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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 130: debated on Monday 21 March 1988

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Wales

Aids

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the number of persons in Wales now diagnosed as having AIDS; what has been the increase during the past 12 months; and what estimate has been made of the probable increase over the next 12 months.

At the end of February 1988, 19 cases of AIDS in Wales had been reported to the communicable diseases surveillance centre, of whom 15 died. Comparable figures for the end of February 1987 were 11 and nine. It is extremely difficult to make a reliable estimate for Wales.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a number of recent studies, including one in the United States of America, suggest that the ultimate number of people suffering from the disease will be far greater than anticipated'? I do not wish to be alarmist, but will there be an upgrading of current plans to meet that possibility?

I have noted the various interesting results of studies into mortality rates for men aged between 15 and 64. My hon. Friend may be pleased to know that I have every confidence in the existing voluntary system of reporting AIDS deaths, although I am aware that not all are recorded. There may be HIV-related deaths that do not fall within the clinical definition of AIDS.

Do not the World Health Organisation and all medical authorities recognise AIDS as the greatest threat to human health this century? Are not the number of AIDS cases doubling every 12 months? Projected over 10 years, does that not pose a serious threat to a large number, perhaps even the majority, of the world's population?

In view of that enormous threat, will the Minister ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to use his voice in the Cabinet to plead for a massive increase in research funding so that a cure can be found for AIDS? Should not the Government introduce a major public education programme to prevent the spread of AIDS through promiscuity?

To begin at the end, a massive public education campaign has been launched through the Health Education Council and, indeed, the Welsh Health Promotion Authority, which has been active in schools, local authorities and elsewhere. I shall certainly pass on to my right hon. Friend the hon. Gentleman's point about international research. Indeed, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will read his comments.

Labour Statistics

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what was the combined total of persons employed in Wales in the coal and steel industries in 1979; what it is in 1988; and what are the equivalent figures for the electronic and information technology industries.

Employment in the steel industry and on the colliery books of British Coal amounted to 86,000 in 1979 and to 32,100 in 1987. Employment in the electronic and information technology industries in the same years was 17,500 and 23,100 respectively. I am pleased to tell the House that Race Electronics of Talbot Green, Mid Glamorgan, today announced a major additional investment of £11 million that will, over the next few years, produce 1,100 new jobs.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply, which I am sure will be greeted with enormous pleasure in south Wales. Does that trend show the advantages that will come to Wales from modernising the approach to the older, more traditional industries and, more important, the introduction of the new science-based industries?

When the right hon. Gentleman meets tha Alyn and Deeside council later this week to discuss modern industries and electronics, will he bear in mind that the council has good plans for the now redundant site of Connah's Quay power station, which could accommodate modern industry? However, the plan has hit a snag. Will the right hon. Gentleman listen carefully and sympathetically to the problems of the district council, so that Alyn and Deeside has the benefit of that site?

I cannot comment on the specific scheme, but I shall certainly listen to the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we warmly welcome any announcements of job creation in Wales? Does he agree that for the future of the Welsh economy, it is essential that design, development and research development are carried out within Wales? Would that not amount to a more genuine science-based economy than would intermediate or low technology?

Yes, which is why I am hopeful that developments in the Welsh universities, through new grants to encourage research as joint ventures between industrial companies and universities, will have a considerable impact in Wales.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that we welcome all new jobs in electronic and information technology, even though, as his figures show, they fall far short of the number of jobs that are needed? Does he recognise that many of the predominantly women production workers in the new industries earn little more than half the average national wage? The new industries are not replacing the lost, high-paid, male jobs.

As 120,000 fewer people in Wales are now either employed or self-employed than when the Government took office, is the right hon. Gentleman not concerned about the latest unemployment figures, which show that Wales is eighth worst of the 11 regions in the decline in unemployment since February 1987?

I am gald to say that, in fact in terms of the rate of reduction on the normal basis that has been used by all Governments—[Interruption.]—Wales is in the top three of the league. So far as the figures are concerned, I note, as always, the deep depression of the right hon. Gentleman. In the past year unemployment in Wales has come down by more than 25,000. The people of Wales find the right hon. Gentleman totally out of touch with the mood of the country.

Labour Statistics

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest unemployment figures for (i) Wales, (ii) West Glamorgan and (iii) Neath and what were the comparable figures for the same period in 1979.

On 11 February 1988 the number of unemployed claimants in Wales, West Glamorgan, and Neath districts were 145,458, 19,461 and 3,456 respectively. Unadjusted figures for 1979 are not available on a basis that enables a valid comparison to be made.

