Welsh Affairs

– in the House of Commons at 4:52 pm on 29th February 1996.

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Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales 4:52 pm, 29th February 1996

It is a great pleasure to open this annual debate on Welsh affairs. I am pleased that we can celebrate St. David's day by debating Welsh issues.

I know that you, Madam Speaker, were pleased to celebrate St. David's day this morning by receiving daffodils from five-year-old Megan Godwin representing the children of Wales. Tomorrow, I shall be pleased to welcome His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to the Welsh Office in Cardiff where he will meet many staff.

We shall celebrate St. David's day tomorrow by announcing one of the largest investment projects to come to Wales in recent times. It demonstrates clearly the points that I intend to highlight in my remarks today: the undeniable momentum behind the Welsh economy, the importance of driving up levels of education and training, and the benefits that accrue to Wales from being part of the United Kingdom. I intend also to discuss at some length our approach to the environment, particularly in light of the Sea Empress incident about which I shall say a good deal. I shall also make some important announcements about the future responsibilities of local government in Wales.

The economic background to today's debate is good— as it is across the United Kingdom. The Government's policies aim to deliver low inflation, sound public finance and an efficient economy. They are the features that enable businesses to create wealth and deliver increased employment and rising living standards. That is true for this, and for any other, country. Our international competitors know that now, but we have set the pace. Interest rates have been set to achieve underlying inflation of 2.5 per cent. or less, and inflation has been below 4 per cent. for more than three years—which is the best run for almost half a century. Unemployment in the United Kingdom is now well below the European average.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Opposition Whip (Commons)

I ask the Secretary of State to clarify a report which appeared in yesterday's Western Mail that European Union objective 2 status may be lost in Neath, Port Talbot and parts of Cardiff and that funds may be switched to parts of England in order to benefit the Conservatives. I am sure that he will agree that the Welsh Office should fight hard on behalf of areas such as mine where unemployment is still very high in real terms.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I certainly do not wish to see the status of those areas change in any way. The Government do not plan to propose any change in their status and we do not want the European Commission to do so. I shall visit Brussels next Monday, when I shall make that point to the European Commission.

Total United Kingdom industrial production is at record levels, manufacturing investment has risen 12 per cent. in a year and the public sector borrowing requirement has fallen. They are the major strengths of the United Kingdom's economic recovery. Wales shares in that economic record and it exceeds the average United Kingdom performance in some important respects. Output in Wales rose by more than 4 per cent. in the year to September 1995 and manufacturing output rose by 3.7 per cent. Since 1990, average wage levels in Wales have risen faster than in Great Britain as a whole.

Unemployment has fallen by 22 per cent. since the end of 1992. The old image of Wales as an area of chronic structural unemployment has not been true for some time. Unemployment in Wales has been at or near the United Kingdom average for 18 months. No Government since the 1920s—and no Labour Government—have been able to say that.

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West

Will the Secretary of State revise his comments in view of the fact that the failure to keep the level of unemployment to that inherited by the Government in 1979 has meant the loss of 1 million man years of work in Wales and £13 billion in earnings?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I am painting a different picture of the Welsh economy today—one of rapid improvement and greater employment in manufacturing and elsewhere. Since 1985, manufacturing employment in Wales has increased more than it has in any other region of the United Kingdom. Looking to the future—which is what really counts—a recent Dun and Bradstreet survey found that almost 80 per cent. of Welsh firms expect to increase their sales, which is the highest proportion in Great Britain; almost 70 per cent. of Welsh firms expect to increase their exports, which is the highest proportion in Great Britain; and almost two thirds of Welsh firms expect to increase their employment, which is the highest proportion in Great Britain.

That is the background to the Welsh economy. The Government aim to keep Britain on course to becoming the enterprise centre of Europe. My ambitions for Wales are no less: I want Wales to be an enterprise centre in Britain. Our history, skills and recent performance give me confidence that Wales can be at the leading edge of the United Kingdom's economic success.

Photo of Mr Llew Smith Mr Llew Smith , Blaenau Gwent

I shall put the question posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) in a different way. Will the Secretary of State comment on the fact that, since the Tories came to power in May 1979, 500 million working days have been lost in Wales through unemployment?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman must recognise that unavoidable structural changes have occurred in the Welsh economy. The steel works at Port Talbot, which employs 4,000 workers, produces more steel now than it did in 1980 when it had a work force of 18,000. We could not have set our face against those changes and maintained competitive industries by refusing to embrace progress. Instead, we have ensured that new industries come to Wales, and there is more evidence every week that that effort is gaining momentum. We must now take that success forward, and public and private bodies must work together to do so. Wales has a strong tradition of partnership and team work, and nowhere is that more important than in winning inward investment.

More than 70,000 people are now employed in Wales by overseas-owned manufacturing companies. Those companies provide tremendous employment opportunities and a healthy diversification of industrial activity. They also create opportunities for indigenous companies.

Competition for inward investment has become fierce. Wales continues to perform to the envy of many other regions in the United Kingdom, but we cannot rest on our laurels. I was delighted to announce, a few weeks ago, the first major investment from Korea, following my recent visit to that most promising market and much hard work by other people. That investment means 300 new jobs as a start—a shot in the arm for the valleys. There is more good news on the way.

I want to pay tribute to the hard work of the Welsh Development Agency, which has been much criticised in the past. The people who run the agency have done a lot of work to put the problems behind them. I am committed to maintaining and building on the success of Wales and I urge everyone involved in industrial development—and parties in the House—to join in the team Wales effort.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I am spoilt for choice, but I shall give way to the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells).

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells , Pontypridd

I agree with the Secretary of State's point about the Welsh Development Agency and the need not to rest on our laurels, but can he tell us why we lost the Chunghwa Picture Tube Company factory? Why did that factory go not to Cardiff, but to Lanarkshire? Why is it generally understood that the Welsh Development Agency was out-performed by the Lanarkshire development agency and Locate in Scotland? Will the Secretary of State inquire into the reasons for the loss of that contract and publish his final report so that we can all read it?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

We will not win every project. We know that. We compete for many projects that we will not win because other people are bound to win some of them. There are many factors involved in such decisions, including the suitability of the site, the proximity to other businesses in the same industry, and development area or assisted area status. All those factors come together and the decisions are very complex.

I have inquired about the project that the hon. Member mentioned and I am well aware of the details. I do not believe that the contract was lost by Wales because of any failing in the WDA or in the work that was done on the project. Such decisions are based on complex factors, some of which I have mentioned, which sometimes bring success to Wales and sometimes bring it to other parts of the United Kingdom. I shall announce a major inward investment project tomorrow, and people in other parts of the United Kingdom and Europe will ask why they did not get the contract. This time, we will be the successful ones.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

Members of my party join others in rejoicing at the success of the Welsh economy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] They are doing some very important things.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells , Pontypridd

Perhaps they are watching rugby.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

The rugby is on Saturday and this is Thursday.

I emphasise that the kind of success that inward investment brings has not benefited the western regions of Wales—eastern areas, including Montgomeryshire and places that are close to the English border and have links with the midlands, have benefited. Will the Secretary of State undertake to emphasise the importance of strengthening the economy of the western regions of Wales, because their weaknesses show not just in unemployment figures, but in figures for outward migration by the young? There are many deep, structural weaknesses in the economies of those regions.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

Of course it is important to try to share the benefits of inward investment. That is why we have set a target for the Welsh Development Agency for the proportion of investment to areas outside the M4 and A55 corridors. I shall reaffirm that target for the coming year— I have reaffirmed it in my discussions with the Welsh Development Agency in the past few days. I recognise the importance of what the hon. Gentleman says, but an independent Wales would do nothing like as well at attracting inward investment. He and his party should bear that in mind when they consider the subject.

Photo of Mr Rhodri Morgan Mr Rhodri Morgan , Cardiff West

Before the Secretary of State leaves the subject of the Chunghwa Picture Tube Company, will he confirm whether our failure to land that project had anything to do with the cut of £30 million in his Department's budget for regional selective assistance, as revealed in the Department's report a year ago, and the £40 million cut in the budget of the Welsh Development Agency, giving altogether a cut of more than £70 million and almost halving the budget available for regional economic development in 1995–96?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

There has been no reduction on such a scale in support for regional development. The hon. Gentleman may be quoting a figure that refers to more than changes in regional selective assistance. In any case, regional selective assistance is a demand-led expenditure, so it works the other way round from the way he suggests. Provision for regional selective assistance falls or rises as the projects that are eligible for it come in or fail to come in. The change that the hon. Gentleman mentioned may be a reflection of the level of inward investment in that year, but it is not the cause of that level, as his question suggested. The hon. Gentleman will notice that I have allocated a substantial sum for regional selective assistance when we discuss the new departmental report in a few weeks' time.

No economy can succeed by inward investment alone. Indigenous firms are crucial, not least the smaller ones. Half of all manufacturing employment in Wales is in firms with fewer than 200 employees.

Firms need fast access to first-class advice and information about the public sector support available to them. That is why in January we launched business connect—covering the whole of Wales and the full range of public sector services. With one telephone call, anyone can have access to the whole network of public support.

Export promotion is a key component of Government policy. In the first trade mission programme, we covered 30 countries, resulting in £87 million-worth of new business for more than 250 Welsh businesses. I have now extended that programme for a further three years. I hope that that will allow a further 24 missions and that it will have something to offer companies of all sizes with varying degrees of export experience.

Everything in the economic future of Wales depends on the skills of the work force. Our goal is a world-class education and training system. All Welsh schools, further education colleges and higher education institutions are concentrating on lifting performance to contribute to achieving the national targets, as set out in our document "People and Prosperity".

The Welsh training and enterprise councils are supporting our activity and agreeing local skills priorities with the Welsh Development Agency, the Development Board for Rural Wales and the new unitary authorities. In line with the strategy in "People and Prosperity", I have asked the TECs to give top priority to manufacturing skills. Five hundred young people started modern apprenticeships in manufacturing in Wales in 1994–95. This year, I have allocated funding for 3,800 young people to start modern or accelerated apprenticeships, some 1,200 of them in manufacturing. We will expand modern manufacturing apprenticeships still further next year. This year, I have also allocated an extra £3 million to help local manufacturers train 1,200 adults for the next two years to give a fast injection of manufacturing skills.

The document, "A Bright Future", also published last year, set out a detailed programme to raise attainment in schools. Secondary schools are already making big strides in improving their performance. The number achieving high grade GCSEs continues to improve. One in five pupils now achieve two A-levels, whereas one in 10 did so 20 years ago. Over the past six years, the number leaving school without qualifications has dropped sharply from 17 per cent. to 11 per cent., but there is much to do to raise educational standards further and meet national targets for achievement in academic and vocational qualifications.

As a result of the bright future programme, every school in Wales is now expected to set its own targets for achievement and to beat its previous best, year by year. Successful primary schools are the vital underpinning, especially for the basic skills of literacy and numeracy. The 1995 test results show that standards at 11 are not good enough—fewer than half reached the standard expected of the majority in tests of English and maths.

Schools' targets will be reviewed as part of regular and independent inspections, and action plans following inspections will include targets for improvement. Where the targets are found to be insufficiently challenging, the inspectorate will expect schools to reconsider and set new, more challenging ones.

The development of vocational options in Wales is also an emerging success story. In Wales this year, 46 schools will be involved in the general national vocational qualifications development scheme for 14 to 16-year-olds. More than 60 per cent. of participating schools in Wales will offer manufacturing, engineering, or construction.

I have recently set up the disabled pupils school access initiative. About half a million pounds a year has been made available to assist local education authorities to provide improved access for disabled pupils in schools. We have introduced other initiatives to raise standards by expanding choice in education. That is something that Opposition Members have never favoured, but, steadily, they are becoming accustomed to it, as we have seen over recent months. Included also is the popular schools initiative, which promotes parental choice and diversity of provision. Total funding is now nearly £26 million.

We are also proposing a pre-school voucher scheme for four-year-olds, which will put purchasing power in the hands of parents. The scheme will enhance choice and diversity of provision. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State announced today an expansion of the assisted places scheme, which means that 270 new places will be made available in 16 schools to provide opportunities for academically able children whose parents would not otherwise have been able to afford independent schools.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths , Bridgend

What is the point of doubling the size of the assisted places scheme if the places now available are not being filled?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

We shall see whether we fill the places. I believe that we shall. We are bringing new schools into the scheme. That means that more pupils will be able to take up places. More schools will be near to them.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I shall give way later. I have much to say and I am mindful of the time. I want to move on to other subjects.

The improvement of all our public services has been a major theme for the Government. Government policy on the national health service is directed at one simple aim— to improve the health of the people of Wales. The service must be properly funded if we are to achieve that aim, and it is. We have fulfilled our pledge to increase health care spending each year in real terms. That has led to genuine improvements in service. The number of people treated by our hospitals has doubled over the past 16 years. Therapies and treatments undreamt of in the 1970s are now commonplace.

A new patients charter for Wales was launched on 21 February. It sets out new and better standards of care. Hospital waiting times have been reduced. Over the past 12 months alone, the number of patients having to wait longer than six months for a hospital out-patient appointment has fallen by three quarters. I have asked NHS Wales to aim at a maximum total waiting time of 18 months for patients who need hospital treatment. The parallel drive to improve further the effectiveness of clinical care has captured the imagination and enthusiasm of health care professionals throughout Wales.

The NHS is also delivering impressive efficiency gains. Five health authorities will shortly replace the present 16. Over the next few years, that reduction will enable it to manage with 300 fewer staff and to release £8 million for direct patient care. Trusts are also under pressure to reduce management costs and to deliver further efficiencies. I shall help them to achieve savings by cutting the burden of paperwork and sharpening the focus of the Health Department. The challenge now is to ensure that every penny of the £2.2 billion of taxpayers' money entrusted to the NHS in Wales is spent effectively and for the benefit of patients.

Other high priorities for my Department are the promotion and facilitation of the use of the Welsh language, and access to the arts, sports and the cultural heritage. We shall continue actively to support the Welsh language. We shall enhance the role of the Welsh Language Board by transferring to it from April 1997 responsibility for public support for the four major voluntary sector Welsh language bodies in Wales.

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones , Alyn and Deeside

The Secretary of State has talked about the arts. Notwithstanding his generous intervention, the future of Theatr Clwyd remains extremely cloudy. Would it be possible for the riht hon. Gentleman in any way to intervene to ensure that neighbouring English authorities make a contribution? What can the right hon. Gentleman do to persuade neighbouring authorities in Wales to assist? The future appears to be extremely difficult.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I do not have the power to command local authorities to devote money to Theatr Clwyd or to many other projects. Indeed, many authorities would complain bitterly if I had that power. As the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, in view of the strategic and artistic importance of Theatr Clwyd, I have agreed in principle to provide a one-off grant of £1.3 million to pay off the outstanding capital debt. The Arts Council of Wales has agreed to increase its annual grant. It is now for local authorities, as the hon. Gentleman rightly suggests, to come up with the remaining goods. There has been generous support through the Welsh Office and it is up to everyone in the House who is concerned about these matters, as the hon. Gentleman rightly is, to encourage local authorities to do their bit.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I have delivered a great deal of support in the complete writing off of the theatre's debt. It is right that we should now look to local authorities to meet the remaining gap. Every opportunity should be taken to market the work of the theatre as effectively as possible in future.

Photo of Dr John Marek Dr John Marek , Wrexham

I know that the Wrexham county borough authority is prepared to contribute to the theatre, but it needs its capping limits to be raised before it is able to do so. Will the Secretary of State look favourably upon raising capping limits so that the authority can make a contribution?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I am not able legally to change capping limits to enable an individual authority to spend on a particular project. I have considered the matter and I do not think that I can help in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman. I hope, however, that local authorities will be able to deliver, as it were, on their side of the deal. It is important for Theatr Clwyd to survive. I think that the Welsh Office has delivered generous support.

I look forward to the opening, at the end of May, by Her Majesty the Queen, of the third building of the national library of Wales, for which my Department has provided £11 million, which will meet the library's needs for at least the next generation.

The Millennium Commission has recently announced an award of nearly £22 million to enable a national botanical garden to be established at Middleton hall. I am delighted that the supporters of the site have been successful. I am sure that it will prove to be a great asset to Wales in terms of nature conservation, scientific research, education and tourism. I am delighted also that the commission has decided to support the rugby stadium in Cardiff. That will do much to ensure the success of the rugby world cup in 1999.

Last September, I launched the sport in schools initiative. The Sports Council for Wales is energetically working on following up the initiative with 100 centres of excellence. I hope that we shall see an increased number of sporting successes for Wales during the coming year.

The quality of our environment is one of our most precious assets. In recognition of this, in my time in office so far I have increased the budget of the Countryside Council for Wales. I have announced our intention to produce a rural White Paper, which will be published within the next few weeks. I am launching the Environment Agency for Wales next month. I hope that the agency will liaise closely with other environmental bodies in Wales. I am committed to improving services for people who live and work in agriculture in rural Wales. My White Paper will set out my views and policies in detail.

We have made good progress in many environmental areas in Wales but we cannot, of course, discuss the environment without referring to the Sea Empress incident. Hon. Members are well aware that the ship initially ran aground on Thursday 15 February. Following a lengthy salvage operation, the ship was berthed in Milford Haven during the evening of Wednesday 21 February. The remaining oil is now being pumped out of the vessel. I add my tribute to that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to those brave people who worked long and hard, in dangerous conditions, throughout the operation.

The consequences of the oil lost from the Sea Empress remain with us. The effects on the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast and islands, and those on the rich wildlife, are distressing. They are being tackled energetically. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made two statements last week. The marine accident investigation branch is investigating the incident and I hope that its report will be ready soon. I have twice visited Milford Haven to see the effects of the incident and to witness the work that is being done to tackle the consequences. The most obvious visible effect is on the coastline and the wildlife. There are, too, economic consequences. All fishing in the area affected by pollution has stopped, both for shellfish and white fish, since the Sea Empress ran aground. I pay tribute to the responsible attitude of the fishermen, traders and processors in agreeing to observe an immediate voluntary ban on fishing in the interests of the safety of the food chain. In the light of scientific advice, I have placed the ban on a formal basis. I signed an order yesterday to prohibit all fishing within Welsh waters affected by oil pollution. I shall review the boundaries of the restricted area when further scientific analysis has been carried out.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger , Pembroke

In my speech later, I shall concentrate on the Sea Empress, but is the Secretary of State aware that fishermen who operate and catch their fish—or who were catching their fish—far from the area covered by the exclusion order are also suffering because, unfortunately, if any fish product has "Welsh" or "Wales" on it, nobody wants to touch it with a bargepole? Is it possible to extend the exclusion order for a short period and introduce the testing regime, which must come in anyway, and thereby clear the areas that we all know are not suffering from any pollution?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's point, as he raises an important issue that extends to other industries where there is a risk that Wales will be regarded as a polluted place even though only part of it has suffered from this incident. It is important for hon. Members, while in no way trying to disguise or minimise the scale of the incident, to make it quite clear that much is being done to clean up the problem and that vast areas of Wales are not affected. If we do not, our tourism industry might suffer unnecessary consequences.

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's point. It would be strange to extend the ban to an area that is not affected, but I realise that he raises a legitimate problem and thinks that that is a solution. I shall come back to him and am happy to discuss the matter further.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

Yes, although I have other things to announce and I should get on.

Photo of Mr Jon Owen Jones Mr Jon Owen Jones , Cardiff Central

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. On the related issue of the number of people and the different industries in Wales that have been affected by the disaster—the Secretary of State just mentioned tourism—is it not clear that there is a real danger—perhaps it is inevitable—that the amount of compensation currently available to people will be exceeded? What measures does the Secretary of State, with his colleague in the Ministry of Transport, believe he can take to ensure that extra compensation is made available so that people who have genuinely lost out as a result of the disaster are properly compensated?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I am coming to some of the measures that I want to take—I shall reach them in about a minute's time.

Scientific advice is that there is no indication at present of any risk to agricultural produce from oil particles being blown inland, but as a precaution we are analysing samples of agricultural produce and crops that are eaten by farm animals. These are very much precautionary measures to provide reassurance to farmers and growers and to the general public. We expect to get the results of the tests on the samples within the next few days. There are no indications of any risk to animal health or to the safety of meat when animals are sold for slaughter, but to give absolute reassurance on the matter, members of the state veterinary service are monitoring the situation on my behalf.

I have provided up to £250,000 for the Countryside Council for Wales for a comprehensive environmental assessment and monitoring programme. The Countryside Council for Wales will work with other statutory agencies and voluntary environment groups. The work is being complemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which has made available the research vessel Coryster for work on fish and shellfish. An independent assessor will examine the response, clean-up procedures and the techniques employed following this incident.

The Wales tourist board is taking an active lead with other interested public bodies in Pembrokeshire and throughout south Wales to ensure that tourists to the area are kept informed of the true state of the coastline. It is staying in the closest possible touch with the clean-up operation and will mount a vigorous and high-profile campaign of reassurance for potential visitors.

The main priority now is to provide assistance to people in west Wales whose livelihood has been affected by the spillage. Let us be clear that the responsibility for compensating those who have suffered loss must rest with the industry, on the clear principle that the polluter must pay. Some £8 million is available from the vessel's insurers, the Skuld Protection and Indemnity Club of Norway, and some £50 million is available from the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund. Urgent discussions took place yesterday between the relevant Government Departments, representatives of the fund, the insurers and the oil industry. The insurers have agreed to meet the claims of hardship cases straight away. They will set up a claims handling office in Milford Haven in co-operation with the IOPCF, which will immediately start to process claims received between now and the end of April and make hardship payments to individuals and small businesses. I welcome that action by the insurers.

