wall. Can my right hon. Friend undertake to give British Rail extra capital help, should it need it, because it will have to replace the walls with much more susbstantial walls?
§ Mr. Walker
Whatever is put in as a replacement must ensure that a proper defence is maintained. Although capital allocations for sea defences are important, in terms of the total capital programme of British Rail they are relatively small. British Rail would have to discuss the matter with the Department of Transport in the annual capital programmes discussions. I am sure that British Rail will fully carry out its responsibilities. A shortage of capital will not prevent it from doing so.
This is the first debate on Welsh affairs in this decade. I should like to review some of the changes that took place in the 1980s and, more specifically, to spell out the type of actions and developments that will take place in the 1990s.
The last decade was one of considerable change in the Welsh economy, primarily due to the enormous change in the employment pattern, resulting from the decline in the number of people employed in the coal and steel industries. Over the decade, 58,000 jobs were lost in those two industries alone. The Welsh economy, like economies throughout western Europe, suffered from the general world recession that took place at the beginning of the 1980s.
Given the dramatic change, it is encouraging that so many new businesses have emerged to transform the Welsh economy during the 1980s. On the latest statistics, there were at the start of the past decade, 3,600 companies described as production and manufacturing companies; now there are 5,700—an increase of 59 per cent., which is considerably greater than that in any other region of the United Kingdom. It is also encouraging that during that period the number of self-employed in Wales increased by 36,000. In some basic services of vital importance to Wales, there was considerable progress in the last decade.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
The Secretary of State talks about change. The word that he should use is decline. Is he not aware that we have lost 120,000 industrial jobs? In Llanelli, half the households have an income of less than £4,500 a year, well below any civilised definition of poverty. Wales receives a higher proportion of social security benefit than any other part of Britain. It is the poorest region. That is not change; it is decline.
§ Mr. Walker
The right hon. Gentleman constantly does harm to his constituency and to Wales. I am glad that his own local authority does not share that description of the economy in his constituency. Many new firms have gone there. Many are expanding. If the right hon. Gentleman, for whatever purpose, wishes to continue describing his constituency as an area of depression and decline, he will do great damage to his constituents. He should think again.
In the same decade, there was an enormous increase in expenditure on health services in Wales. In real terms, in the coming year we will be spending nearly 50 per cent. more than at the beginning of the decade. There are 16 per cent. more doctors and nurses in the front line of the Health Service; 31 per cent. more in-patients and 22 per cent. more out-patients are being treated. The pay of nurses and doctors has been transformed from what it was when the Government came into office.
On housing, it is remarkable that, in that decade, one house in six in Wales benefited from improvement grants. That is why the most recent housing survey in Wales shows such a dramatic improvement in areas where housing and property were bad. 405 It was a difficult decade for agriculture, but, as a result of a combination of Government and other policies, milk, sheep and beef producers in Wales have been in a quite stable and tolerable position which it is vital to maintain if we are to protect the Welsh rural scene.
When I had the privilege of becoming Secretary of State, by far the biggest issue in Welsh politics was unemployment. At all Welsh Question Times and in every debate on Wales, it was the main issue. I do not believe that any hon. Member on either side of the House could have predicted the speed of the decline in unemployment that has been achieved. Certainly the Labour party could not have predicted it, because it made its own promise, which was to bring down unemployment in the United Kingdom——
§ Mr. John P. Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)
If the same method had been used to compile unemployment figures in Great Britain as the method used in September 1982, there would be 782,000 more people on the unemployed register. What would the position be in Wales?
§ Mr. Walker
The figures that I gave were on the same comparable bases. The Labour party's prophecy was that, over two years, it would reduce unemployment in the United Kingdom by 1 million. If that happened, and Wales had its proportion of the reduction, it would achieve a much smaller reduction in unemployment in Wales. In two years and nine months, unemployment in Wales has been reduced by 68,000. At the time of the last general election, unemployment in Wales was 80 per cent. higher than it is today, in spite of continuing coal mine closures.
I hope that hon. Members will recognise the position in which this puts Wales: in relative terms, its unemployment is far below the average unemployment in the European Community, far below that in countries like France, and now very close to the average for the United Kingdom. There has been a reduction of 68,000 in two years and nine months. If there is a further reduction of 39,000, unemployment in Wales will be lower than, currently, it is in south-east England.
That is a remarkable transformation of the unemployment scene, which has been achieved partly by a very successful programme of inward investment. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that in 1989 we achieved an average of two inward investments a week into Wales—altogether 100 projects, providing 7,000 new jobs and £520 million of investment. We are therefore continuing the trend of the past three years, as a result of which Wales, with 5 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom, has been achieving 20 to 22 per cent. of the United Kingdom's inward investment. I should like the objective to be a further reduction of 39,000 in the number of people unemployed, so that, as a region, we shall have the lowest rate of unemployment in the United Kingdom.
Let us look at new investments, from which the benefits of employment are still to come. The three biggest investments that I have been able to announce are those of Ford, Bosch and Toyota. In all three cases, the factories are under construction. The firms have not yet taken on their labour force or started to place orders for the component parts that they will need when they are fully in production. I estimate that those three investments alone will comprise £1 billion and that when the companies are operating fully they will have a turnover of £1 billion. I ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to reflect on the 406 impact that that will have on the potential of components manufacturers in the Principality and its enormous impact on further job creation.
§ Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
Can the Secretary of State confirm that the majority of jobs created in Wales in the 10 years of Tory government have been low-paid, part-time jobs, and that more than half of the Welsh work force earn less than £135 a week? Does he realise that in my constituency 60 per cent. of people in work live in households whose income is £4,000 a year or less? Is this a record of which he is proud?
§ Mr. Walker
Current earnings figures in real terms for Wales, compared with those of 1979, would be a considerable embarrassment to the hon. Lady and her party. I have just mentioned the Ford, Bosch and Toyota projects that are in the pipeline. It is strange that an hon. Member should get up and say that they and the Japanese investments will all provide low-paid, bad-quality jobs. At present, the average total earnings of a full-time worker in Mid Glamorgan, West Glamorgan or South Glamorgan are very similar to the average earnings of a worker in the west or east midlands. That shows what a lot of nonsense the hon. Lady is talking.
I should like to turn to other things that are in the pipeline for Wales.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
We accept, of course, that, over the decade, there has been an increase in real earnings. If there had not been, it would have been the first such decade since the war. Will the Secretary of State bear in mind that the real increase to which he has referred is £33 a week, representing 16 per cent., or one sixth, whereas in the south-east—this is the important relativity point that my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) was making—the real increase has been £84. representing 37 per cent., or one third. That is double what we have achieved.
§ Mr. Walker
The figures are published every quarter, and I am delighted to look at the earnings of Wales compared to those of any other region of the United Kingdom. We have done exceedingly well, and we shall continue to do exceedingly well. The figures are published., and anybody can look at them. They show a very fine. achievement in the case of the county in which the hon.. Gentleman's constituency is located.
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
I think that I may be able to help the Secretary of State. The right hon Gentleman has presented us with the average earnings in manufacturing industry. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) has spoken of the average earnings of all earners. There is an enormous difference between the two sets of figures. It seems that the Secretary of State has forgotten that, in Wales, manufacturing earnings were higher traditionally than elsewhere because of the presence of heavy industry. We have, of course, lost that advantage. As we have a lower proportion of employees in professional, administrative and technical occupations than any other part of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, our average earnings are severely depressed. There is a dependence upon low-paid, blue-collar employment. There is no white-collar employment to increase average earnings.
§ Mr. Walker
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It enables me to say that, since 1984, the number of people in manufacturing employment in Wales has, unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, increased by 16 per cent. The number employed in the production of metal goods and in the engineering and vehicle industries has increased by 28 per cent. The number of new manufacturing plants in Wales has increased far faster than that in any other region in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood)
Opposition spokesmen have made no reference to the inward investment to which my right hon. Friend is referring. An answer to a question submitted by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) shows that, in 1979, only 854 jobs were either created or saved as a result of inward investment in Wales, whereas last year the figure was 7,941.
§ Mr. Walker
Under this Government, inward investment in Wales has been greater than in any other region in the United Kingdom, and probably better than in any other region in western Europe.
Financial services are a transforming part of the Welsh economy. The two major announcements that I have made —the coming to Wales of the National Provident Institution and the Trustee Savings bank—will result in the building of offices. The National Provident Institution still has 400 more people to recruit. Over the years, the TSB will be recruiting a further 1,600. A number of major manufacturing concerns and major new financial service industries will be coming to Wales—these are in the pipeline—and the consequent employment benefit is yet to come.
It is important that we look to the future. I shall outline eight areas of commitment for the 1990s that collectively will effect a significant transformation of the strength of the economy. First, I shall refer to the activities of the Welsh Development Agency. I am pleased to say that, in the coming year, the spending of the agency will be just over double what it was in the financial year 1986–87. As a result, the agency is able to proceed with factory building and land clearance programmes on an unprecedented scale in the history of Wales.
The agency has announced today a property development programme that will create thousands of new jobs throughout the Principality and take us further towards our objective of Wales having unemployment as low as any region in the United Kingdom. The agency's new property development programme for the coming year will lead to the creation of 2 million sq ft of new working space throughout north and south Wales. That will be enough capacity to accommodate 6,000 new jobs.
I am glad to say that the strength of the industrial and commercial property market in Wales will enable private developers to avail themselves of the tremendous opportunities presented by the Welsh property venture, which was launched by the WDA a few weeks ago. This new initiative, so recently launched, provides private developers with the opportunity to carry out factory and office development on land that is currently in agency ownership. It is hoped that, by the mid-1990s, over 6 million sq ft of new floor space will be provided through the partnership scheme. That will be capable of accommodating 18,000 new jobs.
408 Since the financial year 1986–87, we have massively increased the expenditure of the WDA. This has enabled the agency to carry out a land reclamation programme which is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. It has enabled it to implement a rural strategy that will bring a new dynamism to economic development in rural areas. It has enabled it also to announce plans to take advantage of the greatly improved communications in north Wales resulting from the development of the A5. This will be of great benefit to Clwyd and Gwynedd. The agency has substantially increased resources to attract inward development. Later I shall mention some of the important international developments that are about to take place. The first facet——
§ Mr. Barry Jones
The right hon. Gentleman is very patient. He is making his speech in his own way, but will he consider telling the House, before he sits down, whether he will poll-tax-cap any Welsh local authority? Does he agree with the vice chairman of the 1922 Committee that the Government should think again about poll tax? Does he not agree that his right hon. and hon. Friends are punch drunk over the tax? Will he ensure that he answers those questions?
§ Mr. Walker
I will answer the hon. Gentleman in passing. I find that most of my right hon. and hon. Friends are, if anything, annoyed that Wales has done so well, compared with England and Scotland, as far as the community charge is concerned. Secondly, I shall decide later this week about capping authorities, when we have the full budgets and assessments. Obviously it would be wrong to decide before that.
One of the welcome facts about this debate is that it will give the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) the opportunity to spell out in detail his party's taxation programme for the 1990s. I hope that a considerable part of his speech will be devoted to explaining the roof tax, and all the other plans that will have an impact on the people of Wales. Also—this is of great importance to Wales—it will be significant to see whether he delivers an undertaking that, if a Labour Government came to power, the differential between local taxation in Wales and that in Scotland and England would remain as it is now. We will be very interested to hear his replies, and I will interrupt him two thirds of the way through his speech, if he has not answered those points.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
On a practical point about poll-tax-capping—it is now 1 March and all local authorities are faced with billing nearly twice as many people as they used to under the old rating system. Merthyr and Mid Glamorgan have declared their poll tax, and as the information must already be available to the Welsh Office, why cannot the right hon. Gentleman get up now and say that he will not poll-tax Merthyr or Mid Glamorgan?
§ Mr. Walker
The final figures had to be in later today, and until that time there is no firm position. When all the figures are in, I will carefully consider the matter and will make whatever announcements are required.
I shall now return to the type of subject that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) is not so interested in. No. 1 in the programme for the 1990s is the substantial programme of the Welsh Development Agency. The second factor in the 1990s will 409 be the completion of the second Severn bridge, and the completion of the M4 all the way through to Swansea. And a combination ——
§ Mr. Walker
I will give way now, but I shall not give way for a time thereafter, as I have given way a great deal so far, and it is unfair to other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Hughes
Does the Secretary of State appreciate that, after a gestation period of seven years, the Government are proceeding with the second Severn crossing project with all the speed of a tortoise in top gear? Does he also appreciate that there is also the question of tolls, which is nothing short of a scandal, and we do not know yet whether the new crossing will be in the private or public sector? Finally, in regard to the existing bridge, will he do something to get some protective covering at the sides of the bridge to prevent high-sided vehicles from overturning, because that is causing such disruption to the whole of the Welsh economy?
§ Mr. Walker
With regard to the hon. Gentleman's final point, I gather that there are considerable technical details involved, and I shall write to him.
I hope that orders for the second Severn bridge will be placed. There has been consultation on the route and tenders have been examined. We are now down to the last two companies and one of those will be chosen within the next few weeks. Certainly it is essential for the crossing to be completed as quickly as possible.
The combination of the second Severn bridge and the fact that British Rail intends to improve both passenger and freight services means that south Wales will have one of the best communication systems in the United Kingdom and in most of Europe. That will have a considerable impact on the economy of south Wales; that is the second factor of a committed programme for the 1990s.
The third factor is the impact on rural areas of north Wales of the completion of the A55 and other connected road schemes, and also the activities of the Development Board for Rural Wales. I should like to congratulate that hoard. At this moment, it is dealing with more inquiries from people considering locating small and medium businesses in Wales than has ever taken place in the history of the board. I congratulate it on the enterprise with which it has attracted the inquiries and the enthusiastic way in which it is dealing with them.
The fourth factor in the programme is the garden festival at Ebbw Vale. I hope that that will be the most successful garden festival that has ever taken place in the United Kingdom. There have been good festivals in Glasgow and elsewhere, and we have been able to learn from the good points of the exhibitions. Organisers of previous exhibitions have been very collaborative and have told people in Ebbw Vale of their mistakes as well as their successes. There is immense enthusiasm and there is colossal Government commitment to the festival, and I believe that in 1992 it will bring to Wales between 2 million and 3 million tourists and visitors and will bring to the attention of the world at large the considerable transformation that has taken place in the valleys.
The fifth factor in the programme is the development which is to take place in Cardiff bay, which is of a considerable scale and will have considerable impact on 410 jobs. Three million sq ft of office space, 4 million sq ft of industrial space and 25,000 potential new jobs will be created. Again, the government have made a massive financial commitment to the scheme, and we look forward to the development going ahead and making an enormous impact on the capital city in the 1990s.
The sixth factor which will have an impact in the 1990s is the valleys programme. I am pleased to say that, after Easter, I shall be announcing the details of what has taken place in the period in which the valleys programme has been in operation. We will compare the promises and the undertakings made in the original statement with the performance to date, as we do every six months.
I am glad to say that, since the valleys programme was adopted, unemployment in the valleys has dropped by 11,000. It is interesting that, in the same period, the drop in unemployment in the United Kingdom was 2.6 percentage points, but Wales did better than that. Unemployment dropped by 3.4 percentage points and the drop in the valleys was 4.4 percentage points. Therefore, I have decided to extend the programme for two years. and I hope that by the end of April we will be able to publish details of the extended programme and the events that will take place in those years which will continue this important trend.
The seventh important factor is financial services. To date, that initiative has been concentrated on south-east Wales. I believe that north Wales, with its communications and connections with north-west England, will see important developments in that sphere, as will the Swansea bay area. Some of the developments likely to take place there will benefit from the injection of new financial services.
As I have said before, the benefit is still to come from some of the major investments announced to date, but I pleased to say that there are many inquiries in the pipeline from overseas banks and insurance companies as well as United Kingdom companies. I believe that growth in financial services will continue, and will probably mean that, during the 1990s, employment in that area may reach 125,000 in Wales.
The international connections that Wales has developed and is developing are of immense importance. Wales probably has the greatest concentration of Japanese investment of any region in Europe of a similar size. That will continue, and I believe that the latest investments, such as Toyota, will bring to the Principality other Japanese industries that want a presence in the European market. We have a lively and good Welsh Development International office in Japan, which is dealing with many inquiries.
We have as yet had no success in Korea, not because of any failure to impress, but due to Korea taking an interest only recently. I am glad to say that two important delegations of Korean industrialists have been to the Principality and a number of Korean firms are making positive inquiries. I am anxious that during the 1990s we should establish the some close connection with Korea that we have with Japan.
Hon. Members will have read recently of the successful mission to Saudi Arabia. A small number of Welsh firms obtained substantial exports to that area and three or four are now involved in important joint ventures there. We already have a good connection with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, which will be beneficial to us in the 1990s. Our 411 relationship with the United States remains important, and Welsh Development International recently reorganised and strengthened its team there.
One of the most important developments, that will take place later this month and which I hope will be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House is the close relationship that we shall be establishing with Baden-Wurttemberg, the most important state in the German Federal Republic in terms of its economy, industry and manufacturing, from which the Bosch investment came which made a considerable impact on the business community in Germany. We have had talks and an exchange of visits and we have now established an office in Stuttgart.
One result, among others, is that 16 Welsh firms wish to establish a joint venture and a presence in the German market and they are being positively assisted to do so. Talks are now taking place. Firms in Baden-Wurttemberg that are interested in establishing a presence in the United Kingdom market are now engaging in talks and negotiations.
The Prime Minister of Baden-Wurttemberg is anxious to establish a much closer relationship between the Principality and that important region of Germany. He will be coming to Wales on a two-day visit at the end of the month, accompanied by a strong industrial and ministerial team.
Swansea already has a twinning arrangement with Mannheim and Cardiff with Stuttgart, and that has resulted in important cultural and other connections between the two cities. I believe that we shall be able to reach a number of agreements with regard to commerce, industry, research and the interlinking of the universities between that important region of western Germany and Wales, which will be of immense economic and industrial benefit to both countries.
That is the international context for Wales during the 1990s. But central to all other areas, be it the development in the valleys, the Cardiff bay development or the WDA programme, and perhaps the most fundamental target for the 1990s is to improve facilities for training and education in the Principality.
Last year, £150 million of Government money was spent on training and education, by far the highest investment in training that has ever taken place in the Principality. In addition, I hope that the new training and enterprise councils will be operating by the end of this year. In my discussions with the chairman and the key members of the board and the education authorities, I have found considerable enthusiasm in Wales for those councils to succeed.
In less than three years, unemployment has been reduced considerably. It now stands at 6.7 per cent.—well below the level in Europe. It is still higher than in some regions in the United Kingdom, but way below many. What is in the pipeline will continue to improve that considerably, but the commitments that I have outlined to better communications, an enormous factory building programme, the Cardiff bay development, the valleys programme, the financial services programme and a positive international strategy will mean that, by the end of the 1990s, Wales will be one of the most prosperous and successful regions of western Europe.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
I congratulate the Secretary of State and those who helped to obtain the inward investment of Toyota, Bosch and Ford. I hope that we shall soon have confirmation that British Airways will be coming to south Glamorgan. Those are important developments, which mean a great deal to the future economy of Wales, and they show the adaptability, flexibility and welcoming nature of the Welsh people.
However, the Secretary of State's view of the Principality is not one that Opposition Members recognise. He did not mention how many Welsh budgets are being partially or completely destroyed by rising interest rates. Very soon, council rents will go higher and higher as a direct consequence of legislation pushed through the House only last year.
High interest rates affect business confidence, but the right hon. Gentleman glossed over that. Because of high interest rates, all small businesses in Wales are now threatened. They are under great pressure. When the right hon. Gentleman took office, he said that the economic miracle in Wales would be based on small business. But he and his Cabinet colleagues are crucifying the prospects of small businesses in Wales. Nor did the right hon. Gentleman consider for even half a minute the impact of the uniform business rate on small businesses in Wales. There have already been many and widespread complaints about that. Under the right hon. Gentleman, small businesses in Wales are having a tough time, and before long they will find the going even tougher.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that business in Wales will suffer great hardship in the next few months, will he explain why the director of the Cardiff chamber of commerce was reported in the Western Mail only two months ago as saying:Business prospects for this year in South Wales are good."?He went on to say that no fewer than 76 per cent. of businesses are expecting a higher turnover in 1990.
§ Mr. Jones
That bears no relationship to what the CBI in Wales and the CBI in Great Britain said recently. I may as well take this opportunity to say that the hon. Gentleman will not be here for much longer. His time is coming to an end. We shall not have to suffer his injudicious interventions for much longer.
Before I was interrupted I was about to say that the Secretary of State did not mention the real problem in Wales of low pay. That will not go away because the Government's policies are not designed to achieve that. Average male earnings in Wales are the lowest in Britain and three tenths of women in full-time work in Wales earn less than £120 a week. That is a pretty miserable record after so many years of office. I understand why the right hon. Gentleman was not prepared to face up to such a stain on the Government's record in Wales.
For all the gloss and the hype that the Secretary of State is disposed to indulge in, he was not prepared to say that Government spending on social security, on sickness benefit and invalidity benefit in Wales is the highest in Great Britain. That points to real problems in the social fabric of our nation. It is not good enough for the Secretary of State to paddle through an evasive speech 413 when he knows that so much is going badly wrong in the Principality. The Government are trapped by their dogma. They have short-term and short-sighted policies.
I should like to address myself briefly to the challenges to Wales of 1992, of the opening of the Channel tunnel, and to Wales and Britain of the changes and revolution in eastern Europe. Before long, the Secretary of State will have to admit that the economic map of Europe will be redrawn. There will be opportunities for Wales if it continues to be adaptive and if the Government are prepared to take the opportunities offered by the new economic developments and the burgeoning new technological climate.
As the Secretary of State did not mention this in his speech, will he say what assessment the Welsh Office has made of the impact of 1992 and the opening of the Channel tunnel and, most important, what surveys have been made of the opportunities that may arise in eastern Europe? Eastern Europe might be an alternative for inward investment from continents outside Europe. I should not like to see Wales lose out from those fundamental changes.
Has the Welsh Office or the Secretary of State made any assessment of the likelihood of more steel imports when parts of eastern Europe are integrated into western Europe's economic system? I couple with that the need to assess the possible impact of more and cheaper coal imports. Wales is still a steel nation and is still, just, a coal nation. I hope that the Minister of State, Welsh Office will answer those questions when he replies to the debate.
It is certain that a gap has opened between Britain and her competitors. As ever under this Government we are lagging behind. The Secretary of State did not address himself to that problem. The choice is between a low-wage, low-technology economy and a modern, high-wage, high-technology economy, particularly for Wales. The right hon. Gentleman was complacent about that.
Some of my hon. Friends responded with justifiable anger and perhaps even a hint of contempt when the Secretary of State spoke of skills. I think that I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) say, "We have been deskilled." It is an injurious fact that Britain and Wales have so suffered.
I have criticised the Secretary of State, so I shall give him my view. If Wales is to be successful in the competitive environment of the 1990s and beyond, it will be vital to ensure that the right conditions exist. Wales must be viewed as a good place for business.
The Secretary of State should know that in the run-up to the single European market of 1992 and beyond a trade and technology gap has opened between us and our competitors. We shall see a new wave of advanced industries and services in the 1990s. Wales must ensure that it is ready and waiting to grasp those opportunities. We can meet the challenge of a modern high-technology economy, and of fulfilling our potential as a modern industrial economy within Europe. I emphasise what the CBI recently said:To maintain and improve Britain's position in an increasingly competitive world nothing short of a skills revolution is required.But that has not taken place, and nothing that the Secretary of State said showed that the Government are determined to achieve that skills revolution. Indeed, only 414 last month we heard of the sell-off of the four skillcentres in Wales, which suggests that the Government think quite differently about the challenge of the skills revolution.
I beg the Secretary of State—I demand, for the people of Wales—for more investment in education and skills and training. Without it, we shall not meet the challenge of this decade and we shall fall hopelessly far behind in the next century. At that time, our current schoolchildren will have to find their way, but we think that the Government are selling short their prospects by failing to address themselves to the skills revolution.