What would the right hon. Gentleman's reaction be to those figures if they occurred in his own constituency? As for the quality of the jobs to which he has referred this afternoon, do they carry the same earning power as those that have been lost? What assurances can he give to places that are suffering colliery closures, such as my own area with the Abernant colliery, that new jobs will replace the jobs that have been lost?

I deplore unemployment anywhere. In the recent recession, there was a substantial increase in unemployment in my constituency. Indeed, it reached the kind of figures that is now the average for Wales as a whole. In terms of the jobs coming into Wales, since the last Question Time we have had announcements from major American, German, Japanese and Welsh firms, which are all putting in a great deal of investment and providing many new jobs. It is time that the hon. Gentleman, and others, cheered up about it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the local economy in north-east Wales is recovering extremely strongly, as can be seen by the fact that unemployment has fallen faster there than in any other parts of Wales during the past year—in Delyn by 24·1 per cent., in Alyn and Deeside by 22·9 per cent. and in Wrexham by 22·5 per cent.?

Yes, I am pleased that the latest figures for advertisements for vacancies show an enormous increase. For example, the latest figures for the Liverpool Daily Post show an increase of 33 per cent. and the Western Mail and South Wales Echo show an increase of 47 per cent. over the same time last year.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the cuts in home improvement grants in the Budget will create more unemployment in Wales, especially as we have the poorest housing stock in Britain? Does he not think that we should retain those grants?

I was amused to see the great outcry about that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will put this matter into perspective. On the average loan for house improvements the result of the Budget change will be a detriment of £1·32 per week, but for the same person the tax savings from the Budget will be £4·58 per week. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the Budget is bad is totally wrong.

Do those figures not reveal that yet again in terms of unemployment south Wales is the blackspot of Europe? Will the Secretary of State reconsider the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), that in the past 12 months—February to February—our decline in employment is the eighth worst of 11 regions? Would this not be a good time to launch a housing drive, especially when one considers that Scotland, with double our population, spends four times the amount that we spend on housing? Perhaps the Secretary of State is perfectly content to see homelessness rise and Rachmanism take over.

The one thing that the hon. Gentleman is always guaranteed to do is to depict south Wales as a blackspot, but he does great harm to it every time he does so. I am glad to say that this year the local authorities alone in the valleys of south Wales will spend £48 million on housing improvements. The success of this Government in improving the housing of Wales compared with the failure of the Labour Government is remarkable.

Wales Tourist Board

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met the chairman of the Wales tourist board; and what matters were discussed.

My right hon. Friend last met the chairman on 13 January and discussed a range of issues. I met the chairman and the board on 19 February.

Will the Minister tell the House whether the Secretary of State has discussed with the chairman of the Wales tourist board the effects of the arson campaign on second homes in Wales, which we all deprecate and condemn entirely? Has he had any response from the tourist board of the effect on the tourist industry, in view of the 130 houses which have now been burnt and the many people who are now having difficulty in getting insurance on holiday homes? What initiatives has his right hon. Friend taken to bring this campaign to an end?

I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman condemn the arson campaign, and this morning I was glad to read in the Liverpool Daily Post the condemnation of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas). Naturally, my right hon. Friend and I join in that condemnation. We wholly deplore the arson campaign. The matter was not specifically discussed with the Wales tourst board, which is not the responsible body. It is a matter for the police and the Home Office.

As Welsh lamb is a delicacy much enjoyed by tourists, was the Minister able to assure the chairman of the Wales tourist board that no radioactive lamb contaminated above the official safety levels was sold in Wales, as it undoubtedly was in England due to official bungling?

I beg to doubt the hon. Lady's statement. Naturally we have taken every possible precaution to ensure that lamb that contains radiation above the accepted levels has not been sold. We have taken every possible step to prevent that, and I am glad to say that the outlook for the future is improving.

Is it not singularly inappropriate at this time that there should be this campaign of burning down holiday homes, in view of the fact that numerous people in many countries, including Wales, are now buying second homes in other countries, such as Spain, Italy and France? Is that not incongruous?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I think that the entire House deplores the arson campaign that has been going on, as the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) described. We wholly deplore it. It is needless, cowardly and thoroughly condemned by the people of Wales as a whole. It does irreparable harm to tourism and our reputation as a hospitable nation.

Opera

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to encourage the development of opera in Wales.

The Government's substantial support for the arts is channelled through the Arts Council of Great Britain in the first instance. Opera in Wales has been a major beneficiary of Arts Council grants, which have done much to encourage its development. I hope that that development will continue.

