§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Woolas.]1.57 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy)
The Welsh day debate first took place in 1944, when Aneurin Bevan, then the Member of Parliament for Ebbw Vale, and other famous Welsh politicians spoke. It is an important feature of the parliamentary calendar that every year we have this unique opportunity for Members of this Parliament who represent Welsh constituencies, and those who do not but have an interest in Welsh matters, to debate, deliberate and discuss any matters that affect the Welsh people.
Since last year, several events have occurred, the most recently significant of which was the arrival in the House of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies). We welcome him and, if he catches your eye Mr. Deputy Speaker, we will be able to listen to his maiden speech. He replaces Sir Raymond Powell, and those of us who were friends of Sir Raymond for many years will recall that this was a special day for him. He would be responsible for gathering the daffodils for the debate, and ensuring that every Member who wished to do so would have one to wear.
Sir Raymond's contribution to the House of Commons was, however, much greater than that. When I entered the House in 1987, I had to share accommodation with seven other Members of Parliament. New Members entering the House today do not have to do that. The fact that there is accommodation befitting a modern Parliament is largely due to Sir Ray Powell. He was a great servant to his constituency. Especially significant was the help he gave shopworkers, as a member of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers.
We miss Sir Ray Powell today, but, as I have said, we welcome my hon. Friend in his place. He won a significant victory in the recent by-election. Although we may consult opinion polls from day to day and from week to week, the only polls that truly matter are the real polls, and the result achieved by my hon. Friend was significant in many ways—perhaps above all because, as a person from the south Wales valleys, he will be able to represent a very diverse constituency.
Since our previous debate on Welsh affairs, there has been another election: the general election. I am tempted, and will succumb to the temptation, to refer to what was said in March last year by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), whose daffodil looks splendid today. He said:Labour will not be given another chance at the general election."—[Official Report, 5 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 53.]His crystal ball must have misted over. He made some other predictions, which I will list in the order in which he uttered them. He said that there would be Conservative victories in Monmouth, Preseli Pembrokeshire, Vale of Clwyd, Conwy, Cardiff, North, Vale of Glamorgan, Clwyd, West, Cardiff, Central, Brecon and Radnorshire, and Montgomeryshire.
At that point, however, a glimmer must have shone through from the spirit world. The hon. Gentleman correctly predicted that Plaid Cymru would lose Ynys Môn, which it did—but not, as the hon. Gentleman 863 forecast, to the Conservatives. He also predicted that he would become Secretary of State for Wales. I am delighted that I am here and he is over there.
I hope that we shall hear a further round of predictions from the hon. Gentleman today. If we do, I shall head straight for the bookmakers with my copy of Mystic Nigel's Tips for the Top. I shall resist the temptation to use the Welsh block, big though it is. I will put some of my own money on anything and everything not endorsed by the hon. Gentleman.
We fought the general election robustly. We fought it on the basis of our economic record, our plan to reduce unemployment and poverty, and the need to invest in and reform our great public services. The Conservatives also fought the election in Wales, of course, although no Conservative MP was returned there. They tried to do what I suspect the hon. Member for Ribble Valley will try to do later today: they tried to wipe from the public memory the record of 18 years that were so shameful and damaging for the people of Wales. The Conservatives ran down our public services, introduced botched privatisations—the classic example being the railway privatisation—and managed a boom-and-bust economy.
At the eve-of-poll rally for my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was the main speaker—and a great speech he made, too. It was a classic defence of everything that the Labour Government had done. In that speech, he said, "You can't have socialism if you're skint." He is right. To do what we want to do—in Wales, through the National Assembly—to improve services for those whom we represent, we must first have a strong economy.
All that is done in Wales to ensure the provision of public services is done against the backcloth of a strong economy, the fourth strongest on the planet. If inflation and mortgage rates were not the lowest for decades, and if unemployment—especially among young people—were not at its lowest for years in every Welsh constituency, the Assembly could not do what it must do to provide those services for our people.
We ended the Conservative practice of using mass unemployment as a means of controlling inflation. We have used money that was squandered on paying dole money to those who wanted work, to help eliminate poverty. That has been the key to the first few years of a Labour Government. It has meant that devolution can work in the provision of services.
Our strong economy has also meant that 90,000 people in Wales benefit from the minimum wage. Thousands of young people who were unemployed now have jobs. Welsh pensioners are better off than they have ever been. By April, the poorest pensioner households will be more than £1,000 a year better off in real terms than they were in 1997; the average pensioner household will be £840 a year better off than it was in that year, as a result of tax and benefit changes; and an extra £6 billion a year will be spent on pensioners, £2.5 billion on the poorest third. Far less than that would have been delivered by the link with earnings.
Working families tax credit and other tax breaks have helped thousands of Welsh people. Child poverty in Wales has been reduced. The personal tax and benefit changes introduced in the last Parliament mean that 1.2 million fewer children are in poverty in the United Kingdom than would otherwise have been the case. As 864 a result of personal tax and benefit reforms since 1997, households with children are on average £1,000 a year better off. The number of children living in workless households fell by 300,000 during the last Parliament. Is it any wonder that, at last year's general election, the people decided once more to put their trust in Labour to run our country?
Moreover, we invested in our public services. We have heard a lot about public services of late. We have heard that some are not working well, and that this is happening while that is not happening. The first thing we had to do, in fact, was to ensure that money went into those public services. Any expert examining the comprehensive spending review presented by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the last spending round will know that billions of pounds were given to Wales in addition to what it would normally have been given, for health and education in particular but for other services too.
Furthermore, for the first time, Wales has had an objective 1 programme that is, properly, additional to the block grant. Nearly half a billion pounds extra went into the coffers of the Assembly. In all the time that the structural fund has existed, that has never happened before. My right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Prime Minister said that they would not let Wales down, and they did not.
Investment, however, is not enough; there must be reform as well. Sometimes that takes time. Sometimes teachers, nurses, doctors and others must be trained, and that will not happen overnight. Sometimes, naturally, people become impatient. But the reform is happening, and Labour Members remain fully committed to a health service free at the point of use and funded through general taxation.
By far the fairest way to fund health services is though the tax system. As long as the Labour Government remain in office, the tax system will be the essential means of funding our health service. Obviously, it is for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to make his decisions about what level of tax is required to pay for essential investment in public services, but we remain firm on that basic principle.
No doubt we shall hear later how the Opposition propose to fund any changes in the NHS, and how that will fit in with what they have said in past months about levels of expenditure. However, we know that it would not be possible for the Opposition to fund the health service—or the Welsh block that in turn funds the health service—if they did not commit themselves to proper expenditure. Therefore, we shall listen with great interest to what the hon. Member for Ribble Valley proposes to do with regard to funding our public services.
However, the Opposition should be reminded of what happened when a previous Conservative Government introduced a new tax and abandoned progressive taxation. That Government in the end had to abandon the community charge—or poll tax—because it was so unpopular. The importance of what the Opposition propose is so great that I am sure that all hon. Members will be waiting with bated breath to hear what the hon. Member for Ribble Valley has to say.
In the end, the reform of public services in Wales is a matter for our colleagues in the National Assembly. The Government provide the resources, but the Assembly 865 decides how those resources are spent. There has been some debate about the use of private money in funding our services. The Government and my colleagues in Cardiff have always said that any private money used in funding public services would be additional to public funding.
That is a matter not of ideology, but of common sense. In some constituencies—and the hon. Members representing those areas are in the Chamber today—certain items of public expenditure have been bolstered by the use of additional private money. Projects that have benefited in that way include schools, hospitals, council offices and waste management schemes, and they have been set up in local authority areas controlled by parties other than the Labour party. Examples include a school in Maesteg, a secondary school and a road in Caerphilly, a secondary school in Ceredigion, schools in Conwy, council offices in Denbighshire, hospitals in Monmouthshire, roads and schools in Newport, primary and nursery schools and local authority offices in Pembrokeshire, community activity in Rhondda Cynon Taff, and integrated waste management schemes in Wrexham.
I am not saying that the use of private funds is to be the main, core means of funding our public services, but there must be innovation in how we deal with reforming and investing in those services, which are vital to every part of Wales. Sometimes, an artificial distinction is made between rural Wales and urban and industrial Wales. Yet the matters to which I have already referred—the benefits to pensioners, the minimum wage, the working families tax credit, the changes in taxation—are as significant and important to people living in rural mid-Wales as they are to people in my south Wales valley constituency, or to people in the city of Cardiff.
The police, health, education and transport services are as important in rural Wales as they are elsewhere. Last year, we held our debate just as the scale of the foot and mouth outbreak was becoming clear. For many in the Welsh countryside, the past year has been appalling. If the foot and mouth outbreak taught us one central lesson, it was that tourism and other elements of the rural economy are as important as farming when it comes to providing jobs and prosperity to rural Wales.
The decisions that we took to protect farming were supported by hon. Members of all parties and had widespread effects that went well beyond farming. Although it must be our hope that we will not see another foot and mouth outbreak in our lifetimes, we must recognise that no one can offer any such guarantees. That is why it is so important to learn lessons very quickly, and to be as diligent as we have been over past months. That diligence extends to the issue of food imports, which was raised only yesterday.
It is important to put on record what the Government, and especially the National Assembly, have done over the past year to help rural areas. The Government have set up the rural taskforce, granted deferment of tax, value added tax and national insurance, and offered business advice through Business Connect. We have allowed businesses suffering from cash flow problems to apply for loans worth up to £250,000 from the small firms loan guarantee scheme, and we have encouraged banks, building societies and insurance companies to offer sympathetic treatment. 866 We have also made available nearly £160 million of agrimonetary compensation. In addition, the £65 million in Cardiff's rural recovery plan includes help for marketing, tourism, environmental projects, and so on.
I suppose that it will be quite a long time before the full effects of foot and mouth on our rural economies are properly known. Only one Welsh constituency has no farms, so I am sure that all hon. Members with constituencies in Wales are conscious of what has occurred in the past year.
§ Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire)
All the areas affected by foot and mouth value the rural recovery plan, but is not the Secretary of State disturbed to hear that tourist businesses outside the areas covered by objective 1 and 2 funds find that state aid laws prevent them from obtaining substantial funding from the Wales tourist board? For instance, a person in my constituency has a project to build a leisure centre costing £750,000, but the grant aid available to him is limited to less than £50,000.
§ Mr. Murphy
I hear what the hon. Gentleman has said. I know that foot and mouth disease has caused serious difficulties in his area. He and I attended a service in Brecon cathedral some months ago, which was attended by representatives from all the different walks of life in his constituency. I shall certainly make sure that what the hon. Gentleman has said is put to the Ministers for Rural Affairs and for Finance, Local Government and Housing in Cardiff. However, I know that the Welsh Assembly has given substantial help to tourism, and only last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport announced another package to ensure that tourism comes into Wales, both from within the UK and from overseas.
§ Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford)
The Secretary of State rightly highlights the need for vigilance, especially with regard to contaminated meat imports that could bring foot and mouth back to Wales. However, Customs and Excise and the other agencies trying to patrol the ports report severe manpower shortages. Will the right hon. Gentleman say what measures he is taking to correct that shortfall of officers?
§ Mr. Murphy
It is not for me to take those measures, but I shall certainly make clear to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and to colleagues in other Departments how important it is to liaise with Customs and Excise, local authorities and other agencies—and with the Assembly, too, where that is relevant—to ensure that there is a programme to deal with imports of illegal food. Much greater vigilance is necessary at airports and ports, as is a good public information programme. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that the Government are aware of the points that he has made.
The difficulties of the past year have not been confined to rural areas, but have been experienced too in some of our urban areas. Not long ago, the Welsh Grand Committee met in Cwmbran to debate the future of manufacturing industry in Wales.
Of course, we have had the difficult news about Corus and there have been other examples of industries moving to eastern Europe and elsewhere, but the issue is whether those industries are being replaced in Wales.
867 Many of us can remember, because we are that old, a time when our valleys were dominated by coal and steel. I remember, 30 years ago, when those industries were declining, how they had to be replaced, sometimes by heavy engineering and other forms of manufacturing. In my constituency, 12,000 jobs that had replaced the jobs in coal were lost in 20 years, but those in turn are now being replaced by jobs in information technology, computerisation and so on. That, added to the measures that the Government have introduced for the benefit of the people of Wales in their hugely successful new deal programme, means that there is not a single constituency in Wales that cannot point to an improvement in its unemployment figures.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
Of course we agree that, as heavy industries decline, they must be replaced by more modern ones, but surely it only accelerates the process of the decline of heavy industries such as steel in south Wales when the Government give encouragement and active assistance to someone like Mr. Mittal to help competitors in places such as Romania.
§ Mr. Murphy
We will have the opportunity to debate these matters in greater detail next week. I look forward to that debate, in which I will take part. I will comment briefly on the hon. Gentleman's points—he knows Wales reasonably well—but I want first to finish the point that I was making.