Having mentioned the industrial base—I did not take much to the Secretary of State's views on it—I shall now deal with social infrastructure. Not content with neglecting our industrial future, the Government have neglected social infrastructure. If we are to have a healthy industrial base, we must have healthy social services provision. The crucial factor in the education service is the number of teachers in it, their morale and their qualifications. There is disturbing evidence that far too many of our teachers want to leave the education service. Too many of the most skilled and experienced teachers are clamouring to leave the education service in Wales. We have talked of the challenge of Europe, but there are not enough teachers of French, German and Spanish, which will be the language of industrial advance in the next century. The Government are doing nothing to ensure that Wales has sufficient teachers of those languages.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. Wyn Roberts)
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the vacancy rate among teachers in Wales is only 1 per cent.? Is he not aware that recruitment for initial teacher training is substantially above target in Wales?
§ Mr. Jones
I shall not take any lessons on teachers from the Minister of State. The trouble is that he is running the education service from behind a desk. He is not visiting schools, he is not taking advice from the profession and he has neglected to ensure that we have sufficient resources where it counts.
I am also concerned about housing. Our valleys communities are desperate for more investment in housing. I met the leaders of the valleys programme councils and it was clear from what they said that about £400 million must be invested in the valleys to modernise houses to a basic standard. Waiting lists for houses are growing and growing. Homelessness is rising and, most shaming of all at this stage of the Government's life, far too many people say that they cannot afford to buy and there are no houses for them to rent.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that not only is there serious homelessness in south Wales, but there is much evidence of homeless young people sleeping rough in the rural towns and villages of north and mid-Wales? Does he accept my estimate that there are at least 50 homeless young men with nowhere to sleep even in the apparently prosperous mid-Wales town of Newtown and that we cannot expect young people to take advantage of further education if they are out on the street with nowhere to live? That shows great neglect by the Government.
§ Mr. Jones
The hon. and learned Gentleman has mentioned a very sad fact. The manner in which he made his point was very telling, and I agree with him. 415 The Health Service in Wales still has large waiting lists and the health authorities believe that, if they are to bring their buildings up to acceptable standards, expenditure in excess of £100 million may be required. Many of our schools are crumbling and again expenditure in excess of £100 million is required. There is a colossal need for investment in housing. The Government's record in education, housing and the Health Service is poor and they must redouble their efforts.
§ Mr. Jones
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman again. I have already given way to him.
A healthy industrial base needs a healthy social structure, which Government policies are neglecting to provide. I want to give some brief advice to the ministerial team. Ministers should visit Brussels more often and fight their corner for agriculture. They must understand that there is unease in the upland communities; all is not well and Ministers must do more. They must redouble their efforts to improve housing. They must acknowledge that there is a crisis and that many families throughout Wales are getting hurt. They should champion the south Wales coalfield. I want the Secretary of State to secure the future of what is left of the south Wales pits. He should examine the impact on the coalfield of the proposed selling off of the electricity industry and of more coal imports.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies
Is my hon. Friend aware that National Power and PowerGen are signing up deals every day to use gas instead of coal in future? If that continues, there will be no coal production going into power stations.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
In view of the intervention by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), would it be Labour party policy to discourage the use of gas in power stations?
§ Mr. Rowlands
As the Secretary of State has intervened on that issue, does my hon. Friend recall that when the right hon. Gentleman was in the Department of Energy he abandoned the import of gas from the Sleipner field in Norway, but we understand from today's newspapers that PowerGen and National Power intend to buy in such imports? Is the Secretary of State proud of that aspect of energy policy?
§ Mr. Jones
The Secretary of State is evading the impact of all those issues on the future of the south Wales coalfield. To his shame, he and his Department did not agree to meet the coalfield community campaign from Wales. He should urgently change his mind, open the door of the Welsh Office and let a well-informed and most reasonable representative group of people—the coalfield 416 community campaign—put their powerful and moving case. He would learn a great deal about those communities.
There is no need for the Secretary of State to attempt to intervene in my remarks now as I am raising the issue of the poll tax. There are no irresponsible, profligate Welsh councils. If standard spending assessments were adhered to in Wales, our local education authorities would lose hundreds of teachers. They simply would not be able to employ them. The Secretary of State has given Welsh councils 3 to 4 per cent. too little for them to cope. He has neglected to give money to cover inflation and wage awards. He has neglected to cover the demands of legislation that the Government have steamrollered or are steamrollering through, such as the green Bill, the Education Reform Act and the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. The Government are now indulging in blame-gain politics. They are seeking an alibi by trying to shift the blame for the poll tax on to local authorities throughout Wales. However, the right hon. Gentleman knows that the problems relate to his Government's policies.
It is as well to state the objections to the poll tax. The poll tax is unjust. It is totally rejected by the Welsh people. It has no backing, no support and no friends. The poll tax attacks the family. It attacks the vulnerable; it is a tax and a policy that is totally at odds with the spirit of conducting government in Wales—which is fair play. It is against any concept of social justice. If I were to summarise the case in the most pointed way, I should put it like this:We argue for the cohesion of the family, yet it will be far easier for young people to evade the tax if they leave home and seek more anonymous accommodation. We urge families to look after their elderly parents, but the elderly relative pays a poll tax at home but none in a local authority home. We will have created a granny tax. Many mothers stay at home to look after their children. The poll tax will send…them out to work…to pay the poll tax.That might be regarded as a fair summation of the impact of the poll tax. But those are not my remarks; they are the remarks of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) in a speech in December 1987. The speech also contained this little nugget:I cannot remember a discussion of the option of the poll tax in which it was not rejected as expensive, ineffective and unfair.It was clear from what the right hon. Gentleman, who used to be in the Cabinet, said that there had been a bit of a fight. Where was the Secretary of State for Wales? What did he do? Did he fight?
§ Mr. Peter Walker
The hon. Gentleman does not approve of the excellent arrangements that I have made for Wales. We are all waiting for the alternative from the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Jones
No. The Secretary of State has been in the Cabinet for 10 years. The right hon. Member for Henley has let the cat out of the bag. There was a discussion and a fight. Every time that discussion took place, it was decided that the poll tax was not up to scratch. Did the Secretary of State fight?
§ Mr. Jones
The Secretary of State may answer when I allow him to come to the Dispatch Box. I want him to tell me and the people of Wales from the Dispatch Box why he 417 supported the poll tax when the right hon. Member for Henley was fighting and telling the truth about it. Why did he support the poll tax?
§ Mr. Walker
I have taken part in discussions. I agreed a poll tax arrangement for Wales in which the people of Wales will pay 40 per cent. less than people in England and Scotland. I repeat: what is the hon. Gentleman's alternative to the community charge? Will he guarantee that a Labour Government will keep that differential for Wales?
§ Mr. Jones
The right hon. Gentleman needs to give me the answers. Why did he resolve to support the poll tax in Cabinet? Why did he not fight against the poll tax? Why did he support the poll tax when the right hon. Member for Henley told the Cabinet that the poll tax should not be given to the people of Britain? Why did he agree to the poll tax in Cabinet? Why did he walk out of the Cabinet and go to Wales where he imposed the tax on our people? Why did he resolve to do that when the right hon. Member for Henley decided that the poll tax would not work? The Secretary of State will go down in the history of his office as the man who brought the poll tax to Wales and who could never come to the Dispatch Box to give the reasons why he supported it. Why did he support the poll tax in the Cabinet? His inability to give an answer is a sign of his unwillingness to give the House his reasons why he supported the poll tax. He is running away from the questions that we have put to him.
The right hon. Member for Henley also said:what will they— that is, the Government——use for arguments when facing the millions of people who will lose out heavily under authorities which are neither extreme nor extravagant?That is a fair question to put to the Secretary of State. Hundreds of thousands of people in Wales are now asking that question. The right hon. Member for Henley also said:Responsibility for the poll tax will now be targeted precisely and unavoidably at the Government who introduced that tax. That tax will be known as a Tory tax.—[Official Report, 16 December 1987; Vol. 124, c. 1139–41.]
The Secretary of State has brought that Tory tax to Wales. He will be remembered for that when the history of his actions is written.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
As my hon. Friend has been preparing his speech, he may not have had the opportunity to pose a question to the Secretary of State about the headline in the Evening Standard:Thatcher bids to stem the panic".Perhaps my hon. Friend will ask the Secretary of State whether he shares the view expressed in the Evening Standard.
§ Mr. Jones
Conservatives only panic in a crisis. The Secretary of State has given us no answers this afternoon. However, he has had the brass neck to ask us what we shall do when his Government have had 10 years of office—[Interruption.] After about 12 Acts of Parliament designed to bring in their policies for local government finance, the Conservatives have eventually brought forward a poll tax. The Secretary of State and his party are in deep trouble.
418 The Labour party will not make the mistake that the right hon. Gentleman made. Our proposals will be just, fair and efficient. They will be well thought out and better presented than the Government's poll tax. The Secretary of State must have a face of brass to avoid the questions that all of Britain is asking. He knows that his party has failed in the imposition of the poll tax and that it does not carry weight with the people of Britain.
I want the Secretary of State to understand that his policies for changing the National Health Service, for water privatisation and for the poll tax will guarantee the loss of his remaining parliamentary seats in Wales. There will be no escape for his colleagues in Wales and they will be doomed to disaster. When the general election takes place, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition will be elected as Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)
I am especially fortunate in being called now to follow that shambolic demonstration from the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones). He has made some pretty bad speeches in the House, but that one takes the candle. He accused my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of an inability to answer the question, but he never answered ours. He accused my right hon. Friend of running away from the question, but he ran away from ours. My right hon. Friend asked him what was his alternative to the community charge, to which he replied that he would tell us his attitude. Even his hearing was not right. He would not say what his alternative was. There has been much discussion in the papers, but we do not know which alternative it is. That is all we are asking him to tell us. I am happy to give way to him, although in my six and a half years in the House the hon. Gentleman has never had the courtesy to give way to me. What is the alternative? Which variation is it? Is it the roof tax based on capital values or the roof tax based on capital value plus income tax?
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) is greatly respected by Conservative Members and by Opposition Members, which is why the Opposition are in a shambles and will not announce an alternative. The hon. Member for Perry Barr is an expert in such matters and he said that the roof tax, whether based on capital values or on capital values plus income tax, was a non-starter. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside accused us of introducing an anti-granny tax and of attacking the vulnerable. What would a tax based on capital values do? It would attack the vulnerable. Many of his and my constituents—I can think of several off the top of my head—are elderly people with no great income living in a house that they inherited from their parents. It may be a large house with a high capital value, but they have no cash flow. They are house-rich but cash-poor. What will the Labour alternative do to them? It will attack them. The Labour tax is the anti-granny tax.
The hon. Member for Perry Barr has told his party to drop the idea of a roof tax and I hope that it will take his advice. In its current shambles, the Labour party could not do better than to turn to him. The hon. Member for Perry Barr and I served together on the Standing Committee that considered the Local Government Finance Act 1988, and the hon. Gentleman made some sensible comments. The Labour party was in a real mess then over its alternative to the community charge. Now the hon. Member for Perry 419 Barr has said that he favours a tax based on floor area because no revaluation would be required and because he is worried about the bureaucratic cost of the tax.
The Labour party attacks us about the cost of collecting the community charge, yet Labour Members advocate a capital tax based on the capital value of houses, which would require an annual revaluation. God almighty, we should need a huge district valuer's office to undertake that task; that would remove most of the remaining unemployment. The hon. Member for Perry Barr says that a tax based on floor area would need no revaluation andit would ensure that people in mansions paid more than those in a terraced house or flat.That may be the case, but many elderly people live in large houses or flats with huge floor areas; they are house-rich or flat-rich but they are cash-poor. How will the hon. Gentleman's alternative help them?
§ Mr. Raffan
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ogmore, (Mr. Powell) for his compassion. I am overwhelmed. How extremely touching! Tears are coming to my eyes already that he should ask after my health. Labour Members must be in trouble if they do that.
The Labour party cannot attack the community charge unless they spell out what the alternative is. Labour Members escaped having to do that in Committee by saying, "We are not here to debate our alternative; we are here to debate your Bill." [HON. MEMBERS: "That's right."] I agree; fair enough. But the Opposition cannot go on like that for a whole Parliament. They must come up with some answers. We have asked them but they have not answered.
§ Mr. Raffan
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman who comes, like the cavalry, to the Labour party's rescue.
§ Mr. Wigley
I recall the Committee and all the problems that we faced. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the only fair local tax is a local income tax? And if he has reservations about the way in which the poll tax will hit his county of Clwyd, will he say how he hopes the county council will reduce its expenditure? What jobs would he do away with in Clwyd?
§ Mr. Raffan
I shall come to that in the second half of my speech. If the hon. Gentleman feels that I have not answered the question then, I shall gladly give way to him again. I assure him that quite a large section of my speech deals with Clwyd and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has anticipated my point.
I shall deal first with one or two other major issues. The hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) once described the annual Welsh day debate as the "annual general meeting" of Wales and Welsh Members, and to an extent that is true. It gives us a chance to report on the past year and to look to the future.
Tragically, my constituency has experienced three disasters during the past year—one natural and two man made.
§ Mr. Raffan
First, the House knows that as a result of the severe weather conditions and the gales of the past few days, there has been extensive flooding and damage throughout north Wales—especially in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) but also in mine. I agree with hon. Members who have said—I said it myself on Tuesday when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State replied to a private notice question—that we need a review of our sea defences. The sea wall at Ffynnongroew in my constituency, which is the responsibility of British Rail, was extensively breached. As I said in my intervention on Tuesday, we need a much more substantial wall to be built there, and British Rail must be provided with the extra capital that will be necessary because it will be a fairly major operation.
The overtopping of the coastal protection works at Prestatyn—many of them newly constructed—also raises considerable concern, and they must be urgently examined to ensure that they are effective. There is a need, too, for the outstanding works there, at a cost of £5.6 million staggered over a three-year period, to be completed as quickly as possible. Welsh Office help may be needed to accelerate the construction of those works.
My second point about the events of the past few days concerns the Nova complex in Prestatyn. In the words of the chief executive of the borough council, it has been "devastated". It was renovated beautifully two years ago at a cost of £2.5 million and the damage exceeds £1 million. It is the principal tourist attraction in a town which is dependent on tourism; it is the linch pin of the local economy and its loss will affect the incomes of many shops, cafes and pubs.
The reconstruction will take at least nine months and, for the sake of the town's economy, the centre needs to be reconstructed straight away. But the question arises whether it can be reconstucted straight away and on that site because the sea defences may not be adequate. There is no point in rebuilding it on that site if the same thing is going to happen again. There is an urgent need for Welsh Office help to ensure that we can make certain that that site is properly protected so that the reconstruction of the complex—so important to the local economy—can be carried out as soon as possible.
The second disaster to which I shall refer is the salmonella outbreak in my constituency last July. It was the worst outbreak ever seen in Europe. More than 400 local people became ill and the outbreak claimed at least two lives. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will recall, I telephoned him on 28 July last year to ask for a public inquiry. He told me that he wanted to conduct an internal review as he felt that that would be quicker, that it would enable us to learn lessons rather than apportion blame—there had already been rather too much mud-slinging in the press between the authorities involved. He rightly said—and it struck a chord with me—that we had to learn lessons quickly, that a formal investigation would take longer to set up and it would be inevitably a lengthy business.
That was at the end of July, but the review was not set in motion until Monday 6 November. That was the day when I asked my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary when the review would be completed. It had not yet even been started but my hon. Friend did not say in his answer to me on that day that an announcement was being made that day that it was to start. He said that it was in progress, or 421 words to that effect. I now ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, "Why the three-month delay?" The review should have been carried out promptly and effectively.
To be fair, on 5 February my right hon. Friend wrote to me to say that he had thought that it would not be right to begin a review of the handling of the outbreak until it was under control. But in fact it was under control by the end of July, when I spoke to him on the phone. Medically, it had been under control for several days by then. I had already met the Flint GPs who told me as much.
My right hon. Friend went on in his letter to say that the authorities involved needed time to consider what had taken place and draw conclusions from it. That is no excuse for not starting the review. In fact, the authorities involved were not asked for evidence until 17 November. If the review had been announced and started earlier, they would have delivered their evidence to the Welsh Office a great deal quicker. Delyn borough council is only considering its submission in full council today.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Ministers at the Welsh Office apparentlygave immediate, but careful, consideration to the form our investigation should take and how it should be conducted. Naturally, this took a little time".But why three months? When I spoke to my right hon. Friend at the end of July he told me what format he felt the inquiry should take. I can understand a delay of two or three weeks, but not of two or three months.
I am not happy with the way in which the Welsh Office has handled the review. Ministers and officials have left themselves open to charges—however unfair—of complacency, dilatoriness and worse. They have also left themselves open, unfortunately, to continued renewed pressure in the media in north Wales for a public inquiry. We cannot have a public inquiry when we already have an internal review.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has assured me that the review will he completed with the minimum delay and has set his officials a target of one further month after Delyn borough council's submission has been received. But the report must be published in time for the lessons that have been learnt to be incorporated into the Food Safety Bill. For example, we require legislation to ensure that information regarding distribution outlets from food processing plants is easily available, which it was not in this case. A lot of time had to be spent gathering information. We need the report before the Bill starts its passage through this House so that we can incorporate the lessons learnt from the salmonella outbreak. We need to be able to handle such an outbreak better in future, because, however regrettable it may be, a further major food poisoning outbreak is almost inevitable. We need to know who should be in charge. Since the administration has changed and we no longer have chief medical officers of health, it was not clear in this case—and it will not be clear until we have the necessary guidelines issued by the Welsh Office and the Department of Health stating who should be in charge. In the Delyn salmonella outbreak, we ran into the problem of having no clear chain of command responsibility—a point that I made, forcefully I hope, in the House on Thursday 27 July.
I hope that we can have that important review as soon as possible. It is important not just for potential future 422 outbreaks, but for the Food Safety Bill. It is essential that we incorporate the lessons learned from that outbreak in the Bill.
When I mentioned disasters a wit on the Labour Benches—there must be at least one—said, "What about the poll tax?"—or, as we can call it, the community charge. He anticipated me correctly. The second man-made disaster was imposed on my constituency in the form of the highest community charge in Wales by Labour-controlled Clwyd county council.
§ Mr. Raffan
No, not yet. The hon. Gentleman must be patient. I shall give way to him later. I have just embarked on this subject. I shall gladly give way to him once I have made my principal point. Perhaps he will just listen for a moment.
The high county council community charge is the biggest man-made disaster imposed on my constituents by the Labour party. The leader of the Labour group or' Clwyd county council—[Interruption.] How interesting it is that Labour Members listen in silence about salmonella, but not when we criticise their party.
§ Mr. Raffan
No. The hon. Gentleman will not disturb my speech. I shall give way after I have finished this passage. The hon. Gentleman should be patient. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside is always telling us to sit down and that he will give way when he is ready. Perhaps the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) will do that now. I know that he would like to disturb my speech and break up this section but I shall not allow him to do so. Labour Members are like Pavlov's dogs today. If one throws something out they jump up and bite. They are putting on quite a show; it must be for the cameras.
The leader of the Labour group on Clwyd county council, Councillor Elwyn Conway, has said that the highest community charge in Wales is all the fault of the Welsh Office. As Mandy would have said, "He would say that, wouldn't he?" He says that it is the low level and the reduction of central Government support. The facts contradict him and show that he has wilfully misled the people of Clwyd. The rate support grant for Clwyd increased by 9 per cent. which was more than inflation, in each of the past two years. This year it is up by £14.5 million, or 13 per cent., which is well above inflation. In addition to that, the Labour group on Clwyd county council has had an extra contribution through the business rate of £7.5 million. Central Government support has not been reduced; it has been increased well above inflation.
§ Mr. Raffan
I have not forgotten the hon. Gentleman.
Councillor Conway says that people must not be misled into thinking that the high community charge is due toextravagant spending…we went through the budget line by line and cut all unnecessary expenditure out.No one knows whether that is true because the Labour group did it in caucus. I shall come to that again in a moment. Once more, the facts contradict what he says. 423 Clwyd spending is to be increased by £28.9 million or 18 per cent. Only £14 million of that is accounted for by inflation. The remainder is new spending. Of course, Clwyd has not cut anything.
When the council was in financial crisis last July—a crisis that it should have anticipated because, as the largest group on the council, Labour was largely responsible for pushing through the previous budget—it said that it wouldprogramme a 10 per cent. cut in senior and middle management posts under the containment agreement with a potential saving of £15 million.What has the council done? It has increased its staff by seven.
I and my hon. Friends know what Labour is up to. After all, we have the famous secret document from Southwark Labour group. It would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to Southwark Labour group for letting us have that document. It shows precisely what Labour is up to. It asked Labour councillors to consider:What is more important—short-term protection of people by setting low poll taxes or longer term protection by getting rid of the poll tax?The document's advice was to set:The highest rate you can get away with.That is what Labour in Clwyd has done. It is not being responsible, but simply playing politics, as it always has.
§ Mr. John P. Smith
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the same strategy has been adopted by my district council, Vale of Glamorgan borough council, one of only two Conservative-controlled authorities in Wales, which has set a poll tax levy of £36 when the Welsh Office recommended a target of £19? That is almost a 100 per cent. Increase.
§ Mr. Raffan
I wish that I had a £36 community charge in Delyn. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would send those councillors to me. Will he give them a free transfer? What is the charge in Delyn and Rhuddlan? I think that it is over £55 in Rhuddlan. In Delyn it is £45. Delyn borough council has done a good job because it is not Labour controlled. The Conservative group on Vale of Glamorgan council has done remarkably well. The hon. Gentleman will not be here very much longer; that is why I gave way to him. He will disappear down the chute at the next election. I am glad that he has brought us the good news that the community charge in his area is so low that he is likely to lose his seat when he next stands for it.
It would be remiss of me if I did not deal with the speech of the shadow Secretary of State for Wales. He is my favourite politician in the Labour party. He is the favourite politician of all Conservative Members. He is much more popular among Conservative Members than among Opposition Members. We all know why. It would be discourteous on St. David's day of all days to spell it out. I shall not be nasty to him.
In a message to Alyn and Deeside Labour party on 20 December last the hon. Gentleman wrote:Many Clwyd people face a bleak New Year, with a poorer quality of life than for many years.Just a few days later another quotation appeared in the press:I'm confident that the Welsh economy, quite surprisingly, is going to outperform the UK economy as a whole for the first two or three years of the 1990s424 That strikes quite a different note. Whose quote was that? It was from the general secretary of the Welsh TUC, David Jenkins. He knows what is going on in Wales.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside told the Minister of State to visit some schools. I know that my hon. Friend does so frequently, not only in his constituency but in mine. It is time that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside got round a bit more. Perhaps he should talk to the TUC. The TUC will tell him what is going on in Wales. We are outperforming the United Kingdom economy. Nowhere is that more evident than in the constituency of Alyn and Deeside where my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing more than the hon. Gentleman ever did when he was a Minister. We never hear the good news from the hon. Gentleman. In Alyn and Deeside since 1988—[interruption.] He is pointing at his watch now. He would prefer that this part of my speech was deleted. He will not have that luck.
§ Mr. Raffan
I shall be as brief as I can.
In Alyn and Deeside since 1988 unemployment has fallen by 47 per cent. thanks to Government policies. People there will benefit from the £300 million Toyota engine plant, thanks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The place is bristling with private sector business parks such as that at Broughton and St. David's Ewloe. That shows that private sector business is confident in the Government's policies in Alyn and Deeside, where one finds the headquarters of one of the great entrepreneurial successes of the past 10 years—Iceland Frozen Foods. There is also there the major industrial park in north Wales, booming to such an extent that it is fast running out of land for industrial development. The Welsh Development Agency is even looking to reclaim land from the Dee estuary.
When the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside is not stirring up gloom and doom, he tells us that the sun will come out under Labour. He calls for more teachers, environmental health officers, schools, hospitals—more of everything. He never tells us—Labour never does—where the money will come from.