We in Wales have an outstanding reputation for opera. Will the Minister say when there may he a decision on the future of Craig-y-nos castle in my constituency, the home of the late Adelina Patti, where prominent opera lovers in Wales, including Sir Geraint Evans, are keen to establish a music centre to train young opera singers?

Many people would like to see the former home of Adelina Patti become the centre for opera and other kinds of music. There have been several other suggestions for the possible uses for Craig-y-nos, including the theatre. Tenders for the freehold of the property are being carefully considered and we shall take all relevant factors into account in reaching a decision. My right hon. Friend has already taken action to increase the protection of the theatre at Craig-y-nos by announcing its listing to grade 1.

Does my hon. Friend know of the proposal by a private developer, in co-operation with Rhuddlan borough council, to build a theatre adjacent to the Sun centre, which would provide a home for the Welsh National Opera when it visits north Wales? Will he take a benevolent interest in the project?

We take a benevolent interest in all proposals to increase the number of venues available for the Welsh National Opera company. My hon. Friend will be aware that the proposal that he mentioned is not the only one. We are proud of the Welsh National Opera company and are anxious to see it succeed still further.

I recognise the Welsh National Opera company's contribution to opera. Is the Minister aware that Craig-y-nos is not dependent on the Welsh National Opera for operatic performances? What help will he give to sustain possible future productions and the continuation of productions at Craig-y-nos over the years?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has sung there with the Neath operatic society. Perhaps the theatre should be kept in his honour as well as that of Adelina Patti. Of course, whatever assistance is given to any future performance is basically a matter for the Arts Council.

Welsh Craft Industry

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what proposals he has to implement the recommendations of Mr. Tony Ball's Welsh craft industry study for a coordinated marketing policy for Wales and Welsh products, to be implemented by the Welsh Development Agency, Mid Wales Development, the Welsh tourist board and other Welsh agencies.

There has been strong endorsement of Mr. Tony Ball's Welsh craft industry study and of his ideas for developing a more co-ordinated strategy for promoting Wales and its products. I shall be considering with the main bodies concerned how best to implement the recommendations.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if a co-ordinated all-Wales marketing effort is to be achieved the Welsh Office must take the initiative? Does he also agree that such an integrated marketing approach could only increase the impact of each Welsh agency's marketing, without undermining their independence?

The report showed many weaknesses and duplications in the existing systems. As I said, I shall have further discussion with the bodies involved, and then we will come to our conclusions.

When the right hon. Gentleman reaches his conclusions, will he bear in mind that many small craft producers in Wales consider that the WDA and Mid-Wales Development are rather remote? Will he take steps to ensure that the distance between them is reduced as far as possible?

Part of Mr. Ball's recommendation was that, in the manner in which the system operated at the moment, many smaller craft users were unable to identify exactly where they should go and from whom they should obtain advice. The recommendations pointing out that they should have freely available to them a point at which they can seek any advice or help are important.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Welsh craft industry would be sadly neglected if the Department of Employment were to close the workshop for the blind in Pontypridd? Is he aware also that proposals have been under discussion for the past two years? Only a matter of weeks ago an Employment Minister decided that he would cancel any financial arrangements for the new workshop in Pontypridd. Will the Secretary of State carry out an investigation and ensure that the application for a workshop for the blind people of mid-Glamorgan is renewed and that a new building is provided?

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I gather that he or one of his Ministers will have talks with at least one Welsh Member in the near future.

Hospital Waiting Lists

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the latest information he has on the number of people waiting for in-patient treatment as (a) urgent and (b) non-urgent cases in (i) Clwyd and (ii) Wales.

The number of people waiting for urgent inpatient treatment in Clwyd at 30 September 1987 was 383, and in Wales 3,596. The numbers waiting for non-urgent in-patient treatment were 4,491 and 36,262 respectively.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the promise that he made last August? He pledged that by the spring of 1988 no patient waiting for an urgent operation should have to wait more than one month, and no patient waiting for a non-urgent operation should have to wait for more than one year. Today is the first day of spring. Every person in Wales knows that the waiting list is as bad as it ever was. Patients in the main specialties, such as general surgery, orthopaedics, ENT, and urology are dying before they get to the top of the waiting list. Did the Minister make his pledge last August out of simple political bravado, to build up the hopes of Welsh people, only to dash them cruelly today? If he did not, what has gone wrong?

