In 1994–95, the latest year for which information is available, identifiable general Government expenditure in Wales per head was 116 per cent. of that in England.
Although a representative of an English constituency and a Parliamentary Private Secretary to a Scottish Office Minister, may I nevertheless offer my right hon. Friend congratulations to Wales on the result of the rugby international on Saturday?
If the Government were promising to increase spending on health and pensions—and promising sabbaticals for teachers—while promising to hold the level of taxation at the level set by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would that not be deeply dishonest and misleading to the British people?
My hon. Friend's comments about Saturday's match will be welcomed by all Welsh Members in the House. It was a magnificent advertisement for the game of rugby—the beginning of what we hope will be a magnificent run-up to the rugby world cup at Cardiff in 1999. Opposition Members should reflect that it just goes to show that teams that are written off at the beginning of the season can soon come back and win.
My hon. Friend is right: it would be an example of extraordinary double standards and double-speak to vote against every measure to control public spending, against the reduction in benefits for asylum seekers and against the Jobseekers Bill, while maintaining that one agreed with the total plans for public spending. That extraordinary double-speak raises the question: if the public spending plans are agreed by all, how would Opposition Members finance the time-wasting and self-defeating load of hot air that they call an assembly?
Does the Secretary of State recall his announcement, just a few months ago, on public expenditure in Wales, when he said that the national health service in Wales would receive a year-on-year real terms increase in expenditure? Can he therefore explain why Dyfed-Powys health authority announced on 20 December that, because of its financial crisis, it planned possibly to close eight community hospitals, to change the role of another six out of the total of 19, and to make cuts at all four district general hospitals? The hospital in my constituency has revealed that that would mean the closure of one acute ward. How does the right hon. Gentleman square those two statements, which were made just a few weeks apart? Does he agree that the Dyfed-Powys health authority is significantly underfunded by the Welsh Office?
No. I have made it clear that the NHS was the principal beneficiary of the public spending decisions that I announced in November. In every year of the coming Parliament, a Conservative Government will ensure that spending on the NHS in Wales is increased over and above inflation—a commitment that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) has refused to match. It will not have escaped the notice of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) that there are many demands on the health service, and that health service managers must choose between priorities. The proposals by Dyfed-Powys health authority to which the hon. Gentleman referred are for consultation; they are not being implemented at this moment. It must choose between priorities, but it and all other parts of the NHS in Wales will continue to benefit from the increased resources that we have delivered, which we have promised for the future, but which Opposition Members fail to guarantee.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a level of public expenditure that is so high that the shadow Chancellor says that there is no need to increase it. How does the shadow Chancellor square that with the request of individual Labour Members to increase every item of public expenditure? Does my right hon. Friend think that that is because the shadow Chancellor is wise enough not to read his colleagues' speeches, or sufficiently innumerate not to be able to add up the sums?
Not only does the shadow Chancellor evidently not agree with many Opposition Members, who persistently call for higher spending: he does not agree with himself and the way he has voted over the past few years in this Parliament. The people of Wales need to worry about whether changes to our constitutional arrangements would result in significantly and permanently lower public spending per head in Wales. If there were to be a Welsh Assembly, there could be no guarantee that the public spending formula would be preserved. Those who would rip up our constitutional arrangements show a reckless disregard for the true interests of Wales.
I was glad to hear that the Secretary of State was shouting for Wales on Saturday; I wonder whether he will be doing that when Wales plays England on 15 March.
Does the Secretary of State agree that what he has described as identifiable public expenditure does not include large tracts of public spending, such as defence? Wales gets only 1.5 per cent. of defence procurement, while 55 per cent. goes to south-east England. Compared with Ireland, Wales does poorly out of the European Union: Ireland receives £478 a head whereas Wales receives £45 a head. If Wales had a Parliament of its own, with a voice in Europe, we would be doing much better than we do under the right hon. Gentleman's regime.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall be cheering for Wales in any rugby match against anybody, including England—although I might stay out of a cricket match between Glamorgan and Yorkshire. I shall, however, be cheering for Wales against England.
Defence is not included in identifiable Government expenditure, which was the basis of my answer to the question. If the hon. Gentleman honestly believes that we should swap our economic circumstances with those of Ireland, where unemployment is dramatically higher than in Wales and when Wales is benefiting from record inward investment, he must be out of his mind.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the Jenkins that the Opposition would welcome in the House today is not the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), but Neil, who scored 19 of our points on Saturday in Edinburgh? Does he agree that the Opposition and the bulk of the Welsh nation also look forward to the day in June 1999 when there will not only be a Welsh Assembly, but Wales will be playing New Zealand, or possibly South Africa, in the final of the rugby world cup in Cardiff?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's opening sentiments about the rugby world cup final. I also agree about reducing waste in government. That is why I am reducing, in cash terms, the running costs of non-departmental public bodies in Wales and of the Welsh Office. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that all waste is being rooted out of the administration in Wales, but that still leaves the question how he and his colleagues would hope to finance their assembly.