The executive committee of the IOPCF is expected to meet again in April to consider further compensation arrangements. Although the responsibility for dealing with compensation rests with the insurers and the IOPCF, there are ways in which the Government can help, in addition to the measures that I have announced. First, I have taken steps to enable me, should there be any problems with the prompt payment of compensation in difficult cases, to set up a bridging fund of up to £2 million, financed by the Welsh Office, to be disbursed by the local authorities concerned. Any payments would be repayable in due course by the insurers or the IOPCF. I hope and expect that the bridging fund will not be necessary, but felt it prudent to ensure that we could bring it into play if the arrangements did not work as we expect them to.

Secondly, the Government will not ask for payment from insurers for costs that we have incurred until it is clear that all other claims can be paid in full. Thirdly, I shall consider sympathetically any representations that local authorities may wish to make concerning the costs incurred by them, including temporary supplementary credit approvals. Fourthly, I shall explore with the European Commission what assistance it might be able to provide to help alleviate the economic and environmental consequences. The affected area covers many protected sites, including sites protected under European directives. Fifthly, I have set up an oil incident response unit in the Welsh Office, which will report directly to me. It will act as a central point of liaison for local authorities, the Countryside Council for Wales, the Wales tourist board and the insurers, and it will provide help for people who need advice on these various and sometimes complex arrangements.

I hope that the House will welcome these arrangements and join me in saluting the hard work and dedication of all who are currently involved in the clean-up operation.

Photo of Mr Gareth Wardell Mr Gareth Wardell , Gower

The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, which I chair, decided this morning to conduct a short inquiry into the problems that the fishing industry in Wales may experience following the Sea Empress disaster. In relation to the Secretary of State's point about tourism, which was well made, we do not want areas to be blighted. He and the Secretary of State for Transport will know that the beach sediments that have been affected by the oil will leach out over a period of 10 years. Will he ensure that, when tourists come to Wales, assistance will be given to the tourism industry to identify those areas so that people do not find that there is a problem of which they are unaware, just as they should be aware of the quality of bathing waters?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I shall certainly give attention to that point. These are complex matters and it is quite difficult to predict how things will work out in the future and what the long-term consequences will be. It is important that everybody has the maximum information about the problems at every stage. That is one of the reasons why I announced extra funding for the Countryside Council for Wales to map and survey the consequences of the pollution. We shall continue to give attention to the problem that the hon. Gentleman quite rightly raised.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I shall give way once more on this matter, but there are other matters that I wish to deal with.

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams , Carmarthen

On the question of compensation, I understand that £8 million is available from the ship's insurers and that £50 million is available from the IOPCF, but both are being capped. What happens if the total claims in one or two years' time exceed the cap, as is very likely? I understand that claims might be of the order of £100 million. Where will the rest of the money come from?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

We are not able to say that the claims are likely to exceed the amount available. It is perfectly understandable that people should ask the question, but we should not raise the spectre of claims exceeding that amount. If compensation on the principle of the polluter paying is not adequate, the hon. Gentleman can rest assured that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I will have strong words to say to the oil industry about the matter, and that we will seek a change in arrangements for the future or for this incident. I am alive to the hon. Gentleman's concern, but we are not currently in a position to say that the amount may exceed, is likely to exceed, or is very likely to exceed, the cap.

Local government has been playing its part in the process. In a month's time, local government in Wales will be administered by 22 all-purpose authorities. The House should be in no doubt that the reorganisation presents Wales with a great opportunity. The fact that single authorities will in future be responsible for all local authority services should ensure that they are managed more effectively. However, I see the reorganisation as another kind of opportunity as well: I want it to mark a turning point in relations between the Welsh Office and local government.

I want to reduce local authorities' dependence on my Department. Unnecessary controls should go. Most of all, I want more of the decisions that affect the well-being and prosperity of communities throughout Wales to be made where they will prove most effective—at local level. I shall shortly publish a consultation paper setting out a series of proposals. We now have the opportunity to mark a radical shift in the nature of the Welsh Office's relationship with local government. I shall outline three specific proposals.

First, I have been considering the future shape of my Department's strategic development scheme, the SDS. It supports local authority projects and strategies promoting economic, social and environmental development. In the coming year, it has a budget of around £57 million in support of regeneration projects across Wales.

Local authorities have argued that it should no longer be necessary for Ministers to make decisions on many such projects, which often have only local significance. They would like progressively greater delegation of decision-making, with Ministers involved only in the larger schemes. I agree with that: I believe that the time is now right for a further substantial shift of responsibility to local level. I have already indicated that, in the coming year, £13 million of SDS funding will be available to local authorities so that they can decide how to use it. Over the next three years, I propose to increase that amount substantially—to £38 million—so that unitary authorities have much greater freedom to make their own choices on local priorities.

At the same time, I believe that departmental funding should continue to be available to support an authority's major strategic priorities, which would include projects that go beyond the financing capabilities of an individual authority, or which have a regional significance. For that purpose, I propose to develop the SDS into a new challenge fund, the scope of which would be a matter for discussion.

As now, the emphasis will be on encouraging innovative projects and strong public and private sector partnerships. I also favour extending the challenge principle beyond the economic, social and environmental areas already covered by the SDS. I envisage that such an enhanced challenge fund would be introduced in 1997, with the first bids being invited by early this summer. Its initial budget would be at least £20 million, which would be funded in part from uncommitted SDS resources and in part from other existing local authority capital top-slices. In later years, there would be an opportunity to refine the schemes to take account of the lessons learnt from the parallel schemes being planned for England by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Secondly, I have re-examined our management of the European structural fund in Wales. Current programmes include the objective 2 programme for industrial south Wales, the objective 5b programme for rural Wales and nine special initiatives such as RECHAR. Together, over the life of the programmes, those measures involve more than £360 million of European funding, contributing to total programme expenditure by all the parties of more than £959 million. That funding makes a major contribution to the regeneration process across Wales and is a vital source of project finance for local authorities, agencies and the private and voluntary sectors.

My Department is currently responsible for managing the funds—It provides the secretariat for the relevant monitoring committees. It has been argued that the transparency of the system and of the decision-making process would be improved if my Department's management of the secretariat's functions were devolved to a free-standing executive that was independently staffed and operated under the guidance of local authorities and the wider partnership including local authorities.

From 1 January 1997, I propose to introduce such arrangements in respect of all relevant Welsh programmes and initiatives, and in respect of the successor objective 2 programme for industrial south Wales that is to be launched next year. The new executive body would have responsibility for publicity, for advice and for information supplied to potential beneficiaries of the funds, for the management of the bidding process and for the assessment and ranking of applications. The functions and composition of the monitoring committees would remain unchanged. I would also retain my present responsibilities for public expenditure provision, for payments and for accountability to Parliament for the deployment of funds.

Thirdly, my Department has had responsibility for training policy in Wales since 1993. Responsibility for management of the European social fund has, however, remained with the Department of Employment, and latterly with the Department for Education and Employment. I am glad to report that control over ESF programme management will be transferred to me from 1 January 1997. Responsibility for public expenditure provision and for the associated payments will be considered later. Management of the new responsibilities for the ESF will also be considered in the context of my proposals for a new structural fund executive body, to which I have already referred—a free-standing executive body in which local authorities have a primary role. The change will bring greater cohesion within and between European programmes in Wales, and allow local partnerships far more influence over the allocation of funds.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

We would broadly welcome any system other than the one that has prevailed in the case of RECHAR and other schemes, which have proved extremely frustrating and have led to much anger and bitterness. I hope, however, that the executive body will not involve a large new administration, and that some of the costs will be paid out of the funds to which the Secretary of State referred.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I certainly do not intend the system to lead to a large new administration. No more work should be involved. What will change is the number of people who are heavily involved in influencing the process.

I propose a further change. Other, more minor, changes will be proposed in my consultation document. My Department operates the urban investment grant scheme, a facility for assisting the private sector to undertake developments in the more deprived areas of Wales. Those incentives are much valued, and achieve excellent public-private sector leverage, but I believe that they could be more appropriately promoted and applied in the context of local development plans. Because of their nature, it would not be sensible or feasible to disperse the funds generally among unitary authorities. I have therefore decided that responsibility for the scheme should be transferred from the Department to the Welsh Development Agency so that the benefits can be brought to bear within the framework of the local partnerships now being formed—which involve the WDA. About £6.8 million has been set aside for the scheme next year, when the transfer will take place.

In my discussions with local authorities, I have agreed that they should have a primary role in local economic development. The authorities have proposed that there should be some forum for discussion of economic issues that affect the whole of Wales. I agree with them that the role and membership of the Welsh Economic Council does not provide a suitable vehicle for that purpose. I have therefore decided that it should be discontinued. I shall discuss with the new local authority association what alternative arrangements should be put in place for reviewing the operation of European and domestic economic development and considering the work of local and sub-regional partnerships.

The changes to the strategic development scheme, to the management of European funding and to various agency activities will give local authorities and their partners more influence than ever before over the direction of the regeneration process in Wales. European and domestic funding of more than £400 million will be involved. I am confident that the organisations will respond positively and with imagination, and I assure the House that my Department and the principal agencies will continue to work closely with the authorities to ensure the effective realisation of their plans for the benefit of the communities that they serve.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East

The Secretary of State has made a number of welcome announcements about the new body, which will have a co-ordinating function and whose membership will, I understand, be drawn primarily from local authorities. Is he moving, step by step, towards an indirectly elected Welsh Assembly?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

Not at all. Oddly enough, I was about to say something about a Welsh Assembly. As I said earlier, one of the benefits enjoyed by Wales is the result of being part of the United Kingdom. My predecessor and I have set a clear direction in transferring responsibilities, where appropriate, to local authorities. My proposals take that process a long way. Such devolution of power closer to the people makes far more sense and is much more meaningful than adding an additional tier of government in the form of an assembly.

I should be interested to hear the differing views of hon. Members about that matter. There are differing views among the Opposition about plans for a Welsh Assembly. Conservative Members and the public are entitled to ask many questions—which remain unanswered—about how the assembly proposed by Opposition Members would work. That is why I wrote yesterday to the Leader of the Opposition—to receive clarification and to ask him, on the occasion of his visit to Wales—where he has been joined today by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies)—to answer questions to which we have not heard the answers. If the Labour party believes that the Scottish Parliament would work, why would Wales get a second-class version? Would the assembly have legislative powers over the Welsh language, local government and non-departmental public bodies? We have had differing interpretations from Labour.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I look forward to clarification of those matters.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth

Why does the Secretary of State fail to recognise that we have government in Wales, but that the elected representatives of that Government are not accountable at Welsh level? The Opposition—certainly the Labour party—is united about the need for an elected body to be accountable for those functions. Why does not the Secretary of State for Wales, who is accountable to the House, tell us what he intends to do to provide a level of elected accountability in the governance of Wales?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I have just set out one of the biggest transfers of functions to local government that any Secretary of State for Wales has set out in recent times.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I must answer the hon. Gentleman's question before he asks another. I am talking about the Labour party's plans for an assembly. He says that Labour is united about these matters, but when Labour party members were recently asked during "On The Record" what the assembly would do, they were far from united. Mr. Wayne David, a Member of the European Parliament, said that it would have legislative responsibilities. Other leading Labour party members said that it would in no way have any legislative responsibilities. A recent meeting of Welsh Labour Members to discuss that body's electoral system was described as vicious. [Interruption.] Labour Members clearly remember it well.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I must give the hon. Gentleman the other questions. We need to know from Opposition Members whether Welsh Members would be able to vote on English matters in areas of policy reserved for the assembly, how Welsh Members voting on public spending in England when English and Welsh Members could not vote on public spending in Wales could be justified, why different electoral systems are proposed for a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, and how much such an assembly would cost.

The Labour party is in the absurd position of advocating a referendum on proportional representation for the United Kingdom, proportional representation for a Scottish Parliament without a referendum, a first-past-the-post electoral system for a Welsh Assembly without a referendum, referendums in English regions on whether to have assemblies in such regions, but no referendum in Wales on whether to have a Welsh Assembly. And that is called a policy. It is an incredible dog's breakfast. It is hard to understand how any party could blunder into such a position. It is born not of a vision of the UK's future, but of a calculation of how to appease nationalist sentiment in each part of the United Kingdom.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

In view of the hon. Gentleman's persistence, I shall give way to him one more time on this subject.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth

The Secretary of State referred to the meeting of the Welsh Labour group, of which, as far as I am aware, he is not a member. As chairman of that group, I assure him that it is united behind the party's policy. It is notable, however, that he makes many allegations and misrepresentations to avoid his responsibility, as Secretary of State for Wales, to say what he and his party will do to allow elected representation in relation to the government that exists in Wales.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

If that group is so united, it should be easy to give answers to those fundamental questions. For the best part of an hour, I have been talking about my responsibilities and how I am discharging them. I am entitled to ask Labour Members about one of their principal proposals. I understand that, if they came to power, in their first year in office, they would spend their time setting up this expensive assembly—an additional tier of government and an expensive roomfull of hot air. People need to know the details. It is time Labour Members came clean about that.

Labour's proposals are a recipe for constitutional chaos. They would put at risk all the benefits that Wales derives from the Union: higher public spending per head, representation at Westminster and a voice at the Cabinet table. They would undermine the great economic progress that we have made in recent years. Jobs and businesses would not come to Wales if we were tearing ourselves apart in the UK and distancing Wales from Westminster, or if Wales pursued radically different policies from the rest of the UK.

I hope, therefore, that the Leader of the Opposition will offer some answers to those questions—but the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), who is to speak on behalf of the Opposition, may be able to answer some of them even before I receive the Leader of the Opposition's reply. We look forward to that.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I shall give way one more time and then I must end my remarks.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Does my right hon. Friend think that the Opposition spokesman on Wales will be able to answer this question: is there a Welsh equivalent to the West Lothian question?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

There is a direct Welsh equivalent to that question. If we had an assembly, Welsh Members would be able to vote on English public spending, but neither English nor Welsh Members would be able to vote on Welsh public spending. The Labour party needs to deal with that ludicrous position.

The position that I have set out is that of an expanding economy; of renewed momentum behind inward investment, of which we will see further evidence in coming days; of an improving education system, but where there is still much to do; of people working together to promote trade and a healthy environment; and of an important series of policy changes in local government. My announcements on the environment in Pembrokeshire and on local government will be warmly and deservedly welcomed in Wales and throughout the House. I look forward to hearing in more detail Opposition Members' proposals for Wales's future government, because there are many questions to be answered.

Photo of Mr Rhodri Morgan Mr Rhodri Morgan , Cardiff West 5:47 pm, 29th February 1996

The Secretary of State for Wales is obviously far too young to wear spectacles, but I wish that he would not wear his rose-coloured contact lenses during the debate. When he describes the Welsh economy or the environment, those of us who represent constituencies in Wales just do not recognise the country that he is talking about. We examine the facts and the Scoreboard rather than what the commentators are saying and we see that the level of prosperity that the Welsh economy continues to produce for our constituents is 16 per cent. below the United Kingdom average.

Those are the Government's statistics, not ours. We have not invented them. They are on the Scoreboard. I am being generous to the Government in saying that Wales's prosperity level is 16 per cent. behind. The last fully accredited figures from the Government Central Statistical Office are for 1993–94. They show that Welsh gross domestic product per head—the ultimate measure of a region's prosperity—is 82.7 per cent. of the UK average. Not fully tested, not entirely complete figures estimate that the figure for 1994–95 is 84.7 per cent. I am willing to accept that that may turn out to be true, but even that shows a level more than 15 per cent. below the UK average, which in itself is nothing special compared with that of other European Union countries. That is the actual picture. That is what our constituents live with.

I welcome, in advance, the announcement that is to be made tomorrow—the Secretary of State made great play of it, although obviously he cannot formally say what it is. We hope that it is in the silicon chip sector, that it is vaguely Celtic and that many jobs are involved. However, we also have to remember the ones that got away. We are living in a unique year. We are coming to the last few months of 1995–96, during which—I do not blame the Secretary of State for this because it was his predecessor who started it—the experiment of ending the bipartisan approach to economic development in Wales, which has gone on since the 1930s, has been running.

The Secretary of State's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who had his own agenda about "standing on your own two feet", "getting on your bike" and all the different nostrums of the ideological far right of the Conservative party, set up the budget with which we are still living. He simply broke the mould and decided that it was time for Wales to get away from the begging bowl mentality. That is why I raise the point about the departmental report.

The Secretary of State should look at his departmental report for this time last year. It shows the amount that the Welsh Office has had in its budget for industrial development and gives the figures for 1989 through to 1995. In general, the amount was £150 million-plus; sometimes it was as high as £170 million and sometimes it was £160 million. The figure represents the funds going to the Welsh Development Agency from the Welsh Office and what is in the Secretary of State's kitty for regional selective assistance. The figure was always between £150 million and £173 million.

This year, however, the figure has dropped to half the usual amount; it is just £86 million. That is a dramatic fall. The Secretary of State must admit that the budget for economic development in Wales has been chopped by almost half. We want to know why that has happened and whether it has anything to do with Wales losing out on the Chunghwa Picture Tube Company factory with its 3,000 jobs—a big development in which we were thought to be in the lead. The factory eventually went to Lanarkshire.

I had better make an apology to the House. My tie says CPT on it, but I assure the House, in case any of Lord Nolan's snoopers are watching the closed-circuit television, that it has nothing to do with Chunghwa Picture Tube. Some other body gave me the tie at a dinner; I think that it was something to do with passenger transport.

Although we in Cardiff especially missed out on the Chunghwa Picture Tube development because we were said to be in the lead, South Wales as a whole suffered from losing a development of that size. I asked the Secretary of State whether the fact that his predecessor had chopped £23 million or £24 million out of the regional selective assistance budget and another £43 million out of his grant in aid to the WDA had anything to do with Chunghwa's decision. He said that the fact that the WDA had only half its usual budget available had nothing to do with our losing the development and that assistance was demand led. He said that if Chunghwa had come to Wales, he would have found the money somewhere.

It is true that the regional selective assistance budget is demand led. Through the Department of Trade and Industry budget, England has overspent its RSA and has taken the money necessary out of contingency reserves. The Scottish Office has overspent its RSA budget and has taken money out of its reserves. We have underspent our RSA budget, so we have given money back to the Treasury, as the previous Secretary of State proudly boasted. It was very nice for him to be able to make that boast when he was running for leadership of the Tory party, but it was not very good for us because we had to live with the consequence—less industry coming into Wales.

It is also true that one can always find a few extra million if one gets industry in, but one cannot get industry in unless the WDA has the money to put the package together. That is the problem. The pincer movement of cutting the regional selective assistance budget and cutting the Welsh Office grant to the WDA means that if the WDA cannot get the firm in by offering the package that it could be offered in Lanarkshire, the Secretary of State does not need to spend his regional selective assistance budget because the firm is not coming to Wales. The massive cut—as a result of last year's experiment carried out by his predecessor for which I do not blame the present Secretary of State—is another reason why the Secretary of State should put away the rose-coloured contact lenses that he was wearing during his speech.

Lord Crickhowell, Lord Walker and the right hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt) all believed in a bipartisan approach, with economic and industrial development being the top priority for the Secretary of State for Wales, so that new jobs could replace jobs in the old industries. I am afraid that the right hon. Member for Wokingham did not believe in that approach. He believed in "on your bike", the cold shower and the need to get away from the begging bowl mentality, so he broke that consensus. We have to live with the consequences, and I would have liked the Secretary of State to have said what he intended to do to establish in the job description of the Secretary of State for Wales an agreement about the primacy of economic development. We might then have been able to work out what next year's budget for industrial development would look like, and that would have given us some assurances.

The Secretary of State mentioned tomorrow's development, which has not yet been announced. However, he did not say that the development was new in the sense that it was a project by a firm that was new to Wales. Much of the industrial development that is announced, re-announced and then announced to the House for a third or fourth time, forming part of the Secretary of State's hype offensive against the people of Wales, involves firms, such as Ford and Sony, which have been in Wales for 20 years or more. Some firms came in during the previous Labour Government's tenure and some came in during the early years of the present Administration. Those firms may reinvest and expand, but they are not new names.

In the past 10 years, Wales has missed out on all the big new investment providing 2,000 jobs and more. Firms such as Siemens, Fujitsu, Toyota, Nissan and Chunghwa have not come to Wales. We would have liked to have won one of those firms and we might then have felt satisfied that Wales remained at the forefront of the Government's regional economic development effort. Of the six big investments providing 2,000 and 3,000 jobs during the past eight or nine years, none has come to Wales.

Chunghwa was probably our best bet because of its natural connection with Ocean Technical Glass in Cardiff, but we missed out on that one. It is an extremely sad story, for which the Secretary of State should apologise on behalf of his predecessor who gave him a budget, set this time last year, which was far too small, in terms both of the departmental budget and the WDA budget.

I understand that Chunghwa made the point that one of the advantages of Lanarkshire was that it had a Eurofreight terminal. In Wales, unfortunately, we do not have a Eurofreight terminal and there has been a battle royal over where the Eurofreight terminal should go. It must be said that the Secretary of State has not been fighting hard for Wales on the issue. I understand that he has been telling people, "Well, I cannot approve the Eurofreight terminal because it may screw up the process of the privatisation of Railfreight. It may involve closing the Pengam rail freight terminal", which belongs to Freightliners Ltd. and is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael).

The Secretary of State for Wales is under instructions from the Secretary of State for Transport not to make any decisions on the Eurofreight terminal until Railfreight has been sold. That is not good enough. The Eurofreight terminal is a major generator of new jobs, both directly and indirectly, because it is an attraction to firms such as Chunghwa.

We do not have a Eurofreight terminal and, to be honest, the amount of attention that the Secretary of State has given to the issue is a disgrace to the Welsh Office and to his post. He has an out tray, a pending tray, a mañana tray and, for things that are even less urgent, he has the Eurofreight terminal tray. He has no excuses; the development has planning permission and it has funding. All it wants is a go-ahead and a bit of decision making by the Secretary of State. Tolstoy could have written "War and Peace" in the time that it has taken the Secretary of State to make up his mind. I do not know whether he can give us an undertaking about when he will make a decision on the Eurofreight terminal.