The hon. Gentleman is spreading alarm rather unnecessarily. He mentioned particular sectors, which he also brought up in the last Welsh Grand Committee—general surgery, ophthalmology, urology and orthopaedics. I am pleased to say that in Clwyd the authority has reported that the urgent in-patient list in these specifications will meet targets. In addition, urology and ophthalmology non-urgent in-patient lists will meet targets in the same county.

I naturally urge my hon. Friend to increase further spending on the National Health Service at the earliest opportunity. However, his campaign to improve waiting-list performance figures in Wales has already shown itself to be a remarkably effective way of achieving value for money and, at the same time, a worthwhile improvement in health performances.

My hon. Friend is right. Increased expenditure on the Health Service under this Government has led to a greatly increased provision of treatment for patients — for example, 24 per cent. more in-patients were treated than under the last Labour Government.

Did the Under-Secretary of State notice that, just a week ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave away over £4,000 million, much of it to people who did not need it, when it could have been used to help our health and social services? Does the hon. Gentleman recollect a claim made by the Secretary of State for Wales in The Observer that when he went to the Cabinet, he received every penny for which he asked? In view of the appalling waiting lists to which the hon. Gentleman has just confessed, which are even worse than the temporary peak of the winter of discontent, does he think that the Secretary of State asked for enough? How does he explain to the people of Wales why the Secretary of State did not ask for more?

It is worth pointing out that the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the Budget is not to do with expenditure. He is trying to beguile the general public, who may not appreciate that point. In the expenditure figures in the autumn, spending on the Health Service rose by £700 million more than the expenditure of a year before, which the right hon. Gentleman's party held out to be an electoral bribe.

Wales Tourist Board

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what was the total amount allocated for (i) publicity and (ii) marketing, within the annual budget for the Wales tourist board in 1980–81 and 1987–88.

The Wales tourist board's gross expenditure on marketing — including publicity which cannot be separately distinguished — increased from £1·55 million in 1980–81 to an estimated £3·493 million in 1987–88.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware of the concern that is felt in many parts of Wales that the board's publicity and marketing budget is still less than 50 per cent. of total expenditure? As that ought to be the major part of its work, will he ask the board to increase the proportion that it spends on these vital sectors?

The board spends a substantial proportion of its total budget on marketing, which is a very important part of its work, but it also has certain other costs, including expenditure on section 4 grants.

Will the Minister suggest to the chairman of the Wales tourist board that he arranges a meeting with the chairman of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, which has had a marked success in its publicity and marketing, and has developed a tourist initiative which works in harmony with the local community and benefits the local economy?

I am sure that all these non-governmental bodies have a great deal to learn from each other, but no one should underestimate the achievements of the Wales tourist board or the money that the Government have made available to it. The allocation for the current year is some £8·7 million and for next year it will be £9·2 million —an increase of 9 per cent. There has been an increase since 1983–84 of some 90 per cent. in the funds made available to the board, and it is making good use of those funds.

Should not my hon. Friend reconsider those figures in the light of the fact that the Wales tourist board will have to make substantial additional expenditure as it embarks upon an important programme of grading of hotels?

An increase of 9 per cent. in the board's resources for next year is very substantial, and this year we are making available additional funds of about £250,000 to promote marketing. As for hotel registration, the board already operates a voluntary system.

General Certificate Of Secondary Education

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the implementation of the GCSE examination in Wales.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware from an interim report published on 8 March that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools found that the GCSE is being successfully introduced. It is leading to better teaching and has succeeded in raising the motivation of pupils.

The Minister will be aware that many leading educationists in Wales are worried about the plight of 16-year-old students. They say that many are under a great deal of stress and that they are overworked. If so, what plans does the Minister have to remedy the problem?

I, too, have read the article from which the hon. Gentleman appears to be quoting, but in Wales there are others who welcome this development, and the HMI report is very favourable. We have spent more money on the introduction of this examination than on any previous examination.

Does the Minister accept that we endorse what he has said about the performance of the examination? Will he ensure that the proposals in the Education Reform Bill, which will be the subject of scrutiny this week, will not undermine the positive gains made in the assessment used for GCSE, and that the testing which the Secretary of State for Education and Science has in mind will not revert to more traditional roles but will retain the gains made by the GCSE?

We very much hope that the Education Reform Bill will enhance the performance of pupils. After all, the GCSE is intended to stretch children's ability. As for assessment, I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that in the coming year we shall spend about £855,000 in Wales on in-service assessment training for teachers.

Will the Minister join me in praising the efforts of teachers who have been working in extremely difficult conditions successfully to introduce the GCSE in Wales? Will he assure me that his Department will monitor the examination carefully, because early evidence suggests that pupils of average and below-average ability are having more than a little difficulty with the examination and that its purpose may be somewhat undermined?