The way in which our industries change and we skill up our people to work in the new industries is the key to their future. Why did we get objective 1? The whole purpose is to bring the Welsh economy up to the standards of those of other countries in Europe, so that we can follow the lead of the Irish economy and become, in a matter of 10 or 20 years, one of the most successful regional economies in Europe.
We have example after example of new industries, factories and plants being established in constituencies throughout Wales—Ford in Bridgend and BAE in Broughton are just two examples.
The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) knows that I had to spend a great deal of time speaking to the chief executive and chairman and other people at Corus to try to find out what it would take for them to retain those 3,000 jobs in Wales, and 6,000 in the rest of the United Kingdom. Time after time, I asked Brian Moffat and the others whether the Government could do anything to change their minds about their intentions for the steel industry. The answer was no. I rather suspect that they had made their minds up at the time of the merger.
On every single day of those negotiations, I was in contact with the steel unions. The Iron and Steel Trades Confederation will certainly agree with what I am saying. Time and time again, we said that we would like to offer various measures of assistance, but Corus was not willing to change its strategy, so we had to ensure that, when those decisions had been taken—they affected my constituents far more than the hon. Gentleman's: at least 1,000 of mine lost jobs at Llanwern and Ebbw Vale—something was done to replace the lost jobs.
The Government and the Assembly put together tens and tens of millions of pounds to regenerate our local economies. For example, there is the railway from Ebbw Vale to Cardiff, which has long been needed. I worked in Ebbw Vale for 17 years, so I know a little bit about the situation in Blaenau Gwent.
868 On the point about Mittal, it is wrong to say that Corus would have changed its mind or done anything different because of the Prime Minister's letter to the Romanian Prime Minister. It would not have made a ha'porth of difference. Why is it always said, whenever the Government, or any other European Government, help an economy that needs help, be it in Asia, Africa or eastern Europe, that we are harming our own economy?
Some of my colleagues have sent trade delegations to Romania that have included Welsh companies. When we help to bring up to modern economic standards countries such as those that want to join the European Union, which is what we do as a developed country, of course we run the risk of creating a competitor, but we also ensure that trade with that country improves, allowing Wales to export to an economy that is much sounder than it was. That is the reason behind the Prime Minister's letter and that is why we wanted to ensure that the industry and economy in Romania were up to scratch.
§ Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)
The Secretary of State will have seen the letter from Graham McKenzie of Allied Steel and Wire to the Prime Minister. Does he agree with Mr. McKenzie's assessment that Mr. Mittal's acquisition of the Sidex plant in Romania was detrimental to the interests of the Welsh steel industry, because it will result in direct competition and endanger jobs in Wales?
§ Mr. Murphy
There are very strict regulations in Europe on dumping, and the Government have strict policies on protectionism, including for the United States. We will debate these matters in greater detail next week, but the hon. Gentleman and his party very much agreed with objective 1 funding, the whole idea of which is that the wealthier countries in Europe, including Germany, should provide funding to improve the Welsh economy, among others.
I cannot understand how a party that has said that is fundamentally for Wales and Europe—it did not say much about Britain until this latest episode—can object to assistance to Romania, which although not part of the European Union, is a struggling country trying to become part of it. The hon. Gentleman is saying that every time we help such a country it is to the detriment of Welsh industry.
§ Alan Howarth (Newport, East)
My constituents, including those at Llanwern, are deeply appreciative of the energetic efforts that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor made to try to find ways of helping Corus when it was contemplating the discontinuation of steel making at Llanwern. They did everything that they could to ensure that that disaster did not take place, but Corus proved hard to help, as my right hon. Friend said. I thank him also for his unwavering commitment to ensuring that Newport, which is not an objective 1 area, got effective assistance, including, for example, through the urban regeneration company which the First Minister has promised us. It would be enormously helpful if we could have the Minister's continuing support to ensure early clarification 869 of the urban regeneration company's scope and terms of reference, and so that we can get it up and running. At present, a mass of—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. That has gone way outside the confines of an intervention.
§ Mr. Murphy
It was a nice intervention, if too long, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments, and I obviously agree that it is very important to regenerate our communities following the loss of jobs in the steel industry. That is why next week, we and the Welsh national party should debate how to regenerate the Welsh economy. That is much more important than the old rubbish about which we have been hearing.
§ Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
I do not want to prolong the debate on the Mittal affair, which I presume will continue next week, but regardless of misgivings that might exist, does my right hon. Friend agree that the argument that we have just heard—that because Mr. Mittal purchased a Romanian steelworks, it is in direct competition with Corus—is one of the weakest? If Usinor, the French company, had purchased that steelworks, it would still be in direct competition with Corus. Similarly, a steelworks in Slovakia that a major American company bought is now in direct competition with Corus.
§ Mr. Murphy
I agree. Of course, those who work in the steel industry in south Wales could argue that the greatest threat to it was the original merger with a Dutch company.
§ Mr. Murphy
Given that we shall discuss the matter next week, and given that many right hon. and hon. Members want to speak to the debate, it is wise to move on.
§ Mr. Llwyd
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I hear what he says and I am sure that his comments about the packages that were put forward are accurate. However, the truth is that it was common knowledge for some 18 months to two years beforehand that Corus was losing billions of pounds. Where were the Government then?
§ Mr. Murphy
As the hon. Gentleman knows, Corus had been telling us repeatedly for many months that the biggest problem it faced was the exchange rate. It subsequently changed its mind somewhat, but that is what it said for months and months. Then it said that the problem was capacity, and then it said that the problem was something else. Who knows what the ultimate problem was? As the hon. Gentleman knows—I have reported the matter to the House before—I attended the relevant meetings and the Government did all that they 870 could to ensure that the industry remained in south Wales. Indeed, the steel unions themselves acknowledged that fact.
§ Mr. Murphy
No, I really must move on. As I told the hon. Gentleman, 1,000 people who work in the steel industry in my constituency have lost their jobs—we will talk about that on Tuesday—and that is probably 1,000 more than have lost jobs in his constituency. Those issues will be discussed in greater detail in the debate that Plaid Cymru has called for next week, and the hon. Gentleman and others can make their points then.
As many Members wish to speak, I shall conclude by discussing the functioning of the House of Commons and the way in which the devolution settlement works with the procedures of the House to ensure that the 40 Members representing Welsh constituencies, along with others who take an interest in Welsh matters, can affect the lives of Welsh women and men.
In the years since the setting up of the National Assembly, we as a Parliament and a Government have worked with it to produce measures of enormous significance to Welsh people. For example, the fact that we have the first children's commissioner in the United Kingdom is a direct result of our working with the Assembly and across parties. The Assembly is using Education and Learning Wales—ELWa—to transform post-16 education and lifelong learning in Wales. That initiative is the result of legislation that this Parliament and this Government passed, in conjunction with the National Assembly.
We gave the Assembly in Wales the functions of the National Care Standards Commission in England; we gave the local government ombudsman the power to investigate alleged misconduct of councillors; we enabled the Assembly to administer the system governing the conduct of councillors—and so on. In this Session, we are dealing with the health service and the education service in Wales through primary legislation, and some of my hon. Friends and other Members have taken part in those debates. The House of Commons is working with the Assembly to change the face of those services.
After Easter, draft health legislation for Wales will hopefully be published and will come before us for consideration. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales twice visited the National Assembly to talk to the relevant health and education committees about dealing with the scrutiny of legislation. When that legislation comes before us, the House of Commons and the National Assembly will have their own ways through which they can scrutinise it for the benefit of Welsh people. To that can be added the good work of the Welsh Affairs Committee, the Welsh Grand Committee and the many other ways in which Members of Parliament can help to improve the lives of Welsh people through this place.
Let no one therefore say that Welsh Members of Parliament have no role to play in improving the lives of the people whom we represent jointly with members of the Assembly. It is that partnership—team Wales, one might call it—between a Labour Government and a Labour-led Assembly that has alone led to enormous change in the lives of our Welsh people in the past 871 five years. It is because of those policies that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore was returned with such a good majority. Devolution itself would not have happened under any party but the Labour party. If it were not for the Labour party, there would be no Assembly and we would not have objective 1.[Interruption.] Now we will hear what the Liberal Democrats intend to do.
§ Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)
I should point out to the Minister, who doubtless made a slip of the tongue, that the Liberals invented the concept of devolution. However, we were delighted that the Labour-led Government felt entitled to adopt that policy, and we will always be happy to lend our good policies to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.
§ Mr. Murphy
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention—indeed, his inventions, for they are many.
In addition to devolution and objective 1, we are helping old and young people. The Assembly has agreed much the best concessionary fares in the United Kingdom, and museum charges will be abolished so that our young people can visit all the museums in Wales. As a result of a Labour Government, we have the biggest ever police force in Wales, including in the Rhondda.
§ Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)
I agree that one of the most significant changes to tourism in south Wales was free entry to national museums, as applies in the rest of the United Kingdom. However, local authority-run museums such as the Rhondda heritage park are presented with a problem. People have to pay to visit such places while entry to Big Pit is free.
§ Mr. Murphy
I suppose that I should declare an interest, as Big Pit is in my constituency, but I shall certainly take the matter up with the relevant Minister in Cardiff.
The partnership between a Labour Government in Westminster and a Labour-led Assembly in Cardiff has resulted in a quality of life for Welsh women, men and children that is infinitely better than it has been for 100 years. Wales is now a more civilised, compassionate, caring, prosperous and democratic place in which to live and work.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)
It is always a joy to take part in the St. David's day debate, and I heard what the Secretary of State had to say about my predictions in the last one. He had no willpower and could not resist rubbing my nose in them. He also told the House that he is ready, wad in pocket, to rush down to the bookies on any prediction that I care to make to bet the other way. I shall make only one prediction today: Wales will beat Italy in the rugby international on Saturday. I can see the headlines now—"Secretary of State for Wales backs Italy in international against Wales". Shocking.
§ Lembit Öpik
The headline will surely be, "The hon. Member for Ribble Valley destroys Wales's chances of winning".
§ Mr. Evans
I will allow the hon. Gentleman that intervention, if—I hope—no other in the rest of the debate.
872 I join the Secretary of State in congratulating the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who fought a valiant campaign during a wet three weeks in Ogmore. We all got drenched—some more than others—but I welcome him to the House. We look forward to his maiden speech, if he can catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I also endorse the Secretary of State's comments about Sir Ray Powell. We all remember Ray with nostalgia. I was a great supporter of his and I remember the collection of the daffs. He was also the accommodation Whip and if he took a dislike to anyone, it was some time before they moved from a desk in a corridor. Indeed, Ken Livingstone had to wait a long time before he got a room from Ray Powell.
I see that many Labour Members are sporting daffodils. I remember that when I was at Dynevor school with my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis)—several years apart, I hasten to add—some of us would wear leeks on St. David's day, instead of daffodils. I was amused to note, although it is a serious issue, the latest ruling from the European Union on the standardisation of leeks. I was aghast when I read it, because we used to wear leeks of all shapes and sizes. We as consumers were king, and I declare an interest as someone with a retail business in Swansea that sells many a leek.
Leeks will be classified as from tomorrow, which is the final insult. If it had happened on 1 April, I could have understood it better. They will be classified into two classes. The regulations state that leeks in class I must beof good quality…The white to greenish white part of the leeks must represent at least one-third of the total length or half of the sheathed part. However, in early leeks, the white to greenish white part must represent at least one-quarter of the total length or one-third of the sheathed part…Size is determined by the diameter measured at right angles to the longitudinal axis above the swelling of the neck…The minimum diameter is fixed at 8 mm for early leeks and 10 mm for other leeks. For Class I, the diameter of the largest leek in the same bundle or package must not be more than twice the diameter of the smallest leek.I always thought that the growing of leeks was God's work but now the EU has come to his aid with some useful advice on the growing and selling of leeks.
§ Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd)
Is not it a shame that with all the opportunities facing Wales now, such as objective 1 and its bright economic future, the only thing that the hon. Gentleman can rant about today is the sheathing, swelling and length of his leek?
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Gentleman will not have to wait long before I get to the meat. I just thought that I would start with what should be humorous but is all too serious. People will find it strange that, given all the problems that exist, bureaucrats in Europe are setting out rules and regulations that will lead to people going round shops with tape measures, making sure that leeks are the right size. I agree that that is a ridiculous waste of money.
I shall stay on agriculture, because the Secretary of State had much to say about it. The past twelve months have been the direst time that agriculture in Wales and elsewhere has seen. I raised the issue at Welsh questions yesterday and there has just been a scare of another outbreak of foot and mouth disease in north Yorkshire. Thankfully, that has not happened. Wales had 118 cases, 873 with more than 35,000 cattle, 304,000 sheep, 5,900 pigs and 121 goats being slaughtered. The outbreak also had a ripple effect on tourism and allied industries. The cost was enormous. It was estimated at £500 million in Wales alone.