We are very pleased by the long-overdue decision, announced by the Secretary of State this afternoon, to take control of European structural funds out of the clammy hands of the Welsh Office and to give it to the infrastructure-providing partners. That decision has been taken about two years after the Scottish Office took a similar decision—not a sign of great dynamism on the part of the Secretary of State. I think that I am right about that; if I am wrong, I shall be interested to hear the Secretary of State's views. That long-overdue change is part of the idea that the Secretary of State should empower people to take more decisions for themselves and that he should remove some of the control over decisions from the Welsh Office.

We notice that, all the time, the Secretary of State makes great play of visiting the four European motor regions with which Wales is connected. I remember that the previous Minister, the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts), visited Catalonia. I understand that the Secretary of State has been to Catalonia and met its Prime Minister, Mr. Pujol. The Chief Minister of Lombardy was recently over in Cardiff. I do not whether the Secretary of State met him. I see that he is nodding.

The remarkable thing about all those motor regions with their respective headquarters in Milan, Grenoble Stuttgart and Barcelona, is that all their Chief Ministers' are accountable for their actions to the people who live in those regions. They are all directly elected. I often wonder how the conversation goes when Welsh Office Ministers meet those Chief Ministers. I was told that in Catalonia the local journalists were absolutely staggered when they found that this nice young man who had come over as Secretary of State for Wales was not elected by the people of Wales. They were puzzled by that and generally came to the conclusion, "Well, we would not allow that round here".

It is of concern that the Secretary of State's elective status and democratic accountability to the local population is entirely different from that of the local Prime Minister, Premier, Chief Minister, or whatever they are called, whom he meets through Welsh Office connections. He has nice perks and privileges such as going on lovely trips to Catalonia, where he shakes the hands and presses the flesh.

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan

If we were faced with the appalling reality of a Labour Government and if a Welsh Labour Member were good enough to be appointed to a major Cabinet office based in Westminster, would the hon. Gentleman deplore it? Does he accept that promotions in government should be made on merit and not because of where one's constituency happens to lie?

Photo of Mr Rhodri Morgan Mr Rhodri Morgan , Cardiff West

I had to give way to the hon. Gentleman because he is my local Member of Parliament. If it were not for that, I probably would not have done so. His question is meaningless. The Secretary of State for Wales is the hired hand of No. 10 Downing street. He is not accountable to the people of Wales. If there is a fight over a Eurofreight terminal and the Secretary of State for Transport objects because he thinks that it will slow the process of rail privatisation—the big concern for the Government—the hired hand of No. 10 Downing street cannot fight and say, "I don't care whether it messes up that process; I want that Eurofreight terminal decided, determined, approved and up and running soon. I shall put together a grant package for Chunghwa Picture Tube, because if I don't, the people of Wales will vote me out of office at the next election." He cannot do that because he is someone who has his first foothold on the lowest rung of the slippery Cabinet ladder and is wondering when he is going to be promoted to what he would— probably—consider a proper mainstream Cabinet job.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I should like to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument to the next stage. If there were a Labour Government, presumably there would be a Secretary of State for Wales, unless the hon. Gentleman is planning to abolish the position. Would the Secretary of State for Wales in a Labour Government be chosen by the Prime Minister or by a popular vote in Wales?

Photo of Mr Rhodri Morgan Mr Rhodri Morgan , Cardiff West

The office of Secretary of State for Wales would obviously be a Cabinet post.

Photo of Mr Rhodri Morgan Mr Rhodri Morgan , Cardiff West

Yes, of course it would, but— [Interruption.] Sorry, that is not relevant. The point is that economic development would be the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly and whoever was the leader of it. If the right hon. Gentleman has not understood that, he has obviously not been reading Labour party policy documents as he claims to have been doing. If he wants to write to the Leader of the Opposition asking for clarification of certain proposals for devolution, he ought to read the documents first. Otherwise, he might be accused of wasting my right hon. Friend's time. Economic development and the funding of a Eurofreight terminal would clearly be matters for the Welsh Assembly, not for the Secretary of State for Wales. Has the right hon. Gentleman got that clear? Will he undertake not to write stupid letters to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition until he has read Labour's policy documents to at least O-level standard?

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

I trust that the hon. Gentleman can assure us that any Secretary of State for Wales under a Labour Government would be a Member of Parliament from Wales. Is not the point that it would be absurd for the elected head of a regional Government—the Welsh Office is in effect a regional Government—not to represent a constituency in that region?

Photo of Mr Rhodri Morgan Mr Rhodri Morgan , Cardiff West

It would not be worth while ever going back over the Severn bridge to Wales if we were to choose a Secretary of State for Wales who was not a Member of Parliament in Wales. I can give the hon. Gentleman absolute assurance on that. Although there might be many other things on which he may ask to be assured, we would be spoilt for choice on that front. There is no problem. The problem lies with the Conservatives because, much to our chagrin, they kept ignoring the right hon. Member for Conwy. They thought, for some strange reason, that he was not proper Cabinet material and instead they have chosen four successive Secretaries of State from English constituencies.

Of course the Government would not treat Scotland in the same way. None the less, they go on about second-class treatment for Wales. We have heard much about it in the debate. The Secretary of State has again written to the Leader of the Opposition asking, "Why are you giving second-class status to your Welsh Assembly?" Should the right hon. Gentleman not be looking for the beam in his own eye, considering that he is the fourth successive English-based Member of Parliament who has become Secretary of State for Wales?

Many commentators have said that even if the Conservative Government were down to only one Scottish Member, however appalling his quality, they would never dare choose an English Member as Secretary of State for Scotland. They are willing to try it on in Wales because it has been a long time since they ever had any expectation of political approval from the Welsh electorate. Indeed, they have not won a majority in Wales since the secret ballot was introduced 130 years ago. Perhaps they are right to give up trying it on with the Welsh.

I should have said earlier that my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) apologises for not being able to speak in the debate. He is with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who is on his way down to Wales for 24 hours and will be going to the scene of the Sea Empress tragedy tomorrow. When my right hon. Friend is spending a day in Wales, my hon. Friend must be with him.

We have been very interested in the Secretary of State's letter to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition because it is remarkably different from the Conservative party press release issued no more than eight months ago by the previous Secretary of State. Both letters carry the same banner of "Conservative Party News" and both purport to be careful, objective costings of Labour's assembly proposals.

In June, just before the right hon. Member for Wokingham took himself off in another direction—to the Back Benches—he said that Labour's assembly proposals were "very modest forecasts". He is a fellow of All Souls, like the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, so he obviously knows what he is talking about. He said that Labour's proposals for an assembly would cost £123 million.

However modest that forecast was, the Government must have been very successful in the fight against inflation in the past eight months because the present Secretary of State says: Labour's Assembly would cost £52 million". The Secretary of State's assistants have been doing some serious work in Conservative party headquarters. If, eight months ago, the assembly was going to cost £123 million but, one day ago, £52 million, one wonders how seriously the Government expect be taken. How can two successive eminences, who are both Ministers and who both have the ability to call on assistance—not civil service assistance of course, although it is probably taxpayer-funded one way or another and done by the political advisers, and so on—estimate costs of a Welsh Assembly that vary in eight months by more than 60 per cent?

Nevertheless, the Secretary of State wants to be taken seriously. Indeed, he made that part of his speech. He said that he wanted answers to the questions that he has asked the Leader of the Opposition. The first thing that the right hon. Gentleman should have done is to say why he thinks that the previous Secretary of State's estimate was so wildly wrong. Then he should have said, "Okay, the previous Secretary of State was an absolute idiot. I am very sorry about that. I am going to have another go. Then we might get taken a quarter seriously."

The right hon. Gentleman should also have referred to the BBC estimate, which came out fairly recently. That does not come from a party political source—although I know that there are figures on the Conservative side who think that the BBC is a political party, or an adjunct to one. The BBC estimate was £25 million.

Then the Secretary of State should have asked the Prime Minister, "In all those interesting meetings you had with the Northern Ireland Members on Monday night when you were trying to get them into the Division Lobby with you, what was the estimate for the cost of the Downing street declaration Northern Ireland Assembly, by which you proposed to introduce a measure of democratic devolution in Northern Ireland, however the peace process eventually turns out in that Province?"

If one believes in provincial autonomy for Northern Ireland, presumably once accepts that it will cost money. Presumably, there will be big rows and differences of view about what sort of electoral system there should be. Although the Secretary of State seems to think that it is only in Wales that there is any possibility of a variation in views between political parties about the system for electing the parties involved in provincial devolution and autonomy, the same applies to Northern Ireland.

We are interested in knowing whether the Secretary of State has come across any estimates of the costs there. Will he answer that question, because we would like to know what costs are being worked on? I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will be able to answer, because before he asked us about costs, he should first have gone to the Library to find out how much Stormont cost in its last year of operation, 1972. He should then have asked the Library to uprate that figure by the increase in the retail prices index since then. What were Stormont's running costs in 1972, uprated to the 1996 equivalent? The Secretary of State would have found that the figure would be about £2.5 million.

From there, the right hon. Gentleman could work out how our assembly proposals would relate to the Stormont figures. Stormont is the only devolved assembly that the United Kingdom has ever had, so those figures are all that we have to go on. Obviously, there must be huge differences, but those figures should be the starting point, and we must try to relate our figures to them.

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who represents yet another constituency east of the Severn bridge, asked, "What about the West Lothian question?" That was effectively answered by the Leader of the Opposition in his speech over the road in the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre a couple of weeks ago. Before answering the West Lothian question, the priority is to ask, "What about the Duke of Lothian question?"

Why is it considered logical for the Government to commit themselves to retaining the hereditary principle, which means that people who are not elected by anybody can vote in the House of Lords on Welsh business, Scottish business and English business? If this is all a big issue, that has to be sorted out first—and that is what Labour proposes to do. There is a package of constitutional reform, of which the Welsh proposals are only a part, and the Secretary of State must respond to it if he expects to be taken seriously.

The Opposition are open about the fact that we have different proposals for Scotland and for Wales. The right hon. Member for Wokingham, when he was Secretary of State, said that ours was a third-class proposal, but the present Secretary of State has uprated it to a second-class proposal. He probably does not understand the fact that the United Kingdom has an asymmetric pattern—a flexible and asymmetric constitution. That is what we are building on.

The Secretary of State certainly should not attempt to frighten the horses by saying that investment will not come to Wales if we have a Welsh Assembly. I do not know what that tells the people of Northern Ireland about what they will face if they have an elected autonomous provincial assembly there, as the Government propose. Will that frighten investment away from Northern Ireland, or is it only in Wales that that would happen if there were a measure of local democratic autonomy?

We keep being told that everyone in Wales will start squabbling, and that tribal conflicts will break out between north and south. "The assembly will be based in Cardiff," we hear. "Isn't that a terrible thing?" The idea of a Cardiff-based assembly is used as a sort of insult; I do not know what that says about the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), and his influence on his ministerial colleagues.

We have heard such statements before, although the Secretary of State will not have heard them. He is not old enough to remember Africa before Macmillan's "winds of change" speech, although he might have read about it. The language that he uses about Wales is exactly the sort of language that was spoken by white colonialists trying to discourage Nigeria, the Gold Coast or wherever from introducing any measure of freedom from the British colonialists. The right hon. Gentleman must realise that to us in Wales, such language spoken by him sounds deeply colonial.

There is a lesson there that applies to the Sea Empress disaster too, and we must learn it when we consider the environment. We welcome much of what the Secretary of State said about setting up extra response units in the Welsh Office, but we must tell him about the burning resentment that has been caused throughout south Wales, above all in Pembrokeshire, by the way in which the Sea Empress tragedy unfolded over several days, and changed from a minor incident to a major tragedy.

I know that the Secretary of State has been down to Milford Haven, and I am sure that anybody who goes there will detect the almost palpable sense of burning resentment about the fact that local expertise was ignored while "sea vultures" from the salvage companies, and perhaps jobsworths from the headquarters of the Secretary of State for Transport, made a muck-up of the whole thing by ignoring local expertise.

Until the result of the inquiry is known, we shall not know the truth for sure. I re-emphasise the strong support from those on the Labour Front Bench, not only from shadow Welsh Office Ministers but from everyone else too, for making the inquiry initiated by the Secretary of State for Transport a fully independent one, like the inquiry into the Braer disaster. Otherwise we shall never know whether further improvements are needed in our ways of trying to reconcile conservation of the environment with saving a ship and its oil cargo.

In Milford Haven, our methods do not seem to have worked. The chilling words of the pilot on board the Sea Empress—not the original pilot, but the one who went on board over the weekend—are recorded on tape. They were in all the newspapers, so I am not giving away any secret that should be revealed only to the inquiry. The pilot said something like, "I can see my way to take her clear out to sea now," and the harbourmaster called him back to tell him, "Yes, I agree with you, but I am in a room full of men telling me no."

Those are chilling words, and we want to know who those men in the room were. Most of them were probably acting with the authority of the Secretary of State for Transport. From that moment, things went horribly wrong. The Government cannot hide behind the salvage experts. The conversation between the pilot and the harbourmaster is public knowledge. The Government's handling of the whole affair has not covered them in glory.

The presence in Pembrokeshire of the Minister for Aviation and Shipping, Viscount Goschen, was not much help to the Government. His unofficial family motto, which he told journalists about when he was first appointed— Mr. Goschen has no notion of the ocean"— has now come back to haunt him. Following the heroism of the man from the Chinese take-away, the people of Pembrokeshire now have a lot more faith in the Chinese waiter than in the chinless wonder.

That weekend, people in Wales felt that we had joined the third world. We were being treated as a colony. The authorities were going completely wrong, without listening to local experts, who were treated as people who knew nothing about Milford Haven and its workings. That was one of the major reasons why the affair became such a huge disaster, with environmental and economic consequences that may continue for decades.

Such treatment is common in many areas of Welsh life. This afternoon my local paper, the South Wales Echo

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger , Pembroke

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend is saying. Does he accept that, irrespective of who was involved and where the blame lies—we hope that those facts will come out in full in an independent inquiry—my constituents and the many other people in Wales who have been directly affected, whether they are fishermen, involved in the tourist industry or whatever, will believe that they are being told the truth only if the inquiry is seen to be independent from the Department of Transport?

There is no question about the fact that officials and agencies of the Department of Transport were heavily involved in the salvage operation, or about the fact that Ministers did not implement the recommendations that Lord Donaldson made following the Braer inquiry. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the Government want a credible report that is well received, as the Donaldson report was—everyone, all political parties and both sides of industry, accepted it—they will achieve their aim only if the inquiry is independent?

Photo of Mr Rhodri Morgan Mr Rhodri Morgan , Cardiff West

I could not agree more. It is absolutely essential that the inquiry should be independent so that the palpable, burning resentment of the people of Pembrokeshire, and, increasingly, those of Carmarthenshire and North Gower, about the consequences of the ill-fated tanker and the way in which its accident was mishandled can be assuaged and their faith restored. At the moment, those people have no faith whatsoever in the Government.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) will hate me for this, but I must take this opportunity to pay tribute to him for his remarkable work in trying to bring into the open the reasons why a minor incident turned into a massive tragedy. Given his experience at Milford Haven before he came to the House he is, in a way, a silver lining to this oil-based tragedy. We could not have a more qualified person as the Member of Parliament for Pembroke in these tragic circumstances.

I referred to the fear that we are, in some ways, becoming a third-world country. The headline in today's South Wales Echo —a local evening paper—refers to six elderly patients being moved from the Cardiff Royal infirmary to the Heath hospital—the University hospital of Wales—at 12.15 am because of the lack of beds at the infirmary. We thought that the crisis was temporary, occurring as it did after Christmas, and that the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards), who is to wind up the debate, had a plan to solve the emergency admissions crisis. In the early hours of this morning, however, six patients were asked whether they would agree to be moved to the University hospital of Wales because the infirmary had run out of beds in the accident and emergency unit.

That is an example of the reasons why I ask the Secretary of State to park his rose-coloured contact lenses at the Welsh Office. He can use them when he is on sales missions but not on the St. David's day debate, as this is the only opportunity that we have to discuss Welsh affairs objectively, frankly and honestly in the House so that our debate can be heard by the people of Wales. This is the day that we discuss the facts without the salesman's hype or the statistician's sleight of hand.

We, as Members of Parliament, are accountable to the people of Wales. That is why, should the Secretary of State have the opportunity to make this speech again, I beg him to do so without his rose-coloured contact lenses, and instead to tell the story as it really is, not as he thinks that it should be, according to the Conservative propaganda machine.

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conwy 6:21 pm, 29th February 1996

I always enjoy the speeches of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), especially when he is on form, as he was today. His speech made compulsive listening. I shall refer to many of the points he made, but my speech will not follow directly from his.

I thought that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's speech was very rich in content. Indeed, I am not sure that I have been able to digest it all. We all welcome the radical reformist drive that he is clearly putting into a raft of policies—economic, educational and organisational. We also welcome the positive signs of his success in attracting inward investment, and in reducing the level of unemployment in Wales to that of the United Kingdom as a whole and keeping it there for some 18 months.

I appreciate that the tragedy of the Sea Empress is controversial. That is understandable, and I sympathise with the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger), who has had the responsibility of dealing with the brunt of the problems faced by his constituents. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend announced a comprehensive list of measures in connection with the Sea Empress, and I am sure that they will be greatly welcomed by those affected.

I shall need to study my right hon. Friend's proposals with regard to the structural development scheme and local authorities, but clearly there is to be a devolution of responsibility to local authorities, which is a welcome move. The moves in connection with the European structural programme and the European social fund are also right, and very much in accordance with the evidence heard by the Select Committee when we were preparing our report on Wales and Europe.

This could be one of my last debates on Welsh affairs, unless such debates are held in other places—I do not mean the other place. I think of colleagues who sat on these Benches but who have passed on. If I mention some of them, I am sure that some hon. Members will be pleased to hear their names—I know that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) will be glad to hear the name of Alec Jones. When I think of my late colleague Michael Roberts, of Brynmor John, John Stradling Thomas and a small host of others, I cannot but believe that there is a very grand debating chamber somewhere in the hereafter where Wales is eternally dissected, examined, discussed and put together again.

Traditionally on this day, which is so close to St. David's day, we always make much of Wales's problems. I once heard the late Huw T. Edwards ask, "Where would Wales be without its problems?" He was a socialist, but a friend of mine, who, at the end of his life, joined Plaid Cymru. Most of us knew that the answer was implicit in the question—without its problems, Wales would be nowhere. Our problems are real enough, especially on occasions such as this, when state of the nation, or state of the constituency, speeches are the order of the day.

I have been thinking about the nation of Wales. We are, of course, very much a nation, but we are not a nation state. That is sometimes forgotten. As Members of Parliament, we rightly feel responsible for ensuring that the British state, which looks after the Welsh people's heritage from yesterday, their interests today and their hopes for tomorrow, looks after those interests properly.

Some of us hope that the British state, which covers all our nations—the Scots, the Northern Irish and the English, too—will be able to look after itself and will not lose so much sovereignty in the years ahead that it does not have the powers necessary to safeguard our diverse interests.

There is no doubt that developments in the European Union in recent years have been causing some concern. We joined the Common Market, but find ourselves on the path to economic and monetary union. Political union cannot be far behind. Some people regard that as a desirable goal; others do not. I must say that I am among the latter, and am extremely sceptical about the wisdom of concentrating so much European governmental power in so few hands, however benevolent their stated intentions.

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conwy

I should like to continue for a moment.

The debate about the future of the European Union has had a powerful effect on our internal debate about the future of the United Kingdom. Proposals to devolve power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have undoubtedly been given a fillip by the prospect of greater European union. The nationalists regard devolution optimistically as a chance to achieve greater independence within the United Kingdom and the European Union, while others may regard it as the ultimate defence against the overwhelming centralised power of the European Commission in Brussels, or wherever it may reside.

Photo of Mr Llew Smith Mr Llew Smith , Blaenau Gwent

I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the question of European union and its possible effects on Wales. Only a couple of weeks ago, he and I participated in a radio phone-in programme, when one of the questions related to that very point. I mentioned that the European Union treaties state that budget deficits must not exceed 3 per cent. of GDP, and that that would have a devastating effect on public expenditure. He denied that there was anything in the treaties to that effect. Has he had time to go through the treaties to find which of our interpretations was correct? If I am correct, could he tell the House what percentage cuts to public services in Wales would result?

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conwy

I have not had an opportunity to chase up that point. I was relying on the hon. Gentleman to write to me to amplify it. It sounds like a reference to the convergence criteria and to what would happen if they were met.

There is a sense of inevitability about European developments, prompted by the fact that there is no alternative on offer except outright opposition. However, there is widespread popular scepticism not only in the United Kingdom but in the countries of the European Union, where people feel that they have been led into a shotgun wedding under the canopy of the convergence criteria. It may be that those developments will not come about, and I for one would not regret that.

The European argument has had a strong bearing on devolution. To judge by the latest opinion polls, there is a fair wind—that is all one can say, and they are only opinion polls—blowing behind the Opposition's proposals. However, as we have learnt again this afternoon, those proposals are shrouded in doubts, defects and disadvantages. The Conservative party must resist those proposals with all the strength it can muster, for the simple reason that they weaken the British nation state, which is still the best and most convincing embodiment of our nations' unity.

Our British nation state has served Wales well and fairly under successive Governments of different party political complexions. We tamper with its constitution at our peril. It seems that Opposition Members have not grasped that they are changing the direct line of responsibility in putting forward their devolution proposals. We know that the direct line of responsibility runs from this House, through Government and the people, but they propose an entirely different line of responsibility.

