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Volume 174: debated on Monday 18 June 1990

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Local Management Of Schools


To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what proportion of education spending has been held back from local management of schools by each local education authority in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your felicitious greeting and I thank the House for its generous approbation.

The average figure is around 33 per cent. I will circulate the figures for each local education authority in the, Official Report, and I will place a copy in the Library of the House.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister, the most Welsh of all Welsh hon. Members, on a richly deserved honour that is warmly welcomed throughout Wales.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that 33 per cent. is too high. What steps will he take to urge all councils to follow the example of my local council in trying to ensure that as much money as possible makes its way to schools? What assurance can parents obtain that their own local schools will have a fair crack of the whip, bearing in mind that major repairs and capital works are still excluded from LMS schemes?

My hon. Friend is quite right. Of course, about 10 per cent. is allowed to be held centrally under LMS schemes as submitted to us, but that leaves a considerable amount at the discretion of local authorities. On average, authorities have held back about 22·5 per cent., but that masks a wide variation from 17 to 27·5 per cent. Certainly, as LMS schemes proceed, I should expect to see a rapid reduction in the proportion of resources retained centrally. I am sure that governors, headmasters and so on will be looking forward to seeing LMS statements produced by local authorities which show just where the money is going.

Does the Minister accept that in rural Wales, particularly in Powys, formula funding is beginning to cause extreme hardship to village schools and that some may close as a result? Will he review the situation so that more resources are made available for the funding of village schools under LMS schemes?

The totality of resources available for education has not been reduced at all under LMS schemes. Through LMS schemes, we have tried to ensure that as much of the money as possible is spent directly at the chalk face. With regard to small schools, about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned, a factor called the small schools protection factor could have been built in, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman's local authority would take such a factor into its scheme.

Following is the information:

Percentage of general schools budget retained by LEA

Mid Glamorgan32·71
South Glamorgan24·81
West Glamorgan31·77

The details of this information have been extracted from each authority's LMS scheme submission and are not strictly comparable because the information has been supplied using different price bases. Precise figures will be included in the LEAs' first LMS budget statements, which are currently awaited.

Brymbo Steel


To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to maintain steel making at Brymbo steel.


To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to secure the maintenance of steel making at Brymbo steel.

At my request, the Welsh Development Agency has been exploring with United Engineering Steels all the possible options for the future of Brymbo steelworks.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for getting Welsh Development International to market Brymbo steel world wide. He must know that potential bidders may be put off because they may think that United Engineering Steels will want to close the plant rather than allow it to compete. Will he take this opportunity to say that no potential bidder, person or business should fail to show an interest or be prepared to make a bid, no matter what steel business they are in? There must be a possibility, whatever happens, that United Engineering Steels will be prepared to sell Brymbo as a going concern.

I should make it clear that I have asked the Welsh Development Agency to explore all possible options—and I stress the phrase "all possible options". I know of no circumstances in which United Engineering Steels has said that it would not be prepared to consider a positive and constructive solution for the future of the Brymbo steelworks.

The Secretary of State must be aware that only last week Brymbo steelworks achieved a record tonnage from its melting shop and that the work force are extremely hardworking and concerned about profitability and competition, as they have been for many years. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will take that into account when considering negotiations with UES and that he will also bear in mind that the steelworks is not being closed because it is not competitive or profitable. This is a completely different situation. Will the right hon. Gentleman take that into account?

I readily endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the work force and merely add that the record that was broken last week had been set just the week before. This morning I had the opportunity of inviting in representatives of the work force, who confirmed what the hon. Gentleman has said. I know the Brymbo community and I know that it is a strong and important community in north Wales. I am certainly prepared to do everything possible to help it.

First, may I offer my right hon. Friend the warmest welcome to his new responsibilities? Is he aware that in a very short period he has already established a reputation as one who will fight hard for the interests of Wales—in conflict, if need be, with market forces which might otherwise allow so fine a work force to be disposed of?

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not go too far down the route that he has opened up for me, save to say that although the ultimate decision about the future of the works must rest with the company, I am determined that the Welsh Development Agency should explore all possible options. Only this morning I received a progress report from its chairman, Dr. Gwyn Jones, who has taken such a personal interest in the project.

I join fellow hon. Members representing the county of Clwyd giving the strongest in support to the Brymbo work force, whose reputation stretches way beyond the constituency of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's assurance that all options will be explored and I know that he will take on board the cross-party belief in Brymbo throughout the county. Does my right hon. Friend accept that we are all behind him in every effort that he can make to keep the steelworks open?

If I needed any pressure, I confirm that it has come from all parties. The greatest pressure, however, must be attributed to the community which, as has already been said in these short responses, has established one production record after another and has a reputation for quality. That is why it is receiving such support from all hon. Members.

First, I sincerely congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment to the Cabinet. It is a great achievement and he now heads a fascinating Department of State. I wish him well in all that he seeks to do for the people of Wales. Nevertheless, does he agree with the Bishop of St. Asaph that the company at Brymbo should collaborate in every way in finding a new buyer for a going concern? Does he further agree that it is wrong for an anonymous board of directors far away from loyal, productive Brymbo to have taken a decision which has plunged Brymbo and all its community into uncertainty and dismay?