I agree with the Secretary of State that the full implications and ramifications of foot and mouth have yet to become fully known. I therefore find it strange that after an outbreak that devastated and blighted two industries and affected many others, the Government did not agree to a full and independent public inquiry. Much could have been learned. As hon. Members may have gleaned from my earlier remarks, I am not the greatest advocate for everything that the EU does, but I find it amazing that we now have to rely on it to set up an independent inquiry, which will visit Wales. It will gather information from farmers in Wales and elsewhere and make its own recommendations. It is shameful that our own Government could not have done that.
Farmers dearly want the cessation of the importation of substandard meat, but that will take more than putting a few posters up at the ports. The Secretary of State showed some sympathy on the subject yesterday, and I hope that he will have talks with the Minister for Rural Affairs and any other Ministers with influence on the policy, so that we can have strict controls on its importation. If that is how we believe that the last outbreak started, let us take action now to ensure that it never happens again.
The Secretary of State mentioned public services and dwelt at some length on health. While that is a devolved matter, he is right that the money is raised by this Parliament and passed on to the Welsh Assembly. The primary legislative powers also still reside here. However, I am staggered that he made no reference to the appalling state of some aspects of the health service in Wales. I do not implicate those dedicated hard-working nurses and doctors who work in an intolerable atmosphere, but the figures for patients waiting more than 18 months are shocking. In 1997, the number was 1,402, but today it is 4,248. The number waiting more than six months for a first out-patient appointment in Wales was 5,956 in March 1997, but by the end of December 2001, it was 68,000.
I am sure that many hon. Members will have constituents who come to see them or write to them regularly about problems with the national health service. We are burying our heads in the sand if we refuse to wake up to the real problems. A senior surgeon at the Royal Gwent hospital has criticised the increase in waiting times in Wales. He said that they werecruel, inhumane and intolerable…the problem is a lack of everything…There are no surgeons, insufficient staff in training, there aren't the facilities for them to work in, there aren't the operating theatres, there aren't beds, there aren't enough anaesthetists…the whole of the Health Service is in such a poor state".
§ Mr. Bryant
What is the hon. Gentleman's response to the litany that I am sure he is about to give us of what is 874 wrong with the NHS? Does he believe that taxation should go up to pay for the NHS or down? If it should go up, by how much should it do so?
§ Mr. Evans
If the hon. Gentleman will listen for a second, I will quote a former Labour Minister, the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), who said that about £500 million could have been saved if the Government had followed some of the recommendations that he made when he was Minister.
Part of the problem is that there are differences between hospitals in Wales in the cost of operations. For instance, a Caesarean section would cost £547 at Glan-y-Mor hospital in Swansea but £1,945 at Wrexham Maelor. Hip and femur replacements cost £2,589 in Pembroke, yet at Llandough hospital in the Vale of Glamorgan each operation set its budget back by nearly £8,000. There are enormous differences in the cost of routine operations done in different hospitals. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bridgend, who is in his place, will have some contribution to make on the health service. He has said many interesting things in the past, and I am sure that he will say one or two more about that.
Enormous savings can be made by seeking ways to improve best practice. We should listen to practitioners in the health service as well, instead of coming back with some of the spin that we are used to from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) and his party.
§ Chris Ruane
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way on this issue. He complains about the length of waiting lists to see consultants and surgeons. Is he aware that it takes between 10 and 17 years to train a surgeon or a consultant, and that these people should have been put in place 17 years ago, under the previous Conservative Government?
§ Mr. Evans
When the Labour party first got elected, we were told that we had 24 hours to save the NHS. We have now been told that it takes 17 years. When the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) was Secretary of State for Health, he was told that it would take some time to turn the tanker round. The Government ditched that particular captain well before it was.
§ Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Royal Gwent hospital and identified some 875 problems in waiting times. They affect my constituents and I am well aware of them. Does he agree that at the Royal Gwent and throughout the national health service, there is also the problem of a lack of consultants who devote their time fully to the NHS? Will he therefore commend the present Government's attempts to negotiate new contracts with consultants to reward them as they deserve to be rewarded for devoting their time full-time to the NHS?
§ Mr. Evans
What I will not do is commend the Labour Government for cruelly raising expectations in 1997 that everything could be sorted out if only a Labour Government were elected; that clearly has not happened. Devolution was supposed to be the answer to everything. We know from some of the plans that have emerged from the Health Secretary that the reforms will be great news for pen-pushers but certainly not great news for those who work in hospitals. The hon. Member for Monmouth will also remember—I raised the issue the other day at Welsh questions—that he was at the bottom of a very long list to try to get on an NHS waiting list for a dentist in his constituency, because there were no dentists whose list he could get on to immediately. The Government are failing not only him but many of his constituents.
§ Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He would do well to recognise some of the successes of the health service in Wales. For example, he might go with me to Velindre hospital in my constituency, the cancer hospital for my area, which leads the United Kingdom in trials for cancer care and is an exemplary model of treatment in every way for people suffering from cancer. Perhaps he might help the hard-pressed workers in the health service by recognising their successes in Wales, where they lead the UK.
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Lady must recognise that I started by praising those who are dedicated and committed and work in the national health service. It is they who have to put up with this intolerable Government and the promises that they make. Indeed there are enormous successes in the NHS, whose staff perform miracles daily. My brother had a cancer operation in Singleton hospital in Swansea more than three years ago and the staff performed an absolute miracle on him, so I have great praise for those who work in the NHS. However, I have enormous reservations about some of the problems caused by Government policy.
§ Mr. Evans
No; I want to move on. There are several issues to discuss and many hon. Members want to speak.
I mentioned the National Assembly. We know, with some of the changes that have taken place and with the Mike German affair going from farce to fiasco, that it is a shambles on the inside and a shambles on the outside. When the Secretary of State for Wales says that we need 876 to ensure that money is efficiently spent on the public services, I wonder whether he still believes at this late stage that he could perhaps inform the House of his views on the Assembly building. That is one farce that has certainly carried on—a pantomime that has run way after the Christmas period.
The Secretary of State knows that, when we were discussing devolution, we were told that the whole thing would cost between £12 million and £17 million. When it reached £40 million, the First Secretary decided to put a stop to it. We have ended up with a hole at a cost of £8 million, and the National Assembly is so embarrassed by it that it has now put a fence around that hole in Cardiff at a cost of many thousands of pounds; at one stage I was going to ask the Secretary of State whether he would look into it for me. I am not going to do so, but is he not embarrassed by the enormous waste of money? Would it not have been far better if that money had been spent on the national health service, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, North was saying, on some of the excellent services that are available and on improving those services throughout Wales?
I am also concerned about the delay of local elections in Wales until 2004. That means that the people of Wales will now have to wait another 12 months before they can pass judgment on their elected councillors of any persuasion. Surely the Secretary of State has a view about that. We were told that the local elections could not be held on the same day as the elections to the National Assembly in 2003 because it would lead to confusion. But in Scotland the date of the local elections has been altered so that they can be held on the same day as elections to the Scottish Parliament. Is the Secretary of State really saying that the people of Scotland are more intelligent than the people of Wales? I do not think so, and it is a gross insult that we are being told that because the people of Wales will be confused, the elections have been deferred until 2004.
The last part of my speech deals with the economy in Wales and the meltdown in manufacturing, about which I am extremely concerned. There have already been many job losses in manufacturing. Sony cut 220 jobs in Bridgend. GEAES, an aircraft engine manufacturer, cut 350 jobs on top of the 450 cut last year; the Corning optical factory in Deeside closed, and Dow Corning cut 40 jobs in Barry.
However, the most disturbing name in all this must be Mittal. I know that on Tuesday there is to be a debate on the subject, but I must mention it because manufacturing is so important to Wales. Manufacturing accounts for a disproportionately high percentage of jobs in Wales. Yes, we want the service sector to improve and know that in a number of service jobs, employment has increased. In the Welsh Grand Committee, I mentioned Swansea airport, where an investment has been made. Air Wales now flies from Swansea to Cork and Dublin. That has been an enormous success, and the projection is that about 300,000 jobs—
§ Kevin Brennan
Would the hon. Gentleman care to remind us how many manufacturing jobs in Wales were lost in the first five years of the Conservative Government 877 after 1979? Would he also care to confirm that, as we speak, unemployment in Wales is at its lowest for 25 years?
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Gentleman reminds us of a time when the Labour party spoke regularly about manufacturing decline. Anyone listening to Labour Members' words during the period 1992 to 1997, when I was first elected, might just have thought that if a Labour Government had been elected in 1997, the rot, as it was called, would stop, and there would be an increase in manufacturing jobs.
§ Mr. Nick Ainger (West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire)
The number of jobs in Wales has increased.
§ Mr. Evans
No. There has not been an increase in manufacturing jobs in Wales but a decline.
The hon. Gentleman should remember that the Labour Government are in power. We are looking to them to improve the manufacturing sector in Wales, but that simply has not happened.
I am talking about the service sector jobs at Swansea airport, and I hope that the Secretary of State will do his bit to ensure that that airport improves. That would be a great boost to west Wales, and I hope that it would open up parts of that area, which has had some difficult times because the decline in agriculture. Some 1.5 million passengers use Cardiff airport every year, but more could do so if the infrastructure—the roads from the airport to Cardiff—were better, so we also want improvements to take place there. However, manufacturing is the bread and butter of the Welsh economy, so I should like to refer to it.
§ Mr. Prisk
Is my hon. Friend aware that, although manufacturing in Wales has already been in recession for one year, the Trades Union Congress today intends to publish the fact that it foresees no recovery in manufacturing in the coming year? Indeed, it does not foresee a recovery in manufacturing in Wales until the beginning of next year. So there will be two years of manufacturing recession under Labour.
§ Mr. Evans
As my hon. Friend suggests, that was said by the TUC—I thought it was a friend of the Labour Government. The fact is that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) exposes some of the deep concerns that, surely, all hon. Members have about what is occurring. Indeed, a total of 300,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the United Kingdom since 1997.
During the past 12 months, the House has rightly concentrated on the problems with steel and Corus. Hon. Members will remember the questions, debates and statements in the House that related to the job cuts at Corus just over a year ago. The chief executive, Sir Brian Moffat, said that action was needed because of the huge excess in capacity in its strip mills division. It was 878 announced that 6,000 jobs were to go—3,000 of them in Wales. That was a devastating blow to an immensely skilled and productive work force and their families.
The Government said:We will do everything that we can to turn the situation around, and I hope that even at this late stage the company will be prepared to sit down and talk with us.The Liberal Democrat, Richard Livsey, described Sir Brian as a butcher. Barry Jones, when a Member of Parliament, said thatour communities are now being put at risk by a cynical, brutal, thoughtless, profit-mad company".He added:Our people gave everything to the board and have received nothing back but a kick in the teeth. They believe that they are being sacrificed on the altar that represents profit".—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 7 February 2001; Vol. 362, c. 241-42WH.]The hon. Member for Monmouth referred to Sir Brian as "the silent assassin". People were being sacrificed, but the silent assassin—if that is what Sir Brian was—was assisted in his work by those in Downing street. The job losses were appalling. Llanwern, Shotton, Ebbw Vale, Bryngwyn all suffered losses in addition to the 3,000 job losses elsewhere.
On 28 March 2001, the Prime Minister said:We also stand ready to help in any way that we can with those…people…I hope the company will listen to them; we certainly will."—[Official Report, 28 March 2001; Vol. 365, c. 961.]We now find that he was listening to someone else. Less than two months later, £125,000 was donated by an Indian steel magnate, Mr. Lakshmi Mittal, to the Labour party. His wife had previously supported the Labour party with a more modest £5,000 donation to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), but I am sure that the donation did not go unnoticed at Millbank. The £125,000 donation was received with thanks.
Mr. Mittal is a steel man and has been very successful, from 1976, when ISPAT Indo was established in Indonesia, to the purchases in Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Canada and Germany. In 1995, he moved his headquarters to London, with the expansion into Kazakhstan and Ireland continuing.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis
I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that, unlike the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Wales is indeed a pretty straight kind of guy. Does he find it rather strange therefore that the Secretary of State told the House early this afternoon that this was all about helping a poor country such as Romania? If that is the case, why did not the arch spin doctor at No. 10 say so? Why did he instead try to pretend that Mr. Mittal's company was British?
§ Mr. Evans
No. I want to say a little more.
Mr. Mittal was expanding his company throughout the world. He bought the Irish company in 1996, but he closed it five years later, on 15 June 2001, with substantial debts of £40 million. The Irish Government and the 879 European Coal and Steel Community have had to pick up the redundancy costs, but that closure had wider repercussions, as I am sure the Secretary of State for Wales knows. Allied Steel and Wire—which operates in Wales and employs more than 1,300 in the United Kingdom, more than a 1,000 of whom work in Cardiff—has to find another £5 million because the credit that it was accustomed to being given was adversely affected by the fact that that company closed, leaving debts of £40 million.