As the inspectorate acknowledged, there are some teething troubles, but that is due simply to the introduction of the new examination. On the whole, it is progressing favourably. I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the teachers, who have done extremely well in introducing the examination, amd I am happy to say that in the current year we have spent about £859,000 on training teachers in respect of the GCSE.

Hospital And Health Plans

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what steps he will take to ensure full public availability of financial information on hospital and other health plans in South Glamorgan and in Wales as a whole.

It is already my right hon. Friend's policy that the strategic health service plans submitted to him for his approval by health authorities should contain a reconciliation of the district's service objectives and priorities with the resource assumptions provided by the Department.

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for that reply, and I am sure he will share my concern that a letter that I received this weekend from the chairman of the health authority seems to suggest that two promises will be broken. The first was that full financial information would be made available, although delayed from the date in December that was originally promised. The second was that the consultation period would be extended for the financial appraisal to be taken into account. Obviously, if the information was not made available, the extension will not make much sense.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the matter is of grave concern, and that it is impossible for us in the South Glamorgan area to take a sensible part in discussion about the plans? Will he draw to the attention of the chairman of the health authority the very sensible reply that he gave to my first question?

I am unable to comment on any promise that may or may not have been made to the hon. Gentleman. On the other hand, I think he will understand that, in the initial stages of consultation, it is not normal for the financial implications to be spelt out. Normally, that comes later. As far as I can see, the procedure is following its ordinary course and the guidelines laid down by the Welsh Office.

Will the Minister tell the House how much it would cost to reopen the high dependency unit in St. Tydfil hospital in Merthyr Tydfil? Can he give no fresh hope that extra resources will be provided to reopen the unit, which has £120,000 of equipment lying idle?

I see that the Mid-Glamorgan health authority has stated its intention to operate the unit in the long-term and that there is no question of closing it. It also claims that it is making a saving, with only three places operative up to this date, of some £30,000.

Will my hon. Friend consider seriously the representations that he is receiving from the Pembrokeshire health authority concerning the roof of Withybush hospital, which has been seriously damaged in recent years because of its construction? The health authority is expected to find the £500,000 to repair it when, in the first place, it was built under Welsh Office construction supervision. Moreover, its quality was seriously reduced because of the cuts under the last Government.

We are in negotiation with the Pembrokeshire health authority, to which we have made an offer.

Will the Minister also give an undertaking to reveal the financial and health costs of introducing charges for eye tests? Are such charges not likely to hinder detection of illness and lead to a further deterioration in the health of the people of Wales? By supporting the charges—as he is on record as doing—in conjunction with the massive tax handouts which will largely benefit the south-east of England, is the Minister not proving himself yet again to be a defender of the indefensible?

I shall ignore the second half of that question. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows the argument very well. We do not expect that those who pay for the eye tests—and many, as he knows, will not—will pay £10, the figure that has been put around. They may not be charged at all, because of competition. Opticians will still be under an obligation to report any disease or injury to the general practitioners of their patients, so there should be no spread of disease —despite what has, unfortunately and rather irresponsibly, been put around.

Rates

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the implications for rates in Wales following the House of Lords judgment on 11 February in the case of Clement v. Addis Ltd.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the statement made on 9 March by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

May I put on record my appreciation to the Secretary of State for any assistance that he gave in his discussions with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment preceding that statement? May I ask him specifically whether there is any opportunity whatever for the Welsh Office to make any additional financial help available to Swansea city council and West Glamorgan county council, which have suffered as a result of this decision of 11 February?

Provision is made so that the effects of an event such as this can be dealt with under section 67 of the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980. We are having discussions to see whether that applies in this case.

Health Service Staff

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on staffing levels in the Health Service in Wales.

Operational and managerial responsibility for the determination of staffing levels rests with individual health authorities. Since the Government took office there has been an overall increase of 16 per cent. in front-line staff and of 11 per cent. overall.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the recent British Medical Association report which revealed that there was a 50 per cent. shortage of medical record staff in Wales, with the result that treatment is being delayed, and carried out less efficiently in some cases, and that there are great problems of marrying laboratory results to medical records?

I hope that the arrangements to be made for manpower surveillance over the whole of the Health Service will help to make sure that manpower resources are available where they are most needed.

Duchy Of Lancaster

City Of Leicester

29.

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he next intends to visit those parts of the city of Leicester which are Duchy property.

I hope to visit the Duchy interests in Leicester as soon as the opportunity to do so arises.