Finally, is not it a grave comment on our industrial prospects that the superb and excellent steelworks at Brymbo is being hawked around the embassies of the world for a buyer when it is still highly productive and highly profitable? Given the right hon. Gentleman's detachment from the Cabinet's non-interventionist, market-forces stance, and his assurance that he will help, we now call on him for a supreme effort to help the Brymbo steelworks.

First, I thank the hon. Member for Ayln and Deeside (Mr. Jones), as I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) and for Delyn (Mr. Raffan), for their warm welcome to me at the Dispatch Box. I regard becoming Secretary of State for Wales as the greatest honour that can be achieved in the House, bar one—[Interruption.] I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for reminding me that that one is your own.

I met the Bishop of St. Asaph in north Wales last week, when he made the point just made by the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside. I accepted the validity of it then, as I do now. We shall not make much progress by castigating the company. I met representatives of the company two days after the initial announcement, when they readily responded to my request to make their books and financial information available to the Welsh Development Agency. I know of no circumstances in which the company has said that it would be at all unreasonable about the eventual solution.

Employment Training


To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to maintain employment training in Wales.

Employment training in the future will be delivered by the employer-led training and enterprise councils. I am confident that they will provide a first-class service tailored to local needs.

On behalf of my Opposition colleagues, I offer congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on his honour. He must know that, above the party battle, he enjoys much affection from all hon. Members.

In view of the proposed closures of the Blaenant colliery and the Brymbo steelworks, will there be special training programmes to meet the requirements of those who cannot be accommodated within their existing industries? Are there likely to be special training facilities available in Neath and Brymbo to deal with the problems that will arise in relation to young people for whom the industrial disasters in Wales will create difficult employment problems?

I am well aware that the closure of Blaenant colliery led to 580 redundancies. I am glad to say that, as we have designated that district as an area of large-scale redundancy, this means that there will be immediate entry to the employment training programme for those involved. The programmes's capacity to cope with the numbers involved will depend on the number of applicants from among the coalminers, but we are monitoring the position carefully through the Training Agency. It is a little premature to talk of such designation in relation to Brymbo.

Is the Minister of State aware that the new programme has reduced the number of places in Mid Glamorgan by 538? Is he also aware that when the community programme was thrown out there were 300 redundancies on Community Action Training Ogwr alone of which I am chairman in Mid Glamorgan? Is he also aware that the underfunding will mean that a number of training agencies will close their books, thus pushing trainers and trainees back on to the dole queue? Is it not time for some stability in the training programme so that trainers can plan their programmes?

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's connection with the community training organisation at Ogwr. I am happy that at least all the employment training providers in Mid Glamorgan have re-contracted. I know that CATO did not get all the 250 places that it asked for. It received 217 places, however, which partly reflects the fall in the occupancy rate from 292 to 220 by 9 May this year.

Bearing in mind 1992 and the opening of the channel tunnel, and the ferocious competition to which Wales and Britain will be subjected in the years immediately ahead, does the Minister agree that we need more investment in training? I emphasise the localities of Blaenant, Swansea, Kidwelly, Hirwaun and Brymbo and the problems associated with the loss of 2,000 jobs. We do not want any complacency. Why has the Minister of State accepted a £2·5 million, 7·5 per cent. cut in employment training?

The hon. Gentleman must not seek to outdo me in stressing the importance of training. I fully agree with what he has said—we have always placed it in the forefront and given it the very highest priority. This year there is a total budget of £144,324,000 for spending through the Training Agency in Wales. That is a little less than last year, but the agency underspent last year. The employment situation has improved and employment prospects are good, despite the small increase in unemployment last month.

Training is all-important, and we have been highly successful in setting up training and enterprise councils throughout Wales. All are in the development stage and we trust that they will all be up and running before the end of the year.

Order. We are making rather slow progress. I ask for brief questions, and then perhaps we shall have briefer answers.



To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has had concerning the beef industry within Wales.

I have received a number of representations on a variety of issues concerning the beef industry, including BSE.

In his new capacity as agriculture Minister for Wales, has the right hon. Gentleman given consideration to the financial impact of BSE and the new European settlement on Welsh farmers? Does he agree that it is particularly unfortunate that they should be hit, since, by and large, they were not responsible for the outbreak of the disease? They certainly were not consulted on the negotiations in Brussels, and they have completely rejected the negotiated settlement.

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer two specific questions—[Interruption.]

In the event of a sustained and substantial fall in prices of cull cows, will the Secretary of State consider introducing some compensatory mechanism? In as much as there is a direct link between the specialist suckler herds and the dairy herds which are infected by BSE, how will he ensure that exports of the former are not affected by the ban on dairy cattle exports?

I welcome the opportunity to make it absolutely clear, not just to the people of Wales but to the people of the United Kingdom, that there is no risk to public health from eating British beef. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would also make that absolutely clear.

Intervention procedures are flexible and will meet the situation as and when it arises, as they have already done under the intervention arrangements.