It has been said, and it was said again this afternoon, that the Government have conceded the principle of devolution in the recent consultative document that offered an assembly to Northern Ireland. The situation there is so different that most of us would be prepared to make almost any sacrifice, even one of principle, to secure peace and stability in the Province. But it is as well to remember that devolution was a necessary evil in the case of Northern Ireland. That quote is from a reputable historian, R. J. Lawrence, and his book "Tho Government of Northern Ireland". Stormont, after all, was only accepted by the Unionists in the 1920s as a guarantee that they would not be joined with the Republic without their consent. Stormont, which we abolished, has to take some of the blame for the present discontents.

Ulster had to endure one-party rule without an Opposition for a long time. That is precisely what the Labour party is prescribing for Wales under its devolution regime. I know that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis), other Plaid Cymru Members and the leader of the Liberal Democrats, if he were here, would be crying out that the Labour party should change its proposals and allow proportional representation. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales pointed out, the Opposition are at variance in their attitude towards the election of assemblies in Scotland, Wales and elsewhere.

Photo of Mr Jon Owen Jones Mr Jon Owen Jones , Cardiff Central

While the right hon. Gentleman is talking about the history of these islands, their constitution and the role that his party has played in opposing constitutional reform over the years, will he take his mind to the history books and think about the situation 100 years ago, when his party was opposed to constitutional reform and devolution for Ireland as a whole? The Liberal party was then the major Opposition to the Conservative Government, and was proposing devolution for Ireland. Does he believe that devolution for Ireland was an obstacle to the unity of the United Kingdom, or would it have helped to maintain the unity of these islands as they were then constituted?

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conwy

We would need an entire day's debate to tackle that issue. It has already been said that many of those arguments have been heard before. We have been through a great many of the devolution arguments. People went through all the arguments about federalism and anti-federalism in the United States before it was formed into a union. Pretty well all the arguments were covered then. They were covered again in various parts of Europe. History has not proved that devolution of any sort for Ireland has been a success; otherwise, we would not be in the position that we are in today.

Opposition Members have talked a great deal about the democratic deficit in Wales under the present Government. By the same token, if they were elected to government, we would have not only a democratic surplus but what I would call a demagogic surplus. We would have rule by party caucus—we are already beginning to get a taste of that—and, of course, their commissar leaders.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

It is important to distinguish between the Northern Ireland and Welsh situations. Whereas, in Northern Ireland, domination by one party was underpinned by the sectarian nature of Irish politics, which made that sort of continual distinction between two parties and domination by one inevitable over a long period, there is no reason to believe that the same situation would exist in Wales.

I entirely agree that the Labour party's proposals are seriously flawed and their insistence on first past the post is a disgrace, but it would be a mistake for the Labour party in Wales to imagine that, even under that system, their total domination of politics in Wales would continue ad infinitum. They would be seriously misled if they believed that to be the case.

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conwy

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There was one-party rule in Northern Ireland for so long because the Opposition stayed away, in spite of the fact that there was proportional representation. I agree that Wales is different in that respect, and it is most unlikely that hon. Members elected to represent minor parties would keep away from an assembly.

Of course the people of Wales want to feel the proximity of Government, and the Government want them to feel that they are close to them. That is the way in which I regard my right hon. Friend's proposals to enhance the role of the Welsh Grand Committee. Some hon. Members are for ever talking about the "powers" of that Committee. It is not meant to have powers under our system. [Laughter] The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) laughs, which shows the extent to which he fails to understand the parliamentary system. The power rests with the Executive. The power of Parliament, as expressed through its various Committees, is to keep a check on the Executive.

The Welsh Grand Committee should certainly be the voice of Wales to the Government. The Government always listen, but their response must be their own, in the light of circumstances, resources available and so forth. That will always be the position, whatever form of government we have.

Listening, as I occasionally do, to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies)—I am sorry that he is not in his place, but we know where he is—one would think that all decision-making in the assembly would be a smooth continuum, rather like a fudge-making factory. We all know that easy decisions can be made that way, but tough decisions have to be made by an accountable individual— in our case, the Secretary of State.

We all know that the quality of government in Wales and the drive behind policies and initiatives depend on the Secretary of State. He has shown that in his speech this afternoon—just as the thrust of government in the United Kingdom depends on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. There is no escaping that responsibility—not that either of my right hon. Friends would want to do so.

I am intrigued by what we have heard about the relationship between the assembly and the new local authorities. Will they really be under the thumb of the assembly in the allocation of resources? If so, it is a recipe for further conflict. We know that we will have a conflict between the assembly and this place over its allocation of funds, but to have a further major conflict between the directly elected local authorities and an assembly is total nonsense, as I implied in the debate on local government finance.

My strongest objection to the devolutionary proposals is that they will be a time and effort-wasting distraction from the main task facing the Welsh people, which is to raise their standard of living and quality of life. We really must lessen our dependence on the rest of the United Kingdom. That means galvanising ourselves to secure the maximum inward investment and indigenous growth. We have come a long way—I do not think that anyone here would deny that—but we still have a great distance to go: we are all agreed on that. We are all agreed on the importance of inward investment.

Of course, we cannot win them all. We shall lose some projects because there are greater attractions elsewhere. I will not pursue the Chunghwa case, but there is not much doubt that there was a fine site in Lanarkshire, which is, after all, proximate to Ravenscraig. I am sure that the Scots did everything possible, and put everything they had into getting Chunghwa, as we would have done had Llanwern been closed instead of Ravenscraig.

I read the economic case put by the hon. Member for Caerphilly for a Welsh assembly. It is well written, but it has to be, because the case is so weak. He sets great store by the familiar themes that we have been hammering on about for a long time—partnership and a consensus. The implication is that those will be the natural by-products of the assembly. I am far from convinced that they will be. Certainly there is no guarantee that they will. I fear that the outcome will be increased divisiveness, with one area pitched against another, and we will all lose in the long run.

The document refers to the four motor regions— all with far greater populations than Wales, and with a curious lack of respect for their national capitals and national Governments, amounting on some occasions to real distrust. The Welsh view of Whitehall is different from the views of Rome that one will find in Milan. I played some small part in linking Wales with those leading regions of Europe, and I did so with the full-hearted support of the British Government. Without that support, our partnerships could never have developed as successfully as they have done, and Wales would never have had its unique foothold in Europe.

I returned this morning from Baden-Württemberg, where the unemployment rate is the same as ours. They face a relatively difficult time and are concentrating their minds on getting through it. That is what Wales ought to be doing—concentrating on our economic future and prosperity. Our economic circumstances are propitious and our prospects excellent while the Government remain in office. We have low inflation and falling interest rates and unemployment, and our businesses are improving their competitiveness. That is a position much envied by our European partners.

So this is not the time, and I do not see the time arriving in the next few years, when we should be diverted into costly, internal, constitutional wrangling. On the other hand, it must be the time to try to eliminate that disparity of incomes to which the hon. Member for Cardiff, West referred, which grieves me as much as it does him. We want to eliminate that disparity of incomes between Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom, and the best way to do so is by getting more and better jobs in the Principality. I hope that the Government will nail their colours firmly to the mast of further economic development and better education and training in Wales. We shall then see the Opposition disappear into the limbo where they belong.

Photo of Mr Raymond Powell Mr Raymond Powell , Ogmore 6:49 pm, 29th February 1996

It is a privilege to be one of the first Opposition Members to be called, especially after 12 years in the Whip's Office. At one time, the occupant of the Chair would place severe restrictions on Whips. No Whip—junior or senior—would be called to speak and Whips would be frowned on if they attempted to intervene. That has changed and Whips are now allowed to speak from the Front Bench and stand at the Dispatch Box. They can ask questions and intervene. The years that some of us served in the Whips office undoubtedly restricted our opportunities to speak in the Chamber. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and Madam Speaker—will bear that in mind in future when I seek to catch your eye.

I know that some of my hon. Friends have much to say, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger), who would like to discuss the disaster in his constituency, so I shall not detain the House unduly.

It is a privilege for me to follow the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts). When he was a Minister, he co-operated with Members representing Welsh constituencies and tried to help us solve our problems. I hope that today will not be his last Welsh day debate. If there is not an election before this time next year, I hope to hear him speak again.

When the right hon. Gentleman referred to the other place I thought that someone had been whispering in his ear. Undoubtedly, there is a place down the corridor where we will be able to meet him and talk to him in future years. I am sure that it will be a long time before some of us will meet him in another place high above here—and there are one or two who may not have that opportunity.

I agree with the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) regarding his appointment as Secretary of State for Wales. I am sure that he would have received overwhelming support from the Opposition had he been afforded that opportunity.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

My hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) are both distinguished sons of Wales with a long, proud sense of history. Do they agree that, as 1997 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Aneurin Bevan, the local district hospital, Neville hall in Abergaveny, should be named after the modern founder of the health service?

Photo of Mr Raymond Powell Mr Raymond Powell , Ogmore

I agree entirely, as will my hon. Friends and some Conservative Members, who in all probability will have enjoyed what was introduced in 1947. I look forward to seeing the bust that will be placed in the House of Commons, as will all hon. Members who supported Nye Bevan and share his views and opinions. I am one of his converts. He more or less introduced me to the socialist ideals that are shared by a number of my colleagues.

This year, our annual debate on Welsh affairs is on the eve of the celebrations of St. David's day. I have attended almost every year since I was elected and I have participated several times—whenever I have been fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker. Sometimes that has proved difficult because I am short and most other Members are taller than I am. On one occasion, when another Deputy Speaker, who I shall not name, deliberately did not call me because I was a Whip, I decided to stand on the Bench and wave my Order Paper in the hope that I would catch his eye. By the end of the debate, I had not managed to catch his eye and I did not deliver my speech. When I asked him in the Tea Room why he had not called me he said, "I am very sorry Ray, but I did not see you." I replied, "How could you not see me when I was the only one on the Opposition Benches?". That was the attitude taken towards Whips at the time.

Despite the statement by the Secretary of State for Wales on local authorities, my local authority—which I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths)—has expressed grave concern about the difficulties of meeting the responsibilities of both the Ogwr borough authority and Mid Glamorgan county council in Bridgend. I asked the Secretary of State about the revenue support grant for Bridgend and received a reply from the Minister. I have three specific questions for him tonight. If he cannot answer them when he replies to the debate, perhaps he will give me a written answer that I can pass on to the council.

First, does the Secretary of State for Wales realise that, as a result of a settlement that, for the first time, is based on a reorganised local government system in Wales, which was not requested by the Opposition, but introduced by the Government, council tax payers in Bridgend will face an increase in council tax of some 36.8 per cent. and, at the same time, suffer real reductions in services? Meanwhile, council tax payers in the Aberconwy and Colwyn unitary authority will enjoy council tax increases of only 1.1 per cent. How can the Secretary of State justify such differences in council tax bills arising out of a reorganisation that was meant to provide improved services more efficiently?

Secondly, Aberconwy and Colwyn are allowed to increase expenditure by 5.2 per cent. with a resultant increase in council tax of only 1.1 per cent. while Bridgend is allowed to increase expenditure by 4.4 per cent. yet impose a council tax increase of 36.8 per cent. How can the Secretary of State justify those differences to council tax payers in Bridgend?"

Thirdly, the increase in needs assessment for Bridgend at 1.2 per cent. compares with Cardiganshire at 4.8 per cent., Aberconwy and Colwyn at 4 per cent., Denbigh at 4 per cent. and Pembrokeshire at 4 per cent. In setting the increase for Bridgend at 1.2 per cent., the Secretary of State for Wales is showing a complete disregard for the needs of the people who are covered by a new unitary authority in its first year. How can he justify such a wide range of increases in the needs assessment and how is it that the four successor unitary authorities out of the former Mid Glamorgan county council have fared so badly when the county council was recognised as being the poorest in England and Wales?

I share the concern about the Rhondda Cynon Taff council area, as my constituency covers part of that area as well as Bridgend. I sympathise with both constituencies in relation to revenue support. The newly elected councillors of Bridgend county council have expressed concern because they will not be able to give their electors the facilities that they had under the Ogwr borough due to lack of financial support from the Welsh Office. Is it fair that our constituents are funding the reorganisation of local government that was imposed on them by the Government when all Welsh councils opposed it?

I shall refer to the Secretary of State's comments about devolution before he leaves the Chamber. I have spent most of my life in the Labour movement and we discussed devolution in the early 1970s. I chaired a committee on devolution for the Welsh Labour party and for 10 years we discussed and developed our policies on it. In 1977, I was the chairman of the Labour party conference in Llandudno which adopted a document that was for devolution, which the Labour Government agreed to implement. All that work, discussion and disagreement was no different from what the Secretary of State suggested is at present being discussed in the Welsh group.

I do not know who the Secretary of State's informer is, but the Welsh group does not mind what information is passed to him about our discussions because they are quite open. Frankly, we have disagreed with our colleagues on devolution since we started to discuss it. However, devolution meant success for one of our members: he became a right hon. Member, was elected to the national executive of the Labour party, was elected to leader of the Labour party, lost an election and then was compensated by receiving a position as a commissioner in Europe. We do not mind that—that is politics.

Those of us who have spent our lifetime trying to have devolution for Wales will still argue in the Welsh group and in this Chamber, and in all probability try to reverse the problems and difficulties the Labour Government had in 1977 and onwards when they tried to introduce devolution and were stopped in this House. We might still fail, but I believe that now the people of Wales are prepared to have a change in government. When the policy for devolution is finalised it will be accepted by the electorate and introduced.

Today I received a number of letters from constituents about last Monday's debate on, and the result of, the Scott report. I received a letter regarding the Prime Minister's declaration yesterday that there had been no deals with the Irish Members before the vote on Monday. The letter suggested that it was passing strange, to say the least, that only one of the Irish political parties, the Ulster Democratic Unionist Party, abstained. The letter also said that an inquiry should be set up by the Speaker to ensure that the House was not misled and that the Members of the minority party who abstained were aware of the debate and understood the consequences of essential voting.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of the House for many years, and he will remember that this evening's debate is about Welsh affairs. I am having some difficulty relating what he is saying about a minority party from Northern Ireland to Welsh affairs, but perhaps he is about to make his point.

Photo of Mr Raymond Powell Mr Raymond Powell , Ogmore

I am glad that you interrupted me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I was about to say that hon. Members might be asking what this has to do with the debate on Welsh affairs. The issue is the standing of politicians generally. My constituents have expressed alarm that all the sleaze and Ministers misleading Parliament will dissuade a large percentage of people from voting. This concerns me, and the consequences of the disillusionment of the electors should concern all hon. Members— especially as we shall shortly be fighting to retain our seats.

Those of us with majorities to worry about and who are vulnerable to the swings of electors could find ourselves with a new Government, elected by persons misled by the Government, the press, the opinion pollsters and others who might have a vested interest in misleading. I recommend that all hon. Members read The Daily Telegraph's editorial on Irish deals today. The people of Wales have consistently trusted Labour councillors; in addition, of the 38 constituencies in Wales, 27 are held by Labour.

I shall comment on the contribution by the Secretary of State for Wales in this week's "The House Magazine"— I am sorry that he has left the Chamber—which had a special feature on Wales. The article set out the main political parties' attitude to the country and asked leading parliamentarians what it means to be Welsh. I will not make a meal of the fact that the Secretary of State is not Welsh—we all realise that this disability is not entirely his fault.

The Secretary of State for Wales is a Tory, he represents an English constituency in Richmond, Yorkshire, and he is not Welsh—that is an absolute disaster for Wales and its people. Some people might promote his attributes—he is a nice guy, very amiable and there is always a smile on his face. However, there are a number of prominent politicians of all political persuasions whose smiles are a lot larger than their hearts.

I shall comment on the right hon. Gentleman's contribution in "The House Magazine", entitled "A New Sense of Confidence". He claims that business leaders have praised our economy and our work force, and have decided to come to Wales—he then rightly lists the number of firms that have come to the Principality. He states: These firms don't come here out of kindness, they come because we offer low taxes, light regulation, and secure access to UK and European markets. When asked to explain the reasons for success in Wales, the Secretary of State quipped: a question that would never have been asked in the 1970s". As a member of old Labour, I remind the young man that the rich rewards about which he boasts are the direct result of the Labour Government's efforts in the 1970s when the Ford and Sony plants were established in Bridgend and in my constituency. Many other factories and industrialists came to Bridgend in the 1970s. The Secretary of State may say that those questions were not asked in the 1970s, but they were and that is why those factories are in Wales today. Investors are prepared to come to Wales because they can see the benefits that have accrued to those factories that were established there in the 1970s.

The Secretary of State boasts that unemployment in Wales is in line with the United Kingdom average. I remind him that, when I was elected to represent the constituency of Ogmore in 1979, unemployment in the Bridgend catchment area was 3 per cent: 1 per cent. of that number were unemployable because they were silicotic and pneumoconiotic miners and ex-miners; 1 per cent. were involved in the building industry and they were chasing and changing jobs; and 1 per cent. were not seeking work. There was virtually full employment in my constituency at that time. However, within five years of the return of a Tory Government, seven collieries— employing 8,500 miners—closed. Between 8,000 and 10,000 workers from the Margam steel works were made redundant. After only five years of Tory Government, 20 per cent. of workers in the Bridgend catchment area were made redundant.

We want to see better pay and job security in Wales. Workers must enjoy more protection under recognised union agreements and they should not be threatened with the sack if they attend hospital appointments, for example. People are working part-time for peanuts in order to repay student loans—those with degrees cannot find real jobs.

The Secretary of State boasts also about improved water quality under the stewardship of Dru Cymru. However, he failed to mention the costs that are borne by Welsh Water users. Anyone who reads the article in "The House Magazine" might assume that the "new sense of confidence" about which the Secretary of State writes was achieved within his first few months at the Welsh Office. Much research has been done into Welsh Water. I have a document entitled "Waterfacts about Welsh Water", which examines its profits, perks and pay. Welsh Water achieved a dividend of £28,100,000 in 1990–91, which escalated to £49,600,000 in 1994–95. That is an increase of £21,500,000 or 77 per cent.

In conclusion, it is not a question of confidence—as the Secretary of State writes in "The House Magazine"—but a lack of confidence on the part of the Welsh people. They have no confidence in retaining their jobs, in economic growth, the health service, the education system, housing, law and order or in the fight against drugs. Above all, they have no confidence in the Government. Labour will fight to win for Wales and for all the people of the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State for Wales should spend some time in his constituency unless he wishes to share the experience that his Government have forced upon thousands: the humiliation of unemployment.

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan 7:14 pm, 29th February 1996

I am pleased to have the opportunity to celebrate St. David's day a day early by talking about some of the achievements in Wales and about our hopes for the future.

Developments in or near the Vale of Glamorgan in recent years exemplify the exciting enterprise culture that has developed in Wales. I shall give a few examples. The Ford and Sony plants near Bridgend and the Bosch plant in the rural vale near the M4 are examples of the inward investment that has been encouraged by lower rates of corporation and income tax, low inflation, a stable work force and the much lower social costs of labour in Wales compared with many other European countries.

During a visit to Stuttgart a few months ago, I talked to a senior Bosch employee who had managed the plant in Wales. He said that Bosch's success in the Vale of Glamorgan was due mainly to the relative lack of red tape in Wales compared with Germany. With the active assistance of the Welsh Development Agency and local planners, Bosch designed and built its plant in the vale in half the time that it would have taken in Germany. The speed with which the plant reached productive capability helped to provide Bosch with a return on its capital investment significantly sooner than would have been possible in Stuttgart.

The unavoidable social costs of German labour mean that the cost of employing a top quality work force is much greater than in the vale. The Government's steadfast refusal to adopt the social chapter means that we will retain that competitive advantage—while the Conservatives remain in power. The Bosch factory in the vale remains competitive also because it is allowed to move raw materials and manufactured goods seven days a week, instead of being restricted by lorry bans at weekends. As a result of the flexible shifts worked by Bosch personnel in the vale, productivity can be readily adjusted to meet demand—unlike the system in Stuttgart and certainly unlike the bad old days under the last Labour Government, which encouraged restrictive practices and the loss of many working days through strikes.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths , Bridgend

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why Sony and Ford came to the Bridgend area when Labour Governments were in power?

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan

I did not suggest that the Welsh environment was totally hostile to investment under a Labour Government. However, I do suggest that the changes that have occurred in the past 17 years have produced a climate that is more conducive to inward investment.

Further exciting investment has come to the vale recently. The British Airways maintenance base, which was opened by the Prince of Wales, is providing high-tech jobs and is making a valuable contribution to the local economy. RAF St. Athan has civilianised many jobs.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth

I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman's references to Bosch and to British Airways. As he has been in the vale for only a short time, perhaps he is not aware of the leading role played by the local authorities— particularly South Glamorgan county council—in bringing those jobs to the area. Secretaries of State have paid tribute to their work and I think that the hon. Gentleman should follow suit.

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan

I am certainly happy to pay tribute to local authorities that have taken advantage of the climate provided by the Conservative Government to attract inward investment. Vale of Glamorgan borough council, which for most of my time in south Wales has been under Conservative control, has certainly been helpful. I hope that the new Vale of Glamorgan council will continue to take advantage of the enterprise culture and continue to encourage further investment in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Photo of Mr Llew Smith Mr Llew Smith , Blaenau Gwent

I was interested by the hon. Member's earlier comments, which seemed to imply that the number of days lost through strikes under the Labour Government had a devastating effect on the economy. Would the hon. Gentleman care to compare the number of days lost through strikes under the Labour Government with the number of days lost through unemployment under the Conservative Governments since May 1979? The days lost through unemployment have had a devastating effect on the economy. I believe that 500 million days have been lost in Wales through unemployment.

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan

The hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like. There is simply no comparison between the number of days lost through strikes under the Labour Government and the number of days lost through strikes under the Conservative Government. As for the considerable increase in unemployment that has taken place, clearly many people under the Labour Government did not do a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. Much of industry was grossly inefficient and uncompetitive.