I know that the hon. Gentleman's favourite Conservative politician is my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd North-West. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will listen if I quote my hon. Friend. When he was asked during the leadership challenge why, despite his disagreement with many Government policies, he remained a staunch Conservative, my hon. Friend replied:However important it is to distribute wealth fairly, we have got to create wealth first and only the Conservative party is prepared to do that.My hon. Friend was spot on as usual. The Labour party spends all its time telling us how it will spend money that it never creates.
I have a constituent called Carol Hughes. She describes herself as the press officer of Delyn constituency Labour party. Her letters to the press never fail to cheer me up. Her latest contribution is three columns long and is entitled,Our economy sweeps to the top of the agenda".She wrote:People will be wondering what the Labour Party's answer is.425 You can say that again, Carol. We are all wondering what the Labour party's answer is and I have a sneaking suspicion that Labour Members themselves are wondering, too.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
I shall be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I know that many of my hon. Friends want to speak. However, I should like to touch on several subjects, some of which directly affect my constituency, but which also have larger implications for the whole of Wales.
We in Ebbw Vale hope and are extremely determined to make the garden festival a great success, not only for Ebbw Vale and Blaenau Gwent, but for the whole of Wales. I was glad to hear the terms in which the Secretary of State spoke about that today. I hope that he will soon take action to ensure that the prospects for the festival are not in any way injured by the proposals for the great opencast operation. That we oppose on general grounds. Although I am not saying anything against opencast generally—many such operations are carried out perfectly properly—the idea of having a great opencast operation at the entrance to the garden festival at this time is quite wrong. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman understands that we oppose that proposition.
I am happy to welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Welsh Development Agency and its achievements. Some of us can remember the battles in the House to establish it. The whole principle was opposed by the Conservative party. We are therefore glad to see it go from strength to strength. I am especially glad about the fresh allocations for the two different parts of its operations. It was always wrong that the Welsh Development Agency should have to make difficult choices between new factories and new land developments, when we needed many more resources for both. We shall need such resources on an even greater scale in the 1990s. I am sure that a new Government formed by the Labour party would carry forward the work that it initiated in relation to the Welsh Development Agency, but for as long as the Government are in office, I urge them to act on an even bigger scale.
The fact that nobody can describe a new project with such embellishments as the Secretary of State means that we must immediately examine its consequences. At the very moment that the right hon. Gentleman is giving the most flowery account of its prospects, if one looks at the details, one discovers that the local authorities will be left to face some of the difficult consequences of the actions that the right hon. Gentleman has taken. My own local authority would be astonished to hear some of the things that the right hon. Gentleman has said today about our housing programme. In the next year we have to face a cut of almost £4 million in our capital programme for housing. That means a big setback for our whole housing programme. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look at the details that we are presenting to him and try to restore some of the steady expansion for which we have been fighting in recent years.
The Secretary of State tries to present the picture of a 426 steady and certain expansion in the Welsh economy, but that is not the picture that he presents in the rest of the country. I have invited him previously to make in Wales the speech that he sometimes makes in England. When he speaks in England, he is an old Keynesian expansionist, which is a good thing to be, because I am a Keynesian expansionist also. However, when the right hon. Gentleman comes to Wales, he gives us all that monetarist nonsense which sticks so much in the throat—and so rightly—of his hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), who almost won the leadership of his party. What a great advantage it would have been to all of us if that had happened. We might have got on with some of these policies more quickly.
The Secretary of State knows the truth of what I am saying. He knows perfectly well that, if the speeches that he has made about the economy generally were applied to Wales, they would show that we have wasted huge resources and that hundreds of millions of pounds have been poured down the drain of mass unemployment—and nowhere more overwhelmingly or in such a flood as in Wales. The rest of the United Kingdom has not been hit as badly as we have in that respect.
The right hon. Gentleman is now trying to tell us that that is all over and that we have passed through that period. He quotes the figures that he gave in the House the other day. I am sure that that question must have been planted. The Secretary of State would not dare to answer such a question from his hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman would not ask his right hon. Friend such an innocent question.
The question related to the employment figures in Wales now as compared with 1979. The right hon. Gentleman replied that the figure today is 1,158,000 people, compared with 1,160,000 in 1979. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman was saying that they have just about caught up with the 1979 figure—although not quite, because they are 2,000 people short, and represents that as a great triumph. As he well knows—this is why the right hon. Gentleman asked the question to be framed in those terms the unemployment figures for Wales now are still far greater than they were in 1979. There is still a huge waste because of mass unemployment in Wales.
Of course we are glad that the employment figures for Wales have just got back to their 1979 level, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) said several times, those figures also represent a different kind of employment. The right hon. Gentleman should not get so angry about the fact that we mention this, because there is now a different kind of employment which, in the main, does not give such well-paid jobs over such a wide area. I am not saying that many well-paid jobs have not come into Wales, but they are on nothing like the scale of the well-paid jobs that we have lost. The right hon. Gentleman tries to question that figure, but he knows perfectly well that I am telling the truth.
Many of the jobs are also part-time. Again of course we do not object to part-time jobs, but it is grossly misleading to include the figures for part-time jobs in the total figure for employment in our country. Indeed, no one knows how grossly misleading those figures are more than the Secretary of State because, as I have said, when speaking on the other side of the border a few years ago, the right hon. Gentleman would have applied himself exactly to the same problems to which I am now referring.
427 Nobody knows exactly what will happen in Wales in the next two or three years. Does anybody think—the right hon. Gentleman has no right to claim this—that Wales will not be touched by the general economic problems that we face in Britain, the problems that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is having to face because of the collapse of the Government's general economic policy and, for example, the high interest rates, and all the other fearful weapons against which the right hon. Gentleman has protested for so long? If anything, those problems are even more injurious to Wales than to England——
§ Mr. Foot
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but we in Wales do not have immunity from the consequences of the Government's hideous and mounting economic problems. The right hon. Gentleman and the Government should accept some of the advice given in their recent electoral leadership contest and adopt an altogether new policy. That is what the Opposition are determined to achieve, in this area as in so many others.
I notice the time and will conclude with this. The Secretary of State was so proud of his achievements in relation to the poll tax that he would not have mentioned them this afternoon but for the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones). I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman—that is much the wisest and the best way to proceed. It shows that the right hon. Gentleman is as proud of the poll tax as he is of the other stupid measures that have been adopted by the Government. It is much better for him to keep quiet altogether. I advise him to continue on that course.
Above all, the right hon. Gentleman should try to determine how—for as long as he remains on the Treasury Bench—he can apply in Wales the expansionist policies that he says are necessary for the United Kingdom as a whole, because Wales needs those expansionist policies more than any other part of the kingdom.
§ Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)
St. David's day is a special day. In the days of our youth, we Welshmen and women used to celebrate it with leeks and daffodils. We were proud to wear them, as we are today. I am proud to be a Welshman, and proud of the Welsh nation and the Welsh people. I want them to get a fair deal, but I am not convinced that they are doing so.
We are undoubtedly an inquisitive, industrious, enthusiastic and, sometimes, a humorous people. There is still a welcome in the hillsides, and I hope that there will continue to be one. At present, we are in danger of finding no Welsh people in the hillsides to provide that welcome, and that is a depressing prospect.
There is no doubt that in the past week people have suffered, particularly in north Wales. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) in the Chamber. I do not agree with much of what he said, but he has certainly come from his sick bed fighting this afternoon. I agree with what he said about the needs of the north Wales coast. The people there deserve our great sympathy, and adequate resources to put right the problems in that area. The problem of drying out houses is particularly serious. Will Welsh Office Ministers take note that I believe, from 428 information that I have, that there are inadequate drying facilities in that area, particularly for old people, to dry their houses after the waters have receded? That important problem needs to be overcome.
The cry across Europe in the past six months has been for freedom and democracy, as European nations gain their liberty and experience practical democracy for the first time in 50 years. This spring, from Czechoslovakia to East Germany, Romania and other places, the citizens will experience blessed relief at being able to practise democracy in those countries. How lucky they are to have won the prize of liberty and democracy. If they have any sense, they will not follow the British model of democracy but will, I trust, follow the best model produced by British constitutional lawyers—the West German model which is designed on federalism and proportional representation.
It was not an accident that the Secretary of State mentioned the Premier of Baden-Wurttemberg, a beneficiary of that system of federalism. He has more powers than the Secretary of State for Wales; I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman wishes that he had the powers of the Prime Minister of Baden-Wurttemberg. It was significant that the Secretary of State said that he was pleased to be able to negotiate with a man who clearly had much more economic power than he has.
I ask a fundamental question: when will Wales get freedom and democracy, and how much of each will it get? Is there freedom to be housed in Wales? I think not, when there are 70,000 people on the housing list and a maximum of 4,000 homes per annum being built at present. That means misery and makes it impossible for many young people to be housed.
In the 1970s, 8,000 council houses per annum were being built. Last year, 750 council houses were built and Tai Cymru says that 3,000 will be built in the next 12 months. That is a serious deficit, and, in human terms, an appalling prospect. The housing planning rules need to be changed and affordable housing needs to be brought in.
Will there be freedom from the poll tax? I think not: the tax will engulf everyone, and ability to pay will not be one of its leading principles. How is it that it will cost two and a half times the figure for administering the rates to administer the poll tax? It costs more than £9.5 million for the rates, yet nearly £26 million to administer the poll tax. Will that mean increasing public expenditure or wasting taxpayers' money? I think it will be a profligate waste of taxpayers' money.
Is there freedom to work and earn a decent wage in Wales? I think not, when there are still 85,000 to 90,000 people unemployed in Wales. We may be glad that the figures have been reduced, but a further big drop must be brought about. We have the lowest wages in mainland Britain. I thought that it was particularly ironic to see a headline in one of the London evening papers last night proclaiming, "Sue BR". I thought that said everything about the cultural divide between south-east England and Wales. First, practically no one in Wales has the money to sue BR; secondly, in most parts of Wales there are no trains. When I was standing on Woking station recently, I found out that there were 156 trains a day going through the station. That is the culture difference that we are talking about.
We want freedom for the Welsh language to be spoken, when only 20 per cent. of the people speak the language. What will happen about a new Welsh language Bill? At present, the Welsh language has insufficient status, and 429 that certainly needs to be put right. I hope that, when the Minister sums up, he will say something about a new Welsh language Bill.
Will there be the freedom for young people to live, work and play in their home areas in Wales? That certainly does not seem a reasonable prospect while there is low pay and little housing, and that is a serious problem.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
Does my hon. Friend share my experience? In my constituency, unemployment is decreasing, which is encouraging, and poverty is increasing, which is discouraging. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government cannot claim to have solved the social problems of Wales when, in areas such as mine, despite the fact that there are apparently more jobs, in real terms people are getting poorer and poorer? That is particularly true of young people, embarking on a life together and starting the families that will be the future of Wales, if Wales is to have any future at all.
§ Mr. Livsey
I could not agree more with my hon. and learned Friend. The position is serious; there are many people on £70 or £80 a week who see no prospect of obtaining a mortgage, given the unaffordability of housing.
Freedom of access to the National Health Service is endangered by the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. It will result in hospital trusts, and in rural GPs being cash-limited. Many of them say that they will not be able to get around the rural areas anyway.
Will there be adequate freedom for people to be educated at every level? There seems no opportunity to learn foreign languages in Wales, other than French. Our schools do not have the facilities, yet 1992 is coming.
Will there be freedom to travel around Wales? The road system is appalling, and we need a good north-south Wales road. Public transport in Wales is an absolute desert; in many places, pensioners are stuck and unable to move around as they can in many other parts of the country.
Sport is a problem for young people. There is a village in my constituency where, because of restrictions, only five houses have been built in the past 20 years. A little longer ago than that, I used to play football and cricket against the village teams. Now there are not enough young people in the village to get up a cricket or football team—that is serious.
What about democracy itself—that other cry from Europe? We live in a dependency culture. We have never had a time such as this past 10 years. There has never been a Conservative majority in Wales this century, yet we are ruled centrally by a Government with only seven Members representing Welsh constituencies. Indeed, Britain as a whole gave 44 per cent. support to the Conservative party at the last general election, and somehow, by magical arithmetic, the Government ended up with a majority of 101. That is supposed to be democracy. Britain is the only state in the European Community that does not have proportional representation.
We need reforms of many kinds. We suffer from government by diktat. To assist Wales, we should, among other things, have constitutional reform to bring freedom and democracy, with the introduction of PR United Kingdomwide, and create a Welsh senate elected by PR. We must introduce a Bill of Rights to protect the people, including the adoption of the European convention on human rights, for our minorities, be they Welsh-speaking 430 or English-speaking. We want an elected second Chamber in the Palace of Westminster. We want a Freedom of Information Act, and more power given to Members of the European Parliament. We want a proper relationship between Wales and Europe.
Today, in Powys, Gwynedd and Dyfed, central Government are threatening to poach away £7.2 million, swindling us out of that money. Even Ministers in the Welsh Office and civil servants in that Department and in the European Community agree about that. But someone in central Government has his sticky fingers on the money, and that is not good enough. We want a Welsh Assembly with real powers to legislate and with economic powers. We want local government reformed into multi-purpose authorities having authority in local communities, with more power given to community councils. We must release the energies of the people of Wales so that we can help ourselves and have more confidence in ourselves.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he would also like the local assembly of which he is speaking to have powers of taxation?
§ Mr. Livsey
I did not mention taxation, although it is known that my party supports local income tax as a method of financing local government. I said that it should have more economic powers of the kind that the Minister already enjoys in relation to the Welsh Development Agency and similar bodies. Such powers are enjoyed by regions of the Federal Republic of West Germany.
The Secretary of State said that WDA funding had been doubled recently. That is not the experience of development in mid-Wales. The Development Board for Rural Wales needs more funding, particularly to tackle some of the social problems that have been mentioned in the debate. More power should be made available to enable us to ensure that our youngsters can live in the areas in which they were brought up. They must be able to work and earn a decent wage in those areas.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)
We had from the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) an odd mixture of inspissated gloom and unsubstantiated theorising.
I shall stick closely to the situation in my constituency, and the House will understand why my thoughts are concentrated on that area. But before speaking of the catastrophe that has struck the north Wales coast and my constituency in particular, there are two matters of great importance to which I must refer.
The first is the facilities for cancer treatment in north Clwyd. At present, cancer patients there and in Gwynedd must travel all the way to Clatterbridge, in the Wirral peninsula, for treatment—a long and trying journey for them and their relatives and visitors. Up to now, the excellence of the facilities and the devotion of the staff at Clatterbridge went some way to offset those disadvantages. But the equipment and accommodation there are beginning to show their age and the balance of the argument has now shifted.
There is now a strong case for providing the full range of cancer treatment facilities at Glan Clwyd hospital, Bodelwyddan. There is no doubting the strong feeling in 431 the area in favour of that. The admirable Mrs. Smith of Old Colwyn has collected 15,000 signatures on a petition which the Under-Secretary received from me recently.
I am aware that there is no such corresponding demand for the provision of local facilities in south Clwyd, where they enjoy the admirable facilities of Christie hospital, Manchester. I should be sorry if recent statements by consultants in the Wrexham area, stressing the value of Christie hospital to their patients, in any way weakened the case for providing more local facilities for north Clwyd, where the balance of argument is different.
One of the finest schools in my constituency is Emrys ap Iwan at Abergele. Under tertiary reorganisation proposals, that school is liable to lose its sixth form. I have mixed feelings about that, but I do not support the demand now being made by some parents and governors at that school to opt out of local authority control.
Those matters are of long-term concern. Naturally, my mind and heart are full of the tragedy that struck my constituents living along the north Wales coast. I returned only an hour or so ago from a quick dash by train this morning to see the situation for myself, and I have returned briefly to take part in the debate. I apologise to hon. Members in all parts of the House for the fact that I shall be returning to my constituency by car tonight and will not remain to hear the rest of the debate.
It has been a comfort to my constituents, nearly 2,000 of whom have had their homes flooded, their possessions ruined, sometimes their pets drowned and who face many more days in makeshift accommodation, that the Secretary of State reacted swiftly to their plight by pledging Government support and by yesterday sending the Minister of State to see the situation for himself. I was sorry to learn that he had an uncomfortable flight.
Even more comforting has been the presence today of the Prince and Princess of Wales, who returned specially from Switzerland for that purpose. I was able to see for myself this morning how much their visit was appreciated.
There is universal praise for the actions of the rescue services—the fire, police and ambulance men and women —and for the efficient and caring way in which the local authorities have tackled the work of rescuing people. One old lady today could be rescued from her attic only by rescuers breaking open the roof. She had taken refuge in the attic, which was the only part of her home above water.
People are also grateful for the energy and determination that is being shown in the attempt to reconstruct the shattered sea wall. In view of allegations that may have been made, I should put on record the fact that the length of sea wall that collapsed was a long way from the place where a minor breach occurred a week or so ago. The mayor of Colwyn has launched a disaster appeal, which I am sure will be generously supported by those who have been spared misfortune.
The scale of the disaster is immense. Nearly 2,000 people have had to leave their homes and it will be many days before they can return, always assuming that the worst of the flooding is over, and even that is not certain. When they go back, they will find their carpets and decorations ruined beyond repair. Virtually all the furniture in their downstairs rooms—for bungalow dwellers, that means every room in the house, and it is an 432 area of bungalows—has been damaged or at best disfigured, including all their kitchen equipment, which is probably now unsafe.
Raw sewage is washing back up the drains. The drains must first be cleared and then all traces of the sewage removed. I hope that in many cases the insurance companies will pick up the huge bills, but that will mean even higher premiums having to be paid next year.
The farmers have suffered substantial losses. I do not yet have a reliable estimate of the number of sheep drowned, but it is certainly in excess of 150. Many uplands sheep are wintered on the salty meadows behind Towyn. Valuable fences have been swept away and land drains hopelessly silted up, and most of the fertiliser in the land has been washed out. There has, thank God, been no loss of life even though, understandably but pathetically, a number of people refused to leave their homes as the waters swirled around them. That apart, the scale of the disaster can reasonably be compared with an earthquake.
It may well be found that many of the houses have suffered structural damage, as did that of the leader of Prestatyn council. These houses will need to be completely rebuilt. The financial responsibility for the repair of the sea wall falls fair and square on British Rail. That, however, raises the question whether British Rail's capital allocation will be sufficient to meet that responsibility, although it is Colwyn's borough technical services department which is doing the work and making heroic efforts against the tide to get it completed.
Much of the financial responsibility for repairing damage to houses will lie with the insurance companies. They are showing an admirable promptness about settling claims and making advance payments, but a heavy financial responsibility will none the less fall on Colwyn borough council. It is too soon to arrive at proper estimates, but I have heard a figure of £5 million and I should be surprised if it were much less.
I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say, without waiting to be asked, that the Bellwin rules will apply, but I am becoming convinced that it will be necessary to go a good deal further than that. No one in Colwyn will object to paying the equivalent of a 1 p rate—about £22,000—but if the Government will reimburse only 75 per cent. of the excess above £22,000, Colwyn could be faced with finding £1 million more, which I would regard as wholly unacceptable.
Moreover, this is a singularly unhappy time at which to impose a huge additional burden on local authorities that are necessarily involved in the present rather unseemly wrangle over local government spending. If the extra money that Colwyn has to find takes its expenditure far above the standard spending assessment, will it be charge-capped? Presumably not, but it would be nice to be reassured. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take the first possible opportunity to be both more generous and more explicit than he was able to be when replying to me on Tuesday.
I have spoken longer than I wanted to and than I usually do, but I must say a few words before I end about the more general and long-term aspects of— —
§ Mr. Ray Powell
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I have just received a letter from the office of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, stating that a person in my constituency who owns and runs a post office in Maesteg road, Tondu, has gathered 433 together blankets to send to the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but the Post Office has said that it refuses to accept the blankets unless the charges are paid. The hon. Gentleman will recall that when we were collecting for the Ethiopia appeal the Post Office agreed to a freepost system. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and others will take up this matter so that freepost will be extended to all who want to send help of this nature to the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and glad that he has raised this matter. I hope that the Post Office will take due note of the strong point that he has made. I shall certainly seek opportunities of bringing it to the Post Office's attention. The mayor of Colwyn has launched an appeal: there are notices everywhere asking for blankets and warm clothes, which are desperately needed. One of the hotels into which people were put was not centrally heated, but that was not discovered until too late, so there is a great need for warm clothing and blankets.
I want to end with one general point. Whether it is the greenhouse effect or sunspots, there is no doubt that the level of water around our shores is rising. It will therefore be necessary to re-examine all Britain's sea defences. That will reinforce the need for the public, political parties and the Government to be prepared to invest a far higher share of the national wealth in capital equipment for transport, coastal protection and so on. We cannot buy these things with the money in our pockets, whether in cash or in the form of those nice little plastic cards. Government action alone can provide them.
As I drove this morning through the sodden, crumbling bungalows along the road to Towyn and saw the pathetic blankets hanging out to be dried and the forlorn people standing around, I noticed that quite often a shiny expensive-looking car was parked outside one of the sodden bungalows. That caused me to reflect for a moment or two on a possibly new twist to the concept of private affluence and public squalor.
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)
I have great admiration for the way in which the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) presented the case on behalf of his constituents and for the empathy that he showed for them in the disaster that they are facing. He eloquently put the case for the need for improved cancer services in north Wales, in the light of the long distances that many constituents have to travel to obtain the services at Clatterbridge.
I also agreed with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about coastal defences. Last week, at a conference of the Royal Society, it was said that all five predicted models of climatic change, including that of the Meteorological Office in London, showed that over the next 50 years rainfall levels in the United Kingdom between the months of November and May will rise by 30 per cent. It would be extremely good if the Government took note of that sort of prediction and made the necessary preparations.
I am disturbed that the Welsh Office has taken so long to respond to the Select Committee report published on 21 June last year and entitled "The Channel Tunnel: Implications for Wales". I am pleased that a Command 434 Paper is promised for later this month, but the Welsh Office should not take so long to respond to such an important report.
After more than 10 years of Conservative rule, as the Minister will know very well from past Welsh questions and other occasions, the missing link in the M4 remains. That is a disgrace. Although I am pleased that the Costain tender has been let at last, it is vital that the tenders be let for the second and third sections as soon as possible. I know that the Minister has said that that will take place early in the period April 1991 to March 1994, but I stress that it must be early in that period.
It disturbs me enormously, and it is another disgrace on the part of the Welsh Office, that circular No. 30, issued in 1986 and entitled "Housing for Senior Management", still exists. In it, the Welsh Office—not the Department of the Environment—discriminated in favour of senior managers by giving special planning preference to a certain group. The Welsh villages, where people wish to remain, are prevented from expanding by strict planning rules. It would be a tremendous feather in the cap of the Secretary of State if he withdrew the circular so that Welsh people were treated in the same way as the English.
It is a disgrace that there is not a Welsh Office Minister in Committee on the Environmental Protection Bill, especially as waste disposal is different in Wales. Under clause 39(6) Welsh district councils are precluded from providing plant and equipment for recycling purposes. That is disgraceful. I am not proud of the fact that there is not a Welsh Office Minister in Committee to put the Welsh case. The Welsh Office team should not be proud of that either.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that membership of such Committees is a matter for the Committee of Selection?
§ Mr. Wardell
I am sure that the Minister did everything in his power to get on to the Committee. At the most recent meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee I referred to the problem of contaminated land in certain sites in north Wales.
§ Mr. Ray Powell
On the point about membership of Committees, it should be said that the Government select their hon. Members to serve on Committees, whatever the Bill is. Likewise, we decide which hon. Members from the Opposition should be on Committees. If talks had taken place between the usual channels, no doubt there would have been a Minister from the Welsh Office on that Committee.
§ Mr. Wardell
I thank my hon. Friend, who is a member of the Committee of Selection, for explaining the position.