Graham MacKenzie has written to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, but I want to know what sort of assistance will be given to companies such as his that employ people in this country and pay taxes here. Is it not time that we started to bat for the companies which have been affected? The amazing thing is that the buy-out of that company is similar to the one that took place in County Cork, where a commitment was given that no redundancies would take place for five years. With the closure in Ireland, the redundancies took place after five years and two weeks, and the same commitment has been given.
§ Mr. Evans
On 23 July 2001, the Prime Minister sent his famous letter backing the deal to the Romanian Premier, Adrian Nastase. It said how the buy-out would help Romania with its accession to the European Union, which, I believe, the Secretary of State for Wales has intimated. Of course, we all know why the Prime Minister signed that letter within weeks of thousands of Welsh, and British, steel jobs being cut. Moreover, other people who now work in the steel industry must be aghast at what is going on.
We are told that the letter was written because Mr. Mittal is a British business man. That was later revised to a business man with British interests. We are told that his headquarters are here, but a leap of imagination is now needed to understand how the Prime Minister possibly thought that he was doing Britain a favour. It then transpired that DFID supported a bid from the company for extra help as well, because it was a British company. [HON. MEMBERS: "DFID?"] Yes, DFID—the Department for International Development. Is that okay?
The company is British, but the fact is that 99.9 per cent. of its work force were overseas. However, it was to receive a £70 million soft loan from the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, which described the LNM bid as "a very good project". What do hon. Members think those who have lost their jobs in Corus must think now? What do they think anyone who works in the steel industry in Wales thinks now?
§ Mr. Evans
We are told that the Prime Minister writes letters all the time for British companies, but what is a British company? I shall refer to a letter that David 880 Davies, the Assembly Member for Monmouth, wrote about a company in Wales. He wrote to the Prime Minister asking for some support on 18 February 2002:I am writing on behalf of a family business, Morgans of Usk, which employs 60 people in my constituency, a rural area which has been badly hit by foot and mouth and the closure of the Corus steelworks in nearby Newport.For ten years this company has been fighting for the release of £35,000 held by the Bank of England. The money was earned through work done on an Iraqi contract by Glantre Engineering prior to the Gulf War.Release of this money could not be considered of benefit to Iraq. It is money held for payment to a British steel firm. Morgans of Usk is a reputable British company employing people in an area where such jobs are hard to come by.You have stated that your intervention on behalf of a British steel company, Mittal, was not influenced by the large donation made to Labour Party funds.I would, therefore, be grateful if you would sign a letter for the Bank of England, authorising them to release the money which could provide further employment to a steel firm which has not made a large contribution to party funds.I look forward to the same swift and personal response for a British steel company with 60 employees as you were willing to give to a 'British' company owned by Lakshmi Mittal.
I now have the response to Mr. Davies from 10 Downing street—not from the Prime Minister, I am sad to say, but from somebody called Kathy McCann in the Direct Communications Unit—dated 22 February. It says:I am writing on behalf of the Prime Minister to thank you for your letter of 18 February…The Prime Minister has asked me to arrange for a Minister in the National Assembly For Wales to reply to you directWhat is the difference between a company that employs 60 people in Wales, and LNM, which employs fewer than 100, and employs 99 per cent. of its work force abroad? It is shocking that the Prime Minister has not decided to support that company.
The water becomes increasingly murky in regard to whether LNM is a British company when we understand that a French company, Usinor, was also bidding for the Sidex plant in Romania. We now know that that French company employs three times as many workers in the United Kingdom as does Mittal's company. It has been in Britain since 1923, not 1995 as in LNM's case, and has a head office in St. Albans and subsidiaries in Birmingham and the west midlands. To use the Prime Minister's definition of what is British, that French company is three times more British—but clearly not as generous in its donations to the Labour party as Mr. Mittal's company. Even the Romanian chamber of commerce publishes LNM holdings as a Dutch company. In any event, Mittal's LNM subsidiary bidding for Sidex is based in the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean, as we all know.
First, we were led to believe that the Prime Minister had not met Mr. Mittal. Later, however, we learned that the Prime Minister had attended a function at Downing street to thank Labour party donors, and Mr. Mittal was one of the biggest. Yesterday we learned from "The World At One"—this is on the programme's website—that the so-called controller of fundraising when Mittal made his first donation in 1997 was Jonathan Powell. We also know, according to the programme's website, that the original draft of the letter to Adrian Nastase, the Romanian Prime Minister, included the word "friend" to describe Mittal's relationship with the Prime Minister, 881 but that it was crossed out by Jonathan Powell, the chief of staff. Are we now to believe that Jonathan Powell placed his revised version of the letter without talking to the Prime Minister about it at any stage, or that the Prime Minister did not know who Mittal was despite having met him recently? What entered the Prime Minister's head when he signed a letter on behalf of a company based in the Dutch Antilles which directly competed with steel plants in the United Kingdom? It was shedding jobs in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom at the time too.
Even the Foreign Secretary intervened last week. He asked: "if you asked those 100 people"—Mittal's employees—whether they feel better about being employed than being on the dole they'll tell you that they'd rather be employed here in Britain".The Foreign Secretary might as well ask the 6,000 people who lost their steel jobs in the United Kingdom whether they prefer to be on the dole while the Prime Minister supports competitors in Romania.
§ Mr. Evans
Even worse news for Wales and for steel production is that Mr. Mittal has actively campaigned in the United States of America for barriers to be erected against foreign steel entering that country. The decision will be made by President Bush on 6 March. Not only does that hit Welsh and United Kingdom steel exports, but even worse, the extra capacity from other countries that is turned away from the United States might end up being dumped in the United Kingdom market. A Labour peer, Lord Paul, has described the letter as "unfortunate" and a "slip-up". He said:There is no doubt that perhaps the Prime Minister had been feeling that this was a British company…but it just turned out to be it wasn't a British company.Lord Paul believes that this country is at risk from steel imports.
A huge number of unanswered questions relate to the Mittal affair. The premier's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, seems to be the link man, judging by his talks with his friend, Richard Ralph, the British ambassador in Romania, the redrafting of the letter, the signing of the letter and the invitations to donors to come to No. 10. The sell-out of Welsh jobs is not just naive but incredibly damaging. The stench that pervades the whole affair is nauseating. The evasion is sinister, and the drip, drip of information damning.
From Ecclestone to the Hindujas, from Vaz to Byers, this Government have no shame. Mittal is the latest in a long list. Only an independent inquiry will finally put the issue to rest. If the Government have nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of, let us have that inquiry now.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
First, I heartily endorse all the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales about my former colleague and neighbour, the late Sir Ray Powell, and also the words of encouragement for my new neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) who, I am sure, will be my colleague for a very long time. There is no truth in the rumour that both of us were two inches 882 shorter at the end of the by-election campaign than we were at the beginning, or that we were beginning to develop webbed feet, although there was a lot of rain in those three weeks.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) is right to say that I want to talk about the heath service in Wales, if only to correct one or two slightly false impressions and the spin that was given to remarks that I made to The Western Mail a couple of weeks ago. This House is responsible for the money that goes to the Welsh Assembly for spending on public services and promoting prosperity in Wales. In addition, this House passes the primary legislation that the Welsh Assembly implements in Wales.
I want to consider the health service in particular because it is fundamental—good health is what people want most of all. In simple money terms, the Government's record is excellent. Since 1997, the rate of increase in spending on the health service year by year has not been far off 10 per cent. Under this Government, and certainly since the establishment of the Welsh Assembly, spending on health in Wales has been three or four times above the rate of inflation. Spending has risen from just over £2 billion in 1997, when we came to power, to almost £3.5 billion this year. Next year, it will be almost £3.75 billion.
A lot of money is spent on the health service in Wales—more per capita than in England. In Wales, we spend about 13 per cent. more per capita than is spent in England. Of course, that has implications for how the Barnett formula works. I shall not make that the thrust of my remarks—I merely point out that it is an issue.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I am curious about how the Barnett formula works. I visited my local hospital and found that at least 10 per cent. of patients in the hospital in Hereford had come over the border from Wales. Is it not true that not only has health spending gone up in Wales but that there is a multiplier effect as Welsh patients are not going to hospital in Wales?
§ Mr. Griffiths
This is a united kingdom, and there is a flow of patients from both sides of the border. There is no district general hospital in Powys and for many patients the closest hospital is in Hereford. I do not think that we need to make too much of that.
§ Lembit Öpik
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that as that has been the situation for many years, it would not distort the figures in the way that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) suggests?
§ Mr. Griffiths
Not at all. The fundamental issue is that more is spent on health care per capita in Wales than in England, which needs to be considered in the context of the Barnett formula.
I am not revealing anything new today. I first raised the subject more than two years ago, but I am pleased to come back to it because of the remarks of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley. We also need to consider some of the comparisons between the health of people in Wales and in England. For example, hospital admissions are 18 per cent. higher in Wales than in England and admissions to accident and emergency units are 17 per cent. higher. Some 20 per cent. more prescriptions are issued in Wales 883 per capita than in England. There are 19 per cent. more visits to doctors in Wales than in England. Reporting of long-term illness is 28 per cent. higher in Wales and the mortality rate, adjusted and unadjusted, is also higher. There are 19 per cent. more cancer registrations of men in Wales than in England, and 14 per cent. more for women; and deaths from heart disease are 19 per cent. higher in Wales. It is therefore not surprising that we spend more on health care in Wales.
This illustrates the difficulty that we have in dealing with these problems in Wales. However, we are spending more money and there are a lot of good news stories about the health service in Wales. Tomorrow I believe that the new St. David's hospital will be opened in Cardiff, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan). In November of this year a new district general hospital will be open on the Baglan moors in the Bro Morgannwg health trust. The trust covers my constituency but the hospital will primarily serve Aberavon and Neath. A new community hospital has at last been agreed for Porthmadog—we were talking about it when I was a Health Minister in 1997–98—and there will also be a new community hospital in the Rhondda. That is about £35 million worth of investment.
Some £4.5 million has been allocated to the second phase of the children's hospital once the magnificent fund-raising effort has put into place phase 1, which has almost been achieved. There is £6.3 million going towards medical undergraduate facilities at Swansea. To illustrate how long all this takes, the decision was made in 1997–98 to increase the number of medical undergraduates in Wales, and that has to be planned for.
There are more nurses and midwives training and more will be finishing their training over the next few years than ever before. In the professions allied to medicine, there are increases in the numbers in training. The diatribe and criticism of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley cannot be accepted because when the Tories were in power, the number of beds in Wales was reduced and the number of nurses also took a dive. When the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was Secretary of State for Wales, he almost reached the point of asset stripping both the physical and intellectual infrastructure of the health service. He left the Welsh health service in a deplorable state.
We are spending £10 million on the upgrade of the cancer facilities at the Singleton hospital at Swansea, with £5.5 million going to the accident and emergency unit at Morriston. Wherever we look, there is a tremendous increase in spending. Things are improving and more staff are coming on-stream, but we must accept, in the words of Dr. Bob Broughton of the British Medical Association, that we have had 20 years of under-investment and it will take a bit of time to turn the ship around. Some 88 additional consultant posts have been made available for Wales and £9 million has been allocated to the new clinical school in Swansea this year.
This year, 10,000 more patients have been treated in the health service than the year before. However, we have to accept that waiting lists in some areas are increasing. Fortunately, we can see a chink of light at the end of this gloomy and difficult tunnel: in areas where the Welsh Assembly has begun to target the waiting lists for heart disease and cataract operations, there has been a small reduction. Because I know that the Welsh Assembly is focusing on other areas as well, I am confident that over 884 the next few years we will see a gradual improvement. I emphasise that it will be gradual because it takes time to get the staff in place for this work to be done. Even today there are many consultant posts in Wales waiting to be filled, not because they have not been advertised but because it is difficult to find the people to fill them. We need to be patient.
The Western Mail has said that £500 million more could have been available to spend on the health service in Wales over the past five years. Instead of saying that those figures are calculations of my own, it might be more accurate to say that I dumped all the information published by the NHS Executive on the cost of the 100 most popular hospital in-patient and day-case treatments on my assistants and asked them to work on those figures. What they came up with is that in 1996–97, if all hospitals in Wales had reached the average for just those treatments carried out in every hospital, there would have been a saving of about £24 million which could have been invested in the health service. If all hospitals had reached the average of the best three, the saving would have been almost £100 million which could have been invested in the health services in Wales.
I was trying to tell The Western Mail that if the Welsh Assembly were to look carefully at where hospitals were most efficient and effective in carrying out their work, it would be possible to have substantial additional funds available to spend on the health service in Wales and make a significant impact on waiting lists. In fact, I have already put that point to the Minister for Health and Social Services, Jane Hutt. Over a five-year period, I guess that between £400 million and £500 million could have been invested in the health service in Wales. The Welsh Assembly is looking at these specific problems and I am sure that we will see an expansion of the hospitals which are proving to be the most effective in Wales. Therefore, I am encouraged by what is happening. Despite some of the gloomy headline statistics, I believe that the chinks of light showing in matters such as heart disease and cataracts will be rolled out across other specialisms. I am confident that in four or five years we will see a much improved health service in Wales that we will be happy talking to our constituents about.