Since the lamentable defeat of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, in 1261, is it not right that the Minister and his Duchy acquired responsibility for the honour and county of Leicester? As he has now very wisely given up his responsibility for fiddling the unemployment figures and instead is turning his attention to covering up the adverse trade balance of the nation, may I offer him the opportunity to take advantage of Leicester as soon as possible by applying for admission to either the Trinity hospital or the Wyggeston hospital, both of which I understand he still owns?

The penalties of political defeat were rather severe in 1265, so it is the case that the Duchy of Lancaster acquired entirely the honour and county of Leicester in the 13th century. We now own one property in the high street and have an interest in the Wyggeston and Trinity hospitals. I trust that the way in which the Duchy administers them gives rise to no complaints. The economy of Leicester is thriving rather well. Unemployment is falling and employment is rising. The Highfields task force, for which I am responsible in Leicester, is achieving great success in getting projects moving in that difficult part of the town.

Church Commissioners

Education Reform

30.

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, answering for the Church Commissioners, what representations the Church Commissioners have received on the implications for the area of the commissioners' responsibility of the Education Reform Bill.

Mr. Michael Alison
(Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing Church Commissioners)

The commissioners' involvement in the educational field is restricted to providing grants towards the stipends of chaplains in universities and polytechnics. They have received no representations on this matter.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the popularity of denominational schools underlines the desire of parents for religious education based upon the scriptures? Does he also agree that religious education should be taught by those with a sense of conviction, and is he happy with the role of religious education, in the Education Reform Bill?

I am delighted that the Education Reform Bill retains the compulsory provision of the 1944 Act for religious education and introduces a new complaints procedure in relation to the supervision of that instructuon. I agree with my hon. Friend that, almost universally, parents want religious education and they want it to be predominantly Christian and scriptural. I note that there will be an opportunity to debate these matters in the course of the next two or three days.

Vat (Religious Books)

31.

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, answering for the Church Commissioners, what representations he has received from the clergy regarding the implications for their standard of living of taxation on religious books.

The Church Commissioners have received no such representations. Parochial church councils are encouraged to reimburse a clergyman for the cost of books considered necessary to assist him in his ministry. Failing this, the Inland Revenue allows tax relief on certain categories of books. The imposition of VAT on books would have a significant effect on clergy, who, by the nature of their work, spend quite a lot on books.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his reply. Is he aware that the European Community is still determined to impose VAT on books, and that this will not only be a tax on learning but in this instance a tax on religion as well? That will affect not only the members of the Church of England for whom the right hon. Gentleman answers, but Catholics, Muslims, Hindus and all the other religious denominations which he does not represent. Will he make representations to his hon. Friends to ensure that VAT is not imposed on religious books?

I note that a Treasury Minister in a written answer on 18 January stated that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already made it clear that the United Kingdom will not accept proposals which restrict our right to apply zero rating.

Is not my right hon. Friend vigorous in his defence of the rights of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of this House to determine taxation? Is not his reluctance to allow Lord Cockfield to impose taxation upon religious books just as robust as that of the Prime Minister?

I am not quite sure that I can reach Lord Cockfield with quite as ready accessibility as I can reach my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Public Accounts Commission

Public Accounts Committee

32.

To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission if he will give details of the occasions since 1986 when the Public Accounts Commission has received advice from the Public Accounts Committee under section 4(2) and (3) of the National Audit Act 1983.

The Public Accounts Commission considered and approved the National Audit Office's proposed Estimates for the financial years 1987–88 and 1988–89 at its meetings on 3 February 1987 and 15 December 1987 respectively. Before approving the Estimates the Commission had regard to the advice of the Public Accounts Committee as it is obliged to do.

Has the Public Accounts Committee advised the Commission on the number of National Audit Office reports issued to Parliament? Will the hon. Gentleman also give us his own view on whether enough time is allowed on the Floor of the House for these very important reports to be debated for the benefit of hon. Members on both sides of the House?

Yes, Sir. We understand from the Public Accounts Committee that the National Audit Office is expecting to produce 50 reports a year by 1992–93, which is a significant increase.

As to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, much as I should like to give my personal view, I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is a member of the Commission and no doubt heard what the hon. Gentleman had to say.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that one of the matters on which the PAC has given such advice— he was involved in this — was the need for a decent salary for the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland? In view of the serious staffing difficulties in that regard, is he pressing Ministers to ensure that the matter is soon resolved?

I can tell my hon. Friend that one of the matters that the PAC is considering at present is the salary of the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland.