I refer to an environmental matter of great concern. In a report in the 1985–86 Session the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs dealt with pollution off Welsh bathing beaches. As the statistics relating to the detailed sampling programme of United Kingdom bathing waters, carried out between 15 May and 30 September last year, have just become available, it is timely to examine briefly the compliance of Welsh bathing beaches with the 1976 EEC bathing water directive. In doing so, it is worth bearing in mind the disgraceful behaviour of the Department of the Environment in deliberately avoiding the implementation of the directive by defining a bathing beach in such a way that not a single bathing beach existed in Wales.
435 I suggest that a new trophy be awarded in Wales, perhaps called the Edwards/Walker trophy, for the beach which tops the filthiest beach league for total coliforms and Escherichia coli. In the summer of 1989 it was a close call between two beaches—Llandudno west shore and Rhyl—for the trophy. For total coliforms Llandudno west shore pipped Rhyl, with five of its 21 samples failing to conform. Rhyl, however, had the consolation of knowing that it scored the highest for any individual sample, at over 40,000 coliforms per 100 ml of water—four times the EEC conforming level of 10,000. There is strong evidence—although I have not looked for it—that Llandudno west shore is peeved that Rhyl managed to force its way to the top position in the E. coli table, failing with six out of 21 samples, one sample more than Llandudno west shore could manage.
None the less, Llandudno west shore gave a sound beating to Rhyl for the filthiest individual E. coli sample, standing at 21,300 E. coli per 100 ml of water, Rhyl's filthiest sample being a mere 7,600. Llandudno west shore must guard against becoming over-complacent, for Rhyl's performance was considerably better than the standard of 2,000 E. coli laid down by the EEC. Perhaps the trophy could be awarded to one for six months and then passed to the other for the remaining six months.
In a class of their own, but none the less worth mentioning as beaches where urgent clean-up operations are needed for E. coli, are Trecco bay, Porthcawl, Jackson's bay and Whitmore bay, Barry, and Langland bay and Limeslade bay in my constituency, as well as Kinmel bay for total coliforms. It is only fair to point out that there has been a major upset for Rhyl, compared to the 1988 bathing season. Then Rhyl beat Llandudno west shore on both total coliforms and E. coli. Since then Llandudno west shore has taken a surprise lead in the total coliforms section, and punters are expecting a major reversal this summer if Rhyl is demoted to second place for E. coli as well. Only time and tide—spelt with a small 't' —will tell.
Of course, we have to put that in context, as it would be grossly unfair to turn a blind eye to a beach in England that easily makes the Ridley/Patten trophy a far more coveted prize. The outright winner—I am sure all hon. Members are waiting to hear—is Seaton Carew centre in the Northumbria region. Even Llandudno west shore and Rhyl pale into insignificance compared with that beach. There is little doubt that it is going for the record as the filthiest beach within the EEC, if not the entire world. Sixteen out of its 23 samples for total coliforms failed, with the filthiest being 2,700,000 coliforms per 100 ml of water. It did even better on the E. coli count where it registered the staggering figure of 4,100,000 E. coli per 100 ml of water, with 17 of its 23 samples failing the test.
The time has come for the Government to issue better advice to swimmers than, "Keep your mouth shut". I want to be able to tell my constituents that Langland bay and Limeslade bay are safe beaches off which to bathe. I cannot do that today. The Secretary of State and other Ministers in the Welsh Office should read again page 87 of the 10th report of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution:the Department of Health and Social Security does not rule out the possibility that sewage contamination of bathing waters and beaches could be associated with an increased risk 436 of travellers' diarrhoea and similar complaints. We believe that this is a prudent attitude to take in the light of current knowledge and that it is now necessary to modify the reliance hitherto placed on a report published almost a quarter of a century ago which in any case concentrated on a few serious diseases. We note, too, that besides infecting the digestive system some faecal organisms may cause infections of the eyes (conjunctivitis) or of cuts and abrasions: children, because of their playing habits, may be particularly liable to contact with infectious material.There have been changes in the water industry, and the Government have set up a detailed inquiry into the survival of viruses in sea water, but it is vital that people bathing off British beaches, especially Welsh ones, be as safe as possible. We should be as close as possible to 100 per cent. certain that there are no health risks.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
I am sure that nobody would disagree with anything that the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) has just said about the need to improve our bathing beaches. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not speak on that subject. The annual Welsh day debate is an opportunity for Members to speak about both constituency and Wales-wide issues. I want to do that, as I have done in previous years.
I want to begin by looking at the economy and at agriculture in my constituency. We are aware of the problems that continue to dog agriculture as a result of the over-valuation of the green pound. This matter has not been mentioned in the debate so far, although it is very important. I am sure that, on both sides of the House, there is considerable support for helping our farmers by reducing the value of the green pound and abolishing it by 1992. That is necessary if we are to have a level playing field on which to compete with our European partners in agriculture.
I welcome the recent decision by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to raise bovine spongiform encephalopathy compensation to 100 per cent. and to distribute an extra I per cent. in milk quotas. Those are welcome decisions. They will help the farmers in my constituency who are suffering as a result of increased interest rates and the fact that the green pound gap is so wide at present.
We must look also at the record of the Welsh economy between 1979 and 1989 and during the period of the last Labour Government. My own constituency has seen unemployment fall by 50 per cent. since January 1987. I welcome the improvement that has taken place in the local economy. The enterprise zone in Pembroke dock has led to a boom in industrial and manufacturing jobs in that area. In addition, there has been a resurgence of morale and spirit in Milford Haven as a result of the Milford Haven enterprise initiative, which was brought forward by the Welsh Office in the autumn of last year. That is particularly welcome, as Milford Haven is this year celebrating the bicentenary of its town charter.
It was depressing to listen to the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) recite a list of statistics about the Welsh economy as he saw it. We heard nothing at all about the complete change that has taken place in the structure of the Welsh economy since 1979. We heard nothing about the fact that the Welsh economy is not now dependent on two or three heavy industries, that it has diversified so that we can get away from the old structural unemployment that bedevilled Wales since the beginning of the century.
437 The hon. Gentleman talked about coal mining. Let me remind him that his party, when in government, closed more coal mines in the United Kingdom than has any other Government. It is astonishing, therefore, that he should talk about mining. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) spoke about the steel industry and unemployment. It should be remembered that, during the period 1974–79, when he was a senior Cabinet Minister, the steel industry was inefficient and unprofitable. It was losing about £2 million a day. Today, the steel industry is making a profit of £400 million a year—due in part to the excellent record of the industry in south Wales.
When considering the economy of Wales, we ought to look to the future, not to the past. If we are to have better mobility, it is particularly important that the road and railway systems in Wales be improved. I want to say a word or two about the transport system in my constituency. There is a long way to go before we will have improved the structure of the road system in Pembrokeshire to the standard of that along the north Wales coast. In the past, I have pressed my hon. Friend the Minister of State about improvements to the A477. I also want to see improvements to the A478, because that road causes particular problems to constituents in the south of the county, who, as the economy improves, have to put up with heavy vehicles trundling along roads that were not built for such vehicles.
It is also important that the railway network in Pembrokeshire be improved. Let me describe something that depresses me. One can get to Swansea in two and a half hours by InterCity 125. Apart from the train that leaves Paddington at 5.17 every evening, in the case of every train going to Pembrokeshire one gets to Swansea and then has to transfer to a two or three-car 30-year-old diesel multiple unit. Having waited 20 or 25 minutes, one spends nearly two hours trundling round the countryside before getting to Milford Haven.
Those trains are out of date and dirty. They are cold in winter and hot in summer, and they are overcrowded. Time and time again, British Rail has failed to keep its promise to introduce a completely new set of Sprinter trains on those lines. I say on behalf of my constituents that we shall be considering very carefully any way of pursuing British Rail if it does not provide its customers with the service they want. British Rail has a duty to my constituents to help to improve the local economy by upgrading the railway service that it provides in Pembrokeshire.
There is one more aspect of transport to which I want to refer, but I shall do so very briefly as I hope to secure an Adjournment debate on it in the near future. I refer to the toll on the Cleddau bridge in Pembrokeshire. For the last 20 years, there has been agreement among all parties that it is unfair and unreasonable that this little bit of the road network joining north Pembrokeshire and south Pembrokeshire should be subject to a toll. The time has come to stop trying to screw down people who happen to have to cross an estuary, demanding of them a toll that does not have to be paid on the rest of the national network. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will listen carefully to the representations that will be made to him in the near future about this subject.
I want to turn now to the Health Service in Wales. With the hon. Members for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) and for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, I have just spent an 438 enjoyable three months on the Standing Committee that considered the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. During those debates, I was interested in the sheer hypocrisy displayed by the Labour party when it comes to the Health Service.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside, who was an Under-Secretary of State for Wales between 1974 and 1979, had the cheek to attack this Government on the Health Service. His hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), on 20 December, put a series of questions to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary about Health Service spending in Wales. The answers that my hon. Friend was able to give were very revealing. For example, total National Health Service gross expenditure in Wales, in the five years of Labour government, improved by £76 million; in the following 10 years—exactly double the period—it did not just double but went up by £364 million in real terms.
In the case of hospital and community health services, expenditure rose by £49 million in the five years during which the hon. Gentleman was a Minister at the Welsh Office; it has gone up by £221 million in real terms in the 10 years of this Government. Expenditure in real terms actually fell by £15 million under the stewardship of the hon. Gentleman who is now wisely covering his head as he hears these statistics; it has increased by £18 million in real terms under this Government. Expenditure on family practitioner services increased by £32 million in real terms in the last five years of the last Labour Government, but has increased by £101 million in the 10 years of this Government.
Wherever one looks at expenditure on the Health Service in Wales, one sees that the record of this Government is superior by far to anything that the hon. Gentleman, who was Under-Secretary between 1974 and 1979, could boast about. It is no wonder he glossed very quickly over the whole issue of the Health Service. Other things that he did not tell the public of Wales are that spending on the Health Service there, as part of gross domestic product, is 7.1 per cent., compared with 5.4 per cent. for the United Kingdom as a whole; that we have 18 per cent. more medical and dental staff than we had in 1979, and 13 per cent. more nursing and midwifery staff; that we are treating 110,000 more in-patients and 100,000 more out-patients; and that there are over 58,000 more day cases than there were in 1979.
Wherever we look, we see the progress that the Government have made in helping the people of Wales to improve their health. In my constituency, the Withybush general hospital has recently won the Sunday Times award for the best district hospital in the United Kingdom. Since 1982, when the Pembrokeshire health authority was established, total throughput has increased by 71 per cent. There has been a 21 per cent. increase in in-patients and a 24 per cent. increase in out-patients. There has been a 112 per cent. increase in day cases. I am pleased to say that £130,000 from the waiting list initiative has been used to reduce the number of people waiting for hip operations in Pembrokeshire. The list has been reduced dramatically in the past three months.
That is the Government's record on Health Service expenditure in Wales. I am glad to say that the health authority in my constituency is leading the way in pioneering new techniques, reducing expenditure on cleaning and other services and providing more money for patient care.
439 When it comes to local government expenditure, I am especially concerned about the way in which Dyfed county council is going about its budgeting exercise. A report in the Tenby Observer on 16 February reported the words of the chairman of the finance committee, Councillor Tom Parry of Haverfordwest, which is in my constituency, when talking about Dyfed's budget. He said:this is not a standstill budget. Allowance has been made for extra spending. Enough is enough and I am obliged to tell you that this budget is more than enough.The finance committee took no notice of Councillor Parry. Instead, it set up a special committee to find ways of spending yet more public money at the expense of the Dyfed community charge payers. That is because the largest party representation on the county council belongs to the Labour party. Having been warned by the chairman of the finance committee that the council was spending more than it should, it went ahead and increased the budget by yet another £1 million. That is irresponsible behaviour in the extreme. It is unfair to my constituents when the council, having been told that enough is enough and having already increased its expenditure, should ignore the chairman of the finance committee and insist on spending more.
Dyfed county council is being irresponsible because the largest party representation is that of the Labour party, but I am pleased to say that it is likely that the community charge in Pembrokeshire will be less than £200 per head. That is less than £5 a week for every citizen aged 18 years or over. The charge means that those who receive rebates of 80 per cent. will be paying about 80p a week towards the services which they receive as constituents and voters in my constituency.
The community charge is a fair charge. I have not yet heard from any Labour Member any reason why half the population should be able to receive the services of the local authorities and be able to vote in elections to determine how good those services should be and the cost of them but make no contribution towards financing them. That does not seem a fair system.
In the past, Labour Members have said that they do not like the rating system. They have acknowledged that it is unfair. It is indeed unfair that an old lady living on her own and using the local authority's services once should have to pay the same in rates as three or four adults who live in the house next door, who use the services three or four times as much and who have three or four votes. Surely that is—[Interruption.] Labour Members are jeering. They do not care about pensioners in their constituencies. I care about my elderly constituents who are suffering under the unfair rating system. I am glad that they will be much better off when the community charge is implemented.
§ Mr. Bennett
The hon. Gentleman starred in a recent television programme about the miners' strike. He told us that Scargill was wrong and that he, the hon. Gentleman, had to force the Welsh miners to go on strike. He admitted that they did so against their will. This is the hon. Gentleman who wishes to intervene. I am sure that he will explain to the House the Labour party's alternative to the rating system and the community charge. I hope that he 440 will do so, because it seems that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside has no idea what it is. Perhaps the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) can help him.
§ Dr. Kim Howells
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his marvellous trailer. It was terrific. Will he acknowledge that the jeers from my right hon. and hon. Friends and me were not the result of a lack of compassion for those who are in the predicament which he described? We jeered because we are constantly faced with the appalling cliché which he introduced. We would not have done so if the hon. Gentleman had expressed intelligent thought. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will pick up his act as a result of our jeers.
§ Mr. Bennett
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that all the single old-age pensioners who live in my contituency are clichés, that shows that he does not understand the problems that they face. The elderly person who lives on his own provides the starkest example of the unfairness of the rating system.
It seems that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside is about to leave us. Indeed, he is leaving.
§ Mr. Bennett
My hon. Friends and I have not had enough of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside. He promised to tell us what the Labour party's policy would be, and then there was silence. Will it be the roof tax, with its capital values and a local income tax? If it is, that will be manifestly unfair. Council tenants who have no control over the value of their assets will be charged more if they live in a council house that is of greater value than one which is occupied by another tenant.
Such a system will mean that, when the public have been fleeced once by a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer in Downing street, they will be fleeced a second time by the 400 "chancellors of the exchequer" in town halls throughout the country. If the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside wants to be treated seriously, it is time that he stopped sitting on the fence and explained the Labour party's alternative to the community charge.
§ Mr. Williams
We have heard of the hon. Gentleman's concern for elderly people in his constituency who live on their own, and about the inequity of the rating system. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) said, we all share the hon. Gentleman's concern for those people. Dyfed has the lowest average male earnings of any county in Britain. What does the hon. Gentleman have to say to the 20,000 or 50,000 people in his constituency who are on low pay, who live in ordinary houses but are not eligible for any rebate under the community charge system, and who will lose heavily when their community charge bills arrive in a few weeks' time?
§ Mr. Bennett
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. A married man with two children younger than 11 years who earns £157 per week will be eligible for a rebate on his community charge. [HON MEMBERS: "How much?"] Opposition Members should listen. People who receive 441 income support will be given an 80 per cent. rebate. Those people, and students, will pay about 80p per week in my constituency for local government services. I do not think that that is an unreasonable contribution to make for the services that the local authority provides and for their right to vote in local council elections. I think that we shall in future see greater accountability by local authorities. All the electors—not just half of them or, in some areas, a third—will be making a contribution towards the services which they receive. Voters will want to know why there are different levels of service and different charges in different parts of Wales.
I shall make one more reference to local government and then speak briefly about education before I resume my place.
§ Mr. Bennett
I have been generous. Unlike the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside, who would not give way to most hon. Members who wished to intervene, I have given way to every Labour Member who has wanted to intervene in my speech. I am always willing to do that.
§ Mr. Bennett
I have spoken for only 18 minutes, not 20 minutes.
I believe that we should scrap the county councils. It has become clear during the debate on the community charge that it is absurd to have three tiers of local government. I am glad of the support of the Liberal party in Wales, which supported my ten-minute Bill on this issue last year.
Unfortunately, the Labour party, which first brought forward the idea, voted against it. It began with the same idea of having 16 or 17 all-purpose local authorities. It then took the view that there should be 25. Its latest suggestion is 37 all-purpose local authorities. That is because the Labour party does not dare to say boo to any sitting councillor in Wales who might be out of a job if it is decided to have 16 or 17 authorities. The Labour party wants as many all-purpose local authorities in Wales as the various authorities that already exist. I believe that we ought to cut the number of district councils in half by amalgamation and scrap the county councils. We could save the public in Wales a considerable amount of money.
Education is of great importance to my constituents, and I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Welsh Office, is here. Yesterday, in answer to a parliamentary question from myself, he announced that the consultation document on compulsory Welsh as part of the national curriculum had been issued. We have been waiting for more than a year to hear the results of applications made by schools in my constituency for exemption from compulsory Welsh.
I hope that my hon. Friend will listen carefully to the views expressed by teachers, governors and parents fron schools in south Pembrokeshire and mid-Pembrokeshire. They pointed out that there is no objection to the teaching of Welsh—every secondary school in Pembrokeshire teaches Welsh—but they object to the compulsory element in years one to three. I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to the arguments of my constituents on the need to encourage the growth of Welsh language and culture without making it compulsory, as that alienates people.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
To make the position clear, as my hon. Friend has said, we have issued a consultative document. There will be consultation on that document, and I hasten to assure my hon. Friend that there will be consultation on the order before it is made.
§ Mr. Bennett
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that statement, which will be widely welcomed in Pembrokeshire.
In the past 10 years we have seen a rapid transformation of the Welsh economy. We are no longer dependent on two or three heavy industries. A wide range of industry is now available. Morale is growing and excitement permeates the whole of Welsh life and the Welsh economy. In large part, that is due to the leadership given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. When I listened to the hon. Member for Alyn arid Deeside, there was no contest. The people of Wales will decide at the next election to return this Government with a resounding majority, and we will have more Conservative Members representing Welsh constituencies.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
I should like to respond lo the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), as distinct from the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), because I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West. I am sure that all Opposition Members extend sympathy to him and to his constituents in the situation that they are now facing. We all appreciate the fact that he has had to leave the House to return to his constituents, and I should like to put on record our appreciation of his courage and honesty. He revealed his true personality today. He revealed the flaws in the leadership of the Conservative party and of the Government. Under extensive pressure, he exercised his democratic right and explained fairly his criticism of the Government, and I applaud his loyalty to the truth. If we read the banner headline in the Evening Standard—Thatcher bids to stem panicand how she is trying to convince some members of her Government and some of her Back Benchers to support the poll tax, I wonder what reward the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West would have got if we had had this situation then. After undoubted pressure from No. 10, within seven weeks he was deselected.
When I asked the Prime Minister at Question Time two weeks ago to explain how democracy works within her party, my question was ruled out of order, because it was not her responsibility. Whatever the reasoning behind that ruling—perhaps it was brought about by a flash of lightning—nevertheless I believe, as do a number of my colleagues, that it was her responsibility. Clearly it is her vindictive hand and brain that manipulated the very hon. Gentleman's deselection in Clwyd, North-West. It was typical of the tyranny that prevails under the right hon. Lady's dictatorship. I say that, knowing that tomorrow night I shall attend my final reselection meeting in Ogmore, and that I risk the wrath of my constituents and of hon. Members for saying such a thing.
We listened for a long time earlier this evening to the Secretary of State talking about the situation that the Government inherited in 1979.
§ Mr. Powell
No, I do not intend to give way. I did not ask the hon. Gentleman to give way, so he can save his back.
In 1979, Ogmore was happy, industrial, prosperous, cultural and contented and it played its part in contributing to the wealth and prosperity of the Principality and of this country. The market town was booming, pits and industry were progressing and developing and were providing employment, education and training for the skills to meet the ever-demanding changes in technology from the new industries. I remind the House that those new industries, such as the Ford and the Sony factories at Bridgend, were brought in by a Labour Government. Numerous other factories were the product of the previous Labour Government.
In Ogmore at that time there was an electorate of 83,000, and an unemployment rate of 3.7 per cent., and most of the unemployed were unemployable because of industrial diseases such as silicosis and pneumoconiosis.
My constituents look back to the years of the previous Labour Government with memories of secure jobs, free education for their children and few worries over paying mortgages and rates. They were contented in the knowledge that their hospital needs and health care were guaranteed. The pensioners, the disabled and those suffering from pneumoconiosis, silicosis or other illnesses, caused by a lifetime's work in the pits, expressed pride and contentment in the knowledge that they were protected by a caring Government. It was a Government who were struggling with economic problems forced on them by world economic factors, but they still cared for the sick and the underprivileged.
North sea oil was on stream, but was not running into the Treasury coffers then. What a difference it would have made if a Labour Government had had all that bounty to distribute through the economy. The German and the Japanese industrial successes, as we know them today, would pale into insignificance by comparison.
Yet the electors, swayed by false promises of tax reductions, of no increase in VAT and of full employment —I could go on at length because I have the 1979 Conservative manifesto here—voted for the Government. What happened then? Overnight my constituency suffered some of the most cruel, instant, industrial rape. It could never have been envisaged by any political organisation other than by the Government. Thousands of steel workers were thrown out of jobs. Thousands of miners were thrown out of work. Factories, offices and shops closed down. That wilful political hurricane hit my constituency worse than the present series of hurricanes that have raged over the country.
My constituents are proud, industrious, adaptable and ready to build a new life, but they will never forget the decade of this Tory Government. We are picking up the ashes and preparing for a new Government who will clear out, erase and extinguish for ever the Thatcher era of the 1980s.
The 1990s will be open to the return of a caring, compassionate, responsible Government. I do not know what the Government Whip is laughing at. These are the promises that we are making. We shall carry out our promises, unlike the promises that the Conservative Government made in 1979, 1983 and 1987 and never carried out. Those who have deliberately exploited the cruel, coarse, brutal, dictatorial attitude of the prime 444 Minister and her henchmen will be exposed for creating a society with the stench of corruption, greed, selfishness and avarice, which is their only legacy of the 1980s.
We in Wales can blame the Secretary of State for most of the devastation because he was a member of the Cabinet throughout. I regret that he is not in his place. I have often asked, is it not passing strange, to say the least, that despite all the right hon. Gentleman's so-called wet colleagues having received the chop, the right hon. Gentleman has remained? The list is significant and I had better put it on the record. There is Lord St. John of Fawsley, Lord Pym, Lord Prior and Lord Joseph. Sir Leon Brittan has gone to Europe, and the right hon. Members for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), for Guildford (Mr. Howell), for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore), for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) and for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) have also left the Government.
The list of those who have disagreed with the diktats of the ayatollah and who have been sacked or forced to resign is endless and it could make up two Cabinets. But the Secretary of State for Wales is not on that list, so I beg the question: is he a wet or is he a weed? What has he accomplished in Wales? What was his role during the miners' strike—that bitter battle, not about wages, better and safer working conditions or any issue that would benefit the miners, but to save their pits and their jobs? That was what the struggle was for.
Last week we viewed once again televised extracts of the miners' strike, and the Secretary of State was in the thick of all the intrigue that went on then. He was involved in the appointment of Mr. MacGregor. Was his remit to crush the miners and his reward a Cabinet post of whatever sort during the Prime Minister's reign? It is passing strange, to say the least, that he is one of only two so-called wets—the other being a Welshman, the Leader of the House—who have survived in the Cabinet since 1979.
Personal abuse is not one of my specialities, so I want to speak briefly about the real issue affecting Wales. But my personal criticisms could be extended to most of the Prime Minister's henchmen. Chris Buckland, the chief political editor of the Daily Express, last Thursday in "Inside Politics" said:There are not many MPs you would choose as partners for a trip into the jungle and with Tory MPs even a journey to a safari park would be risky—start limping and most of them would throw you into the lions' enclosure, if only to claim a refund on your admission ticket."That is from a Tory paper.