§ Mr. Wiggin
What does the hon. Gentleman think about the increased bureaucracy? I appreciate that he did not research those figures himself, but the principle is laudable. I am curious because the five health authorities will be abolished in April next year to be replaced by 22 local health boards with similar powers. Those will be backed by as many as 12 partnerships and three area offices. The latest plan for health in Wales is to replace the five existing health authorities with 37 organisations. It is hard to understand how the Government have managed to increase spending by so much and achieve so little. In the words of the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies)—
§ Mr. Griffiths
I remind the hon. Gentleman that the additional spending has resulted in 10,000 more treatments a year in Wales. That is significant. On restructuring the health service, he might know that I do not think that the plan is right at the moment. However, 885 his description of it traduces what is meant to happen in Wales. There is a commitment that no more money should be spent on bureaucracy. I remain confident that we will make progress and that better health care will be provided year on year.
§ Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)
I welcome the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) to the Chamber and congratulate him on beating the Liberal Democrat candidate, Veronica Watkins. I only regret that I do not know enough about him to take advantage of the fact that he cannot intervene prior to making his maiden speech. I simply pay tribute to his predecessor, Ray Powell. Some said that he was an unguided missile or a loose cannon, and he was described as a wild man by the media and uncontrollable by the Whips. I have every hope that the hon. Gentleman will continue in that tradition and perhaps one day join the Liberal Democrats.
§ Kevin Brennan
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) cannot intervene, perhaps the hon. Gentleman can explain to me why a leaflet on which his picture appeared on the day of the by-election called my hon. Friend "London's Labour lackey"? Is not that typical Liberal Democrat politics—sneer locally, creep nationally?
§ Lembit Öpik
It hurts me to the core to have offended the hon. Gentleman and, believe it or not, I have something to say about that kind of politics, and not just to Labour Members, but to Members of my party too. I hope that hon. Members will be greatly interested in my comments.
It has been a good year for the Liberal Democrats in Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) took over from his predecessor and we made good progress elsewhere. Indeed, I managed to win a hotly contested election to lead my party on Welsh matters and prevented splits in the parliamentary party by immediately appointing my hon. Friend as my deputy, having considered the alternatives.
I said that the comment by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) was poignant. My speech is directed not just at Welsh politicians or the Welsh public, but at the Welsh press. I ask all three groups to think seriously about the concepts that I am about to advance. Politicians are doing something wrong. If we get things right, perhaps we will help to resuscitate the lost confidence in the trade that we have chosen as our career.
My speech is also directed at other parties, including my party in Wales. I want people to think seriously about the potential for turning politics into a competition, not a war. I question the way in which we run down the character of our trade and then feign surprise when people do not turn out to vote or disappointment when the media imply that we are all on the make and that we do not act in the interests of the people who elected us.
886 At a press conference in the Cardiff Assembly last Monday, I was accused of patronising the Welsh press. Most of the journalists were interested in the story relating to Mike German and the possibility of a reshuffle. They asked the same question again and again. After we answered it, I suggested that the issue lacked resonance with the Welsh public and that people really wanted to talk about things that made a difference to them. It got quite heated. It seems I had disturbed a hornet's nest by questioning the ability of the press to report news that matters. The journalists thought that I was suggesting that they should not report on the matter that interested them.
Afterwards, I went to the media floor in the Assembly to make amends with one of the people who felt most patronised. She told me that she also regarded me as naive—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name names."] I will not because Jo told me not to. She claimed that I was angry with her, to which I shouted, "No, I'm not", and proved her point. It struck me later that the exchange was the opposite of what I had in mind for a new agenda in Welsh politics. It is with humility—I take some of the responsibility on myself—that I suggest that right hon. and hon. Members seriously consider launching a campaign in Wales, ahead of anywhere else in the United Kingdom, to change the way in which we do politics.
As I think about the accusations of naivety and being patronising, I realise that they were said in response to a problem that we have created. For whatever reason, the agenda has become so set in convention that aggression, opposition, spin and negative briefing about each other have become so acceptable that efforts to try a new way of doing things are dismissed as naive and even idealistic. Is the new focus on politics in Wales so unfeasible that we are not going to make a difference? Is Welsh politics so doomed to remain as it is that my speech today might again be regarded as naive?
§ Mr. Wiggin
Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman's party will no longer be in a coalition with the Labour party in the Welsh Assembly?
§ Lembit Öpik
The context of that question is so odd that I am unable to understand why the hon. Gentleman thinks that a positive new style of politics would prevent parties from working together. Surely he realises that if politics is a competition and not a war, one works in league with other people and other parties when that best serves the public interest. Obviously one maintains a healthy critical capability when appropriate.
Wales has another golden opportunity to lead the way in conducting politics differently. At the heart of the new agenda, about which we talked so optimistically when the referendum was held on the Welsh Assembly, must be the concept of focusing on outcomes rather than process. The public do not care much about the political process. Why should they? Those who are most interested in the political process get involved in it. The rest pay tax in the expectation that we manage the political process to achieve the outcomes that we were elected to achieve. That is the point of paying the tax that enables politicians to be employed. We often forget that and settle into the comfortable arguments that take place in the House, perhaps drawing the media into that club at the same time. We forget that the true client of our activities is getting switched off by what we say and disillusioned by the fact that politicians seem more interested in attacking each other than working together in the interests of Wales.
887 I have given the matter a great deal of thought and have decided that the failing of the system is really a failing of politicians to lead the thinking of the nation of Wales. We fail to provide a motivating, inspirational, powerful and visionary agenda that the media naturally gravitate towards. We should be talking about an agenda that is likely to succeed—a vision that is secondary to the people driving it, who are focused on the results that it can achieve.
That is the big point for me. With the focus in the press on individuals, scurrilous stories and questions of corruption, we have begun to reap the consequences of our attitudes and behaviour towards each other. Very rarely do the great achievements of the human race rest on the memory of an individual. The great achievement of the Apollo moon landing was travelling to the moon, landing a man on it and returning him safely to earth. The individual concerned happened to be Neil Armstrong, but the triumph was collective.
§ Mr. Bryant
Is it not ironic that, despite his fine sentiments about it being more important for us to talk about outcomes than processes, so far, apart from mention of the moon, which was a little dangerous coming from him, he has talked solely about processes and not said anything about the conditions facing the people in Wales?
§ Lembit Öpik
I recognise that I was taking a risk in trying to talk about the character of politics in Wales and that it is unconventional of me to try to reintroduce an element of soul and a different modus operandi in Welsh politics. The hon. Gentleman can listen to the rest of my speech to determine whether I should refer explicitly to health, education and so forth. This seemed too good an opportunity to lose to share my thinking on what I consider to be an important matter. I shall certainly respect further interventions from the hon. Gentleman and others on the point.
§ Kevin Brennan
I respect the sincerity with which the hon. Gentleman is putting his case, but is he telling the House that, from now on, locally delivered Liberal Democrat "Focus" leaflets will contain the high-minded moral politics that he is advocating? Will he make that pledge now?
§ Lembit Öpik
I can most certainly give the hon. Gentleman the pledge that all the "Focus" leaflets that I personally write will be exactly along those lines, but let me make a serious point. I said at the beginning of my speech that I am not condemning other parties for their lack of vision or for succumbing to the temptation to demean Welsh politics, but that I am speaking to, among others, members of my party. Indeed, as the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, who has not been dragged to his place because he is some prime offender in the party, to engage in that process. I emphasise, for exactly the reason to which the hon. Gentleman referred, that I am speaking to my party and inviting Welsh Liberal Democrats to consider the points that I am making. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend has already read my speech; his presence indicates assent—[Laughter.]
I return to examples of great triumphs that are not associated with the names of the individuals concerned. Lloyd George, who of course created pensions, was not 888 remembered by most members of the public who receive pensions as having done so. We have heard about Nye Bevan and the national health service, although I would point out that the great Liberal, William Beveridge, gave him the idea in the first place. Examples of individuals being associated with personal triumphs or personal armies of visionaries are rare.
On account of his obsession with leeks, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) might be remembered for an army of leekers who go around the country swapping metric measures for imperial ones, just as Robert Peel is remembered for creating the police—peelers. Indeed, constables are called bobbies in honour of his first name.
§ Lembit Öpik
I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would take my remarks in the same jovial spirit in which he made his comments. It was a tentative joke; I should have known better. I apologise to the House in order to avoid having to make a personal statement later because he did not laugh.
In talking about the difference between outcomes and focusing on individuals, I should like right hon. and hon. Members to consider two crucial and fundamental points. First, the obsession with gossiping about each other in the press and attempts to drag down individuals has arisen because ideology in Welsh and, indeed, British political life has evaporated. We cannot blame the media for taking on the agenda that we have set.
We saw a good example of that when the hon. Member for Ribble Valley sought to criticise the Government on the continuing Mittal matter and to imply a degree of wrongdoing on their part. Although it is perfectly legitimate for any Opposition party to raise such matters—indeed, perhaps it is our responsibility to do so—emphasising them for a third of a speech is very tricky when the speaker comes from the same political party that has been tarnished time and again as a result of bringing the name of politics into disrepute. It is just possible that the Conservative party can score some points from the Labour party on the matter, but there is little doubt that the ultimate loser is our profession, because the public do not make the fine distinctions that we are able to make in debates on the Floor of the House.
§ Lembit Öpik
The hon. Gentleman mentions Mike German and is no doubt referring to the continuing police inquiry into alleged matters with regard to that individual. What is the political benefit to us as serious politicians of implying guilt when an inquiry is being conducted exactly to establish such circumstances? Every individual in the House surely accords in their heart with the principle of innocent until proven guilty. There is no benefit or upside to implying the guilt of an individual before an inquiry has even been done. The hon. Gentleman highlights exactly the kind of thing that we do to each other and have all done from time to time. Ultimately, however, the true loser is Welsh political life.
§ Mr. Bryant
I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman that in all matters it is right for politicians, as in any line 889 of business, to be judged fairly and, indeed, swiftly. In the incident to which he has referred, I wish that there could be a swift resolution of the police proceedings, as slow justice is no justice for a politician. However, does he think that it is right or wrong for politicians to try to intervene on behalf of people in their party in processes in which the police are engaged?
§ Lembit Öpik
I assume that there is a deeper intent in that question. The hon. Gentleman can be more explicit if he wants me to answer a specific question. It seems self-evident from what I am saying and from what we all believe that it would not be right to try in any way to corrupt an investigation. I do not think that anyone would disagree with what he and I have just said.
I turn to the important distinction between taking a more positive and perhaps more principled attitude to politics, and maintaining the critical faculties that the Government and Opposition parties must maintain. It is fair to criticise the Government for their ineffectiveness in, for example, fixing rundown public services, but we do not engender any faith or confidence in the public by running down other political parties when one's own party has not done any better. It is all very well to criticise the failings of any individual organisation, but it is incumbent on the critic to indicate a better way of proceeding.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley was asked a direct question about taxation while criticising the Government on the matter, but he was not willing to answer it. He suggested that savings and best practice would be a way of finding the extra money in the health service, but I do not know of a single political party that stood for the 2001 general election suggesting that worst or second-best practice was acceptable.
In the serious debate, once we get into it, we have to provide serious alternatives if we suggest that there is a different way to do things. [HON. MEMBERS: "What would you do?"] Conservative Members ask a good question. They can see what I would do. As the House knows, the Liberal-Democrat-led coalition in Cardiff is doing tremendous work and achieving significant outcomes for the people of Wales—everything from implementing a more equitable student funding arrangement to securing effective economic performance, from achieving what I believe was a better performance than the UK average in response to the foot and mouth crisis to introducing the Children's Commissioner for Wales, from abolishing museum charges to introducing free school milk. All those things show that it is possible to work with another party in the interests of the public while simultaneously maintaining an independent identity. Right hon. and hon. Members have busily campaigned for the new sort of politics. Part of that is accepting that in the competition of multi-party politics, one can still work in league in a positive fashion and deliver results that are far more meaningful to the public than much of the debate held in this Chamber.
That does not mean that one has to abandon one's ability to criticise. There is currently a big debate going on in the House about taxation. Personally, I believe that direct taxation is the fairest form of taxation, but there are differences of view in both my party and the Labour party. However, we will never make progress in that debate if 890 most of the time the issue is used as a political battering ram by different political parties. People are switched off by such an approach.
I believe that it is probably necessary to increase taxation a little bit to achieve a better health service. However, my saying that raises the danger that, instead of a rational debate in the pub—[Laughter.] Fair enough—I meant to say that instead of a rational debate in the public domain, all that happens is that the arguments are reduced to a simple yah-boo debate about whether one is in favour of increasing taxation or reducing it. That is patronising to the public, who would be far more interested in hearing the arguments for or against. That is shown by the example of my party, which was the only one that went into the general election explicitly committed to increasing direct income tax; we gained more seats than any other party in the 2001 general election.