Photo of Mr Llew Smith Mr Llew Smith , Blaenau Gwent

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan

I cannot keep on giving way.

The British Airways maintenance base, which was opened by the Prince of Wales, is providing high-tech jobs and making a valuable contribution to the local economy. RAF St. Athan has civilianised many jobs and has maintained the competitive edge necessary to retain valuable contracts against the challenge of competitive tendering.

I regret the recently announced loss of driver training jobs at St. Athan, but I accept the economic arguments of my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces for centralising driver training at Leconfield. I believe that RAF St. Athan will continue to thrive in a competitive environment.

Cardiff international airport is going from strength to strength since it was taken over by TVI plc. Since the takeover, substantial investment in the airport has already been made and much more is in the pipeline. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made one of his regular visits to the Vale to open a new visitor reception lounge at the airport, which is the envy of terminal two at Heathrow.

In Barry docks, Associated British Ports, in close co-operation with the Welsh Development Agency, and the Vale council—if the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) had waited, he would have heard me pay tribute to the local authority—has exciting plans for the regeneration of that important part of Barry.

Of course, the prosperity of Wales depends not only on new development, but on the expansion and success of existing firms. I recently visited Dow Corning to see the progress on expansion there. The new Genesis plant will provide about 200 new jobs, many of them highly skilled. Welsh Water and Dow Corning will co-operate on a new water treatment plant to reduce dramatically pollution into the Cadoxton river. Welsh Water is also building a new sewage treatment works at Cog Moor, which will be very welcome to all my constituents, but especially to those who enjoy water sports. They will benefit from a big improvement in the quality of sea water in the Bristol channel.

Photo of Mr Llew Smith Mr Llew Smith , Blaenau Gwent

The hon. Member said that, under Labour, many working people did not do a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. Would he care to mention those Welsh workers who cheated their employers at that time?

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan

I do not understand the question.

As important as the big firms in Wales are the small firms from which bigger firms grow.

Photo of Mr Llew Smith Mr Llew Smith , Blaenau Gwent

Let me have another go.

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan

I think that the hon. Gentleman has had quite enough goes for one afternoon.

Last week, I enjoyed visiting the Lion laboratories in Barry where sophisticated equipment is manufactured, at very high levels of quality control, for the provision of breath-testing equipment. The flexibility of the 96 Lion employees in Barry, a significant proportion of whom have masters or higher level degrees, is such that they are able to produce different equipment to meet the exacting requirements of various countries, as well as supplying almost all the police forces in Britain with roadside screening devices and evidential devices for use at police stations.

I warmly welcome the commitment by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to fund the design stage of the proposed new link road between Culverhouse Cross and Cardiff international airport, a scheme for which I have pressed him and his predecessors for the past four years. I have just had a meeting with TVI plc at which we stressed the fundamental economic importance of the new road for the airport and the surrounding business sites. I emphasise that not only the airport but the whole of Barry—especially the docks and industrial complex nearby—will benefit from better communications. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to give a commitment to the House that after the design stage has been completed, the Welsh Office will provide funding for the construction stage so that that vital project can come to fruition.

I hope that the few examples that I have had time to give, of successful and exciting business developments in my part of Wales, will help to counter the usual messages of doom and gloom that we have heard from the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). I seriously suggest to him that—instead of running Wales down by constantly harping on about the gross domestic product per head in Wales being lower than that of the United Kingdom or about lost jobs in twilight industries—he should break the habits of a political lifetime and talk up the achievements of the Welsh people instead of talking them down.

Wales has done well relative to the rest of United Kingdom and relative to other parts of Europe in recent years. In this St. David's day debate, let us send out from the House a message of confidence and hope for the future.

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams , Carmarthen 7:26 pm, 29th February 1996

I wish to comment, in this annual Welsh debate, on two big problems that worry my constituents. One is the state of the education service and the other is the recent Sea Empress disaster.

I attended the Secretary of State's budget statement on 13 December and I have been present for Welsh questions and the debate on local government. Continually, the Government line is that the settlement is very generous and 3.1 per cent. above last year's rate support grant settlement. Of course, there is a deep difference between the Government and us about their interpretation of the statistics on planned expenditure and outturn expenditure. Outturn expenditure is higher than the current RSG settlement.

The arguments that we have had in the House have been rather academic for people back home. The reality of the settlement, which is increasingly hitting parents and teachers at schools, is that it is severely stringent.

The new Carmarthenshire county council—my local authority—will be faced with a 17 per cent. increase in council tax and, at the same time, a 3.7 per cent. cut across the board in all local authority expenditure. People will not be able to understand why the council tax is going up by about £100 a household and, at the same time, social services, highways and—especially—education are suffering cuts. The cuts come after 17 years of regular stringency in the education budget which has faced many cuts before.

In Carmarthenshire over the decades, we have given a high priority to education and I have been proud of our educational attainment. The league tables—not that we attach complete credibility to those numbers—show that the secondary schools in my constituency compare very well with those in the rest of Wales and are substantially better than the average for England and Wales. There are many good schools in my constituency. Rural schools tend to be good, whether they are English medium, Welsh medium or bilingual. There are excellent schools, but they are working under severe handicaps in terms of class sizes, quality of buildings and additional resources such as laboratory equipment, for example.

I have received about 15 or 20 letters on education matters over the past few weeks. First, I shall refer to a letter from the head teacher of Llandovery comprehensive school. He wrote to tell me that his is a small rural comprehensive school that faces cuts of between 2.4 and 4.0 teachers. In other words, three or four teachers will have to lose their jobs. That is based on a cut of 3.7 per cent. This head teacher sent me a league table of all the comprehensive schools in Carmarthenshire. It reveals that in some areas three, four, five or six teachers may have to lose their jobs. In Amman valley, eight may lose their jobs.

Photo of Mr Gareth Wardell Mr Gareth Wardell , Gower

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Audit Commission set out the position clearly a couple of years ago in its publication entitled "Adding Up the Sums"? School governing bodies are faced with the choice that my hon. Friend has described so clearly. That is the choice of sacking teachers or not paying them the increments that they should receive every year. That is the dilemma that Government expenditure controls are imposing on governing bodies.

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams , Carmarthen

Absolutely. There is a problem for all schools in finding people who are willing to be governors. If there is a positive pattern of growth, expansion and investment for the future, and at the same time the creation of a better atmosphere and better opportunities for children, everyone will want to be part of it. When there is regular cost cutting and it is necessary to choose areas in which to impose cuts, the role is distressing and governors become pessimistic.

Tregib comprehensive school is near Llandeilo. A governor set out the options that face the school, which are the loss of four teachers, a reduction in the choice of subjects, reduced support for special needs, increased class sizes and a threat to peripatetic teachers.

Llanarthne primary school has 58 pupils. It will have 2.8 teachers instead of 3.0 teachers. It is a three-class, rural primary school and for one teacher there will be only a four-day-a-week salary. The way in which the cuts will have to be met can be described only as incredible.

The cuts that I have described will damage children's futures. Given that they will be imposed in addition to the cuts of previous years, it is clear that education is not safe in Conservative hands. Equally, it is apparent that our children's futures are not safe in the Government's hands.

My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) has done enormous work over the past two weeks in response to the Sea Empress disaster. My constituency is the next one up, as it were, and the oil slick is affecting Carmarthen bay and Pendine sands. It will have an effect on the tourism industry in my constituency.

I was brought up in Dyfed. I saw the oil industry develop during my early years in the 1960s and 1970s in Milford Haven. It is a natural deep-water harbour. There was concern about the development in the 1960s because it was taking place in a rich environment. We were reassured, however, that with modern technology there would not be major disasters. We were told that there would be occasional oil spills, but that with booms and recovery equipment the spills would be controllable.

The record of the 1970s and 1980s was relatively good. It is surprising, however, that the international transport of oil has had a worsening safety record over the past 10 years when all other forms of transport have had improving records. Numbers of road transport accidents and deaths fall year by year. The safety record of air transport is improving. There are only a few rail transport incidents. I do not understand why the record of oceanic transportation of oil is becoming worse.

I appreciate, of course, that there are international problems. We have flags of convenience and Russian crews, for example. I do not understand why we cannot formulate better international regulations and arrive at better co-operation so that, for example, when a vessel is in British waters at least one person on board can speak English. That was one of the recommendations of the Donaldson report. Indeed, that seems elementary.

With modern navigation aids, how did the Sea Empress disaster happen? I understand that the latest radar equipment was not functional for the past six months. As the disaster took place at low tide, or as the tide was going out, was it an example of cost cutting on the part of the tanker's captain? Was he trying to get into port rather than wait for the next high tide, which would have been six hours later? Was he in a short-cut manoeuvre in working against the clock? My third question—

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams , Carmarthen

I am sorry, but I shall not allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene. Time is against me. I know that Opposition Members want to be disciplined in the use of time.

There were delays between the Thursday evening and the Monday. It is incredible that the tanker was stranded for four days and unable to be refloated. It is especially surprising that it was unable to be refloated on the Saturday, when the weather was calm. Wales played Scotland that afternoon at Cardiff Arms park and my concentration was there. It was a still, wonderful day. The availability of tugs has to be examined.

The Sea Empress is an example of massive vessels carrying enormous cargoes. Going back about 25 years, my reading has told me that a second hull is an obvious safety measure. I understand that the United States will not allow oil tankers into its ports unless they are double hulled. If that is the case in the United States, why not in Pembrokeshire, in Milford Haven and in Europe generally? It should certainly be the position in Pembrokeshire, which is an area of especially high nature conservation value.

Dispersants help to get oil out of sight but their toxicity is a problem. I wonder sometimes, especially given the geographical position of Pembrokeshire, whether it would not be better to let nature take its course. In mid-winter, there are strong winds and rough seas—those are the conditions in March, April and May for example—and given western approaches the oil will be washed into the oceans gradually without the aid of dispersants. I recognise, of course, the argument that is mounted on behalf of oiled sea birds.

The Secretary of State spoke earlier about compensation. I ask that the Government provide every possible mechanism to ensure that 100 per cent. compensation is provided for fishermen, for the clean-up costs and for the effects on the tourist industry that are bound to materialise over the next few months and possibly during the next year. I understand that compensation payments for the Braer incident cost about £70 million. The capped funds available for this incident may not be enough. If they are not, the Government and the oil industry must work on that. If the oil industry wants a good future in Pembrokeshire, as a good neighbour it must from its own resources and on the polluter pays principle find 100 per cent. compensation for the losses. When we look at its turnover—it is a multi-billion dollar industry—£100 million is not an enormous amount.

We must, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke has argued vigorously and consistently since day one of the incident, have a full and open public inquiry. Recall Donaldson. An internal inquiry just will not satisfy the local people. We want to know exactly why the incident on that Thursday evening happened, why it took four days to refloat the tanker and why during that time we turned what was a problem into a catastrophe.

Photo of Martyn Jones Martyn Jones , Clwyd South West 7:40 pm, 29th February 1996

I shall speak briefly about the effects of the revenue support grant on services for my constituents and on the local authority areas that are being formed from Clwyd. Unfortunately, I was unable to speak in the revenue support grant debate. Following it, during Welsh Questions on 19 February, I asked a question of the Secretary of State for Wales. I pointed out that, during the past two years, 411 teachers had gone from the Clwyd area but the number of pupils had grown by 710. I asked what he would say to the parents of pupils in my constituency. He did not tell me, but he said that I had not voted against the revenue support grant. I must put on record the fact that I was unable to attend the debate because I was in Brussels, on a day trip, on Select Committee business. I can assure the House that it was quite gruelling. We talked to Franz Fischler, the Agriculture Commissioner, about problems in agriculture which affect my area. There were three Tories with me who also did not vote—in their case for the revenue support grant—so I was on a winner there in terms of numbers.

The Chancellor's Budget last year assumed a freeze on local authority spending in 1996–97. All the signs are that, after the Budget, the situation is worse. His verdict on the settlement was that pay and price increases should be offset—or more than offset—by efficiency savings and other economies. How often have we heard that one? It takes no account of local authority associations' demand for a cash increase of 13 per cent. just to maintain services and cope with the growing demographic and legislative pressures of community care, rising pupil numbers, the new landfill tax and maintaining local roads. It is hard to see how local authorities in Wales will survive within the Government's capping limits.

In my constituency, the county borough council of Wrexham faces an additional burden—the costs and difficulties of coping with the effects of local government reorganisation. It and other councils in Wales face a very difficult year in 1996–97.

We all remember the Tory fiasco at the most recent local government elections. It is upsetting and frustrating to think that the Government's continuing cuts to local authorities may in part be due to their almost total lack of representation at that level of government. When a Government have become so distant from the people that they are prepared continually to slash local funding, in the knowledge that it will badly damage public services, it is dishonourable for them to cling to power. A grant settlement sufficient to prevent damage to our public services is vital.

I mentioned the horrendous cut in the number of teachers, which has resulted in an increase in class sizes in the Clwyd area—now Flintshire, Denbighshire and Wrexham, the new unitary authorities. I point out to hon. Members that, in future, I intend to use the word "Scottism", the dictionary definition of which will be: an example of Government incompetence wrapped up in layers of doublespeak, contradiction and paradox, with an abundant supply of Ministers reinterpreting the meaning of words to suit the occasion. An example of a Scottism is when a Government refuse to acknowledge "sophism" as the dictionary definition of a downright lie.

Examples of Scottisms are, as is to be expected, abundant in the Welsh Office, particularly in education. As I have said, we have 400 fewer teachers in Clwyd and an extra 700 pupils, yet we are supposed to believe that we have been given an increase in education funding.

Another concern is the nursery voucher scheme and its specific impact in Wales. There has been plenty of rhetoric from the Welsh Office but little in the way of hard facts and figures. How much will really be taken from each local authority to pay for the scheme? Do not the Government realise that nursery education—thanks to Labour authorities in Wales—is already provided by more than 90 per cent. of local authorities in Wales, and that the changeover to nursery vouchers will disrupt the system? The Welsh already pride themselves on nursery provision. A classic Scottism is the use of the word "nursery" in this case because, as Ministers should know, the word means different things in Wales and England, as Welsh children already enjoy it as part of local authority provision.

It is appropriate to note that the National Farmers Union in Wales reported this week farmers' disgust that the Government are to cut discretionary payments for the use of milk in schools and in school catering. Pupils will no longer benefit every day from receiving just under half a pint of low-cost milk. As hon. Members will know, the EU scheme enables schools to buy subsidised milk and milk products and pass on the benefits to children in the form of cheaper or free milk. Milk is an important nutritional element in the diet of children throughout the United Kingdom, providing them with the essential protein and calcium necessary for healthy development. The National Osteoporosis Society and nutrition experts have stated that drinking milk may help children to guard against osteoporosis in later life.

The growth and popularity of convenience foods, particularly sugary snacks, make the cut particularly worrying. The cut is disgraceful, bearing in mind the fact that it is being made at a time of widespread concern about the poor quality of child nutrition. It is another example of cost cutting at any cost and of the Government scrambling around to slash resources to patch up their own mismanagement.

I come now to the problems in the fire service. I shall quote from a letter that the north Wales fire authority sent me: At its Budget meeting on 13th February, 1996, the North Wales Fire Authority expressed concern regarding the extreme pressure under which it would be placed during its first year.In particular, Members of the Fire Authority were informed that the financial pressure on its revenue budget had been increased by the very disappointing level of Basic Capital Allowance given by Central Government"— about £296,000— compared with the previous combined total for Gwynedd and Clwyd … in excess of £1.2m.Such was Members' concern that they have asked for an urgent meeting with the Home Secretary to highlight the likely consequences of the Authority's problems … Also, on a national level, concern was expressed at the current situation regarding pensions liabilities which this Authority and others in England and Wales are faced with as an increasing burden on revenue and the need for a revision of policy by Central Government. It has written to the Home Secretary requesting him to meet a delegation so that it can raise the above and other issues of concern with him. A copy of that letter has been sent to the Secretary of State for Wales, so I hope that, in his winding-up speech, the Minister will say that the Secretary of State will support the authority's case to the Home Office. I hope that he will support it to the full.

We have heard about the problems of Theatr Clwyd. I believe that writing off the £1.3 million debt—although it sounds a lot of money—is not enough, because it is only a £200,000 revenue equivalent: in other words, the debt repayment is £200,000 a year. That means that the three remaining authorities in Clwyd will have to stump up at least £150,000. Wrexham, certainly, cannot afford that: it can probably afford only about £50,000.

Even paying that amount would force Wrexham to choose between a theatre of national importance and local services such as the provision of teachers and home helps. I do not think that such choices should have to be made. It is particularly objectionable for a council to have to decide whether to finance a theatre that is a wonderful national asset, and, moreover, is patronised by a number of people from across the border who will visit it free of charge, or will make a reduced, subsidised payment. The Secretary of State should not expect local government to continue to provide such funding, and it is disgraceful to expect the council to choose between financing the theatre and financing essential services such as community care and education.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury 7:50 pm, 29th February 1996

I am delighted to be able to speak in our annual St. David's day debate—and to be the only English contributor apart from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, which may enable me to speak objectively about Wales.

I intended to make two points. The first concerned the Sea Empress; the second concerned Labour's proposals for a Welsh assembly. My right hon. Friend's speech, however, was a breath of fresh air: he announced a huge number of new initiatives. I was particularly impressed by the devolution of policy from the Welsh Office to 22 free-standing authorities, which must be one of the largest such devolutions ever announced to the House. I would have expected all hon. Members—especially Opposition Members—to welcome that, as it represents the working of local democracy and gives Wales a greater say over its own affairs.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths , Bridgend

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) specifically welcomed a number of those announcements.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I am delighted that the bipartisan spirit is returning to our debate. Surely we all want as many businesses and as much inward investment as possible in the province. The Opposition's support for my right hon. Friend's excellent proposal will help to create the confidence that will produce the inward investment and business climate to which I have referred.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

Some Opposition Members find the word "province" rather offensive in this context. My main point, however, relates to the devolution of powers to local authorities. A future Secretary of State could reverse the position, and Welsh Members would not be able to do anything about it. That is why we need democratic power at an all-Wales level.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. I understand that his party favours independence for Wales, yet he says that he does not like the phrase "Welsh province". Does he want an independent Wales, or does he want Wales to be part of the United Kingdom, as I do?

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

It is understandable for a member of the hon. Gentleman's party to want to have his cake and eat it.

Wales is fortunate to receive the benefits announced by my right hon. Friend, some of which we would do well to mirror in England. For example, every school in Wales is to be given an attainment target. Moreover, if the targets are not high enough, the schools will be asked to reconsider them. There are to be 500 more modern apprenticeship schemes and, subsequently, 3,800 more modern and accelerated apprenticeship schemes. My right hon. Friend announced many more education proposals. I am sure that my constituents would be delighted to be given the £2.2 billion that the Welsh have spent on health, in per capita terms. I note that the number of patients waiting more than six months for treatment has fallen by 75 per cent. I especially welcome the replacement of 16 health authorities by five: I have long believed that we should cut the bureaucracy in the health service, which employs nearly 1 million people. It is the largest organisation apart from the Red Army.

I shall return to my original theme. I welcome devolution to the province of Wales, as I like to call it. My right hon. Friend announced a strategic development scheme, which would provide a large amount of money—£13 million this year, rising to £38 million in three years' time. A total of £360 million in European objective 2a and 5b funds is to be channelled into the province; £959 million is to be spent on regeneration. That amounts to nearly £1 billion, and the 22 stand-alone authorities will at least have more say over its use than they have now.

I particularly welcomed my right hon. Friend's announcement about the environment. The budget of the Countryside Council for Wales is to be increased. Perhaps that announcement is nearest to the hearts of the Welsh people affected; I understood the comments of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams), and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) will make further comments. As a member of the Select Committee on the Environment, however, I share the concern that is felt about the enviromental effects of the Sea Empress tragedy. We must all try to learn lessons from it. None the less, I hope that we will not over-emphasise its impact—the last thing that we want to do is to kill the tourism business stone dead.

I pay tribute to the heroic efforts made by all who have been involved in the refloating of the Sea Empress, and those still involved in the clean-up. They are doing magnificent work, and I am only too grateful for the fact that the country has been provided with some of the greatest expertise available. Opposition Members have made a number of accusations about the Government's handling of the process. It has been said, for example, that the Donaldson recommendations have not been followed and, in particular, that there was not on station at the time a tug of sufficient capacity to refloat the Sea Empress. That is not true. There was a Chinese tug of suitable capacity on station.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger , Pembroke

The hon. Gentleman has been misinformed. The Chinese tug was claimed by the salvors to be either the sixth or the ninth most powerful in the world, depending on which press conference one attended. Sadly, however, she was not a salvage tug; she was designed to tow large objects for long distances. When she attached herself to the Sea Empress, it was clear that the crew were not a salvage crew. That is no criticism of them, or of the master. The vessel was not designed to operate in such waters, and to be manoeuvrable. A mistake was made and, within between 12 and 24 hours of coming off station, the tug was put off charter—the reason being that she could not do the job.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information, but a tug of that capacity was available. The Donaldson report said that the Government should make more salvage tugs available on station. The Government acted and put salvage tugs in Dover and on the north-west coast simply because those were adjudged to be the two most vulnerable regions. I understand that the approach to Milford Haven is relatively simple and that, therefore, the risk was not judged to be so great.

It is not surprising that it was extremely difficult to refloat a vessel that is almost 1,000 ft long, was carrying 160,000 tonnes of oil and had a draught of 24 ft—I believe that is the figure. Once it had been grounded, it was an almost Herculean task to refloat it. The hon. Member for Pembroke shakes his head. He obviously does not know much about it.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger , Pembroke

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

No. I have given way to enough Opposition Members. It is clearly extremely difficult to refloat a vessel of that size and weight once it has been grounded. The main thing that we must guard against is a similar incident happening again.