It is only on rare occasions that we can pose questions to the Secretary of State. Numerous Tories have infiltrated recent Welsh questions. Last Tuesday Scottish Tories were called. Wales has 25 Labour Members of Parliament, three Welsh Nationalists and three Liberals, but only seven Tories. The number of Opposition Members called in the 35 minutes available was deplorable. There is a desperate need for that imbalance to be remedied.
The Secretary of State cannot possibly be aware of the problems of the people in Wales, representing Worcester as he does. When does he hold a surgery in Wales to discover the problems and the worries of the Welsh people? We who represent constituencies in Wales are well informed of and well acquainted with our constituents' worries, hopes and aspirations. The very least that we 445 demand is the opportunity to question the Secretary of State on matters of concern. We do not want merely 35 minutes for 38 Members every five weeks, a Welsh Grand Committee three times a year and our one debate a year on St. David's day. It is not the Secretary of State's fault, but it would have been far more reasonable to appoint a Welsh Member of Parliament to his office, not a Member from outside the Principality with little accountability to the House. He has little contact with the Welsh people and their problems and worries. Only if he came from Wales could he and his advisers appreciate the frustration, hardship and despair that many are facing, from the bankrupt business man to the small trader, the one-parent families, the teachers, the sick, the elderly, the poor, the disadvantaged and the homeless. Some desperate people cannot afford their mortgage payments and they face the even more frightening problem of paying the iniquitous poll tax. Will the Government and the Welsh Office gain financially from the introduction of the poll tax?
We still have the problem of the unemployed, yet the Secretary of State simply reels out figures dismissing the real problems of people without jobs. He tries to tell us that unemployment is coming down, but he does not appreciate that the Government's policies since 1979 were responsible for the high unemployment in the first place.
One thing on which I must congratulate the Secretary of State is his high profile engineered by his public relations team. Reams of statistics have been sent to us in the past week or so, but I was disappointed with one document that landed on my desk yesterday. The Secretary of State had better bring someone to task for it. I do not know whether the Minister of State is listening, but the document was entitled "Welsh Industry and Commerce". It has 48 pages, plenty of pictures and a lovely glossy cover but, astonishingly, there is not one photograph of the Secretary of State, despite the thousands that British Rail and everywhere else have been flooded with. He must take note of that and draw it to the attention of his public relations people.
We should have a day's debate on the poll tax, but as many of my hon. Friends want to speak, I shall be brief. The right hon. Member for Henley was once a prominent Minister who constantly told us how we should run local government and defence, and who decided to quit over the Westland affair. He said that he opposed the poll tax in Cabinet 10 years ago.
The new-found friend of the Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), appeared in the press last week. It presented photographs of a pleasurable, pleasing, practically plausible and plantonic prelude to his celebration of 40 years in the House. But what did that loyal friend of the Prime Minister say about the poll tax? He said that it should never have been introduced, that it is unfair and iniquitous and that it is flawed because it is unfair. I wonder whether their new-found friendship will continue after that.
I should like to make a few comments about the well-known "Tarzan"—the Mace weightlifter—who is now drugged with ambition to replace the ayatollah. I am sure that everyone is aware that the right hon. Member for Henley resigned over Westland, but this week he revealed that he should have left the Cabinet in 1981 because he disagreed about the introduction of the poll tax and claimed that it would not work. It has taken him 10 years to reveal his innermost thoughts, yet he was prepared to accept the office of Secretary of State for the Environment. 446 What sort of people have been running the country over the past 10 years who cannot stand up to the Prime Miniter and speak the truth?
My final comments are from another ex-Minister, the right hon. Member for Brent, North. He warns of a return to Rachmanism because of landlords compelling tenants to pay their own poll tax and rent, which at present includes rates. He says that if tenants complain, they will be out on their heels. What will the Government do about that anomaly? What will the Secretary of State for Wales do about that problem in Wales? We have 100,000 homeless people, but how many more will there be when that form of Rachmanism is introduced?
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), to whom I listened with much interest.
My hon. Friend made a pertinent point about what the Secretary of State for Wales is doing about the poll tax. He mentioned many right hon. Members who are no longer Cabinet Ministers because of their opposition to the ayatollah. The people of Wales would like to know what the Secretary of State has been doing about the poll tax.
The Labour party is committed to introducing a new tax that is fair, that is easy to collect and not bureaucratic, that is not paid by people who are too poor and that is less onerous; and it is certainly possible to introduce such a tax. It will not be easy to introduce such a tax after the fiasco of the poll tax, but it will be based broadly on the value of property. It will be easy to collect; it will be fair because poor people will not have to pay it; and it will not be onerous. That is as far as Labour Members need go. because the argument is not what Labour will do when it takes office but what the Government have done.
I was amazed that the Secretary of State had nothing to say about the poll tax. Until he was asked about it by my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), all he could do was mouth, "What is the alternative?" The alternative is clear and is perceived by the Welsh people; it certainly is not the poll tax. I have no worries about arguing that the poll tax should be abandoned as quickly as possible.
I was amazed by the speech of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett). He pleaded for improvements to the A477, for the removal of tolls on the Cleddau bridge, for a better rail network and for better Sprinters, yet he condemned Dyfed county council for levying a poll tax to try to provide those services.
Unless I am mistaken, the A477 is a county road and the responsibility of Dyfed county council. Cleddau bridge is the responsibility of Dyfed county council, which, in co-operation with British Rail, also has responsibilities to provide grants to improve railway services. It is a pity the hon. Member for Pembroke is not present, yet we hear such speeches day in and day out from members of the present-day Tory party. They condemn local authorities for trying to maintain public services, yet make special pleadings: "In my back yard, I want no tolls across my bridge; in my back yard, I want decent railway services; in my back yard, I do not want potholes in my roads." Making such statements will do the hon. Member for Pembroke no good whatever, because the public in Wales are not daft and will see through them.
447 I agreed almost entirely with the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), in particular with his comments on cancer treatment. He was right in what he said about people from Gwynedd and north Clwyd. He had the sense—it is not always obvious in speeches made by Conservative Members—to realise that people in south Clwyd see their priorities slightly differently, but I do not want to detract from what he said.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West rightly argued for capital infrastructure for British Rail. We must spend from capital to renew our infrastructure. British Rail will have to pay for all the damage in north Wales from its own revenue. That means that passengers will have to pay, and I wonder what the hon. Member for Pembroke would say to that. Our road and rail systems must be funded properly from general taxation. Ministers should be arguing for a first-class road and rail system throughout the Principality. Costs should not always fall on the backs of the commuter or passenger through extra fares.
Clwyd county council's standard spending assessment is £50 less than that of other counties in Wales. When I asked the Minister why, he said, "Unemployment is lower in Clwyd." He failed to realise—my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) made this point —that people in Clwyd are poorly paid. Just as Dyfed may have the lowest male wages in Britain, so Clwyd has the worst female wages. According to recent statistics, women are paid less in Clwyd than anywhere else in Britain.
It is no use pretending otherwise, because people in Wrexham, Alyn and Deeside and Delyn understand that the going rate in a screwdriver industry is £2.30 an hour, that one receives no training and that one has no career prospects. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent that at least we have that instead of unemployment and the dole queue, but let us not make any mistake: we are becoming a deskilled nation; our people do not have the opportunity to learn skills and are generally far worse paid than they were 10 years ago.
I hope that the Welsh Office will take seriously the problems of Clwyd county council. If the standard spending assessment is less for spurious reasons, it should be no surprise that the poll tax is higher there than in the rest of Wales.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ian Grist)
I intervene only because the hon. Gentleman said that the standard spending assessment is less for spurious reasons. The formula on which it is worked out was agreed by the local authorities themselves.
§ Dr. Marek
That is exactly what the Secretary of State for Wales said. But it was not agreed by the Clwyd representative, and, of course, it was not freely agreed by the local authorities in Wales. There was also the heavy hand of the Welsh Office telling them to agree it along those lines, or else. It was not entirely as the hon. Gentleman suggests.
However, the principle is clear: if some of the figures that are used for deciding the standard spending assessment are faulty and the standard spending assessment is less than it should be, necessarily the poll tax figure will be higher than it should be to maintain the standard of service. That is the problem. It is a great pity 448 that the Secretary of State for Wales did not accept my request during Welsh questions that he meet a deputation from Clwyd county council to sort out the problems.
Let us make no mistake. Clwyd county councillors and Members of Parliament representing Clwyd constituencies are desperately worried for their own people. They do not want their people paying a pound more than is necessary in poll tax. Unfortunately, they will have to do so because of mistakes by the Welsh Office and by central Government in London, and worst of all because of the leadership of the Prime Minister.
It is not just Labour Members who are worried. On 13 February, the hon Member for Clwyd, North-West said:It so happens that the county I represent and part of my constituency have both, in their separate ways, been clobbered very heavily by the change in the formula used for assessing the Government contribution to the revenue support grant.He went on to say of Clwyd county council's £223 poll tax:I do not think much of this can be attributed to extravagance or mismanagement. A great deal of it is due to the reduction in the level of the revenue support grant coming through this new formula."—[Official Report, 13 February 1990; Vol. 167, c. 181.]I know whom the people of Clwyd will believe. They will believe the explanation of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West and Labour Members representing Clwyd constituencies for what is happening in Clwyd at the moment. They certainly will not believe the hon. Members for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) and for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett). If Welsh Office Ministers had any integrity in the matter, they would talk to Clwyd county councillors to try to sort out the problem, make a proper realistic assessment and admit their mistakes.
I hope that the Welsh Office will address the problem of flooding in the north of the county. It is a serious problem and a social fund, crisis grants and cash payments must be freely available to people who have suffered. In his answer on Tuesday to a private notice question from the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West, the Secretary of State for Wales did not address that problem.
The worries of farmers in Wales need to be taken into account, and compensation paid. It is available in Scotland, so why not in Wales? Is the Secretary of State for Wales a Thatcherite, or does he have freedom of action to look after the people of Wales? That is a serious question, and I should like to know the answer.
I shall not speak for too long, as time is limited and I know that many of my hon. Friends wish to speak. I hope that the Welsh Office does not take what I have said lightly, because we are in a serious position. The poll tax is about to be foisted on the people of Wales and none of them wants it. Even the militants in the Tory party in Clwyd, North-West do not want the poll tax. But if we have to have it, it should be mitigated as much as possible. Welsh Office Ministers can do something about it. They could start by meeting local authority associations. They could certainly meet Clwyd county councillors. Most important of all, if we are to believe that the Secretary of Wales is not simply a Thatcher clone and a faceless man in the Prime Minister's Cabinet, we want to hear something from him pretty quickly.
§ Mr. Gwilym Jones (Cardiff, North)
For a moment I thought that the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) was going to be very brave and tell us the Labour party's 449 alternative to the community charge. But after a few weasel words he dodged away from the issue and, like the rest of his party, refused to answer. Is not he demonstrating that, as we have come to realise, the Labour party does not have an alternative—or at least nothing like a clearly thought out, comprehensive answer?
I was amazed to hear the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) say that he did not specialise in personal abuse. Surely he meant that it comes naturally to him so he does not have to specialise in it. I appreciate what he said about my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), who is a man of the greatest integrity and has acted honestly throughout. While I reject with total contempt the unworthy and unfounded suggestion that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had any part in the matter, I shall be very sorry if my hon. Friend is not here representing Clwyd, North-West after the next general election.
I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State tell us about the Welsh Development Agency's announcement of a new property development programme to provide 6,000 new jobs in Wales. I share my right hon. Friend's enthusiasm for the future of Wales and specifically his target of a further fall in unemployment figures in Wales of 39,000 to give Wales a lower rate of unemployment than the present rate in the south-east of England. That is a most admirable target and I wish him all good speed.
The 6,000 jobs from the Welsh Development Agency are in addition to other important developments that are already under way—the expansion of Ford, the arrival of Bosch and Toyota and the valuable developments in the financial services industry with National Provident Institution and the Trustee Savings Bank coming to south Wales. I admit to being glad that four of those developments—Ford, Bosch, NPI and TSB—are coming to the effective travel-to-work area of my constituency of Cardiff, North. I am pleased that my constituency has one of the lowest unemployment rates—if not the lowest—for any constituency in Wales. I give credit to all that has been done by my right hon. Friend and everyone who has worked so hard.
Wales continues to have a tremendous record of attracting inward investment. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) began by congratulating my right hon. Friend and everyone else who has worked so hard to achieve that tremendous record. That was a very positive opening paragraph. What a pity and what a sad shame that it was the only positive contribution in his entire speech, which included the most amazing contradiction. He blithely demanded higher wages for workers—a policy which can only lead to pricing workers out of employment in Wales— -and went on to express his apprehension that Wales would lose out to eastern Europe in further inward investment. Clearly he has no awareness of the impact of what he says, when he is prepared to say something. On major issues, such as Labour's roof tax, the hon. Gentleman will not say anything. He refuses, he dodges, he squirms and he wriggles. What is the beef? He cannot answer.
We hear sedentary comments from Opposition Members about, "When Labour comes to power." They speak about "when" not "if". I suppose that we shall be told next, "When the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside becomes Secretary of State for Wales." I bet that the hon. Gentleman secretly dreads that prospect and joins me in 450 being grateful that it will never come about. If he had to come to the Dispatch Box as Secretary of State, he would have to provide answers, which he cannot and will not do now. Perhaps he would prefer that the job of Secretary of State for Wales might yet be offered to one of the 23 other Welsh Labour Members who, the Western Mail told 'us, turned the job down last time it was touted around. The hon. Gentleman should not become downhearted and he should carry on in his own way. He has all our encouragement because we know that he is the best that Labour has.
The current level of interest rates is significant for the Welsh economy. All of us are aware of high interest rates and their consequences. I firmly believe that the policy on interest rates has been right, but it will not be a surprise if I say that I am not looking forward to a further 1 per cent. increase in lending rates. The medicine has been right, but we must avoid any overdosing which might kill the patient, however well-intentioned that dose was. I am not thinking here primarily of all those of us who are paying mortgages. Building society lending represents about 80 per cent. of total lending, so it cannot be ignored and all of us who pay mortgages must be aware of the significance of interest rates. It would be fair to describe mortgages as painful, but not as catastrophic.
I am especially concerned with the effects on business and industry in Wales. I have the benefit of many contacts in business and industry throughout Wales. My own company, Messrs Bowring Wales Limited, is probably the leading insurance broker in Wales. I listen especially to what people in banking tell me. They tell me that an increasing number of companies are on what they call their critical list. Little movement is involved between profit and loss and a little more movement again may be all that it takes to move from loss to liquidation.
We know that our economy is fundamentally sound, but we cannot avoid contemplating the downside of what an overdose of interest rates might do to damage that fundamentally sound economy. Already there is a disincentive to investment. Anyone considering further investment has to think long and hard about the rates of about 15 to 17 per cent. Any company with money of its own which it could have ploughed into expanding its OA n business could reflect that it could presently earn more by leaving the money on deposit with a bank than by making the expansion which we should all like to see.
We must consider whether that threatens the better future which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spelled out. It is widely appreciated that higher interest rates are a price we have had to pay for inflation and for the balance of payments deficit. However, many Welsh business men are asking why British interest rates have to be significantly higher and have to contain a differential over the interest rates being charged by our rnajor competitors: Germany, Japan and the United States of America.
I do not look forward to another 1 per cent. increase in interest rates, but I look forward to a narrowing of that differential. I know that we have to be concerned that there should be no premature reductions in interest rates. We have to be concerned about any withdrawal of investment money from Britain to overseas chasing superior interest rates. I have even heard the comment that we should be concerned that so much hot money is moving around and that we might lose it. Should we properly be concerned about hot money?
§ Mr. Jones
The hon. Gentleman is right. We must avoid a run on the pound. I am not advocating a panicky and incautious approach, but I want to speculate about the possibility of a narrowing of the differential between the interest rates that we charge and those in other countries. Have we a shortage of investment money in Britain? No. We have an overseas portfolio second only to that of Japan and we have money invested around the world. We still have a strong pool of investment money here for investment in Britain. We have a strong pool of investors. Let us consider the success of the water flotation and the way in which the man in the street gave his endorsement to the idea that the people can now own the water industries of Britain. Let us consider the enthusiastic way in which the offer was taken up, and the oversubscription and constant movement in the share price. That is one more indicator of the desire to invest in Britain.
Welsh business men also have questions about the exchange rates between the pound and other currencies. I detect here that there is far more a note of approval, with the position of the pound being somewhat more favourable against the deutschmark and thus being a great aid for Welsh business men who are involved in exports. They are the business men, to whom my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred earlier, who are contemplating expansion and other opportunities in Germany. However, is there not scope for more movement in exchange rates? Is there scope for reducing the interest rate differential which would inevitably be counterbalanced by an appropriate movement in the exchange rate? If, as now seems inevitable, we are to join the European monetary system, might it not be better if we were locked into the EMS at a lower rate than we have now?
My last subject is the burden that many people in Wales are having to face because of the actions of their local councils in setting, in too many instances, ridiculously high community charges. That is very inflationary. The community charge is a far fairer system than the rating system it replaces. I have called some councils in Wales "crazy". I think that I may have been wrong to use that description because it implied that they were irresponsible and needed only to be certified to be found not guilty for their actions. They are certainly the guilty councils. The councils in Cardiff and South Glamorgan, for example, which are close to home, are being condemned by their peers. On 20 December 1989, the Council of Welsh District Councils produced its own summary of the figures that it felt would be appropriate for community charges. The council estimated that the figure for Cardiff, including the precept of South Glamorgan county council, should be £193. In fact, Cardiff council levied £253. Its guilt is proved just by that.
I appreciate that in the major change from rating to the community charge there will be some natural confusion in the minds of the ratepayers, now the community chargepayers. Inevitably, there will be an increase of about 7.7 per cent. as we are moving from one financial year to another. However, several councils in Wales, especially those in Cardiff and South Glamorgan, are taking rank political advantage of the confusion and are attempting to blame it on the Government.
In Cardiff, the budget process was proceeding quite normally until it was found that there was not enough 452 expenditure to justify the intended community charge. There was desperation in trying to find ways of soaking up the extra money. Committees were circulated and asked to find extra spending. Other devices were used to try to boost expenditure up to the figure that had been announced nine months previously. I say as strongly as I can to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that Cardiff and South Glamorgan, in particular, and other councils in Wales, must be capped or there will be a ridiculous increase in spending.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says that the county councils have to file their expenditure plans today—1 March—and the district councils will have to do the same in a few days' time. I hope that as soon as my right hon. Friend sees the spending assessments he will publish figures showing what the equivalent rate increase would have been. We should then be able to see on the old basis of comparison what changes have taken place. I am afraid that my own council—Cardiff—will still be the worst nigger in the woodpile, with an increase of at least 110 per cent. There is no justification for an increase of 110 per cent. It is ludicrous.
I ask my ministerial friends not just to cap but to take action so that councils that make illogial decisions in setting the community charge cannot then interfere with essential services. I see that as the obvious danger. We all know where the money has been hidden. Let me give the House one of the best examples of that. As a way of soaking up the money, South Glamorgan increased its contingency fund from £7 million to £15 million at the last minute. Without that, £20 could immediately have been taken off the community charge in South Glamorgan.
Fortunately, the political consequences lie with the Labour party. We have had this before in Cardiff. Last time the rates were increased by almost this much—by 94½ per cent. —the people of Cardiff reacted by delivering the Left such a hefty blow that they brought the Conservative party in by a landslide. The Labour party has done us a great favour by placing the firmest footstep for Cardiff and South Glamorgan moving back into Conservative control. The people of Cardiff will not forget this savage attack.
I entirely dismiss what I read in the opinion polls. It is nothing more than an Ardennes offensive being feverishly directed from the bunker by the leader of the Labour party. We know that it is blighted, as the last Ardennes offensive was because you cannot fool all the people of Wales all the time, and that is what the Labour party has been expecting. I am confident that, come the next general election, we shall have fewer Sandinistas on the Opposition Benches than we have now.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
I shall not follow the argument of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) because it is not worthy of being followed. I shall only give him a little advice. If he thinks that the political consequences of the poll tax will not be visited upon him and his Government, he has not learnt much in his few years in the House.
On St. David's day last year, I had the privilege to represent a constituency in which there were four working pits. Next door, there were Oakdale and Marine, which were about to be closed. Now, a year later, two of the four 453 pits in my community and two neighbouring pits have been closed. Two other pits—including one in my constituency—are now in jeopardy.
It has become a curious feature of Welsh political and industrial life that anyone who speaks about the coal industry is regarded as a Neanderthal man who speaks for interests marginal to the Welsh economy. But in our communities those pits mattered economically and socially and because of the wages, powers and rights that they gave our communities. The fact that in the 12 months from one St. David's day to the next I have lost four of the pits in the immediate vicinity of my constituency, which lies in the heart of the south-east Wales coalfield, is not a matter for great rejoicing. Nor should it invite the observation, as I expect it will, that there are alternative jobs. It is a matter of profound regret, and we should say so.
Traditionally, the Secretary of State reacts in pavlovian manner every time anyone mentions pit closures. He says, "But there were pit closures under a Labour Government." The Secretary of State is in danger of becoming unique. He could become the Secretary of State for Wales who presided not over pit closures in Wales but over the complete closure of the south Wales coalfield. There are only six pits left and two pits are in jeopardy —Blaenant and Deep Navigation. We may have two more St. David's days to go before the next general election—it seems probable in the light of opinion polls. Perhaps the Secretary of State will set a new record, which he cannot claim for a previous Labour or Conservative Secretary of State. He may preside, as I said, over the closure altogether of the coalfield.
Let us make one plea. By all means, chase the Koreans and the Japanese. Obviously there is a lot of political sex appeal in going round the world encouraging inward investment. But please also pay attention to the industry that is already there—to the industry that is at home and to the jobs that are available. I think that the Secretary of State was genuinely taken by surprise by the actions of Mr. Wheatley—a person alien to our society—who was brought in with the specific job of butchering the south Wales industry to prepare British Coal for privatisation. The Secretary of State did not realise the speed or the vehemence with which he would pursue the pit closure programme, and nor did the Under-Secretary of State, who will remember our conversations last summer about the pit closures. The Welsh Office was taken by surprise. But, having seen Mr. Wheatley at work, Ministers must not be taken by surprise any more. Two more pits are in jeopardy and I want the Secretary of State and the Welsh office to spend some time thinking and worrying about the existing industry.
It is interesting that in every article—in the Western Mail and elsewhere—that I have read recently, the Secretary of State and others have been quoted as saying that some marvellous transformation of the Welsh economy has taken place because we have only 6,000 miners but 60,000 bank employees. I do not know whether it is a matter of regret that we have only 6,000 miners left and, in the process, we have locked off millions and millions of tonnes of good reserves that we shall never get back.
It is a rather superficial notion that we can build our new Welsh economy on the service sector. Of course, the service sector has brought many good things to our communities—especially my own, where we have the business park at Pentrebach, the regional office of the 454 Welsh Development Agency and the Heads of the Valley industrial estate at the top of Rhymney. That is great encouragement because infrastructure and investment matter for the future. The Secetary of State can claim credit for it; my local authorities are perfectly entitled to claim credit for it and in a modest way even I might claim a piece of the credit for it. It does not matter who claims credit for it. All the developments are positive, but the notion that somehow the service sector, the service economy, the bank employees represent a good, firm basis for a new future for the local economies of our communities is a matter of doubt.
I want to raise two other matters concerning the service economy—not in relation to the Cardiffs of this world but in relation to the Merthyrs and Rhymneys of this world. The service society and service industries and economies of the valleys communities are not about having sophisticated banking systems. We have had no influx of sophisticated banking systems. Nor have we seen any signs of the computer software industry that supposedly symbolises the service economy. Nor have we had highly skilled modern office employment—with one notable exception when Hoover's headquarters moved from Perivale to Rhymney. That was an adjunct to a manufacturing operation.
For Merthyr and Rhymney, those great terms mean, not a sophisticated aspect of the service sector, but nothing more nor less—I say it in a completely neutral way—than creating retailing jobs. The two characteristics of all the new retailing jobs in out-of-town superstores and so on are that they are part time and poorly paid. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) and others challenged the Secretary of State for Wales at the beginning of the debate about the number of jobs and the quality and wages that went with them. They were right to do so. We have swapped well-paid skilled jobs in manufacturing for semi-skilled or unskilled, poorly paid jobs. That is not a fair swap, nor is it necessarily the basis on which to create a new, sound economy.
