No, not now.
The 20 per cent. rule has been condemned by every independent and professional body. It is to be removed under the council tax, yet the Government insist on keeping it while the poll tax remains. The rule is a disaster and a disgrace, and it is making the poll tax even more difficult to collect. It punishes the poor and it has created debt and hardship. In his passionate intervention earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) spoke the truth.
These orders relate to housing and the Government have created a housing crisis. With over 70,000 people on waiting lists in Wales, homelessness at record levels and mortgage repossessions soaring, it is time for action by the Government, but they have cut the supply of affordable homes to rent. Capital allocations mean that few, if any, council houses will be built next year. In 1975, under the Labour Government, there were 8,294 council house starts. In 1990, the figure was down to just 350. Little wonder that homelessness has doubled in Wales since 1979.
These orders also refer to the attempts by local authorities to generate employment, something that they do very well in Wales. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity finally to come out in support of RECHAR and additionality, which is of such great importance to the south Wales coalfield? It is about time that he chose between party and country and I ask him to stand up and fight for Wales.
This issue threatens to spread beyond the £18 million for the south Wales coalfield. Lack of progress on the additionality issue could threaten European grants and aid worth £18 million to Wales. The blame lies clearly with Her Majesty's Government. This dispute could not be happening at a worse time. Unemployment in Wales increased by 35 per cent. in the last 12 months, yet the Government are blocking millions of pounds for positive local authority initiatives to strengthen the economy, create employment and improve skills. In south Wales alone, not only RECHAR money worth £18 million but over £40 million in regional development funds are at risk. The projects at risk include phase 3 of Cardiff (Wales) Airport business park, the Tawe valley development project in west Glamorgan, the Crumlin navigation regeneration project in Gwent and the valleys innovation centre at Abercynon in Mid-Glamorgan.
This is the record that I honestly believe will put Welsh Ministers at risk when the general election comes. The record of Her Majesty's Government is poor and I was not surprised to see recently an article about the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), the Under-Secretary. The West Wales Guardian published an article on its front page headed, "Nick's Seat At Risk". It said:
Although … the major parties are running neck and neck nationally the regional patterns are not uniform and the swing in Wales forecasts that the Pembroke seat held by Welsh Office Minister Mr. Nicholas Bennett is marginal and will fall to Labour.
This detailed analysis comes not from an impartial newspaper, but from one that favours the Conservatives. I am surprised to see that it is prepared to print the truth and predict that the excellent Labour candidate, Nick Ainger, will win the seat by 2,400 votes.