I tried to intervene on the hon. Member for Carmarthen on that point because, as the hon. Member for Pembroke will know, once such a vessel is under the command of the pilot, it is his duty above all others—his takes precedence over the captain's command—to ensure that the ship is safely manoeuvred into port. Any accusations that the captain could not speak English or did not know the waters do not, therefore, hold water.

The investigation that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has set up may delve into those matters. I am delighted, as I hope the hon. Member for Pembroke is, that an independent investigation is to take place. It will have all the expertise. I understand that my right hon. Friend is already taking independent advice on a number of matters. When the investigation is complete, the Government will publish it and consider its recommendations carefully to ensure that such a disaster cannot happen again.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that the Wales tourist board will do all it can to reassure visitors to Wales so that—as all Opposition Members would want—the number of visitors, especially later in the year, will not diminish as a result of the disaster.

I warmly welcome the insurance provision that has been made. Some £10 million will be available from the oil tanker's insurance and a further £50 million will be available from the oil bond that was set up after the Exxon Valdez disaster. It is worth mentioning that that disaster cost £2.5 billion, so the hon. Member for Carmarthen is right—there is concern that there may not be sufficient money to meet all the claims that may eventually be made. I hope that my right hon. Friend will speak severely to the oil industry if it does not cover all valid claims. There could be a case against the insurers if that happens.

I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you do not want me to go on for too long, so I shall come to the last section of my speech—about the Labour party's serious proposal for a Welsh Assembly. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to the Leader of the Opposition, who is visiting Wales today on a high-profile visit—no doubt getting ready for the next election and trying to garner votes. He will not be able to give the people of Wales answers to questions about the Labour party's main policy: a Welsh Assembly. The House is entitled to receive tonight from the hon. Member who is to wind up for the Opposition the answers to some of those questions.

For example, why would Wales receive a second-class assembly? Why would it not be the same as the Scottish assembly? Why would the people of Wales not be given the opportunity to have a referendum on the issue before the Labour party got anywhere near the reins of power—if it were ever that fortunate? Why would it not give the people of Wales a referendum? Let the people have a say as to whether they want their own assembly.

I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to ask about the West Lothian question. Why on earth should English and Welsh Members be able to vote on English expenditure, but unable to vote on Welsh expenditure? That would be a wrong that my English constituents would feel sore about. Why should Members from Wales have control over their affairs, while my constituents, through their Member of Parliament, would have no control over Welsh affairs?

How much would the Welsh Assembly cost? The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) was carping over our cost estimates, but, as it is his policy, he should be able to tell us how much it would cost. He cannot even do his sums and tell us. Why can he not tell us what form of voting there would be for the assembly? Why is it proposed that Scotland should have proportional representation for its assembly, but Wales should be relegated to the first-past-the-post system? Why should the two assemblies have different voting systems?

Why cannot Labour Welsh Members tell us? I shall happily give way if they can give us any answers to any of those questions, but they cannot. They have not thought it through. It is preposterous that the Leader of the Opposition should go to Wales to con the Welsh people into giving him their votes when Labour Members cannot even give elementary answers to elementary questions. The Opposition have an enormous amount to answer for.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger , Pembroke 8:06 pm, 29th February 1996

The previous speech shows why we should try to restrict speeches in such a debate to Welsh Members.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. Hon. Members called to speak are chosen by the Speaker. That job will remain with the Speaker and not with Back-Bench or Front-Bench Members.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger , Pembroke

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will want to intervene after I have corrected most of his mistakes, which were of a factual nature.

It will come as no surprise to hon. Members that I will deal purely with the Sea Empress—by any account, the most serious environmental disaster that this country has experienced, including that of the Torrey Canyon. For Wales and the north Devon and north Cornish coasts, the Sea Empress is potentially one of the most serious economic disasters.

I pay tribute to the individuals and organisations who have played such a great part in the salvage operation. On the night of 17 February and throughout the early hours of Sunday 18 February, individual tug crew members, the Sea Empress crew, the pilots and the salvage crew put their lives at risk. For 12 hours, the conditions were horrendous.

I put on record my appreciation of the enormous effort that is still being made in my constituency and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) by the clean-up teams and by the district and county councils. Hundreds of men are mobilised and many resources are being expended in tackling the horrendous problems on our beaches.

I thank all the volunteers from all over the country who have given their services to assist with the clean-up operation, especially in collecting the oil-affected birds that are constantly washed up on the Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire coastlines. The work carried out by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has been invaluable even though, unfortunately, it will not prevent many deaths from oiling.

Surely the issue is how the accident, which occurred on Thursday night, could have turned into disaster on Monday night and over the following two days. The Pembrokeshire coastline and the offshore islands are important to our world environment and not just to our local environment. Lundy and, more importantly, the Skomer marine nature reserve are now affected. The whole of the Pembrokeshire coastline is about to be designated by the European Union as an area of special conservation and offshore, we have some of the most important bird colonies in the world. There are huge colonies of gannets and Manx shearwaters. The scoters that overwinter in Carmarthen bay are being decimated. Heavily oiled puffins and razor bills are being washed ashore as well. Some 30 sites of special scientific interest are under threat as we debate the issue.

Photo of Mr Gareth Wardell Mr Gareth Wardell , Gower

In view of the picture that my hon. Friend has so vividly painted, does he agree that to ensure to the best of our ability that such a disaster never happens again, a full and independent inquiry should be set up by the Government as soon as possible?

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger , Pembroke

Absolutely. That is the point I have made constantly since the vessel ran aground and it became clear that a number of Lord Donaldson's recommendations had not been implemented. As the accident on Thursday night deteriorated into a tragedy, many individuals—and organisations—who have some contact with the Department of Transport and who are involved in the decision-making process realised that the only way to have a credible inquiry and report was for the inquiry to be independent of the Department of Transport and to be chaired, ideally, by Lord Donaldson, the former Master of the Rolls, who is the world's expert in relation not only to shipping, but to judicial matters. I am grateful for the support my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) and other hon. Friends have given to my call for a truly independent inquiry and I will touch on the reasons why only an independent inquiry can be justified.

According to the RSPCA's most recent count, almost 1,700 dead sea birds have been collected. The organisation estimates that there are probably at least four to 10 times that amount of dead sea birds out at sea. Thousands of birds with either light oiling or heavy oiling have been sighted. The RSPCA has managed to clean 3,000 birds.

It should be remembered that when the Government agreed to set up an independent inquiry, under Lord Donaldson, into the Braer disaster, the environmental impact was far smaller than that already caused by the Sea Empress, and we are nowhere near the end of the problem. It is, therefore, even more surprising that the Government still refuse to agree to an independent inquiry.

An environmental tragedy is happening before us, but there are also economic problems. The fishing industry in west Wales has now come to a stop and, as I pointed out to the Secretary of State, the problem is not confined to my constituency. Fishermen right along the Welsh coastline are suffering in the markets of France, Spain and even Billingsgate. I am told that fish merchants in Billingsgate have notices in their stalls saying, "No Welsh fish sold here." That problem will affect areas as far away from the spill as Holyhead, which we know will never be affected. However, that is the line. If it is Welsh fish, there may be a problem so the fish merchants do not want to handle it. I hope that the Secretary of State will take on board my suggestion that to restore order to the market and to try to get across the message that the majority of the Welsh coastline is not polluted, he should impose an exclusion order and then, following testing which will give confidence to the market, lift it.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) that we must not talk up the disaster because if we do, we shall ruin the tourism industry. However, the media have already done that. Merely by showing the beaches that have been polluted at Tenby, the media have made it clear that we face disaster.

I was contacted by one of the major caravan site operators in west Wales who told me that before the tanker hit the rocks, his caravan site had only 20 per cent. vacancies for August. This is the period when he would expect to fill those vacancies because families are booking their holidays. We had an excellent summer last year and families want to come back to the beauty of Pembrokeshire. In the week after the tanker hit the rocks, instead of having 80 per cent. occupancy, cancellations meant that the operator had only 20 per cent. occupancy and 80 per cent. vacancies. That is the impact of the disaster, which could not have happened at a worse time. This is the time when families decide where to go on their holidays.

Every time I speak to the media, I tell people that by the summer—in fact by May—the beaches will be clean and children will be able to play on them. There may be a problem in certain areas, but the beaches that we now see on our television screens as heavily polluted will be absolutely clean. We have to get that message across and I welcome the action taken by the Secretary of State and the Welsh tourist board. However, we must not start the campaign too early because it has to have credibility. We should not start the campaign when we know that the media will say, "How can they say this? Look at our pictures." We have to time the campaign correctly.

My call for an independent inquiry has been echoed throughout the world. I have had letters from Canada and Australia calling for something to be done and for there to be, first of all, an independent inquiry. The bulk of the letters have come not from my constituency, but from elsewhere in Wales and the United Kingdom. The pictures on television screens throughout the country and throughout the world have moved people, especially those who know Pembrokeshire and its beauty. Those people are very, very angry and they are especially angry now because the Government have refused to implement an inquiry. Every reasonable person to whom I have spoken says, "Why on earth do the Government not have an independent inquiry?" The reasons given by the Secretary of State just do not hold water.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Opposition Whip (Commons)

He has something to hide.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger , Pembroke

That is the fear.

It is worth touching on what happened over those days; I have to correct the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury who got a number of facts wrong. Let us not forget that whatever the reasons for the disaster—I accept that there may well have been human error and mechanical error—an inquiry will establish the truth. In this field, if possibly no other, I have a great deal of knowledge, having worked as a docker at Milford Haven from 1977 until I was elected to Parliament in 1992. I know how the port operates.

The first question must be why the vessel was coming in only an hour and 20 minutes before low water, when the actual tide was 3 ft lower than the predicted tide. It would have had great difficulty getting to the berth at Texaco before the tide turned. Ships of that size have to come in to an ebbing tide and they cannot be swung in the port when they are laden. In fact, the tanker ran aground. It has since emerged that the super-tanker spilled approximately 250 tonnes of oil, ruptured a couple of cargo tanks, ruptured some ballast tanks and took on a list of 19 deg. With assistance from tugs, the vessel floated free within three hours. An accident occurred, for whatever reason, and resulted in the spillage of 250 tonnes of crude oil, which is not to be welcomed.

By Monday night, the vessel had ridden out a storm and run aground a number of times. In calm weather, at approximately 6.30, under the control of tugs and salvers, the vessel was put on to the rocks again in one of the highest tides of the decade and immediately spilt 50,000 tonnes of crude oil. Over the next two days, it probably shed another 15,000 tonnes. We must ask how an accident that occurred at 8.10 on Thursday night turned into such a disaster on Monday night.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Although I hesitate to intervene on the hon. Gentleman, especially as he has such great knowledge of these matters, will he answer the point that I put to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams)? When a ship is on its way to port and the pilot has boarded, the pilot has overriding control of that ship. If the pilot did not feel that it was fit to take that ship in, he could have told the captain to abort the approach. The fact that he did not do so must have meant that he felt that the operation was feasible and quite safe.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger , Pembroke

Although that is obviously an issue for the inquiry, the hon. Gentleman is incorrect. In those circumstances, the ship's captain never relieves responsibility. The pilot is merely there in an advisory capacity. It worries me that we, the media and the leaks coming out of the marine accident investigation branch inquiry seem to be concentrating on that issue too. Although the accident is regrettable—250 tonnes of oil should not have leaked and she should not have run aground—the main issue is what happened after that. That is why we need an independent inquiry. If the accident were so straightforward, I would have no problem at all with the fact that the marine accident investigation branch was considering it. But, subsequently, serious mistakes were made for which people are responsible. That can only be examined by a truly independent inquiry.

I stress that the tragedy is that the advice of the pilots, the only people with the expertise to handle very large crude carriers—although, strictly speaking, the Sea Empress is not a VLCC but merely a super-tanker—has been ignored throughout the salvage operation. Nobody has greater expertise of the tides and how the river works. On at least two occasions, they made recommendations to the management of the operation that were either ignored or overruled.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) referred to one of those occasions. On Saturday afternoon, the words of a pilot who has more than 20 years' experience, who is used to handling VLCCs and who knows Milford Haven like the back of his hand were recorded. He was speaking on a cellphone—not over a radio, but it happened to be recorded. From certain activities of the royal family, we know that such things happen. He said, "I am in the channel. I have got enough water underneath me to get out. Give me permission and I will take her out to sea."

We all knew that a gale was coming. A force 9 was predicted for that night and it was an ideal opportunity to get the vessel out into the open sea. The ship was being held on—probably—the most dangerous part of coastline in western Europe. I do not exaggerate. There are few places where a super-tanker of that size can be held. That part of the coastline is one of those places, and if one is in trouble, one gets away from it.

The strategy devised by the salvors—and presumably the marine pollution control unit and the coastguard—was based on the fact that due to the ship's great draught, it had to be held in position. That strategy was fatally flawed—the pilots have told me so. It was fatally flawed because the salvors did not have sufficient tug power to hold the vessel given the strong currents, the predicted gale and some of the highest tides of the decade. Everything was predicted, nothing surprised the salvors, yet they decided to hold the vessel in deep water and try to get a tug alongside to lighten it. The strategy was flawed from the word go and if the salvors had listened to the pilots, they would not have embarked on it.

The vessel could have been rescued earlier. Pilots who went on it on Friday morning suggested that it was trimmed further. By then, it was drawing 23 m— approximately 75 ft. The pilots suggested to the harbour authorities and those running the salvage operation that they could trim the vessel by either transferring a little cargo using the tanker's own fire system or by taking ballast off into its port side ballast tanks that were not damaged. The advice was ignored. The pilots predicted that they could reduce the draught to 20 m, and on the high tide on Friday get the vessel into the very birth where it now lies. Only 250 tonnes of oil would have leaked.

No answer at all to that suggestion was given. The only response was, "Hold her in position in the deep water". We must ask why. Who gains most? All I can suggest is that the salvors were blinkered; they adopted one strategy and nothing else would do. No one was prepared to listen to local knowledge and expertise and that led to the ultimate disaster on Monday night. That disaster did not have to happen. That is what has made so many people angry.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

Is my hon. Friend saying that the marine pollution control unit was party to the decisions?

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger , Pembroke

If, like me, my hon. Friend had been at the press conferences throughout the operation, he would have realised that there was quite clearly a joint decision-making process between the salvors, the MPCU, the coastguard and the port authority. That was exemplified by the story about Saturday afternoon, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West referred.

After the pilot had asked permission to take the tanker out to sea and away from danger, the harbour master said that he agreed but that he was in a room full of men saying no. Who were those men? The only person under the Dangerous Vessels Act 1985 who can overrule the decision of a harbour master is the Secretary of State or anybody he appoints in his stead.

I think that it was decided to hold the tanker in deep water, try to get a tanker alongside it to lighten the load and then either bring it into port or take it out. No alternative strategy was to be considered. Some might say that if a strategy has been decided on, it should be stuck to, but we should bear in mind the fact that the local guys were saying that such a strategy was crazy and that the coast is one of the most dangerous. That is why we need to consider how decisions were taken and why the strategy was insisted on, which can only be established by an independent inquiry.

I apologise to my hon. Friends for speaking for a considerable amount of time, but I think that they accept that the issue is very important.

I should explain why I believe that only an independent inquiry will carry credibility. Lord Donaldson compiled a 522-page report following the Braer disaster, which did not—thankfully for the people of Shetland—create such a huge environmental problem as the one that we are experiencing in west Wales. The report was published in May 1994 and contains more than 100 recommendations. The Government have said that they have already implemented 84, and I welcome that. However, key recommendations have been ignored or not fully implemented. In paragraph 20.87, it says: There is not sufficient salvage capacity in UK waters at the moment, nor is it coherently organised. The market will not provide enough capacity. Action needs to be taken to achieve the ends of the action taken by other governments. Paragraph 20.88 says: We believe that the Government should set up a system to ensure that tugs with adequate salvage capacity are available at key points around UK shores … Where adequate capacity cannot be provided in any other way, the Government should arrange for the funding of the difference between what is needed and what the private sector can provide". Paragraph 20.95 says: We recommend that the Government should consider with the Governments of neighbouring countries—the Republic of Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands—whether combined salvage capacity in adjacent waters is practicable". In paragraph 20.124 Lord Donaldson discussed the need for further work and studies to be carried out, but concluded: We do not believe that it is sensible to wait for such a study, which could take several years: the tugs need to be in place quickly. He continued: While we would very much like to see the entire system in place before the winter of 1994–95, we appreciate that this may not be practicable. Lord Donaldson said that there should be five tugs round that part of the coast, but recognised that that might not be practicable. His conclusion, as the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury should recognise, is the important point: We therefore propose that there should be interim arrangements during the winter months until the new system— that is, the system with five tugs— is fully operational, and that the UK Government should be prepared to bear the full cost of such interim arrangements. Lord Donaldson said that those interim arrangements should concentrate on three key areas. The first was north-west Scotland—that is already covered. The second was the Dover straits—that is already covered too. The third area was the western approaches. Where are the arrangements there? That is the key question.

A couple of days after the events, on Wednesday I believe, Lord Donaldson appeared on television. I saw him on BBC and ITV, saying that he accepted that his recommendations had not been fully implemented, and that that must have had some impact on the outcome of the operation.

That is because the strategy of holding the vessel in that most difficult area, with that combination of currents, tides and winds, could have worked only if powerful tugs had been available. Pilots have told me that in certain conditions during the operation, the vessel, without any power, would have exerted a pull of about 800 tonnes or equivalent. The tugs, even at full power, could exert a pull of only 200 tonnes. The vessel was pulling the tugs around rather than vice versa. That is why she kept running aground.

The Secretary of State and his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt), who went on to become chairman of the Conservative party, are implicated, because they did not implement the Donaldson recommendations in full.

Let us also examine the involvement of the Department of Transport and its agencies. It is clear from the public statements made by the Coastguard Agency and by the marine pollution control unit that they were part of the decision-making process. They too were tied into the strategy. There is no question about that, because they have admitted it.

As those agencies were part of the flawed strategy, given that they are part of the Department of Transport, how can we allow another branch the same Department, the marine accident investigation branch, to investigate them—never mind the question whether Ministers, such as the Secretary of State for Transport and the Minister for Aviation and Shipping, Viscount Goschen, acted properly. Was Viscount Goschen part of the decision-making process? Did he instruct the harbour master not to allow the vessel out of the area? Those are serious questions, and they can be answered credibly only by an independent inquiry.

I realise that time is pushing on, and I shall do my best to be as brief as possible. On Thursday I asked the Secretary of State for Transport why he would not institute an independent inquiry. He replied by saying that nobody questions the integrity of the air accident investigation branch of the Civil Aviation Authority. However, I think that I have shown that the Department of Transport itself, including the Secretary of State and possibly the Minister for Aviation and Shipping, was heavily involved in the operation.

If there were an air accident in which the Department of Transport had shared the co-pilot's seat and the Secretary of State had been the air traffic controller, would we believe that the air accident investigation branch of the CAA would be able to carry out an independent inquiry? I doubt that very much, yet that is the equivalent of the present position.

Like my constituents who have written to me on the subject, I want wider issues to be touched on. Other hon. Members have mentioned some of them, such as double hulls. It is now recognised that double hulls or their equivalents—such as the mid-deck design—provide greater protection in groundings. Why do we not take the bull by the horns and, as a nation with substantial offshore oil reserves—the United Kingdom continental shelf sends a great deal of shipping into our ports—insist that vessels trading between the UK continental shelf and UK ports must be double-hulled or of an equivalent design?

My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen said that double hulls were compulsory off the United States coast. He is not right, and I must correct him. However, because under the Act on oil pollution passed by the United States in 1990, shipowners have unlimited liability, insurers now give them a discount on their premiums if their ships have double hulls. There is a financial incentive to have double rather than single hulls.

We could do that too. We must start to address the issue as quickly as possible. I believe that Lord Donaldson is the only person who could force that through. The marine accident investigation branch would certainly not do it.

Photo of Mr Gareth Wardell Mr Gareth Wardell , Gower

To be fair, must not my hon. Friend accept that Lord Donaldson made it clear that he could not give a convincing answer to the question whether all vessels should be double-hulled? More research needs to be done, because in certain cases double-hulled vessels are worse than single-hulled vessels.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger , Pembroke

My hon. Friend is correct, but Lord Donaldson was not saying that we should carry on with single hulls. He said that more research should be done, and criticised the United States for saying that nothing but double-hulled vessels would be built after the year 2003, and that all others would be phased out by the year 2015.

The International Maritime Organisation has said that it wants far greater protection, so only vessels with double hulls or their equivalent should be constructed after the year 2000. But it also says that it would take 25 to 30 years to phase out single hulls, which would mean an unacceptable delay.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gower is right that Lord Donaldson says to the United States, in effect, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket". He was not arguing in favour of single hulls, by any stretch of the imagination. Lord Donaldson was trying to suggest that perhaps the mid-deck design, with ballast in the space between the cargo and the outer skin, is better. It is sometimes far safer, especially when there is an explosion.

Already two companies have declared that they will use nothing but double-hulled vessels. The first is Conoco, which manufactures Jet petrol, and the second is Bitor, which imports orimulsion all over the world, using only double-hulled vessels.

Salvage law, too, must be examined. The Sea Empress disaster is the first major incident since the passage of the Merchant Shipping (Salvage and Pollution) Act 1994, which was guided through the House by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris). The hon. Gentleman should be congratulated on his work, and so should the Government, on the fact that they picked up the idea and ran with it.