I am deeply worried about the predominance of the service economy. It is not and cannot be immune from the trends and movements of the wider economy. The thrust of mainstream Government policy of high interest rates is that we must cut consumption because the economy has got out of hand. If consumption is cut, what happens'? Where does consumption take place? It takes place in the retail service sector, which is supposed to be our new salvation.
§ Mr. Rowlands
As my hon. Friend says, it will be next, Indeed, there are terrible tell-tale signs that it will be next. Is it not a matter of anxiety to anyone who believes that the service sector is the future that Mr. Ashcroft, the man who personified the Thatcherite revolution, and his company Coloroll are now in the deepest financial difficulties? Habitat, represented by Terence Conran, is also in difficulties.
§ Mr. Rowlands
My hon. Friend mentions Laura Ashley. The service sector—the basis on which jobs were created—was utterly dependent on the consumption power of the local communities. If benefits are cut and wages reduced, if the Government say that wage inflation 455 of 10 per cent. is wrong and must be cut to 4 or 5 per cent., and if mortgages go up by £30 a month, consumption is sucked out of the local community. The very money that is supposed to sustain the service sector, on which the new economy is based, is sucked out.
When the Secretary of State, again in pavlovian fashion, responded to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli, he cursed us for talking down our communities. None of us does that. We are proud of the communities that we serve and represent. We spend all our time preaching their virtues and potential. But we are entitled to warn that if our new local economies are built on the shifting sands of the service sector, it could lead to as many difficulties as the dependence on the old traditional, dirty industries of coal and steel.
Another curious side effect of building an economy on the service sector is the impact on local society. One of the most striking aspects of representing a community such as Merthyr is that it has a highly developed local district centre. The Woolworths, B and Qs and Asdas have managers who have few roots. They are transient people. They do not belong to the local society. It may sound old-fashioned, but the collapse of local chambers of trade is a reflection of the decline and fall of people who run the local society and economic community. We are losing not only our traditional character, represented by our coal industry, but a sense of identity and roots in those who manage our so-called new local economy.
I look forward to an alternative economy for our communities in the 1990s, based not only on bank employees and the right and proper role of the service sector, but on something that we were good at and must become good at again—that is, making things. The community that I represent was built on making things, not on servicing things. It was built on developing skills of one kind or another. The tragedy of the past decade is the deskilling of our local communities.
Despite all the effort and considerable sums of money that were poured in through what was the Manpower Services Commission and various other systems, we ended the 1980s with not only fewer jobs but less-skilled, lower-quality and lower-paid jobs. One of the real worries from the 1980s is that, as a result of all the so-called investment and the hype of the Secretary of State, we have not prepared the community that I represent for the new challenges and opportunities of the 1990s.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
I am conscious of the fact that this is our annual St. David's day debate. I cast my mind back to this day last year when with my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), I had the privilege to introduce to the House my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). That by-election marked a turning point in British politics. I date it back to January of last year. I was heavily involved in the by-election and it was a privilege to be so. In January of that year, at the launch meeting of the by-election campaign at Treforest at the polytechnic, the deputy leader of the Labour party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), said that a pendulum swings over a period of time. The background to the by-election was that we were 10 points behind in the 456 opinion polls. My right hon. Friend felt that the pendulum was about to move. Move it did and we had a superlative result in the Pontypridd election. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd has made a tremendous impact in the House since then. We have moved on from there and have not looked back since. We had another superlative result in Vale of Glamorgan, and the rest is history.
In 12 months we have moved from being well behind in the opinion polls to being 10, 12, 15 or 17 points ahead. The gap is growing day by day. I am proud that on St. David's day we can look back to the recovery in the fortunes of the Labour party and see that it was based on and came about in Wales.
One old wag told my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) at a rugby match in Twickenham that if he could do for Welsh rugby what he had done for the Labour party he really would be a hero. If we get a Labour Government, perhaps those crowds and grand slams will start happening again in the 1990s. Meanwhile, we have 12 or 18 months during which we must put up with the present Government.
The main anxieties of my constituents are the Health Service and the poll tax. There is one major hospital in my constituency in Glagwill, in Carmarthen. It is going through a period of crisis as we reach the end of the financial year. The hospital has overspent its budget by £125,000. It has to face cuts of one kind or another. That is set against the background of a modernisation programme. I am pleased to say that the programme is going ahead. Over a period of five years all the main ward blocks will be renovated and modernised. Modern medical technology will be introduced. I very much welcome that, although it will mean a loss of 50 of the 500 beds. That modernisation is therefore at a considerable cost.
In the next two or three months that hospital will have to work on an insufficient budget. It is also understaffed in nurses. It should have an extra 28 nurses, but it cannot afford to employ them and we obviously have the people who want to work. Is it fair to the existing nursing staff, to the doctors, but most of all to the patients, that the hospital is short-staffed?
Because of our overspending or lack of finance, in December the health authority announced that patient throughput at the hospital would be reduced to the 1988–89 level, despite the increasing demand. People are moving in to my area of Dyfed. We have an influx of retired people because it is an attractive rural area in which we live. They put more demands on the Health Service at a time when the proportion of elderly people in the population is increasing, yet at this time of increasing demand patient throughput is to be reduced to the 1988–89 level. I have asked the hospital administrator exactly what that will mean. Frankly, it means increased waiting lists, cancelled or postponed operations, out-patient appointments taking longer and perhaps fewer tests being carried out on patients. Generally, it means a lower quality of care per capita than last year. That is what is actually happening in the Health Service, despite the boasts of the Secretary of State and his hon. Friends. In my area we are living with the fact that the Health Service is not safe in the Government's hands because the quality of that service is being cut.
My constituents' other major concern is the effects of the poll tax. We are all aware of the anomalies of the rating system whereby an elderly person living on his or her own in a large family house had to pay a rates bill that was out 457 of proportion with that person's income. We accept the anomaly of that, but the community charge is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I am sure that it would have been perfectly possible to remedy that anomaly without introducing something as appallingly unjust as the poll tax. It is obvious to every citizen in Britain that the fundamental injustice of the poll tax is that it is not linked to the ability to pay. Apart from the few people who are caught by the rebate system, generally the further down the income level—or the poorer the person is—the greater the penalty and the harder that person will be hit when the bills arrive.
I shall quote one paragraph of a letter that I received last year from a constituent. An elderly couple retired to my area to live in a small cottage in Clansawel near Llandeilo and the husband wrote:My rate demand this year for this small cottage is £61. Next year, on Mr. Walker's assessment, my wife and I will be required to pay £175 each at least. Can you explain how this huge increase can be justified? After all, we are told this new imposition is more fair. What's fair about that? Will it result in improved services, or even of the resumption of services that have been withdrawn through government action during the past decade?"That is the unfairness of the poll tax. I know that there is transitional relief, but ultimately the bill that will arrive in that household is twice £175 for an elderly couple who live in a cottage with a rate bill of £61. That means nearly £300 extra for people who cannot afford it. The poll tax system throws up such anomalies all the time.
When I was canvassing a few month ago, I came across a young girl of 19 and asked her about her work. She was a hairdresser. As we were canvassing specifically on the poll tax, I asked her about it and encountered 100 per cent. opposition. I then had the cheek to ask her about her take-home pay. It was £47 per week, yet that young girl will have a poll tax bill of nearly £200 in a few weeks. That is the unfairness of the poll tax.
Earlier I asked the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) the same question that I asked the Secretary of State last Monday—what about the problems of low-paid people? Dyfed has the lowest average male earnings of any county in Britain. I am sorry about that, but set it out as a fact. In Carmarthen we have low unemployment, but we also have low pay because we have mainly service industries and low-paid public sector work. What about the low-paid people who live in ordinary houses and who will not be eligible for rebates? They will suffer huge losses when the poll tax bills arrive. I estimate that between 20,000 and 30,000 of my constituents will be in that position.
There is no question but that the poll tax is an evil tax. It is identified absolutely with the Government and the Prime Minister. It is very much the right hon. Lady's tax. It will become known as a Tory tax. It is one of the main reasons why the Government will be driven out of office when the next election comes, which we hope will be next year.
§ Dr. Datydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
I always follow the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) with pleasure because I was born there, but my pleasure is increased by the fact that his wife was born in my constituency, so that makes us all square.
This is a day on which we can talk about local issues and about the national and international perspective. It is 458 now the time of day when one's daffodil begins to wilt a little, so I shall not speak for too long. I see that some hon. Members have been seeking sustenance for their daffodils and that some hon. Members, including the Minister of State, have leeks which were never alive in any case—as far as I am aware, anyway. Perhaps it came back with him from Brussels yesterday when he was on one of his many missions—in which case it is a Brussel sprout. [Laughter].
Let us get on with the main substance of the debate. I want to talk about the way in which Wales is governed. Next month we shall celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Welsh Office—what a wonderful celebration. I put on record the fact that I am still waiting for my invitation, just in case any party has been missed off the invitation list. We remember with great affection the 10th anniversary party of the Welsh Office. I see several hon. Members in their places who were present at that party——
§ Dr. Thomas
I am not going to be drawn into an argument about whether the parties of the late lamented Labour Government were better than those of the Conservative Government. We have heard enough from the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) about the record of the last Labour Government as compared with that of the Conservative Government.
I want to talk about the way in which Wales is governed as it would appear to an outside observer. For the purposes of discussion, let us imagine a European country —an ancient nation with a population of 3 million that is about the same size as one of the Baltic states. That nation is governed——
§ Dr. Thomas
Well, it has not been in Hansard before. The hon. Gentleman might have read it in the Western Mail.
§ Dr. Thomas
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman follows my speeches. It will do him no harm to listen to it again.
That nation of 3 million people is governed by a party with less than 20 per cent. support in the opinion polls in that state. It has three Ministers. They are not area Ministers. One of the Ministers crosses the border when he visits, but the other two Ministers are very much part of the culture of that country. That has always been the case with colonial systems. In addition to those three Ministers, there is a budget of £4 billion, which is spent by central Government. There are also 3,000 civil servants working in that system, who commute between the two capitals on a fast train——
§ Dr. Thomas
All right, not so fast some days. Perhaps Labour Members will stop interrupting me.
Civil servants also occasionally appear on a video screen so that they can speak to each other without having: to travel up and down. Occasionally they make forays to the northern part of the territory. Indeed, one of them. who lives there, makes forays into the Ministries and Civil Service every week.
459 That is how Wales is governed. If one were to look at that from outside, one would say, "Good heavens, this nation needs perestroika and glasnost. This place needs democracy. How is it that the people put up with this kind of government?" The answer is quite simply that Wales operates within the context of a unitary state of the United Kingdom which has been centralised, with most of its activity in the metropolitan centre. Except for the North of Ireland, where there was an elected assembly for a period, and Scotland, where there is a similar system to that in Wales, only the people of that unitary state have had to put up with the system of having the day-to-day affairs of all the nationalities, ethnic groups and regions within the state run from the centre.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
The hon. Gentleman talked about the formal structure in the Welsh Office as governing Wales. Did he know that, within six months of taking office, the Secretary of State gave an answer to a question that I submitted, saying that he had made 300 appointments to public bodies in Wales in six months?
§ Dr. Thomas
I am grateful for that intervention because I missed that part of my script. Not only do we have the Ministers and elected Members of this Chamber, but we have a sort of intermediate Government whereby the Secretary of State appoints public bodies. I think that there have been 600 direct appointments to quangos and 1,200 advisory bodies in which the Welsh Office is consulted. I shall not read out the list or we shall be here all night, and all our daffodils will wilt.
We have had a unitary state in the United Kingdom, but that is becoming an increasingly outdated model. Throughout central and western Europe and in the Soviet Union, federalism is becoming the major issue in politics. For how long will the United Kingdom be the exception to that system? How long will Wales be the exception to a system that is generally spreading throughout Europe? I see the future in terms of increasing the lateral links, of which the Secretary of State spoke this afternoon. I see it in terms of economic and political relationships between regions and nations on a lateral basis throughout Europe.
The people of Wales, the business community and those in the trade union movement in Wales must look carefully to the way in which having an elected, political, small nation of regional governments is a major enterprising aspect in itself. One thing that the Secretary of State has discovered since he became the Prime Minister of Wales —having failed to become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom he has become a surrogate Prime Minister of Wales, and I am pleased that he is meeting the Prime Minister of Baden-Wurttemberg and whoever else he wishes to meet on state visits—is that within that system, having a political relationship laterally between regions and smaller nations is an important economic development. The way in which the Welsh Office is pursuing its policy, not just in western Europe within the Community, but in regions in Japan and the Soviet Union, such as the Ukraine, shows how Welsh Office economic and political thinking should progress.
The Welsh people are gaining a new self-confidence. The argument is not merely about whether we swap manufacturing for service jobs and whether we still have poverty. Whenever there is serious economic disfunction 460 and disjunction, there is poverty. Wealth is created, but so is more poverty. Therefore, it should not surprise us that low pay still exists as a major problem alongside the high and intermediate technology that has come in. Economic disjunction takes place when there is further growth.
We should look at the overall impression that Wales creates for itself and gives to others. I am not entirely influenced by the propaganda sheet of the Welsh Office, otherwise known as the Western Mail. However, that newspaper tends to print more good stories about what is happening. I do not blame the editor for doing that because he has editorial freedom to do so and we welcome good news.
§ Dr. Thomas
Yes, he had a grant from the Welsh Office. We have all had grants from the Welsh Office at one time or another.
Welsh consciousness of itself, and the Welsh people's consciousness of themselves as an enterprising nation, has, ironically, changed in recent years. The growth of the media industry is one good example of that. That optimism is also catching on culturally, in terms of our English language culture, in our valley communities and in terms of the Welsh language culture.
This is my final point because I want to make sure that all my Labour colleagues speak because I am a kind and generous boy. After 16 years in this place, today I am still kind and generous. Having said that, I hope that I get a quango if Labour is ever in government.
§ Dr. Thomas
What would I like? I shall draw up a list for the hon. Gentleman.
The optimism, which is part of the enterprise culture, is also a cultural optimism with regard to the Welsh language community. I was pleased to see that Professor Harold Carter had got his figures right at last. He has been making a bit of an industry recently out of predicting when, and whether, the Welsh language would finally die.
I am pleased to end by quoting from the greatest book of Welsh history ever written, which is published today. It is called "Hanes Cymru" and is by Dr. John Davies. In the penultimate paragraph he lists all the people throughout the history of Wales who predicted the end of the nation. I shall not go as far back as Tacitus in 100 AD because it would detain the House and would be tedious repetition. I can say that Rhygyfarch, who was reputed to be the author of the "Life of St. David", round about 1094, considered the early extinction of his people. In 1247 it was predicted that the whole of Wales had been drawn down. In 1282 it was predicted the whole of Wales had been struck down. The scholars of the renaissance period believed that the identity of the Welsh was on its way out. In 1682, William Richards said that the Welsh language was about to die. In 1688 Thomas Jones was afraid that the Welsh would be removed from history. The majority of Welsh leaders in the last century did not think that Welsh would continue much beyond that century. The "Welsh Outlook" in 1916 stated that the Welsh language would cease to be a living language by 1950. And yet, says Dr. John Davies:Eto, fe oroesodd y Cymry holl argyfyngau eu hanes, gan ailgreu eu cenedl drosodd a thro".461 The Welsh people managed to overcome all the crises of their history and recreated their nation over and over again.
My prediction on this St. David's day is that in the 21st century the Welsh nation will be recreated as a building block of a federal Europe and I hope to see the Minister of State, Welsh Office still with us to celebrate that occasion.
§ Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood)
It gives me great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas). He started by saying that one should stand back and look at Wales and see how it is evolving. When I first moved to Wales just under 20 years ago, I lived in Pembrokeshire. The economy was, to some extent, as it is today in terms of low wages. But it was also dominated by three industries: agriculture, steel and coal. Two of them have undergone substantial changes, but the Wales that I see now when I visit it reasonably regularly —because I represent a constituency just across the Severn —has also undergone substantial changes over that period.
The coal and steel industries have been dramatically slimmed down. The Secretary of State said that they had shed 58,000 jobs in the past few years. In the process of evolution, the Welsh economy is on a much broader base now. Previously it was accepted that unemployment in Wales would be about one third above the United Kingdom national average.
§ Mr. Rogers
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am wondering who makes the selection of speakers. I submitted my name to speak. I represent the constituency of Rhondda, and considering that I have the largest majority in Wales and in the United Kingdom, I should have thought that I should be called to speak in a Welsh debate. Yet the hon. Gentleman——
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. The hon. Member will be aware that this is the United Kingdom Parliament. Any person democratically elected to it has a perfect right to speak in any debate.
§ Mr. Hayward
When I moved to Wales, the economy was dominated by three major industries. The economic base has since been broadened dramatically. At that time unemployment was about one third higher than the United Kingdom national average. Because the Welsh economy now extends to a wide range of industries, unemployment is about 17 per cent. above the national average. I hope that it will come down to, and possibly be lower than, that average. I believe that that is achievable because we have on either side of the River Severn economies that are evolving together. Indeed, we are to a large extent becoming mutually dependent.
§ Mr. Hayward
If the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) will listen to me, he will recognise that there is a mutual development of the two economies. I have no desire, as the two sides of the Severn grow together, to see the diminution of the Welsh nation. It is important that the Welsh identity should remain. At the same time, local authorities and agencies in Wales should look across the River Severn and recognise that there is a mutual interest.
462 That interest is growing, not only in the broadening base of the economy on both sides but in other matters, for example, the development of a second Severn bridge. Although some may not regard it as a happy event, there is increased house purchasing and commuting with people obtaining jobs in Cardiff and moving to Bristol, and vice-versa.
It is important for organisations responsible for Avon and Gloucestershire on one side and for the Welsh economy on the other not to look at one area in isolation. To do so would be to the detriment of the area. For the sake of everybody, we must look at both sides. A good example of that is the issue that the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) raised when she first entered the House, that of Rhoose airport and its possible expansion. At present we have two airports which almost consider that they are competing against each other, although to a large extent they supply a common population. We should try to attain a sense of community so that both sides of the economy can grow together.
I have spoken briefly because I am anxious that other hon. Members should take part in the debate. It is important to recognise the potential for growth on both sides. There is a mutuality of interests and it is in the long-term interest of both sides that we should recognise that.
§ Mr. Martyn Jones (Clywd, South-West)
I add my sympathy to that expressed by other hon. Members for the people who have been affected by the flooding in Towyn. It has been a dreadful occurrence. As one who represents part of Colwyn, I hope that the after-effects of the flooding will not manifest themselves in increased poll tax for the residents of Colwyn who are unaffected by it.
As many of my hon. Friends said, the poll tax is not fair. Even the Duke of Westminster, the richest man in Britain, acknowledges that. For the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) to trot out the old chestnut about the old lady living in a house by herself paying enormous rates to a council that is overspending is an utter fabrication produced by Conservative Central Office, and even there the story is getting low priority now.
When such an old lady lived in a large house by herself, under the old system, she could, if she was poor, claim rate rebate. In any event, she had a choice, which is not available to poll tax payers. Under the poll tax system, even those on the lowest incomes must pay 20 per cent., and they have no choice but to pay or to go to court.
Nor will poll tax make local government more accountable, despite what the hon. Member for Pembroke claimed. If the hon. Gentleman is anxious to ensure that Dyfed's poll tax is the lowest, he cannot at the same time claim that Dyfed county council is overspending and will be accountable to the local electorate. If that were the case, the electors would think, rightly, that they should continue voting for those in power to achieve a low poll tax. The two factors are mutually exclusive.
We must consider the effect of that bit of the rates which has not disappeared and to which reference has not been made. I refer to the uniform business rate. That system is still based on the old unfair system of rates, and it is 2p higher in Wales than in England. That has led my local chambers of trade to complain bitterly to me about the effect that that will have on small businesses in Wales.
463 Add to that the VAT on electricity and the phenomenally high interest rates, which are likely to rise even further, and we have a disaster on our hands in towns such as Llangollen in my constituency, which relies on small businesses.
People are also worried about job losses. We have heard much about the way in which the number of jobs in Wales is increasing. That does not seem to be happening in rural areas. On several occasions I have tabled written questions asking the Secretary of State to provide figures of unemployment in rural Wales. Not only has he not provided them, but it seems that he is not even thinking about ways to obtain them. The Rural Development Commission in England is able to provide such figures. If we had them for Wales, they would show up what is happening in our rural areas.
§ Mr. Livsey
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one cannot obtain statistics about wage levels in rural Wales? I have been unable to obtain from the Welsh Office such statistics for Powys. That has concerned me for some time. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) said that wages in Dyfed were the lowest, but I suspect that they may be even lower in Powys. Unfortunately, we cannot obtain the information.
§ Mr. Jones
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, which demonstrates that without adequate statistics it is difficult to get a complete picture. It seems that certain statistics are unavailable or that no one is anxious to gather them.
Jobs in rural areas are a problem and I welcome the proposals of the Welsh Development Agency to examine the situation in Denbigh and Corwen in my constituency. They are black spots and I welcome the WDA's efforts. There is a particular problem in Denbigh, where the factory of James Seddon is likely to close with 125 job losses. That closure is due to problems in the clothing industry, mainly because of high interest rates on the investment that has been made in that industry.
Such jobs as exist are poorly paid, as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) pointed out. I agree with him that the figures are not available, but some figures have just become available for Clwyd. They are based on the decency threshold figures issued by the Council of Europe, and for my area the decency threshold wage is £160 a week.
In Clwyd, East, the part of Clwyd about which Conservative Members brag in relation to numbers of jobs and development investment, 29 per cent. of people in full-time employment earn less than the Council of Europe's decency threshold. In Clwyd, West, the rural area that has been neglected, 38.5 per cent. earn less than that threshold.
Agriculture is also going through the problems of high interest rates and VAT on electricity—problems that will affect it as much as they will small businesses. We also have the problem of the Welsh Office Agriculture Department —I know that other hon. Members are concerned about it —which provides a service not only for Clwyd but for the eastern parts of Gwynedd and the northern parts of Montgomery. The Department is being shrunk by 35 members of staff and will give a much worse service.
464 Then there is the problem of roads. We were told in the Welsh Grand Committee that the A55 would be the answer to all the problems of north Wales, which is nonsense. There are no connections from the A55 to my area, and even if there were they would not be used without proper investment and some sort of development area status for the rural areas.
Furthermore, we have no more deregulated buses and very few post offices. Even magistrates courts are closing in my area of Llangollen. I submit that the toxic waste dumps that seem to proliferate in my patch and in others are no substitute for the jobs that we need.
Hon. Members will have noted the host of golden daffodils being worn by Opposition Members today—we have rather more Welsh Members than do the Conservatives. Even if all the Conservative Welsh Members wore their golden daffodils they would not amount to a host, and they certainly will not after the next election.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
I want to take the opportunity of this St. David's day debate to raise in some detail a serious issue affecting the Health Service in Wales. I have raised it already in early-day motions 407 and 540 and in some written and oral questions. I refer to the dangerous commercial conflicts of interest when Health Service employees are also shareholders and directors of private companies, operating in sectors in which there are opportunities for income generation in the Health Service.
I want to make it quite clear that the general right to private practice of consultants, doctors, nurses, medical laboratories, scientific officers and other NHS employees is not at stake in the two cases that have been drawn to my attention. This issue concerns a specific area of private practice in which there are opportunities for Health Service income generation. I believe, as the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Health are both aware, that the Government need to lay down clear and specific guidelines to prevent such commercial conflicts of interest.