Wales

Health Authorities (Financial Deficits)

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he has any proposals to help Welsh health authorities overcome their financial deficits.

This year supplementary revenue funding amounting to £23·3 million has been provided to district health authorities in Wales to help them meet financial pressures. This brings the cash increase in DHA revenue funding to £60·5 million, or 9·1 per cent., over the 1986–87 provision. Loans of £2·3 million have also been provided to the two authorities with cash flow problems.

Does the Minister agree that the situation for all health authorities in Wales is extremely serious? Is he aware that, as we approach the new financial year, Mid-Glamorgan area health authority already knows that, unless the Government fund in full the nurses' pay award, it will be £5 million short in the coming year? Does the Minister agree that most of the deficit finance problems of the Health Service in Wales are due to the Government's previous failure to fund properly the pay awards to the nurses?

The hon. Gentleman will remember that last year some 97 per cent. of the cost of the review body awards were funded by central Government and were, therefore, not met from health authority budgets. If Mid-Glamorgan area health authority had put into operation cost savings and tendering programmes, as it was urged to do, it would not be in this position.

How much less would be spent on the NHS in Wales if expenditure had remained at the 1979 percentage of gross domestic product, namely, 4·7 per cent. and not risen to today's level of 5·4 per cent. of GDP? The expenditure on the NHS in England and Wales is £2·9 billion. Will my hon. Friend tell us what the figure is for Wales alone?

Since the rise is about 35 per cent. in real terms I shall leave my hon. Friend to work out the mathematics of that one.

Labour Statistics

17.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many people were out of work in May 1979 and on the latest available date in (a) Clwyd and (b) Wales; and what increases these are in percentage terms.

On II February 1988 the number of unemployed claimants in Clwyd was 19,024. Unadjusted figures for 1979 are not available on a basis that enables a valid comparison to be made.

The seasonally adjusted numbers of unemployed claimants in Wales in May 1979 and February 1988 were 73,100 and 136,700 respectively. I am pleased to say the latest figure shows a decrease of 23 per cent. over the past months.

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that later this week he will meet Clwyd county council? Will he give sympathetic consideration to the case that the council will make to build a new crossing of the River Dee? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that, if he gives such sympathetic consideration many new jobs will be developed in an area where there is still mass unemployment?

I gather that it is a local authority scheme and I shall, of course, listen with interest to what the authority has to say.

House Of Commons

Annunciators

33.

To ask the Lord President of the Council if he will make a statement on announcements about Government business on the House of Commons annunciators.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. John Wakeham)

On Mondays to Thursdays the House of Commons annunciators display continuously, from fpm until the House convenes, any private notice questions and statements that are due to be taken at the commencement of public business. On Fridays any such announcement is usually shown first at 10 am and then at regular 15-minute intervals for a two-minute period until the statement is made.

I would be pleased if consideration could be given to keeping information about statements on the annunciators after 2.30 pm. Can my right hon. Friend say when he expects us to see that?

I hope my hon. Friend will recognise that there are physical limits to what can be done. However, it may be possible to accommodate the words, "Statement at 3.30 pm" or "Private notice question at 3.30 pm" on the top of the screen. In view of my hon. Friend's request I have referred this matter to the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee for further consideration.

While I would not necessarily want to hear every speech made in this Chamber if I were not present, is it not now technically possible to use the annunciator system to take a sound feed so that Members in their offices can listen to debates? When the Select Committee considers the televising of Parliament, could it consider the possibility of having pictures as well as sound on the annunciators?

I imagine that both those things would be possible, but they would require further consideration and decision by the House. I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's points in mind.

I appreciate that there are time restrictions with regard to private notice questions, but it is often the case that the Government know that a statement will be made, possibly even a day or so beforehand, yet no notice appears until 1 o'clock. Therefore, those hon. Members with lunch engagements go to those engagements without being aware that a statement is to be made. Is there any reason why, for example, the fact that there was to be a statement made today could not have been on the annunciator during the course of the morning?

First, there are questions regarding seeking Mr. Speaker's permission to make a statement and so on, but I will bear what my hon. Friend has said in mind. However, I believe that the present arrangements are the most satisfactory.

Still And Carbonated Waters

34.

To ask the Lord President of the Council what quantity of still and carbonated waters were sold in the House of Commons Refreshment Department in the last year; from what countries; and if he will make a statement.

I have been asked to reply.