However, sadly, the fact remains that in the present incident the new legislation, which was intended to ensure that the environment was given far greater consideration, obviously did not work. We should review salvage legislation, in the hope that two things may happen. First, the environment must always be put before the safety, or rather the salvage, of the vessel. Secondly, if we had a proper full independent inquiry, the fact would emerge that the Government should step in immediately there is a major threat of pollution, and start managing the salvage operation. The salvors should be the contractors, not, as happens now, virtually become the owners of the vessel and the controllers of the operation. That is a lesson that we should learn. Only someone with the experience, and particularly the judicial background, of Lord Donaldson could address that issue. It certainly could not be addressed by the marine accidents investigation branch.

Milford Haven port authority must be fully investigated. I must declare a retrospective interest—if that is possible—because, from 1977 to 1992, I was, ultimately, an employee of the port authority: the company for which I worked was wholly owned by it. Over the years, I and many others, particularly pilots, have been saying that safety margins are being continually squeezed.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Milford Haven was a model port. People from all over the world visited it to see how a port should be run. They would ask, "How can you run an oil port in the middle of a national park, surrounded by these important environmental areas?" It was possible to do so because the port invested in safety margins and oil pollution techniques. In a number of spheres, it was a world leader. Sullom Voe, which is now the biggest oil port in the UK, based its methods of operation on those of Milford Haven.

Those safety margins have, sadly, disappeared. Instead, we have the farce of a port that annually has more than 3,000 vessel movements in and out of its entrance, which is not covered by radar. For six months, the radar covering the port's entrance has been out of action, which shows that something is seriously wrong with the authority. When the Borga ran aground on 29 October, the radar was not working and it had been out of operation for weeks.

When the radar was first installed in 1984, it was state of the art. It had not an old-style radar sweep screen but television screens that were touch sensitive, and the operator could see what was moving on it. It cost nearly £1 million, but it is no longer operable; only an old sweep screen is operating at the port. The port authority says that the radar is operational, but it is using pre-1984 technology.

In his final meeting with the port's board, the previous harbour master recommended that it should invest £1 million in a new radar system. The board decided to defer the decision until the new harbour master took over in late 1994 or early 1995, and no decision was taken. It was only after the understandable furore when the Borga had run aground that the board announced that it would replace the radar with £100,000 worth of equipment. But that was to cover only the entrance to the port; no full replacement for the rest of the system was proposed.

The number of tugs has been reduced. When I first started berthing super-tankers in the port, it had six fully manned tugs. We are now down—admittedly with two fewer terminals—to only three fully manned tugs, with one on standby. If a fifth tug is required, Swansea, Liverpool or another port must be asked to supply one. Flexibility has been reduced; safety margins have been cut.

I was staggered to learn that, in the week before the Sea Empress ran aground, a ship of similar size, the Star of Westminster, approached the port in bad weather. The pilot went out to the ship, but it was too rough to board. He told the ship to turn round and to try again in a few hours. The vessel ignored his advice. Someone on the ship sent a message that said, "I'm coming in". It carried on through the entrance of the port and was berthed—without a pilot. That vessel was subject to compulsory piloting; it had to have a pilot. I know what will happen: a bill will be sent for the pilotage and it will be paid although the pilot was not on board. That should not be allowed to happen.

The problem that the oil refining sector faces is that everything is cost driven, and I am afraid that safety is falling victim to that. In Milford Haven, we are witnessing the oil company tail wagging the port authority dog. We are also witnessing the loss of port safety and conservation of the environment as priorities. The port's focus has shifted from that—its prime responsibilities under the legislation—to commercial activity. I do not criticise it for developing derelict areas and trying to improve and create jobs, but it must not be done at the expense of the prime responsibilities of port safety and environmental conservation. I am afraid that that is what has been happening over a number of years.

I return to the point that I was making to the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury. The most worrying thing is that a spin is starting to take place over this tragedy, in which the finger is being pointed and the focus is being concentrated on the first accident on Thursday night. We are in the middle of an inquiry—I do not believe that it is sufficiently extensive or, certainly, sufficiently independent—that has been instituted by the Secretary of State and is being conducted by the MAIB.

Yesterday, the port authority attempted to suspend the pilot who was on the bridge when the vessel ran aground on Thursday night. It is outrageous that, in the middle of an inquiry, the port authority has suddenly decided who is guilty and pointed a finger. It is also making statements such as, "It was a pity that we pulled the vessel off the rocks on Thursday night." In other words, the port authority thinks that the fault lies not with the salvors, because they were not there on Thursday night, not with the marine pollution control unit, because it was not there on Thursday night, and not with the coastguard. The fault must lie with the first tug crews who got there, the pilot who was on board and the master who called for help. That is outrageous and extremely worrying, and can be addressed only by a full independent inquiry.

In relation to compensation, I do not want to talk up the disaster or the losses that will be made by the tourist industry, but let us be realistic right from the word go. For a far smaller incident and with a far smaller tourist industry, Braer has already paid out £47 million. There is only £57 million in this pot. There are many tragedies related to this incident. If it had happened in two months' time, under the Merchant Shipping (Salvage and Pollution) Act 1994, the pot would have been £125 million; at present, it will stop at £55 to £57 million, depending on the exchange rate.

Let us be realistic and face the problems as we see them now. We are not talking up the disaster. We are saying that if Braer, in an area with a smaller tourist industry and, arguably, a smaller fishing industry—it is certainly not much bigger than Milford's—has already cost £47 million, what on earth will this one cost?

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger , Pembroke

My hon. Friend says double, and I would not disagree with him. We should be putting pressure on the oil industry—on the international oil pollution compensation fund—and saying, "If this had happened in June, you would have had to pay out £125 million. You do not want your reputation sullied any more than it has been." One of the ways in which it will be sullied is if the industry does not pay full compensation to the innocent victims of this disaster. Those words should be coming from the Secretary of State.

I welcome everything that the Secretary of State said tonight. The £2 million bridging fund is an excellent idea, for which I am grateful. I discussed it with one of his Conservative colleagues in the other place at the St. David's day lunch. I am glad that it has been implemented.

On a personal note, I have been accused by the Minister for Aviation and Shipping of trying to make political capital out of this disaster. I understood that one of my jobs as a Back Bencher was to try to make the Executive accountable. I asked whether the Select Committee on Transport would be willing to hold some sort of independent inquiry, but I was told, "There is an inquiry going on and we cannot get involved." So Parliament seems to be negated and cannot go ahead with an independent inquiry. If we cannot get an independent inquiry within Parliament, Lord Donaldson is the only person to conduct one because he is an expert in this sphere. Why cannot we do that? It would give the Government credibility. It would give confidence to the people who have suffered and do not want it to happen again. They want to ensure that there will be no cover-up and no whitewash. The only way to do that is to call in Lord Donaldson.

We must all try to restore confidence in our fishing industry. I know that my suggestion to the Secretary of State may be difficult to implement but I think we should try to get the widest possible exclusion order in areas where the market is saying, "We don't want your fish" even though there is no justification for saying that. The only solution is to have the widest possible exclusion order, which can later be reduced following tests. As for tourism, I shall be saying that, in a few weeks, the beaches will be clean and people do not need to cancel their holidays. Perhaps if my colleague in this, the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis), contributes to the debate, he might mention orimulsion.

For any activities to be resumed, and even for the current operations to be undertaken with confidence, we have to tackle some fundamental problems in relation to the way in which Milford Haven has been operated over the past few years. We need to restore confidence. I hope that, even at this late stage, Conservative Members—we on this side are unanimous—will, in the nicest possible way, try to persuade the Secretary of State for Transport to swallow his pride and recognise that, since his statement on Thursday, there has been a fundamental change, especially in relation to environmental damage. Facts have also now emerged about his Department being part of the decision-making process, and we now know Lord Donaldson's views on the implementation of his recommendations. Given all that, is not it about time that it was recognised that the best way forward for all concerned is an independent inquiry?

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North 8:51 pm, 29th February 1996

My original intention was to speak about the importance of primary legislative powers for a Welsh Parliament and the insulting inadequacy of Labour's proposals for Wales in comparison with those for Scotland. I would have relished that, and did some homework on the subject so that I could point out the glaring deficiencies in Labour's assembly proposals, especially following the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) in presenting his ten-minute Bill yesterday. However, there will be ample opportunity to do that another time before the general election.

My original intention has been overtaken by events— those surrounding the Sea Empress disaster. That, together with some of the important and far-reaching lessons that we can learn from it, is what I shall speak about, although I shall refer later to the question of democratic government in Wales—an appropriate subject for a St. David's day debate.

I should like to emphasise, as my colleagues have done, how profoundly distressed and angry are the people of Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales and indeed, the whole of Wales. I believe that they are as one in demanding an independent public inquiry, based in Milford, into how on earth events could have taken such a chaotic course and how such hideous damage could have been allowed to happen.

Even at this late stage, I beg the Secretary of State for Transport to reconsider. The Government have rejected the public inquiry option and even refused to recall Lord Donaldson. I warn the Government that such a refusal will be condemned. I also warn them that if there is the slightest smell of a cover-up in the investigation and publication of results by the chief inspector of marine accidents, or if there is any failure to explore all the issues exhaustively, the Conservative party can say goodbye to any credibility in Pembrokeshire, which it once represented in Parliament. I have to say that the Conservative party's credibility in Wales is in any case at an all-time low, and this disaster will do nothing to help its recovery.

I do not intend to list all the questions that need to be answered, but I shall do so in my submission to the Department of Transport and the inquiry. The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) has done so far better than I, but I should like to reiterate some of the questions he asked and ask a few others.

Why was there insufficient tug pulling power? Why was there such an appalling failure to implement the Donaldson recommendations for a heavy tug at the western approach, despite the outstanding ecological value and sensitivity of the area? Even though Milford, with 6,000 tanker movements a year—[Interruption.]

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but there seems to be a private conversation going on. As the last hon. Member to speak was heard with attention, it is only courteous that the same should apply to the hon. Gentleman who is speaking.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I was referring to the 6,000 tanker movements a year in Milford, which is the biggest oil port in the United Kingdom even though seafaring there is an inherently hazardous business. Why were booms not used to prevent oil from entering the haven and coming ashore? Were the salvors in any way culpable? Are there built-in disincentives to effective action in the system of remuneration for salvors? Does not the need to save time in docking, unloading and turning around constitute an incentive to take deadly risks? How can that be prevented in future?

Might the dispersants and detergents used to break up the slicks be more damaging than the oil itself? I have tabled a parliamentary question about this, but it is worth asking now whether they contain the oestrogen-mimicking substances that are now widely suspected of significantly reducing the fertility of many species, including our own. If so, what is the likely effect on biodiversity in the area in the future?

We have to ask whether enough is being done, even now. There has been great praise for the valiant efforts of many people but a local resident, who has been working hard on his own local beach, telephoned me last night to say with deep sadness that, whereas the clean-up of the well-known beaches might be proceeding well, there are a host of others, including small coves, where little is being achieved. He wanted the area to be declared what he described as a "disaster area" and many more resources to be brought in.

I notice in the notes of the technical advisory group, prepared by the Department of the Environment, that the emergency planning manager can in certain circumstances request military resources in a clean-up operation. I ask that consideration at least be given to that suggestion.

I do not think that the person who telephoned me last night would have much time for what the Secretary of State for Transport said last Monday week. The Secretary of State's words now sound highly ironic. He said: Where an incident does occur, we are determined to react swiftly, thus effectively to reduce the pollution or damage caused.In this instance, despite severe weather, the practised implementation of our national contingency plan should ensure that the situation will be brought under control."—[Official Report, 19 February 1996; Vol. 272, c. 34.] Those words already ring pretty hollow.

I shall deal briefly with the issue of compensation. Who pays? How much is to be paid for the ecological damage? Of course, it cannot be calculated or expressed in monetary terms, but the polluter should be required to make recompense, and in a big way. That is quite separate from economic compensation, but the economic damage to fishing, tourism and a host of related activities is unfortunately bound to be significant.

No complicated stumbling blocks should be placed in the path of genuine applicants. Whom do I mean by "genuine applicants"? They should include the bed-and-breakfast provider in Teifi valley on the borders of Pembrokeshire, who may suffer a negative spin-off from the reduced number of tourists visiting the area. They should include the Tenby baker who works part time in winter, but full out in summer. He should be compensated if his work hours do not reach their normal level in summer. Fishermen in Cardigan are unable to sell any fish, although that may be the result of the negative perception of all Welsh fish by continental buyers.

Anyone who is able to show a loss of livelihood resulting directly or indirectly from the disaster should be fully compensated. That should be the rule. The sums needed to compensate properly for the consequences of the disaster, which will be huge. There is no justification for not making such sums available. The polluters, by which I mean the ship owners and the oil companies, should pay. It would be unacceptable if the main beneficiaries from the compensation process were to be lawyers.

One could say much more about the Sea Empress catastrophe but it would be irresponsible not to consider the wider implications. The hon. Member for Pembroke anticipated correctly that I would refer to orimulsion. The case for a public inquiry about the burning of that fuel at Pembroke power station has been greatly strengthened by this event. The Department of Trade and Industry should hesitate no further in acceding to that demand.

I am informed on good authority that knowledge of how orimulsion reacts when spilled into sea water is limited. It is an unknown factor that needs to be identified. It is certain that the introduction of orimulsion would significantly increase the number of tanker movements. The size of tankers, double hulling and port management practice, along with the existing concerns about the burning process and the pollution arising from it, are among the topics that need to be considered by an inquiry into the application of orimulsion. There is also the question whether the international oil pollution compensation fund would cover orimulsion, which, strictly speaking, is not oil.

A wider and ultimately even more important issue is the exploration for, and possible exploitation of, oil and gas reserves in Cardigan bay. Plaid Cymru opposes all oil and gas exploration in Welsh seas this side of the establishment of a Welsh Parliament. That is not to say that we would approve of it even afterwards, except under very particular circumstances and conditions.

It is important to recognise how priceless an asset— first, ecologically, and secondly, economically—is Cardigan bay. In Cardigan bay, I include the coast right down to the outskirts of Milford Haven and the parts that are being damaged. I do not need to rehearse the litany of specially designated areas along the coast or the fact that part of the bay will probably become a marine special area of conservation under the EU habitats directive. I shall mention the variety of cetaceans—porpoises and dolphins of more than one sort—that live in the bay. Some are listed in the appendices to the habitats directive. The sea bed, or benthic, diversity of the bay is apparently especially rich. More than 1,000 species of invertebrates, including some new to science, have been identified in a recent survey. Almost certainly, there are many others that have not been identified. The estuaries of the bay have valuable roosting and feeding areas for migratory and wintering birds. The Dyfi estuary is a Ramsar site.

Even in the absence of a major catastrophe, exploration—but especially extraction—could have a damaging effect on the diverse and remarkably abundant marine life. The cumulative effects of spillages—from leakage of oil, including that from pipes, which corrode more rapidly than was originally anticipated; toxic materials in drill cuttings; lubricants, or what are called muds; the chemicals used in association with the drill muds; contaminated water, including heavy metals; and human sewage from the rigs—can be shown to be significant, even many kilometres away from the rigs. All that in a shallow bay, where the water exchange is slow— in effect it is a sort of slow whirlpool—and any pollution caused by drilling or oil spillage will not disperse easily. Cardigan bay is very different from the North sea.

I commend to hon. Members the detailed and excellent document prepared by the Friends of Cardigan Bay—a soundly based organisation with much sound scientific input. I shall make the document available to Ministers and other Members if they so wish.

I have described what happens with ordinary exploration and exploitation. As for the possibility of a Sea Empress-type disaster, which could occur with a rig in the bay or a tanker taking oil from a well—we do not know whether that is likely to happen or whether oil would be brought ashore—I can do no better than to quote a letter from the Friends of Cardigan Bay to the President of the Board of Trade. I support what it says. The letter states: The fiasco over the salvage attempts of the 'Sea Empress' and the consequent oil spill covering large areas of the Welsh and south-west English coastline has shown that the oil spill contingency plans are at best inadequate and at worst completely useless.If the contingency plans fail to stop the spread of oil from an accident close inshore then we cannot see how the oil companies can be expected to cope with an accident further offshore at a drilling rig. We therefore demand that all oil drilling licences extant around the Welsh coastline are immediately suspended pending a full public enquiry into the events surrounding the 'Sea Empress' accident, and the wider environmental questions this throws up, and until the oil companies show they are able to deal with any situation that may occur. I agree, and I urge other Members to support that demand for an immediate suspension. I would regard that as the reasonable application of the precautionary principle to which the Government subscribe.

I also declare my support and that of my party for the policy proposals set out recently in a document from the Joint Links Oil Consortium, which comprises countryside and wildlife organisations. As regards exploration and exploitation around Britain, the consortium calls, first, for an environmental assessment of the United Kingdom continental shelf, during which there would be an assessment of all the environmental resources and the sensitivity of various areas. That assessment would be undertaken by a statutory agency—in Wales, the appropriate organisation would be the countryside Council for Wales, which would be accountable to the appropriate Secretary of State. In Wales, that would be the Secretary of State for Wales, but in England it would be the Secretary of State for the Environment, not the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Secondly, the consortium calls for a strategic impact assessment—not just an environmental assessment— focusing on areas of existing and potential interest for oil and gas exploration. Thirdly, on the basis of that assessment, it suggests the designation of certain areas as sacrosanct, others as moratorium areas on the grounds that information about them is incomplete and the impact is difficult to measure, and others as potential areas. In addition, all applicants for licences should have to submit a full project environmental impact assessment with each application and show the environmental impact of the whole process, from exploration to decommissioning at the end. All installations that come into existence should be required to have a zero-discharge policy—something that the United Kingdom Government do not require, although I understand that the Norwegian Government do.

It is a reflection of the nature of government in Wales that the Welsh Office has no input worth mentioning into the licensing process. That means that there is no such thing as a Welsh policy on an issue of major national— not provincial—importance for Wales.

The Joint Links Consortium document is important and merits serious study. It expresses the sort of rigorous and tough conditions that taking the environment seriously must imply. It is the sort of thing that comes at the beginning of the far-reaching process of transition to the very different model of economic and social organisation that we know as sustainable development—again, a concept to which the Government are signed up.

I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition is beginning to wake up to the enormous significance of integrating environmental concerns into all aspects of policy. That was not apparent until the day before yesterday. It is only beginning and has been long delayed, but it is welcome as the right hon. Gentleman is likely to be the next Prime Minister, and the sooner that happens, the better.

Finally, the Sea Empress disaster reminds us that a fundamental precondition of sustainability—I emphasise that word as it concerns the future of the world—is a radical medium-term reduction in our dependency on fossil fuels, the extraction, transportation, processing and burning of which are having such a grave effect on the life support systems of our planet. The Sea Empress disaster is just one small example of the damage that is being caused globally.

As nuclear power is neither acceptable nor feasible, two issues must become crucial to economic and development policy—first, energy efficiency and, secondly, the diverse and decentralised sources that are covered by the term renewables. The Government target of 1500 MW of renewable generation by 2000 is absurdly inadequate. It could easily have been doubled. Pembroke power station has a capacity of 2,000 MW, so the Government's target for renewable generation is equivalent to the output of one major fossil fuel power station.

It is time to stop regarding energy efficiency and renewables as amiable, but marginal and eccentric pursuits. They are essential if mankind and our planet in all its wondrous richness and diversity is to have a sustainable future.

Phil Williams, the Plaid Cymru energy and environment spokesman, who is a renowned physicist, reckons that Wales could halve its use of fossil fuel by the year 2010 through a national programme of energy conservation and the planned development of safe, non-polluting and renewable sources of electricity such as wind turbines, tidal power, wave generators, photo-voltaic panels, small-scale hydro and so on. Another environmental issue that cannot be ducked is the reduction in car transport through the systematic improvement of public transport and the development of a broad-band communication network such as that provided by optic fibres. We have to take an integrated approach aimed at reducing fossil fuel consumption.

Let us hope that the day is not far distant when we have a democratically accountable power in Wales to enable us to carry through such a programme and put our country at the forefront of the global move towards sustainability.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd , Cynon Valley 9:12 pm, 29th February 1996

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) on his informative and frightening account of the Sea Empress disaster. I know how intimately involved he was throughout, and I am surprised that he managed to hold back his anger so successfully when he must have felt absolutely frustrated by not being able to influence events. As I once represented that part of Wales in the European Parliament, I know the extent of the tragedy. We all sympathise and hope that the clean-up will be extremely fast so that the tourist industry is not unduly affected. I support my hon. Friend's call for an independent inquiry, which is absolutely essential. If the Government do not grant such an inquiry, we can only assume that they have something to hide.

I want to talk about the former phurnacite plant in my constituency, which closed in 1990. The site became derelict in 1992. There are some 88 acres of derelict land on which there are around 100,000 tonnes of highly toxic material.

After the plant closed, I thought—as did everyone else who lived in the vicinity—that British Coal, which still had ownership of the land, would properly look after its safety until it was reclaimed. However, during the summer some of my constituents told me about their concerns and I walked over the site with them and saw the skulls of animals and the carcases of birds, hedgehogs and sheep that were stuck in the soft, sticky tar. Children and dogs had played on another part of the site, and the children had fallen ill with sores, ulcers and blisters.

The site was not properly cordoned off, there were no signs saying "danger" and there was no proper fence to keep children and animals away. Some parents are now seeking compensation for the skin difficulties suffered by their children who played on the site. The dumps contain mercury, asbestos, phenols, ammonia, hydrocarbons and gas, which are all mixed up with tar. In summer, it bubbles out of the ground. The site was open for people to walk over. It is incredible that British Coal did not make sure that the site was secure until it was properly reclaimed.

I have had quite a lot of correspondence with the Welsh Office on this issue. One of the first questions I asked was whether there was a register of contaminated land in my constituency. I was told that the only register went up to 1988 and that there was no record of any sites that were in use in 1988 that may be contaminated now. That is a defect on their part. The Welsh Office, which has responsibility for making money available to the Welsh Development Agency for the reclamation of land, should have an up-to-date register of all contaminated land in Wales. It is not good enough for the Welsh Office to say that it is the responsibility of the local authorities—it is its responsibility to have an overall view of the need for the correct amount of money to deal with that contaminated land.