Of the two crucial points I want to highlight, the first is balance and the second is that, as long as we continue to be sceptical about our ability to change the way in which we conduct politics, that change will not happen. I was asked to whom I am addressing my remarks today. I am saying to members of my party in Wales, and to right hon. and hon. Members present today and members of their parties in Wales, that it is up to us to decide whether to carry on with the same old tired yah-boo politics with which the public are clearly disillusioned, or to give a different type of politics a chance.
I entered politics because I believe that politics can perform a positive and important function to improve the quality of people's lives. I did not enter politics to slam, rubbish and run down people in other parties who are themselves genuinely committed to the same goals. I became a Member of Parliament because I believed—my belief has been confirmed—that thanks to our proud democracy, some of the best brains and most sincere and committed individuals in the country end up here. I am of course pointing at the Liberal Democrat Benches.
§ Lembit Öpik
Madam Deputy Speaker, you will have to rule on whether two people constitutes "some", but I am willing to accord the compliment to other hon. Members present.
The House knows exactly what I mean. We have wonderful debates, and honest and sometimes sincere conversations that would make us politically vulnerable if others heard them, when we are outside the Chamber. Sadly, we sometimes leave our mutual respect at the door and take any opportunity to run down each other's party because we believe that we will derive political advantage from doing so. We can carry on doing that if that is what we want to do; we can carry on messing about, and then getting the business done when we are not in the Chamber. Alternatively, we can start trying to discover what the Welsh public want to hear from Welsh Members of Parliament, and what sort of outcomes would restore the Welsh people's confidence to the extent that they vote in higher numbers. We can decide whether we want to continue to behave in a manner that has made it acceptable in the media to say things like, "This MP was proved to have lied, but what do you expect from a politician?" Alternatively, we can challenge that and say that we are, on the whole, honourable individuals who are genuinely trying to do the right thing.
891 I recently wrote an article in which I asked what is missing from politics? That question prompted many responses from around the country. Zöe Phillips said compassion; Derek Phillips, conviction; Fred Davies, openness and initiatives; Prue Bray, trust; Paul Wheeler vision and passion. Funnily enough, none said that there should be more short speeches, although one said that what was needed in politics was more people like me. Few Estonians are likely to stand at the next general election, but I have noted the comment. A chap called Bill Schardt offered three answers: issues, community and solutions.
However cynical Members of Parliament might be about my choice of subject, I ask them to take my words seriously. It was not an easy choice to tackle what lies at the heart of the disillusionment in Welsh political life—especially given that I know that there will be a degree of doubt about the nature of my contribution to the St. David's day debate—but if I had not done this, no one else would have. If I am not prepared to say to my party and others that we should start to focus on the outcomes that matter to people, there is little chance of change.
So, Madam Deputy Speaker, there you have it. My deal with other Members of Parliament is that I will do what I can to make sure that "Focus" publications across Wales reflect the approach that I have described today. I am not a dictator—I cannot force people to do that—[Interruption.] A rebellion is breaking out behind me. I will also try to ensure that the high principles I have outlined are reflected in the activities of Liberal Democrat politicians in Wales. I cannot promise to succeed, but I can promise the House this: if we all work together, we will succeed. Perhaps, just once, we could all be a little more high minded than to try to score points when other people are doing their best to serve this country and Wales. Were we to do that, we might actually be thanked by people who believe that it is too long since true vision guided politics. Through our efforts in Wales, we might make 21st-century politics a little less disappointing to the people who pay our salaries.
§ Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore)
I am grateful for this opportunity. It is with great pride and not a little humility that I rise to make my maiden speech. My pride is not of a selfish kind: it is born of the recognition of the proud history of Labour socialist parliamentarians from Wales, past and present, who have fought for working people, fought injustice in all forms, and fought for a better future for all regardless of chance of birth or of privilege. I feel humility as I take my first few faltering steps as a Member of Parliament, because I know that I have an immense debt to repay to the people of Ogmore who have placed their trust in me. I will strive to serve them to the best of my ability at all times and in all my actions.
Before progressing, may I add my own tribute to those already made today to the late Sir Ray Powell, a loyal servant of the Labour party who represented Ogmore in Parliament from 1979? He championed the rights of grandparents in the Grandparents Rights Bill, which was a major influence on the subsequent Children Act 1989. He championed the rights of shop workers during the Sunday trading debates and was influential, as we have already heard, in the development of Portcullis House. I never met Sir Ray Powell, and I am sure that if I had, we would not have agreed on everything, but his reputation as 892 an outspoken parliamentarian on behalf of the people of Ogmore and a true champion of his communities is a legacy in which his widow Marion and his daughter Janice Gregory, Assembly Member for Ogmore, can take great pride. Let us honour Sir Ray Powell and all those parliamentarians and advocates of social justice and opportunity for all who have represented Ogmore since 1918, including Walter Padley, Vernon Hartshorn and others.
I also take the opportunity to pay tribute to my uncle, the late I for Davies, Member of Parliament for Gower for many years and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales. He spoke many times in the Chamber, and was a man of dignity, intelligence and vision, a thoroughly decent and truly honourable man. He is fondly remembered by his family and all those who knew him; I hope am a credit to him in the House, as well as to my parents, my wife and all those who sent me here.
I have the immense privilege of representing the people of Ogmore, a landlocked community of diverse character; it ranges from the former mining communities of the Garw, Llynfi and Ogmore valleys, not forgetting the communities of Gilfach Goch and Evanstown. It also stretches down, as has been mentioned, to more rural areas and the busy communities of Pencoed, Tondu, Llanharan and Sarn that border the M4. In the hinterland, the communities of Bettws, Llangeinor, Blackmill and Shwt nestle at the base of the three valleys. Ogmore is a diverse community.
Ogmore is also the home of many myths, legends and heroes. In Llangynwyd at new year the skull of a horse with a white shroud—the Mari Llywd—is paraded to fend off evil spirits. My colleagues back in Ogmore have said it has worked politically since 1918. Llangynwyd is also the home of the famous tragedy known as the "Maid of Cefn Ydfa" and the romantic protagonists are buried at Llangynwyd church. Llangeinor was the birthplace, in 1723, of the radical thinker Dr. Richard Price, whose treatises on liberty and the American revolution were influential in the development of the American constitution. He was renowned for walking to London at the age of 18. I will not try to emulate that trek, but I shall travel regularly by train. [HON. MEMBERS: "It will take the same time."] Indeed. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions for attempting to reverse the shameful fiasco of rail privatisation and under-investment over many years.
A fortnight ago, a Welsh Sunday paper curiously speculated that my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith) and I were jointly to coach the Welsh team after the sudden departure of Graham Henry. As we approach Dydd Gwyl Dewi—St. David's day—and the Welsh international against Italy, I hope that the spirit of our local legendary rugby heroes will inspire the Welsh team. J. J. Williams, Chico Hopkins, John Devereaux, Scott Gibbs, Alan Bateman and many others show the formidable talent that we have on the sporting field in Ogmore.
The legacy of song is powerful, as the Welsh national anthem "Hen Wlad fy Nhadau" is thought to have been first sung in public in a chapel in Maesteg in 1856. In addition to our excellent local choirs, it may come as a surprise to hon. Members that we lay claim to Kylie Minogue, whose mother and grandmother reside in the Ogmore constituency. The legacy is continued as new 893 talent emerges. Big Shiny Cave, a local band of youngsters, are soon to be in the national televised finals of a contest for bands. I wish them the best of luck and look forward to welcoming them to Westminster.
Names of famous collieries are testament to the mining heritage of the area and resonate down the years: Ocean, Wyndham, Western, and others. The seam opened by the Wyndham colliery brought forth coal known as "Best Admiralty Large" which fired the Navy's steamships in world war one; it was regarded as the best seam of such coal in south Wales, if not the world.
As a keen hill walker, I can testify to the rugged beauty of the hills and valleys of Ogmore, and the picturesque settings of the country parks and lowlands. After extensive reclamation after the years of heavy industry and mining, the valleys are returning to their natural beauty. With my background as a lecturer in tourism, I cannot fail to see the potential for tourism and recreation in Ogmore, which is rich in natural beauty, industrial heritage, culture and folklore. Tourism is not the only way forward, but it adds a vital spark to the regeneration of an area, and can transform the image of a region.
The classic film "The Proud Valley" was filmed in the Garw valley and starred Paul Robeson, the famous African-American athlete, singer and actor, and a keen advocate of civil rights. He rightly regarded the film as his finest. More recently "Very Annie Mary" was filmed in the Garw valley in 1999, featuring one of our best local choirs, the Ogmore Valley male voice choir.
There is a link to the future too. Paul Robeson and the film industry are relevant as we look and hope for the development in the near future of a major film complex on the site of a former opencast mine. I will lend my full support to the relevant Labour Member in the Welsh Assembly in that endeavour, and invite my fellow Welsh MPs to do so. Not only would the complex lead to direct job creation: it would transform the image of a region and a country through the powerful medium of movies. The impact on tourism is well understood.
One of the most exciting aspects of community life in Ogmore is the role that voluntary groups and regeneration partnerships play in holding communities together, particularly as they go through transformations, with an ageing and declining population, the relocation of jobs and the challenges of leisure provision for youngsters and the aged. Grassroots organisations often best understand local demands, and need our encouragement and moreover our practical support. The Blaengarw Workmen's hall and the Berwyn centre in Nantymoel, and all the activities that take place there, epitomise the success story of community regeneration that is seen throughout Ogmore.
Volunteers and dedicated staff on limited funds are pulling together to make a real difference to their communities. There are drop-in centres in Llanharran and Maesteg, the latter achieving excellent results with youngsters who dropped out of the education system and the establishment. The youth group in Nantyffyllon repairs vandalised benches and bus shelters. At the Boys and Girls Club in Nantymoel, which I have visited, 80 youngsters meet four times a week; I saw them hanging from the rafters and engaged in a range of activities. Much valuable work goes on and deserves praise and credit. 894 I appeal to the Secretary of State for Wales to liaise with our colleagues in the National Assembly and relevant agencies further to develop the funding mechanisms that would reward the success stories of the voluntary and charitable sectors, especially those that work in our poorest communities, by encouraging the streamlining of applications for lottery funding and other grants and building on the generational funding that is such a success in the Communities First programme.
Ogmore is diverse, not only in landscape and people, but in prosperity and life chances. Some parts have experienced inward investment, infrastructure development and population growth; it is vital to continue that growth, as it benefits the whole constituency. However, we also have pockets of multiple deprivation, with more children living in poverty, lower levels of educational attainment, lower pay, poor-quality housing and higher numbers of people on income replacement benefits. Those factors combine to give a lower quality of life, a lower life expectancy, and a higher rate of mortality. It does not have to be that way; it should not be that way. I am determined that that will not continue, and I know that my Labour colleagues are equally determined.
I am proud to represent the Labour party, which has established a national minimum wage that some Opposition parties could not find time to support. That, combined with the working families tax credit, has put £30 per week on average into the purses of the poorest families in Ogmore. It is not a fortune, but it makes it pay to work, and it puts more food on the table.
I am proud to represent the Labour party that has delivered an above-inflation and above-earnings increase in pensions, and provided the £200 winter fuel payment for all pensioner households and free television licences for over-75-year-olds.
I am proud to represent the party that has agreed the largest ever compensation settlement in western European history in respect of miners' compensation, after years of prevarication and denial of liability from the Tories. Let me assure hon. Members present that I shall be working with fellow Labour Members of Parliament representing mining communities throughout the UK to ensure that full and final payment is made as swiftly as possible and in every single case.
As a GMB member, I am proud to represent the party that has a long tradition of co-operation with the unions and promotion of the public sector. Long may it continue, and long may we continue to work together with the unions to promote the best interests of the public who receive our services, and the workers who play such a crucial role in delivering those vital services.
On these and many other issues, I am proud to represent a party that delivers social justice in a real and pragmatic way, but there is more to be done. Nye Bevan described himself as a pragmatic idealist. He believed in getting things done to improve the lot of other people, and that meant dealing in reality, not in utopian visions. I will strive to work with the Labour Government in Westminster, and in close liaison with the National Assembly and local authority, and with all the agencies and the voluntary sector to bring real improvements to the lives of the people of Ogmore.
895 Let me finish by thanking again the people of Ogmore for their trust, and acknowledging the supreme efforts of my team, who fought a positive campaign and worked hard to present a positive message for the future of Ogmore, and the future of our children and grandchildren.
The Ogmore by-election was the 10th since Labour's massive mandate in the general election in 1997. It was the 10th to take place, and the 10th that Labour has won, and won decisively. I make these simple observations in closing: there are still no Tory MPs in Wales, and apart from the special circumstances surrounding the by-election caused by the death of our late right hon. Friend Donald Dewar, this was the worst result of any nationalist challenge since 1997. That is echoing so loudly through the valleys of south Wales that it can be heard in Scotland as well.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to address the House with my maiden speech, particularly on the occasion of the Welsh day debate. I look forward to many other occasions when I may catch the Speaker's eye, and further the concerns of my constituents and the cause of social justice in Wales, the United Kingdom, and worldwide. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr.