In the year ending February 1988, 34,000 bottles of still and carbonated spring and mineral waters were sold by the Refreshment Department. Of those, 10,300 pints were British and 13,700 pints were French. The Catering Sub-Committee has recently decided to promote the sale of British waters by selecting waters from England, Scotland and Wales that will bear the House of Commons own label. It is hoped that those waters will be available for sale after the Easter recess, and we shall also be selling them in the Kiosk, thereby doubling the amount that we sell each year and making an increased profit.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. May I remind him that he, the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds South (M r. Rees) and I were members of the Sub-Committee that chose the excellent English, Scottish and Welsh waters that the House has so enjoyed? Has the time not come to eliminate French waters from this House?

We do not intend to eliminate Perrier water. That would be totally undemocratic and it would be very much more difficult to obtain.

I am ashamed and disgusted that we carry foreign waters in this place. What about fighting for Britain? What about the British waters? It is high time that the policy was changed.

In reply to the hon. Gentleman, I can state that that is exactly what we are doing, and I am grateful to him for the compliment.

Welsh Language

35.

To ask the Lord President of the Council what assessment he has made of the cost of using simultaneous translation facilities in the Welsh Grand Committee so as to allow for the use of Welsh in its proceedings.

None, Sir. It is a rule of the House that all proceedings should be conducted in English.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the divisiveness that the Welsh language can and does cause in the Principality. Would this not be an inexpensive investment in confirming the unity of the United Kingdom?

That is a matter for the House, not for me. However, I very much doubt whether it would he approved by the House.

Bearing in mind that this year we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the translation of the Bible into Welsh and the fact that more than one-third of hon. Members from Wales now speak Welsh, does the right hon. Gentleman not believe that this year would be the appropriate time to introduce Welsh into the proceedings of the House?

No. The proceedings of the House have been conducted in English for many hundreds of years and I believe that that policy should continue.

In view of the large number of English Members who signed the early-day motion on this subject, will my right hon. Friend arrange for them to have Welsh lessons?

Will the Lord President of the Council resist this proposition? Is he aware that the proceedings of the Welsh Grand Committee are broadcast? Therefore, many of our countrymen who do not speak the language would be deprived of hearing the speeches made by Welsh Members if those speeches were made in Welsh.

The hon. Gentleman speaks with great experience. The rule regarding the use of the English language extends to the Committees of the House. I understand that on two occasions, once in the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs and once in the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, a language other than English was used by a witness giving evidence. However, an interpreter was present and the records of the meetings were produced only in English.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the four-fifths of people in Wales who do not speak Welsh will be grateful to him for his sensible decision? Does he also accept that if he were to give way to this unreasonable request, groups speaking many other languages in the United Kingdom—and some groups may be as large as the Welsh-speaking group — would want to make a similar claim on the House?

As usual, my hon. Friend has widened the subject very well. He has made a very good point and I will take note of it.

Aerosols

36.

To ask the Lord President of the Council if there are any plans to ban the use of aerosols in the Palace of Westminster; and if he will make a statement.

Does the Minister not realise that Prince Charles has already banned the use of dangerous aerosols——

Yes, but we must not bring in the private opinions of members of the royal family to support arguments.

It is a stated public opinion of the royal family that the aerosols are dangerous and the royal family are not using them in their homes. Prince Charles made his statement as an environmentalist who is concerned about the environment. In the light of recent reports that there has been a 3 per cent. depletion of the protective ozone layer over Britain, and that every 1 per cent. by which that ozone layer is depleted causes the incidence of skin cancer to increase between 5 and 7 per cent., should not the Government take the issue seriously, set an example and ban the use of CFC-bearing aerosol cans in the Palace of Westminster and in all Government Departments, especially the Department of the Environment?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that not all aerosols are subject to this restriction. The restriction applies only to those aerosols which contain chlorofluorocarbons. I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that by signing the Montreal protocol the Government are committed to reducing the use of those chemicals in this country by 50 per cent. before the end of the century. We are looking to all users in refrigeration, insulation and dry cleaning—as well as aerosols—to contribute towards that reduction. To that end the Government are adopting a more far-reaching and co-ordinated policy that will produce greater environmental benefits.

Is the Lord President of the Council aware that if aerosol sprays are banned from the Palace of Westminister hon. Members run the risk of becoming extinct? A lot of hot air is spoken here late at night.

Any such ban would ultimately be for the House to decide. While I would not discourage any decision by individual Members or Officers of the House not to use aerosols containing chlorofluorocarbons, it would not be appropriate to ban their use. Voluntary action is likely to be more effective, and the British aerosol industry, which has already made a significant contribution to reducing emissions, expects virtually to phase out the use of CFCs within the next few years.