I pay tribute to the Abercwmboi carers, who set up an action committee. In May, the Welsh Development Agency presented a plan to them, which was to encapsulate the waste, not to move it away. The encapsulation would have lasted 30 years at the most. A part solution was being offered, not a long-term solution. The carers, the people who lived in the area, were not content with that.

The phurnacite plant was closed because of pollution— the inspectorate said that it could not continue. It was one of the worst, if not the worst, industrial polluters in Britain. It is ironic that the people who were put out of work because of the closure of the plant—everyone was glad to see the plant close, except for those who were employed by it—were left with toxic waste on their doorsteps. There was no improvement to the environment.

The carers were not happy with the solution from the Welsh Development Agency, so they pushed for an environmental impact assessment. Such an assessment should have taken place as a matter of course. Were it not for public opposition to the proposals of the WDA, that environmental impact assessment would not have taken place.

The Cynon Valley local authority held a press conference today at which it presented the independent report that was compiled by consultants. We now have two conflicting views. The council commissioned a firm of environmental experts, Richards, Moorhead and Laing, to prepare an independent report. It was asked to assess the current environmental implications of the site and the likely impact of the proposed encapsulation scheme on the surrounding communities, both during the implementation and in the longer term. The consultants' findings show that further on-site investigations are essential before any reclamation can take place. The consultants' report states: The amount of investigation carried out to date has not been sufficient to accurately define the volume of contaminated materials on site". That leads them to believe that the capacity of the proposed depository will be insufficient to contain all the waste present. In addition, the consultants cast doubt on the long-term viability of the cell within which the WDA is hoping to encapsulate the waste.

The WDA and its environmental impact report suggest one course of action and the council's independent consultants propose another. I am sure that I do not need to remind hon. Members that the industrial areas of south Wales have been left with the legacy of an unknown toxic waste cocktail. The council's consultants believe also that a proper assessment has not been made of that toxic waste content.

The Secretary of State said at the outset that the polluter should pay. I wonder how that affects British Coal, as it is the owner of the site, although the WDA wishes to acquire it. If the polluter should pay, British Coal should pay in that instance. At the very least, the proper safety precautions should have been taken when the site was abandoned, and the fact that they were not represents a clear dereliction of duty on the part of a number of authorities. Local people should now receive full information about the site so that the best possible options for them and for the environment can be discussed and decided.

That is why I believe that a full planning inquiry, with an inspector, should take place. It would establish principles which would apply to other areas contaminated by industrial waste in Wales—we should not have to repeat the same process time after time. I hope that the Secretary of State will support my call.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths , Bridgend 9:22 pm, 29th February 1996

This has been one of the best St. David's day debates in my nine years in this place. [Laughter.] Ministers may laugh, but we should record that fact. Today we have heard some extremely informative and passionate speeches about very important issues.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) and I had a conversation—during one of the quieter periods in the debate, when a Conservative Member was speaking—about the traditions of the St. David's day debate. I am indebted to Geraint Howells, the former Member of Parliament for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North, for providing the information that today is the 50th anniversary of Welsh day debates.

The first occurred in 1946, when I was a babe in nappies in South Africa. The Prime Minister at that time, Clement Attlee, and the then Leader of the House, Herbert Morrison, instituted the Welsh day debate. I imagine that today's debate is one of the best in 50 years. Quite understandably, because of the scale and immediate impact of the disaster, the Sea Empress has dominated much of the proceedings, and I will return to that subject a little later.

I wish to start with the way in which local government has been funded this year, which I believe will have a serious, long-term and possibly damaging impact on Wales. For a number of years now, the pressure on local government spending has caused a reduction in the services that local government is able to provide. At Welsh Questions recently, I was upbraided by the Under-Secretary, who said that I had made assertions that were not accurate. I hope that he will interrupt me this evening if I make an inaccurate assertion.

The rate support grant from the Welsh Office to local government has been falling as a proportion of local government spending. The Secretary of State's figures show that, from 1993 to 1995, the proportion has fallen from 64 per cent. to 58 per cent. of local government budgets. On top of that, the non-domestic rate contribution has fallen. In the early 1990s, it was 19.9 per cent. of the budget, and it is now 17.6 per cent.

Given that this year's rate support grant contribution to local government budgets has taken no account—like last year's—of the teachers' pay award, it is obvious that local government will struggle with the award from the Welsh Office. The Secretary of State recognised that fact in his infamous letter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), which suggested, as far back as November, that local councils should be considering an increase in council tax of 11 per cent.

We now know that the Secretary of State has relaxed the capping limit from 0.5 per cent. of the notional budget to 3 per cent. That relaxation would allow many authorities in Wales to increase their council tax hugely. Rhondda Cynon Taff could increase its council tax by 40 per cent. and still keep within the limit set by the Secretary of State.

I am indebted to the local authorities that made a trawl for my information, which shows that the council tax this year, in 13 of the 22 authorities, is likely to increase by 20 per cent. or more. In six others, the increase will be between 11 and 19 per cent. Only three will have an increase in council tax that is anything like the rate of inflation. Two of those authorities will have increases of 4.5 per cent. and 3 per cent. I do not have the figure for the other authority, but the increase is not likely to be more than 2 per cent.

What is the consequence for the services provided by local government? We have seen cuts, as I said earlier, for a few years now. The result is that the pupil-teacher ratio in primary and secondary schools is now increasing. The number of classes in which more than 30 children are taught has increased. The latest figures from the Welsh Office show that there are at least 63,710 children in primary schools being taught in classes of more than 30. That is an increase—according to the latest figures available—of more than 7,000 children. That is what the figures for the years 1992–93 and 1993–94—the most recent ones published by the Welsh Office—show.

It is no surprise, perhaps, that the number of children with statements of special educational need is increasing. The figures available from the Welsh Office tell us that the number has increased by 14 per cent. Over 16,000 children are the subject of these statements. Within those figures, the number of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties has increased by 20 per cent. There are now 770 such statements. There are probably more now, but I refer to the official figures from the Welsh Office.

I welcome wholeheartedly the £500,000 that the Secretary of State is providing to enable better access to schools for disabled children, but I should like to see a commitment to additional spending to ensure that the code of practice on the assessment and identification of children's special needs is properly funded. I can say with confidence that virtually every authority in Wales in the coming year will have difficulty in meeting its legal obligations under the code of practice. That is certainly the position of at least one authority. I think that we shall see more and more cases going to tribunals.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

If I had had the chance to participate in the debate, I would have drawn attention to the fact that struck me on reading school inspection reports from the Mid Glamorgan area setting out the number of children in receipt of free school meals. In some schools, 50 to 60 per cent. of the children are receiving free school meals. That reflects the problems of low wages and inadequate benefit levels. There are serious issues to be faced in primary schools especially.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths , Bridgend

Yes, my hon. Friend is right. The percentage of all children receiving free school meals, according to Welsh Office information, has increased from 17.8 in 1989–90 to 25.1 in 1993–94. In other words, about a quarter of children throughout Wales are now in receipt of free school meals. Problems are mounting in education.

Many problems are related to local government support from the Welsh Office. In addition, however, there are the problems associated with moving from a county structure to a smaller unitary authority structure. Those problems relate to some services such as drama, orchestras and outdoor pursuit centres such as Dol-y-Gaer in Merthyr or Ogmore-by-Sea in my constituency. These services have been threatened. The Gwent theatre in education is being threatened.

We have seen that the Secretary of State has done well in giving Theatr Clwyd a reprieve to enable authorities to come together with a package. I hope that it will be possible to find some solution to the Dyffryn gardens problem. In so many instances, the problem is a combination of the cap on Welsh Office support for local government and transition from eight counties to 22 county boroughs. That is having an impact on services which were maintained in the larger county structure.

The county boroughs will have to make much more of an effort to work together to keep these services alive. Under the pressures that the county boroughs will face, it is what might be described as the icing on the cake—extra experience outside the classroom—that will suffer.

There are signs that learning support staff for children who do not have statements are being cut. That could cause statementing problems later. My hon. Friends the Members for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) and for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) all referred to problems associated with the local government settlement.

Even though it is late in the day, it should be recognised that the Secretary of State has through the year provided supplementary sums for various services in Wales. I remember that, a few years ago, Welsh housing benefited from a substantial extra sum. There is a strong case for the right hon. Gentleman examining what is happening in education and providing extra moneys to local authorities through the year.

Before I move from the subject of local authorities, I appeal to him to ensure that the orders that will bring in the new boundaries are laid before the end of March, so that my constituents will not have to suffer being in three different authorities in the space of 18 months. Many of my constituents have telephoned my office enraged about what is happening.

Let us look at the housing scene, which is another important local government service. The value of renovation grants between 1994 and now has decreased by 7.6 per cent. in real terms. In the same period, local government housing capital provision is down by 8 per cent. in real terms.

Is it any wonder that homelessness is on the increase? In 1994, 22,000 people were officially declared homeless—double the number of a decade earlier. Almost half of those are children, and we know from studies in England—no study has been made in Wales—that their education and health suffer as a result. We have the poorest housing in Britain, at 13 per cent.—twice the number in England. Some 300,000 people in Wales live in unacceptable conditions. In the private sector, 10,000 mortgage repossession proceedings were instigated in 1995.

It is a bleak picture, yet the Welsh Office contribution to public housing has gone down in real terms. In 1991–92 and 1992–93, housing starts were down by 34.6 per cent., and completions were down by 33.6 per cent. At the same time, funding for the approved development programme, Tai Cymru, is down 46.1 per cent. in real terms on what it received in 1992–93, which was a slightly exceptional year, because of lots of additional money. When compared with the beginning of the 1990s, it is still a cash cut of 10.6 per cent., let alone what it might have been if we worked it out in real terms.

The fire service is an essential public service. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West about the problems of the new North Wales fire service. The same problems exist in other areas. The South Wales fire authority, which serves the largest population by far, has learnt that the credit approvals for the three joining authorities to order new fire engines to the value of almost £1.5 million have had to go by the board, because, under the new system, the money is no longer available.

In Cardiff, at Pentwyn, there is a danger that the fire station may not be built, yet Cardiff east has severe problems in meeting the targets for arriving at fires. The fire prevention service is not funded at all under the formula. These are serious problems, which the Welsh Office needs to consider.

I received a letter yesterday from the Under-Secretary of State, asking me to give more details about how Labour would fund local government, and the education service in particular. That was interesting, I thought, so I looked at the Tory party manifesto for 1979 to see what commitments the Tories made, and what details they gave about what they would do. It said that they would "simplify VAT" and be prepared to switch from taxes on earnings to taxes on spending. They could not simply tell us that they intended virtually to double VAT. At the previous election, the Prime Minister, with all the advantages of being in government, told the population that VAT did not need to be extended anywhere, and that taxes would come down. We know that the reverse is true.

The 1979 Conservative party manifesto stated: We need to concentrate more on the creation of conditions in which new, more modern, more secure, better jobs come into existence. In fact, 98,000 fewer men are employed in Wales than in 1979, and wages are much worse. In 1979, Wales was fifth in the regional league for men's wages; now we are 10th—we are at the bottom. In 1979, we were second in the league for women's wages; now we are sixth. We have not got all those well-paid jobs, except in one or two places. Sony, Ford and Bosch are oases in the desert.

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that 68 per cent. of the population of working age are in employment in this country—more than in any other major European country? Moreover, 8.6 per cent. of the population of working age are unemployed in the United Kingdom, fewer than in any other major European country.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths , Bridgend

I am aware that 98,000 fewer men are in employment in Wales today than when Labour was in office. I am also aware that the hon. Gentleman's figures include part-time jobs. If full-time jobs were included in his calculation, we should see a different picture.

The 1979 manifesto also stated: The uplands are an important part of our agriculture. Those who live and work there should enjoy a reasonable standard of life. Between 1978–79 and 1983–84, on the Government's own published indices, the income of farmers in upland areas in the United Kingdom fell from £128 a week to £92. That is not such a good record.

I have also examined the Welsh Office block grant. In 1994–95, planned expenditure was £6.41 billion, but the outturn is expected to be £6.346 billion. That is a £64 million drift. In the previous year, there was a £66 million drift, but in the opposite direction. If Welsh Office Ministers cannot get the calculations right with all the books in front of them, surely I am under no obligation to give them precise details, other than to say that we are sure that we can do a better job than the Welsh Office currently does in running Wales.

The Tory legacy is higher unemployment and lower wages. The education improvements have been made not because of the Government's policies, but in spite of them. The chief inspector of schools himself said that part of the problem for teachers was all the chopping and changing in the national curriculum.

As was graphically shown by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger), the Sea Empress disaster could have been avoided. It was a case of lowering standards to maximise profits. Working practices were affected. When things went wrong, it appeared that the priority was maximising the profit on the load, rather than saving the area from pollution and saving the jobs of all who depend on that beautiful coastline.

This is probably the last St David's day debate that we shall have before the next election. I believe that the verdict of the people of Wales at that election will be a resounding no: there will probably be no Tory from Wales on the Conservative Benches.

Photo of Mr Rod Richards Mr Rod Richards , Clwyd North West 9:43 pm, 29th February 1996

With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I propose a toast to absent friends. I refer, of course, to the three leaders of the Opposition parties. The three gentlemen who would have us believe that they are desperately concerned about Wales and all things Welsh could not turn up for the most important debate in the Welsh calendar.

I understand that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) is looking after his party leader in Gwent. I hope that, if the hon. Gentleman travelled to south Wales by train, on the newly privatised Great Western Railways, he will have enjoyed a lunch called cig oen Caerffili, which means Caerphilly lamb. I recommend it to all Opposition Members. I dined on it only recently. Caerphilly lamb would be appropriate for the hon. Gentleman.

We are led to believe that the leader of Plaid Cymru is in Dublin, and that the fact that the Ireland-Wales rugby match is taking place on Saturday is purely a coincidence. I understand that the hon. Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) is in hospital undergoing elective surgery. I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members when I wish him a speedy recovery.

Photo of Mr Rhodri Morgan Mr Rhodri Morgan , Cardiff West

Rather than making snide remarks about the three leaders of the Opposition parties, perhaps the Minister should concentrate his efforts on doing the same as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies). If he can persuade the Leader of the Opposition to visit the scene of the Sea Empress tragedy in Pembroke, perhaps the Minister should concentrate his efforts on persuading the Prime Minister to do so.

Photo of Mr Rod Richards Mr Rod Richards , Clwyd North West

The hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has visited Pembrokeshire twice, which brings me to the stand-in for the hon. Member for Caerphilly—the verbally incontinent Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). May I go through some of his points?

The first thing I noticed was that, yet again, the hon. Gentleman indulged in the practice that Opposition Members enjoy: talking Wales down. He devoted much of his speech to talking it down. He challenged my right hon. Friend not to look through rose-tinted glasses. We do not have to do that to realise that, in the past 17 years, Wales has done well. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to dine on some of the facts that I am about to present to him on the Welsh economy's strengths.

In the past 10 years, manufacturing employment has risen by some 12.5 per cent. From September 1994 to September 1995, manufacturing employment in Wales rose by 1.5 per cent.—over twice the increase rate in the United Kingdom. Since September 1985, manufacturing employment in Wales has grown by more than in any other region. The number of unemployed people in Wales has fallen by 29,400. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about since 1979?"] Opposition Members talk about 1979. They were all around then and they know as well as I that, in 1979, the hidden unemployment level in terms of overmanning was so great that it could not be measured.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about inward investment. Since 1979, Wales has done well out of inward investment. He may recall that, on occasion, Conservative Members quoted inward investment running at 22 or more per cent. of all inward investment in the United Kingdom.

On the south Wales freight terminal, my right hon. Friend made it clear in the House on 8 November that the provision of a freight facility in south Wales is a matter for the commercial and technical judgment of investors, who do not need Ministers' permission to build a terminal in any location.

Various applications for assistance are still being carefully considered. Decisions will depend on the assessment of further commercial information that has been sought from the applicants. Grants cannot be paid until satisfactory cases have been made.

Photo of Mr Rod Richards Mr Rod Richards , Clwyd North West

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West challenged my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State by saying that he was not accountable to the people of Wales. My right hon. Friend is accountable to Parliament, as previous Secretaries of State, the Prime Minister and previous Prime Ministers have been.

Opposition Members should cast their minds back to the 1970s, the most recent period when Labour was in power. As I recall—I am sure that Opposition Members will attempt to correct me if they think that I am wrong— the Labour party at that time did not have a majority in England. As I recall, the Prime Minister of the day, now Lord Callaghan, represented a Welsh seat. I do not recall Labour Members saying that Lord Callaghan was not accountable to the people of England.

I pose another question to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West and his right hon. and hon. Friends. The Opposition Chief Whip is now in the Chamber, and he will be interested in his hon. Friend's remark. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West asserted that, were there to be a Labour Government after the next general election, the next Secretary of State for Wales would definitely be a Welshman. The hon. Gentleman clearly has influence in high places.

The point I put to him is this. What will happen if a Welshman is not elected to the shadow Cabinet or to— [HON. MEMBERS: "There will be."] What if there is not? Will a Labour Prime Minister then appoint a Welshman who—

Photo of Mr Rod Richards Mr Rod Richards , Clwyd North West

I am delighted that decisions have already been delegated by the Labour leader.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has carefully costed the Welsh Assembly in its first year and has estimated the figure at £52 million, with a recurring cost of £28 million. As the Labour party has not been in government for such a long time, I should perhaps tell Labour Members what £28 million would buy each year. It would buy a district general hospital every year, if there were no Welsh Assembly.

I have been fascinated to hear that the Labour party is united on the issue of an assembly. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cardiff, West could explain to me why his hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) supported Plaid Cymru's ten-minute Bill on the governance of Wales yesterday, when his right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) opposed it.

Photo of Mr Rhodri Morgan Mr Rhodri Morgan , Cardiff West

Perhaps the Minister could tell us whether he agrees with the estimate of the previous Secretary of State for Wales that a Welsh Assembly would cost £124 million, or with the estimate of the present Secretary of State, who is also his boss, who says that it will cost only £52 million. Which of them is right?

Photo of Mr Rod Richards Mr Rod Richards , Clwyd North West

I recall that Mr. Neil Kinnock, who was opposed to a Welsh Assembly at one time, estimated in the 1970s that the cost would be £20 million.

On the issue of unity, is the hon. Member for Cardiff, West telling us that the views of the hon. Members for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) and for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) are shared—or not shared—by him or his right hon. and hon. Friends? [Interruption.] The basic calculations by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) are the same as those of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in terms of capital and running costs, except that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham looked at some of the cost implications of Labour's policy. I thought that he was conservative in what he said about the costs.

I now move on to a far more serious issue—the Sea Empress disaster, which was raised by the hon. Members for Cardiff, West and for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger), and by many others. The hon. Member for Pembroke thanked various individuals and groups for their hard work, and we wish to be associated with those remarks.

I understand the concerns of the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) and the hon. Members for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams), for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis), and for Gower (Mr. Wardell) and their constituents. Obviously, I know that part of the world very well, having been brought up there, and I enjoyed the facilities and beaches. On that issue, there is clearly no disagreement at all.

The hon. Members for Cardiff, West and for Pembroke said that local expertise was neglected in Milford Haven. Any evidence of that will be fully considered in the independent investigation. [Interruption.] Opposition Members may shake their heads. Unlike them, I want to wait for the outcome of the inquiry instead of reaching conclusions based on imperfect information. The marine accidents investigation branch was set up by an Act of Parliament. Contrary to what Opposition Members said, that was how the House wanted such incidents to be investigated.

The branch's inspector reports directly to the Secretary of State for Transport, and he is appointed to be independent. That is his job. He can criticise anyone at all involved in either the accident or the salvage operation. The arrangements are parallel to those for the air accidents investigation branch, which conducts independent inquiries into air accidents and is highly regarded.

Photo of Mr Rod Richards Mr Rod Richards , Clwyd North West

I will not gave way. I do not have much time, and I want to raise many serious points.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West also raised the issue of accident and emergency beds, and referred to the transfer of six patients from Cardiff Royal infirmary to the Heath hospital in the middle of the night. I was naturally concerned about the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Of course, such decisions are taken by local hospital managers. Since the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue, I will certainly look into it and reply to him. The alleged incidents to which he referred are partly a justification for having one single accident and emergency unit in University hospital Wales.

On accident and emergency beds in general, the key issue is that hospitals—we have obviously had many discussions with trust and health authorities on the matter—should not turn patients away unless all beds other than child and maternity beds are full. That is in line with the action plan agreed by national health service chief executives, to minimise the risk of hospitals closing for short periods due to peak demands for emergency medical admissions.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) invited us to glance into the hereafter. Some of us are nearer to the hereafter than others. I certainly do not mean that with regard to my right hon. Friend, since one does not know what might happen. My right hon. Friend warned us, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney), about the dangers of the European state, which, together with an assembly in Cardiff, would weaken the British state.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan went on to enlighten us about why Wales is such a popular place for inward investment. He referred to the Bosch plant near his constituency. One of the reasons why German factories are going to Wales is the flexibility of the work force. When the Labour party was in government 20 years ago, the work force would have been the last reason to go to Wales. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) reminisced about the 1970s. Clearly his memory on the issue is short and defective.

The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) failed to answer my question. In our previous debate on the local government settlement, he said that education was underfunded. If that is what he thinks, he must be able to put a figure on it. Why does he not come clean and tell us what sum should be spent on education? What is it? And how would a Labour Government find it? Would they increase revenue support grant, council tax or—this is what the business men of Wales want to know—the business rate? I suspect that the last of those three is the truth.

The business people of Wales will carefully consider what the hon. Gentleman says about that. I invite him now to tell us quickly by how much education is underfunded, and how the Labour party would—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.