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) on a confident and interesting speech—erroneous in parts, but a good speech well delivered, which I am sure augurs well for him.
I also visited Ogmore, of course, unsuccessfully, and I got wet a few times as well. I come from Snowdonia, so I know what rain is all about, but with such rain every day, I could not understand why the Ogmore farmers do not grow rice. I found that the Conservative candidate was terribly wet. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ogmore sincerely on his speech.
I shall speak about objective 1 funding in Wales and the forthcoming comprehensive spending review. One of the main issues that has concerned the National Assembly and been highlighted in recent weeks is the disparity in funds allocated to the 15 local partnerships. Evidence from the funding allocated to the 447 projects approved thus far demonstrates clearly that some of the more prosperous—if I may so describe them—parts of the objective 1 area seem to be doing well in terms of allocation per head, but those in the most deprived areas are doing badly. It is extremely worrying that the funds are not getting through to the areas most in need. That might well create a problem in achieving the increases in gross domestic product that it was hoped would result from objective 1.
I consider, as does my party, that ways must be found to achieve a more balanced allocation, so that every part of the objective 1 area benefits more equitably from the funding. That is why Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales, highlighted the need to set more regional economic targets for the Welsh economy. Regional targets are essential if we are to ensure more balanced development. Adopting targets only for the objective 1 area as a whole and for the non-objective 1 area will not succeed in gaining the necessary increase in GDP. Ways must be found to target the most deprived areas.
One relevant factor is the quality of the local partnerships and the varying amounts of experience in preparing applications for European funding. Action such 896 as more training for local partnerships that are under-performing must be undertaken urgently. What is the Welsh European Funding Office doing to address the problem?
The current financial position is that by the end of December 2001, commitments totalling £288.5 million have been made. However, the indicative financial allocation set for the end of December 2001 in the single programming document was £347.92 million. There is thus a shortfall of more than £59 million. The programme is about £60 million behind schedule.
The reasons given for that do not stack up. In a paper recently presented by WEFO to the Economic Development Committee of the National Assembly on 16 January, it was stated thata key factor in not yet allocating funds up to the level of the Indicative Financial Allocation set out in the SPD was the decision by the Infrastructure Partnership and the Business Assets Strategy Partnership to spend sufficient time developing an Infrastructure Strategy before allocating grant.
The truth is that it took two years for an infrastructure partnership to be set up in the first place. In 2000 the Labour Government in Cardiff instructed the Welsh Development Agency to set up seven regional partnerships to use objective 1 money, but three crucial sectors were omitted: energy, transport, and infrastructure for information and communications technology.
Over the past two years the matter has been brought up time and again, but the Executive have done nothing about it. As a direct result, it was impossible to apply for money for projects in those sectors during the first two years of the programme. We hear in this place how important infrastructure and ICT are, but we are being held back.
In the course of my speech, I shall put numerous questions to the Secretary of State. I do not expect that he or the Minister who winds up will be able to address them all, but I would appreciate a response in the form of a letter in due course. I do not mean to be unreasonable, but I am sure that these are matters of common interest to all who are concerned about the Welsh economy.
As I said, applications could not be made for money for the three sectors that I specified. The delay became unacceptable and has undoubtedly contributed towards increasing the gap between the indicative financial allocation and the commitments already made up to the end of 2001. That demonstrates the incompetence of the Government in Wales in running the objective 1 programme.
It is estimated that more than 30 partnerships and committees are directly involved in administering the programme. There are 15 local partnerships, 10 regional partnerships, one programme monitoring committee and four strategy partnerships. On 18 January, the chair of the monitoring committee announced the establishment of two new groups—a monitoring group and an advisory group on implementation. With so many bodies, it is no surprise that people are confused about the whole process. Apparently, the private sector had had enough months ago, when the Confederation of British Industry decided that it would not actively participate in the programme, saying that business people did not have the time to attend meetings and spend hours attempting to find their way through the process.
I know that the issue has a resonance across the political spectrum and there is a need to simplify matters in order to proceed as quickly as we can. There is a danger 897 of the whole process being hijacked by local authorities. It seems that those who know how to play the game, as it were, are doing well, but the danger of that for small organisations is that if they are out of favour with a local authority, there is not much chance of their being successful in their applications.
It is unhelpful to compare our performance with that of other UK regions that are in receipt of objective 1 assistance. Such comparison is unfair and pointless because each area has different problems and a different way of tackling them. However, we should be comparing the performance of our programme with our targets, as set out in the single programming document. As the failure to reach the indicative final allocation anticipated by the end of 2001 shows, it is evident from such comparison that we must improve our performance, and fast.
There is significant under-commitment in priority 5 of the programme, which concentrates on rural development and sustainable use of natural resources. Several hon. Members have mentioned problems in rural areas. The problems should be highlighted and we should deal with them urgently. Measure 7 of that priority, which targets enhancement and protection of the natural environment and countryside management projects, is seriously under-committed. Will the Secretary of State liaise with the WEFO and the First Minister about that? We need to encourage the establishment of quality projects under that aspect of the programme, and the need is greater now because of the fallout of foot and mouth, and so on.
We must emphasise the need to establish a wider sense of ownership of the programme. Action needs to be taken to ensure that some of the big players, such as the WDA, do not feel that they own it. The process tends to be finance-driven rather than policy-driven, and there is genuine fear that that will continue, as the new regulations introduced for 2000 to 2006 exert annual pressure to demonstrate that money is being spent and require proof of spending at the end of every two years. The whole programme may well be preoccupied with the need to spend, and concentrate on that instead of quality. There is a need to shift from a finance-led approach to a policy-led approach.
We also need to de-bureaucratise the process. It must be dug out of the realm of civil servants. There are concerns that elected Members of the National Assembly and the Economic Development Committee in particular do not have a sufficient role in the process, and that it is dominated by the Government of Wales and officials. Of course, the Assembly as a whole should have a role. Perhaps it could undertake an annual review to consider how EU programmes are progressing. That work could be done in a wider framework of considering domestic performance policy as well. Such an arrangement would obviously provide an opportunity for approved integration and cohesiveness between the European Union and domestic programmes of the sort that has been lacking in the past, and would also avoid duplication. The Assembly as a whole should have overall control of all European Union programmes, as it should ensure that objective 1 contributes to overall economic development in Wales. A lack of overall strategy in the objective 1 SPD, with the lack of adequate baseline data and cohesion between strategy, priorities and the measures within them, directly resulted from the fact that no overall national economic 898 development strategy was in place. Such a strategy should have been in place at the beginning of the National Assembly's work. It would have guided the preparation of objective 1 and other important programmes.
That leads me to the comprehensive spending review. As we know, the Chancellor's CSR is due for publication later this year. It will set out the funding arrangement for 2004 to 2007, and will therefore cover the second half of the objective 1 programme. In effect, it will determine how much funding Wales will receive not only as part of Barnett, but—we hope—in the form of additional resources to cover EU funds.
Will the Secretary of State guarantee that Wales will receive additional resources over and above Barnett to meet the EU funds that we are entitled to draw down? What discussions has he had with the First Minister about the need to ensure that Wales will receive the full amount of resources, in addition to the block grant, to cover all EU funds that we are entitled to draw down? What discussions has he had with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on this issue? Last time, we did not receive the full amount necessary to draw down all the European funding or any additional resources to match fund the projects, so we must call for an additional allocation on top of the block grant. I am fully aware that the Secretary of State knows that, and I hope that he will lobby as hard as he can. I know that it is a difficult issue and that there are other competing claims on Treasury moneys, but I ask him please to listen. This is an opportunity that Wales must not miss, for the good of the whole objective 1 area and beyond.
The mid-term evaluation of the objective 1 programme in 2003 offers the opportunity to reconsider the priorities and measures and the financial allocations that they contain. What discussions will the Secretary of State have with the First Minister on the mid-term evaluation of objective 1 funding? What discussions has he had with the Department of Trade and Industry in relation to the next round of European structural funds from 2006 onwards? What guarantees can he and the First Minister give that they will ensure that the interests of Wales—it has to be said that they differ from those of the UK Government—will be heard? It is not in the interests of the UK Government to argue for increases in the amount of structural funding that is allocated to the UK, because, as we know, the Fontainebleau agreement acts as a disincentive. Welsh interests differ from those of the UK Government as far as the next round of funding is concerned. My party believes that the principle of additionality must and should be applied to each individual programme, instead of only at the member state level, to ensure that structural funding is additional to domestic funding. The baseline for the future financing of the structural funds should be increased from the current 0.45 per cent. of EU gross domestic product to at least 0.65 per cent. The money could be found by moving resources from the common agricultural policy. However, we would oppose any moves to renationalise regional policy, as there must be a strong regional dimension in cohesion policy.
Since the last comprehensive spending review, Wales has received, on average, an extra £140 million a year above the Barnett block to cover the extra cost of EU grants. Of course, that is welcome. It has gone fairly far, but it has not gone far enough to pave the way for drawing down all the European structural funds and using them to 899 their full potential. Of course, extra money is welcome, but we need more money again. I know that the Secretary of State hears such views all the time, but in the context of this particular debate, I must point out that it is absolutely vital for a substantial addition to be made to the Welsh block grant. I am not telling him anything that he does not know himself; but it is none the less vital.
Some petty politics has been going on on both sides of the House. Some claim that the extra money is the much-needed match funding, but unfortunately, it is not. This is the money that is given to Wales by Europe. Unfortunately, it has to go through the Treasury first. In order to use the money, it is necessary to match the amount in addition to its usual budget—the infamous match funding. Unfortunately, we have not seen a penny of that money from the Treasury, and it has to be drawn down from the various departmental budgets, which are already stretched to their limits in the National Assembly. I doubt whether any match funding will be provided by the Treasury in the next CSR unless the Secretary of State and the First Minister lobby hard to urge upon the Financial Secretary and the Chancellor the need to provide these much-needed funds so that the European grants can be used to their full potential and the National Assembly does not have to rob Peter to pay Paul. I congratulate the Chancellor on providing the European component of grants in addition to the Barnett block in the last CSR. I urge the Secretary of State to ask the Chancellor to continue that precedent by doing the same again this year.
We are approaching a make-or-break period for the structural fund programmes. They have been slow to start and it has taken some time to get the infrastructure in place. Academics, economists and politicians on all sides realise that we are now in the middle of the seven-year process and that this is an important time. The last CSR covered two to four years of the European funding programme and provided a welcome £140 million on top of Barnett. During the middle years of the programme, most of the grants come from Europe. We therefore hope and expect that there will be a significant increase in the funds that are made available in this year's CSR. Plaid Cymru's Professor Phil Williams AM, has carried out research estimating that an additional £62 million a year will be needed to cover the increased level of European grants allocated to Wales in the next few years.
The Secretary of State obviously appreciates the importance of the issue. I urge him to lobby his colleagues along the lines that I have suggested and ask him to bear in mind the special needs involved in the programme. I know that he is aware of them; I am merely reminding him. Will he make objective 1 a real success throughout Wales?
§ Mr. Martin Caton (Gower)
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) on his excellent speech. He clearly has a valuable role to play in the House in future. I felt proud as I listened to him because he is from Gowerton stock in my constituency. He may be Ogmore man today, but he was Gower boy. That is why I know that he will be especially interested in the subject that I shall talk about in the few minutes that I have. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cockles."] Correct.
900 Tomorrow is St. David's day, and many restaurants, hotels and pubs in the Swansea area will offer specifically Welsh menus—many of them very imaginative and extremely mouth-watering, and some of them involving Welsh cockles. Unfortunately, however, they will not be local Penclawdd cockles, because as I said at Welsh questions yesterday, since last July the Burry inlet cockle shellfishery has in effect been closed.
I guess that if one asked most people who live in Swansea and the surrounding area, or even tourists who have visited it, to list the things that they associate with Gower, cockles would be fairly near the top of most of those lists. Many, when that came to mind, would not think of a small bivalve mollusc. They would have a mental picture from before the war of hardy cockle women from Penclawdd and other north Gower villages, swathed in layers of shawls, leading their ponies and carts on to the estuary at low tide, taking out their wooden rakes and gathering the finest cockles in the world for sale in local markets, perhaps for consumption with local laverbread and bacon for breakfast.
That mental picture, although from a bygone age, is not so very different from what one would have seen if one had gone out to watch the cockle gatherers in the Burry inlet before last July. Certainly, the pony and cart would have been replaced with a Land Rover, some of the women would have been replaced with menfolk and almost all the shawls would have been replaced by more suitable outdoor gear, but the actual gathering of the cockles would have been exactly the same—using a wooden rake and a great deal of back-breaking work.