The first case arose in my own constituency of Bridgend, at the Princess of Wales hospital. I received a letter shortly after Christmas from a doctor in west Glamorgan, drawing my attention to the fact that Dr. Joan Williams, a full-time consultant biochemist, employed by the Mid Glamorgan health authority at the Princess of Wales and East Glamorgan hospitals, and Mr. David Else, a chief medical laboratory scientific officer at the Princess of Wales hospital, had established a company, Healthcare Diagnostics Limited, in January 1989, of which they are chairman and secretary respectively, as well as being the majority shareholders with 3,249 shares apiece. The company has three other shareholding directors and a further shareholder, Dr. Rhys John, a clinical biochemist in the pathology laboratory of the University of Wales hospital in Cardiff.
On making inquiries I discovered that, during the course of 1989, at no time did Dr. Williams or Mr. Else make it generally known to their colleagues in the pathology department that they were so intimately involved in their own private pathology laboratory. I understand that when establishing this laboratory at the science park in Bridgend and applying for financial and other assistance from local government and the Welsh 465 Office, they claimed that the work that they would be doing would not compete with work being done in the NHS pathology laboratory.
That may have been their honest intention, but the truth is that the brochure of Healthcare Diagnostics Ltd. sets out, with prices, the tests and services offered by the company and virtually all, if not all, of these tests and services can be carried out at the NHS labs in the Princess of Wales hospital, Bridgend. These tests and services—category 2 work, screening for drug trials, cervical cancer screening and biochemistry or haemotology tests—are worth thousands of pounds annually to the Princess of Wales hospital. Either one third of the fees charged go to the hospital or 100 per cent., as in the case of screening for drug trials.
The potential conflict of interest, which could so easily be tantamount to commercial espionage, is, I hope, clear for all to see. Dr. Williams and Mr. Else are senior personnel in the pathology department and have access to privileged information on the customers and charges of the NHS pathology department, while at the same time they are directors and shareholders of a potential competitor to the NHS pathology department.
In private industry such a situation would not be tolerated. Apart from specific contractual obligations which often extend years after retirement to prevent staff from working for competitors, there was also a case—Hivac v. Park Royal Scientific Instruments Company—which established that, in the absence of any contractual term, an employee may not work for a competitor in his spare time. In that case an injunction was granted against a competitor, restraining him from employing the plaintiff's employees who were making valves for him in their spare time.
Additionally, I believe that Dr. Joan Williams has broken her contract with the health authority. In DHSS circular PM(79) 11 of November 1979, in the section entitledWhole Time Contract, a) Private Practice,the second sentence in paragraph 7 reads:The representatives of the professions have accepted that this extended right to private practice should not be exercised in such a way as to damage working relationships with other NHS staffs".I believe that this has happened and that Mid Glamorgan health authority should interview all its pathology department staff, guaranteeing them privacy and anonymity, for their views. Such an inquiry would reveal the concern of many of the staff at all levels about the role of Dr. Joan Williams and Mr. David Else in Healthcare Diagnostics Ltd.
I further discovered to my amazement that those two were not only content to establish this company quietly but had the audacity to use, without permission, photographs of equipment taken by health authority staff in the Princess of Wales hospital pathology laboratory in the brochure publicising their services. Although this is essentially a side issue, I believe that it further underlines the misrepresentation, secretiveness and underhandedness of Dr. Williams and Mr. Else in promoting activities which endanger the wide-ranging and efficient services provided for the public good by the pathology department of the Princess of Wales hospital, Bridgend.
Following the publication of my early-day motion 407 on Dr. Joan Williams, Mr. David Else and Healthcare Diagnostics Ltd., which appeared on the Order Paper on 466 31 January 1990, I received four anonymous written submissions concerning a similar situation in Cardiff, involving Dr. Keith Davies, Dr. Stephanie Matthews and Lifecare Advanced Medical Ltd. I can do no better than to read the three submissions into the record, with the deletion of information which could possibly help to identify my anonymous informants:Dear Mr. Griffiths,I am writing to you as a consequence of reading a report in the South Wales Echo on 31 January in which it was stated that you had called for the resignation of senior biochemistry staff at Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend, accusing them of 'misrepresentation, secretiveness and underhandedness'.We have a situation in our department where the lab manager, Dr. Keith Davies, a top grade Biochemist, is also a director of `Lifecare Advanced Medical' a company which provides private health checks. Dr. Davies has the main responsibility for generating secondary income for the department (e.g. drug trials). In the past this has amounted to thousands of pounds a year. Lifecare has the equipment to do much of this work, so that Dr. Davies is now in the position of being able to tender for work for either his own private lab. or for the NHS lab. There is some evidence emerging, two years after the setting up of Lifecare, that the health service is coming a poor second.Dr. Davies spends very little time in the department, has used the supplies system at the hospital to order equipment for Lifecare and, after interviewing for a MLSO post in the hospital, has telephoned the successful applicant and offered her a job at Lifecare (which was accepted). It is also true that the work done by our department for the Clinical Trials Unit, Pharmacology Dept. U.H.W., was taken from the department and was done for a time by Lifecare. Dr. Davies was at least partly responsible for setting the charges made by the department for this work.Although Dr. Davies was given approval to set tip the company by the District General Manager, Mr. Gordon Harrhy, it was never sanctioned by the D.H.A. and is viewed by virtually the whole department with a mixture of anger arid amazement that he should be allowed to hold two jobs involving such glaring conflicts of interest and offering, as they do, such potential for the gain of Lifecare at the expense of the health service.The second letter said:I was most pleased to hear the Early day Motion by Mr. Win Griffiths on Wednesday, 31 January 1990. You may well be aware that a similar situation exists in South Glamorgan, where a company known as Lifecare Advanced Medical was set up by two employees of South Glamorgan Area Health Authority about two years ago.Over the last couple of years I have become more and more amazed at the conduct of this company and in particular one of its directors, Dr. K. W. Davies. Dr. Davies is Top Grade Biochemist in Medical Biochemistry, U.H.W. and as such has been responsible for setting charges for private work carried out within the department. He is employed on a full time contract. Two years into the existence of Lifecare several points should now be made:467
- 1. Very few of Dr. Davies' contracted hours are actually spent within the department. Some of the `lost' time could of course be spent on other Health Service business.
- 2. The supplies system at U.H.W. has been used to take delivery of an air conditioning unit for Lifecare. One would presume this was also ordered through the hospital ordering system.
- 3. A potential employee of Medical Biochemistry was approached by Dr. Davies after being offered a post. She is now working for Lifecare. Dr. Davies was a member of the interviewing panel which agreed to offer her the Health Service post.
- 4 Work performed for the Clinical Trials unit U.H.W. by Medical Biochemistry and generated up to £100 a day for the laboratory ceased soon after the opening of Lifecare. This work was then performed for a period of time by Lifecare. Dr. Davies was, at least in part, responsible for the setting of charges by our laboratory to the Clinical Trials unit.I believe that income generation from private work has become an unpleasant necessity and that we should be able to compete for this work fairly. This is obviously impossible when our own senior management have a vested interest in ensuring that this work is performed by their own private companies.
§ The third submission is:
|"Name of Company:||LIFECARE ADVANCED MEDICAL|
|Address:||Cardiff Business Centre|
|Cardiff CF2 4AY|
|Tel. 0222 372311|
|Directors:||Dr. Keith Davies|
|Top Grade Biochemist|
|Department of Medical Biochemistry|
|Dr. Stephanie Matthews|
|Dr. Anthony Campbell|
|Reader in Medical Biochemistry|
|Welsh National School of Medicine|
|University of Wales College of Medicine."|
I found out that there is a fourth director, Dr. Anthony Berlyn Davies of 17a South road, Sully, South Glamorgan. The letter continues:
The private laboratory is to be part of a 'well person' centre, where it is possible to walk in and have a health check (ie BP, Hb., Cholesterol etc.) The equipment includes a Technicon RA500 analyser and a Coulter. As far as I can gather, Gordon Harrhy, the District General Manager, has given the go ahead but there has not been any official sanction from the Health Authority.
My head of department, Prof. Elder, called a meeting of chief and senior MLSOs and informed us that we were not to process any samples for this laboratory and suggested that there may be direct competition for work between the laboratory and NHS laboratories in the future. He also pointed out that at present our 'secondary income' which is generated from private sources (eg drug trials) makes an important contribution towards the Departmental staffing budget and there will be competition for this work.
Keith Davies, as our departmental manager, is often responsible for obtaining this work for Medical Biochemistry, UHW. He has now put himself in the position of being able to tender for work for either his own laboratory or the NHS laboratory. I would assume that Dr. Matthews is in a similar position at Llandough. I know that, in the first instance, any 'drug trial' work is to come from sources which do not wish to use NHS laboratories, but it does not take too much imagination to see the eventual situation.
At this time everything is 'above board'—apparently! But many of the laboratory staff at UHW are suspicious because of the conflict of interest that these NHS laboratory managers have. We await the time when these people are compromised.
He and Dr. Matthews attempted to process a large number of samples, taken from a group of medical students, for full biochemical profiles to 'establish reference ranges'. Prof. Elder allowed only the cholesterols to be measured as that was apparently part of a lecture which Dr. Matthews had given to the students.
The fourth letter states:
Dear Mr. Griffiths,
May I applaud you making public the activities of Drs. Davies and Matthews in South Glamorgan H.A. It is my hope the ensuing enquiry will reveal the truth with regard to their misuse of their positions.
Regretfully, it appears the general manager, Mr. Gordon Harrhy, is more concerned with the source of your information, rather than its accuracy, and I fear a 'cover-up' will take place. Some of the questions the enquiry should ask are:
Why does Lifecare use equipment from the same manufacturers as the U.H.W. laboratory?
Where do Lifecare's consumables come from?
Why does Mr. Davies pay frequent visits to the U.H.W. laboratory reagent store room?
Why is Dr. Davies frequently at Lifecare during working hours?
Another matter of concern is that of the Pathology budget. At a recent presentation, Mr. Harrhy stated that the 'overspend' of half a million pounds by Pathology will be cut from next year's Pathology budget. This and the loss of many profitable contracts by S. Glam. N.H.S. laboratories (presumably to Lifecare), have given staff the feeling a 'carve-up' of Pathology is taking place.
Is Mr. Harrhy deliberately running the service down to such a level it will be unable to meet an ever-increasing N.H.S. demand? Certainly the way the regrading of M.L.S.O. staff has been handled in S.Glam., little has been done by management to try and retain staff. Presumably when the N.H.S. Pathology Service fails, Mr. Harrhy will then have no option but to go to private tender, (probably to Lifecare!?). I would like to be able to sign this letter, but given the 'macho' and vengeful management in S.Glam., I regret I cannot.
In any event, I thank you for your efforts.
§ Those four submissions make it absolutely clear that staff in the University of Wales hospital medical biochemistry department are deeply aware of and gravely concerned about the conflict of interest which exists between the NHS work of Dr. Davies and Dr. Matthews and their private pathology laboratories, of which they are company chairman and secretary respectively. This, indeed, is the insiduous part of the operation. They have a very direct personal interest in attracting work to their own private laboratory, while at the same time they are involved in either getting work for the NHS laboratories in which they are employed or setting charges for that work. All that is against the background of their access to privileged information in their role as senior staff members in the NHS laboratories.
§ I believe that South Glamorgan health authority needs to investigate the allegations rigorously. Some questions and lines of inquiry present themselves very obviously. How did an air conditioning unit destined for Lifecare Advanced Medical Ltd. of the Cardiff business centre, Senghennydd Road, Cathays, Cardiff, get delivered to the University of Wales hospital, The Heath, Cardiff? Can Lifecare Advanced Medical Ltd. produce its original paperwork to show that this was all a grotesque mistake, or did it indeed use the hospital's supplies system to order its equipment?
§ With regard to the person interviewed for the MLSO's job in the hospital, who was afterwards offered, and accepted, a job at Lifecare Advanced Medical Ltd. by Dr. Davies—who was on the hospital's interview panel—inquiries could be made about the advertisement of the Lifecare Advanced Medical job, when the interviews for it took place, who the other people on the shortlist were, and what paperwork exists in connection with all of this activity.
§ Finally, as to the loss of work carried out for the clinical trials unit, senior staff in the medical biochemistry department should be able to provide all the answers. It is a tragedy that Dr. Joan Williams, Dr. Stephanie Matthews, Dr. Keith Davies and Mr. David Else do not seem to be able to see the difference between, on the one hand, going to a private pathology laboratory, and being paid to carry out tests on behalf of the laboratory owners who have attracted this work, and, on the other hand, being directly involved in attracting work to their own 469 private pathology laboratories while having a similar role in getting work for the NHS laboratories in which they are employed.
§ This commercial conflict of interests will become even more stark and intense when health authorities are able to go out to tender for this work. How can NHS staff with responsibilities for setting the NHS pathology laboratory charges, or with access to the information on which the tender is based, have the same responsibilities as shareholders and directors of a company making its own tender for the same health authority work? Unfortunately, this malaise has first come to light in Wales—the home of the builders of the NHS. I hope that by publicising these pernicious activities we shall stop their potential damage to the NHS in its tracks, that Dr. Williams, Dr. Matthews, Dr. Davies and Mr. Else will resign either from the NHS or from their private companies, and that the Secretary of State for Wales, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Health, will issue clear and specific guidelines to ensure that the dangers of conflict of interest and commercial espionage do not blight the NHS and working relationships within it.
§ 9 pm
§ Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)
It is exactly a year, Madam Deputy Speaker, since you were kind enough to call me for the first time, on my first day in this House. I thank you belatedly.
I want to address the House on what is, perhaps, a very different note from the kind of song that we have heard so far tonight, serious though it has been. I want to draw attention to the transformation of the Welsh economy and to draw out of that transformation something that may be of interest to some hon. Members, and about which I feel particularly strongly. Over the past five years a curious feature of employment patterns in Wales is that the number of people employed in non-print media has been greater than the number employed in the coal mines of the Principality. Indeed, Cardiff has boasted of being "media city".
§ Dr. Howells
Seedier, perhaps, but certainly "media city". In addition, we have media villages in places like Caernarfon and Carmarthen. The transformation has been welcomed by many as evidence of the security of Wales's position on the frontiers of the new communications industries—the new technological industries that are transforming the economy of the world. To many members of the general public, though not necessarily to the people in the industry itself, the television industry in Wales may appear to be a glamorous occupation and, moreover, one which, in Wales at least, is run by a rather select troupe of cultured, educated individuals, who, as often as not, are related to each other, and who celebrate that relationship very often by adding one or two barrels to their surnames.
Still, Wales is a small country, and it is to be expected that a television director's son or a producer's nephew should be found employment in the creative corridors of BBC Wales or HTV or S4C. After all, that was so often the way in which miners' sons were found employment on fix nearest stall or heading on the coal face. It is refreshing to discover that this quaint old Welsh custom has not 470 disappeared and that the cultured, educated little group that I have mentioned is looking after its own, especially during this age of transformation and uncertainty.
It will be interesting, for example, to see who replaces the controller of programmes at the BBC, Mr. Gareth Price, who has announced that he will be leaving his post to take up a new challenge elsewhere. I wish Mr. Price well. I hope that his successor will be chosen strictly on the basis of his or her professional television talents, and not on the basis of certain of the traditional criteria, which have so often loomed large in the making of such decisions. I refer to criteria such as having an uncle or aunt, or a brother or sister, or a son or daughter already performing somewhere in the troupe. By the way, I hope also that the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson will not be appointed. He seems to have been taking up every job going vacant.
I hope that, whoever is chosen, his or her perspective will be coloured at least as much by a desire to fight for more English language programmes to be made in Wales for a Welsh audience so as to protect the status quo, which unkinder critics have denounced as reflecting more than anything else the broadcasters' own linguistic bias.
The House decided some time ago that the Welsh language would benefit from the existence of a television station that would broadcast entirely through the medium of Welsh, and it created the foundations of S4C. That station has done sterling work and, deservedly. has received from the public purse the money it has needed to fund an entire range of television programmes. I believe that it has earned for Wales a reputation abroad as a nation which takes seriously the task of addressing Wales creatively. I am glad that the Broadcasting Bill seems not to threaten that good work. I am glad, too, that S4C's funding will not be threatened either now or in the foreseeable future.
I am much less sanguine about the other side of the Welsh cultural equation. Over 80 per cent. of the population of Wales does not speak Welsh. I understand that annual spending by BBC Wales and HTV on English language programmes in Wales is between £15 million and £20 million compared with about £65 million that is spent on Welsh language programmes. I wrote to the Minister of State, Home Office with responsibilities for broadcasting about this anomaly. He replied, "What are you whingeing about?", although he expressed himself in more parliamentary language. "After all", he wrote, "English speakers in Wales have the opportunity to tune to the same national channels as the rest of us. What more could you want?" I should be most grateful if the Secretary of State would inform the Minister that English-speaking viewers in Wales need more sustenance than the thin gruel of "Neighbours", "Wogan" and "That's Life", which is brewed in Shepherds Bush and down in Sydney.
There should not be two standards applied to the expression of culture by the medium of television in Wales. Soaps—I have mentioned one that I loathe especially—are, heaven help us, but I have been informed of this, a means of celebrating our identity and existence. If that is so, how can Welsh speakers through S4C witness each week four or five soaps made in Wales for Welsh viewers while English speakers can witness not one made in Wales for Wales? Where are the English language equivalents of the excellent news and documentary programmes that are made day after day in Welsh for S4C?
Good luck to the Welsh language speakers. They have conducted a highly successful political propaganda 471 campaign, which has enabled them to enjoy their present status, or the present status of S4C. I want them to continue to enjoy it, and there must be no threat to funding. But what of the rest of us? What of the cultural prospects and priorities of those appointed to head our English language broadcasting services in Wales? Will they continue to remain as silent as generally they have been until now for more funds for programme making and for greater access to prime-time broadcasting slots of existing channels? Perhaps they could even speak up for a new English language channel.
Will we continue to suffer the results of the silent acquiescence to the status quo that will allow the cultural identity of 2,300,000 non-Welsh speakers in Wales to be perceived, interpreted and fed back to Wales by the broadcasting gurus of the metropolis? Are we to continue to witness an erosion of the number of English language programme makers and their facilities in Wales to the point where we shall no longer be able to mount the excellent series which emerge just occasionally from Cardiff? Is that expertise to dwindle away while Ministers whistle about the joys of the Welsh language programme-making capacity as if Wales needed no other capacity?
It seems that a modern people with industries that, as the Secretary of State has told us so often, are at the frontiers of contemporary technology need the means of defining themselves culturally and of developing and expressing their creativity and aspirations. In Wales, only a minority are able to do that through the medium of television. It is time that the majority also enjoyed that access. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider carefully the need to ensure this provision when he next surveys the plans for appointments and redundancies in Welsh broadcasting.
§ 9.8 pm
§ Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) will forgive me if I do not follow him by saying that he has a good idea, because I must declare an interest as a former employee of the BBC in Wales. It would be invidious of me, as a Welsh speaker, to comment too much on what he said, except to say that one of the best experiements recently carried out in Britain was carried out by the BBC in my constituency. We had a closed service community television programme for an entire week. It was an excellent experiment, which was entirely in the English language, and was much applauded by people in my constituency, who hoped that it would continue. However, sadly, the BBC did not have the money to continue the experiment, and I think that that is a great pity. Many of the valley communities, in particular, in south Wales would benefit from such programmes in the future.
I did not think that I would start my speech in a St. David's day debate here by congratulating Tory councils. However, I think that it is in order to congratulate, in particular, the councillors in West Oxfordshire who have deserted the Tory party as a protest againt the harshest, the most regressive and unfair tax to be imposed for almost 400 years in this country's history. It surely must be an example that many Tory councillors up and down the 472 country, and particularly in Wales, will be eager to follow. Many local Tory councillors are scared stiff at the thought of having to face the electors at the ballot box in May.
When I listened to the hectoring tone of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), I realised that he obviously does not understand that Tory supporters do not share his apparent enthusiasm for the poll tax. The worrying message for Tory Members of Parliament in marginal seats throughout Wales, according to the latest opinion poll, is that more than one half of their traditional voters believe that the new system will leave them worse off financially.
The Health Service and the poll tax are far and away the two main issues worrying Welsh voters. Of course, the poll tax has been the Prime Minister's own personal crusade. She has described it as the flagship of her Government. Apparently, it was the idea of the present Conservative party chairman—back in the far-off days when he was Secretary of State for the Environment—and he is now engaged in a desperate bid to lay the blame elsewhere. The chairman of the Tory party is today urging all Tory constituency agents and chairmen to go out and campaign hard. He is urging them to use a "strong and positive message". I put it to them that the strongest, the most positive message that they could give in Wales today is for Tory councillors to follow the example of the West Oxfordshire councillors.
The eight county councils in Wales have repeatedly told the Secretary of State that he has got his figures wrong, and that they have got theirs right. The financial adviser to the Welsh Counties Committee said:We have consistently made the point to the Welsh Office that their expectations fell 3 to 4 per cent. below what was needed to reflect pay and price increases. The sums now being levied bear out what we have been saying all through the last months of last year.He went on to criticise the Secretary of State for Wales for basing the expected poll tax levels on an impossibility—the 100 per cent. collection of the tax. We all know that treasurers expect to collect no more than 95 to 96 per cent. of the amount levied—a significant increase in missing cash—compared with the 99 per cent. or more collected through the present rating system.
The Government's figures are also off target because Ministers have assumed that council spending will rise by only 3.8 per cent., but everyone knows that inflation is nearer 8 per cent. That is apparent to everybody, apart from the Government. The Government's figures are even more unreal in the light of the pay award to the teachers of 7.9 per cent. The Government have reduced even further the proportion of council spending financed by the Government; even under their own underestimate, grants from Whitehall will cover only 38.6 per cent. of council spending, compared with 43 per cent. last year.
The Secretary of State also chooses to ignore the fact that the Government's policies are costing councils extra money. He tells councils to get on with implementing the national curriculum, their new responsibilities for clearing up litter and the collection of the poll tax itself without giving them the extra cash. In Cynon Valley, one of the poorest district councils in Wales, it will cost £300,000 to administer and collect the poll tax.
The Conservative party has made an incredible mess of introducing the poll tax—after its best brains have been exercised during the past years in producing three Green Papers, and two Acts of Parliament and while five 473 Secretaries of State for the Environment have been exhausted in trying to stitch up this unjust and unworkable system of local taxation.
Whatever the Secretary of State for Wales and the Prime Minister say, there is no escape from the truth that wealth is being transferred in communities such as the Cynon Valley away from those who have least to those who have most. There are few Tory fat cats in the Cynon Valley, but the few that there are will be paying 23 per cent. less in poll tax compared with the household of four living in a terrace house who will pay 480 per cent. more.
The average poll tax in Wales will be at least £220–25 per cent. above what the Government and the Secretary of State said that it would be. As the Committee of Welsh District Councils has told the Secretary of State, the Government have substantially underprovided for inflation, statutory charges and other demands on council services. Despite the excellent record of Welsh local government in keeping annual spending growth close to the Government's target year after year, the Secretary of State threatens the councils with penalties unless they obey him. He ignores, as always, the reality that higher social and economic deprivation demands additional resources. It is the Government and not the local councils who are to blame for high levels of poll tax.
In the Cynon Valley 60 per cent. of those at work live in households with incomes of £4,000 a year or less. By any measure, that is poverty in Britain today. What will the poll tax mean to them? Take, for example, a family of four consisting of a grandmother, a father, a mother and a student son living on one wage in a terraced house in Mountain Ash. The rates that they pay now are £217 per year. When the full rate of poll tax is brought in they will have to pay £868 per year, an increase of £651 per year, compared with the Government's estimate of £692. Even with transitional relief, which is to be phased out over three years, that same family will have to pay £748 this year.
Compare that with the billionaire Duke of Westminster who will pay a personal poll tax of £417 per year instead of his present rates bill of £10,245. The Duke is so embarrassed that he is giving the money that he saves to his tenants on the Eaton Hall estate. The Duke, who is said to be worth £3 billion and earns £3,000 an hour, plans to hand over to them his poll tax savings. The Duke, of course, is president of the Chester Conservative association.
But the Prime Minister continues to insist, without the charm of Edith Piaf, that she has no regrets about imposing the tax. She said on television that several widows living alone have thanked her. How many more are not thanking the Prime Minister? They include at least 18 Tory councillors in West Oxfordshire, innumerable Tory councillors standing for election in May and those Tory Members who have expressed concern about this terrible tax.
The Labour party continually warned that the poll tax posed a threat to civil liberties, but the rebate application form produced by Tory-controlled Plymouth city council exceeds our worst fears. One question on the form asks:If you share a bedroom, state with whom you share it.Conservative-controlled Wellingborough council in Northamptonshire is running a competition for prompt payers of the poll tax. Prizes include a Ford Escort and an overseas holiday. It is one thing running a raffle to 474 persuade people to buy a newspaper or to support a charity, but it shows what a mad concept the poll tax is if councils have to offer prizes to persuade people to pay it.
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
May I apologise to the House and to Wales for not wearing a daffodil tonight? As I am a severe asthmatic, the pollen being too close to my nose makes it impossible for me to do so. If I were ex-president Gerald Ford, people would say that I could not speak and wear a daffodil at the same time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) said that he would sing a different song from my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). I do not want to sing a song, but I understand that, at 2.15 pm, evidence was given in song, which was appropriate on St. David's day, to the Committee considering the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill. Dave Burns, the lead singer of "Cardiff", sang "The Grangetown Gondolier" as part of his evidence when called as an expert witness as a folk singer. That makes a change from the usual boring expert witnesses such as chartered surveyors, accountants and lawyers. He was called by one of my constituents, Sheila Llewelyn, and I think that that makes appropriate history on St. David's day.
Labour Members are not yet completely sold on the Secretary of State's vision of the new Wales. He described a country that we do not recognise. When making the speech that he makes all around the country, which I call his "Stranger in Paradise" speech, he referred to a country that is flowing with milk and honey, where unemployment is on the point of disappearing, where within a few years the only people unemployed will be clerks in the dole office, where waiting lists in hospitals do not exist but doctors are waiting to treat patients even if they so much as pass the door—and if they do not pass the door they will come and treat them for an illness that they do not have —and where our schools have new textbooks and paint on the walls.
Those who live in and represent Welsh constituencies do not recognise that country. The annual budgets of our health authorities are £7.5 million less than they reasonably demand. We know that our school system is experiencing perhaps the most severe crisis in morale for more than 10 years, and we wonder what land the Secretary of State visits, surrounded by his press officers and photographers, which so insulates him from reality that he tries to sell us his vision of a new Wales where everyone is prosperous, where everyone has a job, where everyone can get medical treatment and where the school system is such that even if one had enough money to send one's child to a private school one would be proud to send him or her to a state school. That land certainly is not Wales on this St. David's day.
Let me give the House a couple of examples. This week I received a letter from the director of education of South Glamorgan county council. It states:Thank you for your letter of 16 February 1990. This year, 120 teachers, including 29 Heads or Deputies, applied for early retirement. Six teachers have since withdrawn their applications and 100 have already accepted the terms. The applicants for voluntary premature retirement involve some 3–4 per cent. of the total teaching workforce. Last year 84 teachers, (some 2–3 per cent.) accepted early retirement, including 22 heads and deputies and 1985, 59 (some 1–2 per cent.) accepted, including 13 Heads or Deputies.475 In the past five years the number of people at the top of their profession in terms of responsibility who are asking to leave early has virtually doubled. That shows a serious crisis in morale, for which we will pay, as our children and our constituents' children will not get the benefit of those experienced people.
The Under-Secretary of State, the Minister of State and, if he were here, the Secretary of State should realise what that means in South Glamorgan. I challenge the Minister who replies to the debate to tell the House, if not tonight, through his officials at a later date, the figures for the other counties in Wales. Are they also experiencing a doubling in the number of experienced teachers, including heads and deputy heads who want to leave the profession early because they have had enough?
The teachers tell me that they have had enough hassle, paper work, not being able to teach, not being able to talk to the children or the staff but having to fill in forms invented by the Government. That is the crisis in our schools that ordinary people in Wales have to attend. It is a crisis of morale when people at the top of the profession are asking to leave in droves.
Let me say a few words about the hospital service. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend spoke about some of the aspects of creeping privatisation and worse within the hospital service and the crisis that may well strike the pathology service in South Glamorgan if the £500,000 cut goes ahead. I am particularly worried about the tendency for hospitals to resort to financial measures which are the rocky road to ruin. In South Glamorgan there is a £7.5 million deficit in the financial year that starts in one month's time. It is selling a hospital to cover that revenue deficit. It is selling a capital asset not to fund a capital project but to fund a revenue deficit. How long can it continue doing that? What would the Prime Minister say if a Labour-controlled local authority attempted to do that?
In a panic, South Glamorgan has proposed that six hospitals should be closed in the coming financial year to cover a revenue deficit. That was a panic, last-minute decision. It was not planned six months ago when next year's budget was being calculated; it has all appeared in the past month. That shows that inflation is far worse than the Government admit, and they will not make good the undershoot in last year's inflation in the way that they promised, although it has proved at least 2 or 3 per cent. higher than the figures for which the Government allowed. That caused South Glamorgan to budget in a panic for the coming financial year and therefore to close next year six hospitals that it had not planned to close. That cannot work.
Finally, I wish to refer to the Secretary of State's inspiring words about bringing Mr. Spath, the Prime Minister of Baden-Wurttemberg, to Wales. I hope that the Secretary of State is well surrounded with press officers when Mr. Spath is taken around Wales. I hope that the Secretary of State does not have to tell him about industrial training in Wales. I understand that more people receive engineering apprenticeships in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg than in Great Britain. Baden-Wurttemberg has a population of only 6 million people compared with nearly 60 million in Britain, yet there are more engineering apprenticeships there than here. In 476 Stuttgart, which has a population of only 600,000, there are many more engineering apprenticeships than in Wales, which has a population of 2.8 million. Is the Secretary of State going to tell Mr. Spath that as part of his image building for Wales to his worthy partner for Baden-Wurttemberg, the land of precision engineering in Germany?
§ Mr. Morgan
The Secretary of State may be talking about training including rehabilitative and probationary training, which was counted as just starting a job in 1979. If he is now about to tell the House that there are more apprenticeships and more recognised training leading to City and Guilds or other recognised training qualifications than there were in 1979, I shall gladly sit down and let him intervene again. Silence is sometimes golden. I hope that he will have something far more positive to say on the matter which relates to the reality of life in Wales and not to the image building in which he and the Western Mailindulge.
The Western Mailwas provided with a £900,000 grant by the Welsh Office and the Secretary of State went to the wonderful opening ceremony with the editor. He has been richly rewarded for that in the pages of the Western Mailwhenever he wants good publicity. Whenever there is bad news, such as the resignation of 18 councillors in West Oxfordshire, it is put on four lines on the side of page 1, whereas the visit by the Prince of Wales is given 6-inch-high headlines. That is his reward from the local newspaper to which he gave a grant of £900,000. We do not want to see such a Wales in the future.
§ Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)
I want first to refer to the devastation in Clwyd, which has been referred to several times in the debate, partly because I grew up in a constituency there and partly because of the need for adequate aid which we have experienced in the past. Government quibbling in the early 1980s after the floods in Cardiff brought home the need for that aid to be given quickly, without reservation and without bureaucracy in the process.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) raised the wider issue of the examination of sea defences generally, and I hope that that point will be answered. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State also look at the longer-term needs of environmental research, which has been undermined in Wales in recent years? I especially commend a rethink by the Government on the excellent environmental research station in Bangor, and on the future of Research Vessel Services in Barry and the extent of environmental research in Wales as a whole.
This evening, we have had a balanced and detailed debate in which my hon. Friends have spoken with authority and detail about a series of issues. I especially commend the economic analysis of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthry Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), the detail on low pay from my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams), where the figures tell a devastating story which Ministers should take seriously, and the cameo of the Tory model for the Health Service which was exposed today by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). That matter and the 477 way in which he raised it should be taken seriously by Ministers, and should be subjected to an independent inquiry and a public report. I call on the Minister to promise that in winding up.
The hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) was unwise to intervene in a debate with a speech which demonstrated his lack of knowledge of Wales and his lack of sensitivity to the serious issues raised by Opposition Members. I should take his remarks more seriously if he were still present at this hour and if he were to demonstrate mutual support by signing the early-day motion calling on the Post Office not to downgrade the parcels service in south Wales by turning it into a branch line of a Bristol-based service, which we have often come to fear.
In this debate, Conservative Members have been foolish and foolhardy in their defence of Government policies, especially in relation to the poll tax. It has taken 15 years from the Prime Minister's promise to do away with the rates system to come up with the total mess of the poll tax. I am confident that Labour's plans for a charge based on property value with a system of rebates to look after the poor and the elderly will be fair and practical. It will improve on the old rating system and will be infinitely preferable to the poll tax.
The poll tax is the issue today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) said, this is the day on which the news has broken that 18 Conservative councillors in West Oxfordshire, who are described by the Foreign Secretary as "good Tories," have resigned. If the Secretary of State for Wales will not listen to us, to his hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West or to the Association of District Councils, will he listen to them?
The Secretary of State tried to avoid the issue today. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) rightly nailed him for his responsibility for bringing the poll tax to Wales. The Secretary of State also tried to avoid the challenge to say whether he would cap any local authority in Wales. [Interruption.]The Secretary of State would be wise to listen. He was wise, too, not to answer the question whether he would cap local authorities in Wales. I advise him to think carefully before taking that course.
As a Cardiff Member myself, I am ashamed of the way in which the city's two Conservative Members have supported the poll tax and attacked both the local council and their own electors, its ratepayers. They are both now vulnerable when the general election comes. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), in particular, appalled me when he failed to defend the council on which we have both served from an hysterical attack by the Secretary of State, and his gross caricature of the city's rate-making process repeated those distortions today. With the economic uncertainties and increased inflation —an attack on the people of Cardiff—they need more than a contingency fund.
The problems of the poll tax bear heavily on every community in Wales, but, as the Secretary of State chose to concentrate his recent vitriol on Cardiff, let me give the House the facts, confirmed not just by the political leader of that hung council but from the careful objective neutrality of the treasurer's office. As the hon. Member for Cardiff, North has not done his homework, let me tell the House why the city council's revenue spending this year is £32 million and why next year it has to be £40.6 million.
First, there is the legislation introducing the poll tax and so on, which increases the need for finance for the city council by £2.7 million. Then we have land appropriation 478 legislation, which to begin with the Welsh Office itself did not understand, although I believe that it now does and which gives rise to an unavoidable cost of £2.1 million for the transfer of land.
In addition, we have an adjustment for inflation of £2.1 million, which includes interest and assumes an interest rate of only 7.5 per cent.—although it is higher than that at the moment as a result of the Government's abuse of our economy. Without capital from revenue of £1.8 million, there would be delays in important schemes. That is a modest figure when one realises that the capital available to the council is now grossly reduced because of the Government's cuts—£23 million down on the previous year—and the limits on the use of capital receipts that the Government have introduced. Those are the reasons for the increase, and they do not take into account extra costs in dealing with homelessness and in discharging the obligations that the Government have piled on local authorities.
Cardiff and other councils in Wales are acting modestly and realistically, and the Secretary of State for Wales should accept what we have told him for a year, what the Association of District Councils in Wales told him six months ago in Newport and what many Conservatives have told him: he got the figures wrong, and it is his mess. Instead of attacking our councils and our councillors, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North should be keeping his head down and meeting the Secretary of State for Wales to tell him of Cardiff's needs, as well as the way in which his own seat and those of the few remaining Tories in Wales. will be threatened by the poll tax. He should tell him to forget poll tax capping because neither our councils nor our people deserve the chaos that would follow such an unjust decision.
§ Mr. Michael
If the hon. Gentleman wants his intervention to be taken out of the Minister's time, of course I shall give way to him.
§ Mr. Michael
The hon. Gentleman clearly has not appreciated all the facts that I have put to the House, which I now invite him to consider. [Interruption.]The Secretary of State would do better to consider them than to laugh.
The burden of the poll tax will be bad enough on its own—throughout Wales that burden will bear heavily— but it is far from being the only burden for which the Secretary of State is responsible. The list is horrifying. Improvement grants, of which the right hon. Gentleman boasted, are to be means-tested from 1 April, although he denied that the last time we debated the matter.
The uniform rate has been condemned by business men. The increase in interest rates, for which the Government are responsible, eats into people's pockets and affects their everyday lives, increasing mortgage repayments, undermining businesses, having a devastating effect on local government and increasing the prices that ordinary people have to pay. The increase in inflation caused by 479 Government policies bears down most heavily on poorer employees, especially in the public sector, who are losing as a result of the Government's decisions.
Gas and electricity charges are at or above the level of inflation and the 12.2 per cent. increase in water charges —60 per cent. above the rate of inflation—has been caused directly by the Government's policy. Investment in the water industry is needed because of the Government's neglect over the past 10 years—because they cut investment in the water industry when they came to office.
That burden of responsibility for investment is being spread away from the well-off in society to ordinary people and communities throughout Wales. I warn people in Wales and in the Chamber that that is a forerunner of a water poll tax that will be as unpopular as the poll tax, which figured so large in the debate.
Yesterday's devastating news about the trade figures underlines the Government's manifest failure to manage the economy properly. This is not, as the Secretary of State tried to suggest, a litany of despair. It is simply a list of problems and burdens which must be borne by our people and from which the Secretary of State has failed to protect the people of Wales. I should be happy to concentrate on the news that we have to tell about Wales. As my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney said, many of us have played our part in bringing about that good news. If only the Secretary of State would balance that by admitting to the problems created by the Government of which he is a member, and begin to talk to us seriously about tackling them.
Many other Tory policies are coming home to roost —such as the appalling student loans scheme, their failure to provide the education and training that would enable us to compete properly in the world, their determination to undermine local authorities which are trying to tackle that issue and, above all, their savage attack on the National Health Service. The National Health Service and Community Care Bill has emerged from Committee with its inconsistencies exposed. There is now no doubt about the serious attack on the NHS that it involves. The Vale of Glamorgan by-election will prove the first swallow of a Labour summer.
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), in a Thatcherite outburst of the sort that we experienced in Committee, tried to rewrite history. He cannot have listened to the way in which his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health was demolished in debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) as recently as Tuesday. As time is short, I merely commend to him, to my hon. Friends and to the public, columns 1330 to 1334 in the report of Tuesday's Committee.
In my area of South Glamorgan, the Health Service is descending into chaos in advance of that crazy Bill becoming law. A cut of £7.5 million has to be found to keep within the funds that the Secretary of State has allowed. That problem is replicated throughout Wales. Every health authority is running around looking for money.
Tomorrow I shall visit two hospitals in Gwynedd. They too are under attack. Among the drastic cost-cutting exercises recommended by officers is the temporary closure of Madoc memorial hospital in Portmadoc pending 480 permanent closure, or a reduction of nine beds at Bron-y-Garth hospital at Penrhyndeudraeth. Welsh Office Ministers are responsible for that. It is no use referring it to health authorities. Ministers are responsible for providing inadequate funds for the Health Service and for undermining the health of our people of Wales.
There is no time to list the problems facing every authority in Wales, but the list is devastating. Morale among family doctors and others is low. Welsh Office Ministers are to blame now and have responsibility about which the Secretary of State for Wales has been as silent as he has about the poll tax and the Water Act 1989. Despite the twisting and turning of Ministers, their pleas to us to trust them and the lack of detail in a shell Bill, it is now clear not only that people mistrust the Government's plans, but that they are right to do so.
Without wasting time in Committee, Opposition Members staged a series of effective debates which exposed the confusion and accountant-led bureaucratic chaos into which our National Health Service is to be plunged. That will be taken a stage further on the Floor of the House in two weeks.
Tagged on to the NHS Bill at the last minute were the Government's half-baked plans for care in the community. It is not the concept outlined in the Griffiths report which is half-baked, but the Government's failure to plan properly for care in the community. Again, that was well exposed in Committee. It has been said that a civilised nation should be judged on the quality of its care for the elderly, sick and disabled. On those criteria, the Secretary of State and his Government are guilty of an attack on our claim to be regarded as a civilised society.
On the eve of the 1983 election, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, as he now is, issued a series of predictions and warnings of the price that we would pay for Conservative rule. All of them have come true but I shall mention only three. He said:I warn you that you will have pain when healing and relief depend on payment.The Health Service is not safe in their hands.
He said:I warn you that you will have ignorance when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right.But that is what the Conservatives are delivering to us now.
My right hon. Friend also said:I warn you that you will have poverty when pensions slip and pensions are whittled away by a Government that won't pay in an economy that can't pay.My right hon. Friend's words in 1983 correctly reflect the results of the Ministers' rule.
In the conclusion to his speech, my right hon. Friend warned:If Margaret Thatcher were to win on that Thursday, I warn you not to be ordinary, I warn, not to be young, I warn you not to be ill and I warn you not to get old.Those predictions have a chilling sound now. Then they had the ring of prophecy, but it has taken the Conservatives to turn that prophecy into fact and truth today. For their part in that process of bringing those words into reality, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and the Conservative Members representing Welsh constituencies stand condemned in this St. David's day debate, and they will be judged and sentenced at the next general election.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. Wyn Roberts)
I am sure that we are all saddened by the fact that our Welsh day debate had been overshadowed by the flooding at Towyn in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) and that we all extend our sympathy to his constituents. I went up there on Tuesday and saw the terrible devastation that was caused by a combination of wind and sea.
I am sure that the House will be interested to know the latest situation there this evening. I am told that there is still a strong wind over the area and that the next high tide is due at 2.30 am. However, earlier today I was told that the tide levels are lower than earlier this week and that they are receding further each day. That will mean that the engineers who are working day and night to repair the wall will have access throughout, thus enabling them to accelerate the work. I hope that it will also mean that water will not flow regularly through the breach and that the flood water can be pumped out. That point was raised earlier. The process of pumping out will not be rapid because the main land drainage pumps have been put out of action by the floods and, although emergency pumps have been brought in and are in use, it will be some time before the others that are on the way can be set up. However, knowing the people who are there, I am sure that they are doing everything that they possibly can.
There has been a major programme of work to improve sea defences in north Wales. A £10 million programme was started in Prestatyn in 1985, of which £5.5 million has been spent. A scheme costing £2.6 million was completed in Aberconwy this year and other schemes are planned for Llandudno's west and north shores. At Colwyn Bay, schemes in excess of £1.7 million have been completed to protect Rhos-on-Sea and a £1.3 million scheme for Colwyn promenade is due to start this spring.
If further work is required as a result of the lessons learned from the present emergency, my Department will be ready to consider grant aid for that work in the usual way and under the appropriate legislation.
I am sad to note that the Opposition have been as negative as ever in this debate. I wonder if they ever realise just how damaging their gloom and doom is to the morale of the people of Wales, and especially to our young people. Of course, the Opposition have a vested interest in misery, but it never ceases to amaze me how they can ignore every item of good news.
Did the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) not see in today's Liverpool Daily Postthe story headlined:Ten Million Pounds Vote of Confidence at the Sharp Endand another headlineTsuda Gets Bigger Ahead of Schedule"?Both related to the expansion of Japanese companies in north-east Wales. Is he not aware of the increased prosperity in his own constituency?
§ Mr. Roberts
Of course, I know that, but there is a Sharp factory in north-east Wales and the research expenditure in Oxford will back up that plant's future.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside is also fortunate is having the Toyota plant coming to his 482 constituency. He seems to have all the luck in the world but it does not do him any good. There are equally bullish stories in today's Western Mail.There is one headed,Wales set to cash in on the 1990s Boom".That expresses the views of David Kern, the chief economist at the National Westminister bank.
The hon. Gentleman muttered about the plight of small companies and businesses under the Government. Is he not aware that our stock of new businesses is up 16 per cent. since 1982 and stands at 82,000? Wales has had the highest growth in stocks of businesses in the United Kingdom. Its production industries were 59 per cent. up between 1979 and 1988. There have been 660 manufacturing plants set up since 1979, creating 44,000 jobs.
I say to the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), because both of us remember 1979 only too well, that the difference is that in 1979 Wales and Britain were running downhill and there was an enormous amount of hidden unemployment in the coal and steel industries. Even the right hon. Member had to face up to the necessity of closing uneconomic pits and making the steel industry viable by reducing capacity.
Much has been made today of wage rates in Wales. However, between 1988 and 1989, the increase in average adult weekly earnings in Wales was 9.9 per cent. above that for Great Britain as a whole, and the fourth highest regional percentage increase. I should have thought that that would cheer up Opposition Members. No fewer than six Welsh counties had increases slightly higher than the average for Great Britain.
Some industrial historical comparisons are also valid. I shall give hon. Members this one to think over. Between 1974 and 1979, average gross weekly earnings for full-time adults in Wales increased by 6.1 per cent. in real terms. Since 1984, the figure is 12.2 per cent. in real terms—exactly double the increase that the Labour Administration were able to achieve. I am sure that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) will be delighted with that because it will add to the confidence that he has been talking about creating among the Welsh people.
§ Mr. Rowlands
The Secretary of State frequently quotes to me the success of manufacturing in my area and exemplifies it by the Bluebird company. Will he give the average weekly wage of the women who work in that factory, compared with the average so-called weekly wage of £234 that he keeps quoting?
§ Mr. Roberts
The hon. Gentleman picks on a particular. He knows only too well that to argue from the general to the particular just does not hold water.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have emphasised the importance of education and training. Of course, expenditure per pupil is 13.6 per cent. more in real terms for 1987–88 compared with 1979–80. The pupil-teacher ratio overall is now down to 17.1:1. We hear a lot about teacher morale and so on—the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) spoke about that—but it is a fact that the teacher-pupil ratio is as good now as it has almost ever been.
As for training, the Secretary of State said what was absolutely true of the last Labour Government. This year, we are spending five times as much on training as they were spending in 1979–80. The figure then was £31 million and this year it is £149 million.
483 Hon. Members have spoken of skill centres. They have been transferred to Astra and will continue to provide training. That was the basis of the sale. The expertise of that management buy-out team, its proposals to development training provision and the advent of the training and enterprise councils should result in more responsive and effective training for the unemployed and employed in Wales.
It is clear that we should not easily be prepared to take lessons from Opposition Members when we are spending so much more than they spent on training and are taking training much more seriously, especially as we have now established a complete training and enterprise council network in Wales.
The community charge was mentioned by virtually every hon. Member who took part in the debate. It is clear, if only from the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, that Opposition Members support local authorities that are levying community charges higher than the Government believe are justified, and in spite of the 8.6 per cent. increase in aggregate external finance. That is the total of revenue support grant, national non-domestic rates and the most specific grants. Despite all of that being made available to local authorities — [Interruption.]The excellent settlement achieved by my right hon. Friend put the authorities in a very good position.
The increase in teachers' pay of 7.5 per cent. was fully allowed for, as were other burdens arising from legislation and other Government initiatives. I hope that electors will hold their councils accountable for their high spending, as the Government certainly will when we review local authority budgets and when my right hon. Friend considers whether to cap their spending to protect charge payers against unreasonable demands.
That we have heard so much about the community charge in Wales, where the percentage of Government grant is so much higher than in England that the charge should be about £100 less, suggests that it is the egalitarian principle that everyone should pay something towards the costs of their local authorities that is under attack.
During the debate we came across two points put to the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside. He was asked to guarantee that in the event of Labour Members coming to office they would maintain the differential of grant between England and Wales. It is about 20 per cent. But he failed to give that assurance.
I must now press the hon. Gentleman extremely hard on that. Is he saying that the next Labour Government would not preserve that 20 per cent. differential? He knows 484 that the rate of grant in Wales is 66 per cent. compared with 46 per cent. in England. I am now giving him every opportunity to say——
§ Mr. Roberts
I am putting the question to the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside, who is a member of the shadow Cabinet. Will he tell the people of Wales whether that differential will be preserved? Yes or no?
§ Mr. Barry Jones
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me at 9.59 pm. I want to tell him in all sincerity that, whenever there is a Labour Government, they always give Wales a much better deal than do the Conservatives——
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.