The shellfishery has a record of environmental and economic sustainability that is probably unparalleled anywhere else around the coast. In recent years, that sustainability has been maintained by regulation through the South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee, so that only a limited number of licensed gatherers can collect cockles in the Burry inlet and the amount that each of them can take is limited, as is the size of the cockles taken. That system ensured that cockles could be gathered in the Burry inlet throughout the year, except when short-term prohibition orders applied as a result of pollution spills or other health hazards. That is largely because it has not, like other shellfisheries, started to use heavy equipment from boats or large tractor rakes, but has stuck with the hard work of the hand rake.
Until last July, the operation had provided a good living for more than 40 families in north Gower. It had led to the development of a sizeable co-operative cockle and laverbread factory and other family processing units in the Penclawdd area, provided a central focus for Swansea's excellent market and given birth to our regular cockle festival in the city. The Burry inlet cockle beds do not provide a living only to some of my constituents. There are also cockle gatherers on the other side of the estuary, in Llanelli and Carmarthenshire. I know that hon. Members from those constituencies share my support for the industry and my concern for its future.
Sadly, what many of us thought of as this most environmentally friendly and sustainable of industries, applauded by conservation groups throughout Wales and beyond, has been closed down for nearly eight months. Since last July, both sides of the Burry inlet have continued to return positive results for diarrhetic shellfish poisoning, which, as its name suggests, is a poisoning caused by the consumption of infected shellfish that 901 induces diarrhoea and various other nasty symptoms. To protect public health, the Food Standards Agency and the local authorities therefore imposed temporary prohibition orders to stop cockle gathering.
That has left the cockle gatherers' families in a desperate situation. They have lost their only or main source of income for two thirds of a year. Their savings have been eaten up and many have been forced to extend their overdrafts or to borrow from other sources. What is worse, they have no idea when they will be able pursue their livelihoods again. That depressing uncertainty has grown week after week. At first, everyone from gatherers to environmental scientists expected the problem to disappear, because in the past DSP has come and gone in a matter of weeks in shellfisheries around the coast. That led to a growing awareness that something was different and more virulent about this outbreak than previous outbreaks in the area and around the coast of Britain.
Then, about a month ago—seven months after the fishery was first closed—we learned that the DSP positive test results in the Burry inlet are not due to what the Food Standards Agency calls "classic" DSP toxins. The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science at Weymouth has found that the toxicity of the affected cockles from the Burry inlet is more acute than normal. Even at this stage, we know little about what is causing these positive results. We know that heat treatment does not kill it, as it does some bugs responsible for other shellfish-induced illness. Work is going on at CEFAS and other institutions. Similar results have been shown in other locations such as the Wash and the Thames estuary. There is also evidence from Ireland and Canada of similar phenomena. As we are so far away from identifying the cause, we are even further away from identifying the factors that have allowed it to develop, be they pollutants or other environmental changes in the estuary.
The distress is greatest for the cockle gatherers, especially for those with no other source of income, but it is not confined to them. Others are suffering, albeit to a lesser extent—for example, those involved in processing who have to pay the extra costs of transporting cockles from other parts of the UK and abroad, and people who sell cockles, especially in the markets, who no longer have a local product and can see the concern about the safety of cockle consumption putting off their customers. Cockle gatherers in south-west Wales who do not work the licensed Burry inlet have had their shellfisheries around the coast, at places such as Laugharne and Ferryside, threatened with overfishing by the displaced gatherers and then closed down to protect stocks.
So what needs to be done and who should be doing it? First, a compensation scheme should be set up for cockle gatherers unable to gather their product in the inlet. There is a strong case for such a scheme. These families have seen farmers whose livelihoods were undermined by foot and mouth disease receiving Government compensation and help being provided to affected parts of the tourist industry. That is quite right. However, these people have not just had their livelihoods undermined—they have had the rug pulled from under them and have so far received no help. Indeed, for most of the eight months they have had to keep paying their licences although they cannot gather their cockles.
902 When I make that case contrasting the treatment of cockle gatherers with that of farmers, I am accused of comparing chalk with cheese. People argue that cockling, as a form of fishing, is hunter-gathering, and that if stocks run out in one place hunter-gatherers move on to another location. That is probably true around most of the coast. In places such as the Wash, the Thames estuary and the Scottish coast, cockle gatherers do exactly that. If they get a prohibition order they simply move their activities outside its boundaries. That is not an option for the cocklers at the Burry inlet shellfishery, who are tied to their estuary. They are not really hunter-gatherers, but husbander-gatherers, and hence much more similar to farmers and without, in the main, the option of looking to new cocklebeds.
So: who should provide the cocklers with support? The question of how to do that is complicated. When my colleagues and I ask the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we are told that this is entirely a matter for the National Assembly for Wales. When I ask the National Assembly, it explains that, while responsibility for the inshore fishery has been devolved, it has no powers to compensate cockle gatherers.
When I ask why the Assembly cannot use the wide power in section 40 of the Government of Wales Act 1998, which states that the Assemblymay do anything…which is calculated to facilitate, or is conducive or incidental to, the exercise of any of its functions",it is pointed out that the closure of the fishery is not an exercise of one of the Assembly's functions. It is the action of the local authorities on behalf of the Food Standards Agency. Therefore, the Assembly is, apparently, unable to pay any sort of compensation.
A Treasury scheme exists for compensation when a pest or disease has affected a fishery. Apparently, however, diarrhetic shellfish poisoning does not count as a pest because it results from the shellfish ingesting toxins present in the microscopic algae on which they feed. I do not know why the definition of "pest" has to be drawn so tightly as to rule this problem out. We either need to widen the definition or expand section 40 of the Government of Wales Act to allow the Assembly to provide support. Alternatively, we need to find a way of operating through food safety laws to provide compensation to these people, either through UK Government agencies or the National Assembly. Somehow, we should find a way to provide support to these families from the public purse. That is getting pretty urgent for some of the families involved.
It is even more urgent, now, that we get on with sorting the estuary out, identifying the problem and its causes and taking the necessary remedial action to ensure that the estuary environment can once again support a sustainable cockle industry. For the Loughor estuary to be rescued, I believe that we are going to need more geographically specific research that looks not only at the microbiology but at the wider ecosystem in the estuary.
As well as the problem caused by algae toxins, other problems have been identified in the inlet: eutrophication caused by excess nitrates; silting up and encroachment; and an increasingly anaerobic environment. All these have been seen in parts of the inlet and all—as well as the DSP problem—will affect the quantity and quality of collectable cockles.
We are fortunate that Swansea university has the expertise to carry out the sort of research that needs to be done. Dr. Kevin Flynn at the university is an expert in the 903 field of algae biotoxins and is prepared to get such a research project under way. However, that research needs to get going as quickly as possible. The phytoplankton that will be a central part of the investigation starts growing in spring. Research should begin as soon as possible if valuable information is not to be lost for another year. I congratulate both Carmarthenshire and Swansea on having put in money to begin that research, but I hope that the Food Standards Agency and the Environment Agency will see the sense in diverting some of their research budgets to this project.
Too often in the history of south Wales, people have been expected to trade off environmental quality in exchange for jobs. This is a case in which improving the environment and saving jobs—even creating new ones—go hand in hand. To do this in time will take political will at every level of government.
§ Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) on his speedy race through the fascinating subject of cockles in Gower. I look forward with some enthusiasm to further discussions on that in the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. I also join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) on his maiden speech. Perhaps unlike other Members who have to delve a long way back into their memory to remember what that experience is like, as a new boy I did it only about eight months ago. It involved a peculiar mix of terror and excitement which slowly eased away, leaving me with the realisation that I had to sit here for another half an hour or so to be polite. I therefore understand the hon. Gentleman's situation. I also congratulate him on getting Kylie Minogue and J. J. Williams into the same sentence; that is quite a remarkable achievement in a maiden speech. So—congratulations all round.
I want to focus on an issue about which I feel strongly, namely the condition of and prospects for the Welsh economy. Doing business in Wales has much to commend it. It is often said that the sign of a good economy is a high number of overseas investors prepared to put their money where their mouth is. Inward investment is a good example of how an economy is doing. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Welsh Development Agency was tremendously successful. We saw about £13 billion worth of inward investment during that period, and some 200,000 jobs were either secured or created.
One of the most interesting aspects of the structural reform of the Welsh economy in that period was illustrated by the fact that four of the world's six largest and most successful electronics manufacturers were based in Wales. That was a real vote of confidence in the Welsh economy in that period.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the workers in Wales, and to their often excellent record of loyalty and commitment. In particular, I want to pay tribute to the many small business men and women who form the heart of any economy and, particularly, form the heart of the Welsh economy. It is often true to say that politicians do not take the opportunity often enough to say thank you. I would like to say thank you to the thousands—indeed, millions—of small business men and women across the United Kingdom, and particularly those 904 in Wales. They are the ones who create the wealth; they create jobs for other people, and have the confidence to provide us with the services on which we rely. I am sure that all hon. Members share my gratitude for the hard work and dedication of small business men and women across Wales.
It is with regret, therefore, that I have to say that the confidence of those business men and women in Wales is at an all-time low. It is certainly much lower than the confidence of many businesses in the rest of the United Kingdom. We are all aware that manufacturing has been in recession for a whole year. We have seen 9,000 manufacturing jobs lost in Wales in that time. The trade deficit for the United Kingdom as a whole is also at a record level.
The Trades Union Congress said today that it did not foresee the recovery that has been heralded by some Ministers taking place this year in Wales. It does not foresee the recovery taking place in manufacturing until 2003. That means that we face two consecutive years of recession. The recession in manufacturing will have a devastating effect on the businesses involved and on the communities that support them.
I hope that the TUC is wrong in this instance, and that things will recover more quickly. However, its view is also shared by many entrepreneurs in Wales. I refer to a recent report published by Barclays on business start-ups. These start-ups are an important indicator, because they show the confidence that people have in the future of an economy, locally or nationally. The figures for the last year show a noticeable fall in the number of business start-ups planned in Wales. That is not unusual in a recessionary period.
The fall, however, is much greater in Wales than it is in the neighbouring English regions. In the west midlands, the fall in business start-ups in the last year is 6 per cent., but in Wales—right next door—the figure is not 6 per cent. or 12 per cent. but 19 per cent. That represents a fall of nearly one fifth in the number of business start-ups in Wales in the last year. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) will understand this point particularly. In a region such as the west midlands, including the delightful county of Shropshire, the fall of 6 per cent. was not good, but it was certainly not devastating. Just across the border in Powys, however, there has been a fall of 19 per cent. That is worrying because it bodes ill for the Welsh economy and suggests the danger of a greater gap between the Welsh and English economies, which would be in no one's interest.
What is the problem, and what is the difference in Wales? I have talked to business men and women and their representatives, including the Cardiff chamber of commerce and the Welsh Federation of Small Businesses. They have identified a number of factors, and I shall raise two of them.
The first relates to the burden of regulation and the administrative costs of the regulations that fall on small businesses in Wales. Last year, the extraordinary number of 4,672 new regulations were introduced, which is a record since regulations have been counted. That is not my figure: it comes from the House of Commons. That comes on top of the £15 billion costs of red tape that the British Chambers of Commerce has identified from Labour's first four years in government. Unfortunately, there is little sign that the pace or scope of regulation is likely to diminish.
905 A number of small business men and women have told me that they hope there will be change and a realisation by the Government that the burden on small businesses is disproportionate. I spoke to them today, and as regards the figure of 4,672 new regulations they have said to themselves, "We can kiss that money goodbye. The chances of those figures falling is very small."
The reality is that the average small business in Wales spends up to 31 hours each month complying with or administering Government regulations. That is the equivalent of four working days a month—another working day a week—merely to ensure that the business is complying with and administering the regulations. Is it any wonder that the productivity of businesses in Wales, or in the United Kingdom as a whole, is collapsing? The sad fact is that four years ago we were the ninth most competitive nation in the world, but we are now the 19th, and the danger is that Wales and the UK as a whole will fall further.
The second factor that businesses have mentioned to me and that has been highlighted in a number of surveys is the lack of confidence that Welsh businesses have in local and national authorities. Individual business owners have expressed to me their frustration in dealings with local councils and agencies from the Assembly or from Whitehall—indeed, in having to deal with all three when the different levels do not communicate effectively with one another. That has been borne out most recently by a comprehensive survey entitled "Barriers to Growth and Survival", published by the Welsh Federation of Small Businesses.
I shall pick up on a couple of brief points made in that survey which merit consideration. Across the United Kingdom, 33 per cent. of small firms said that they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with Government-funded business advice, but in Wales the figure was 51 per cent.—over half. People singled out the quality of business advisers, the co-ordination of services, grant funding, loan funding and training grants. If local authorities think that they escape criticism, I have bad news for them. Local support for small businesses also attracted criticism, with almost three quarters of firms in Wales saying that they were dissatisfied with their local authority as a whole. Moreover, 60 per cent. of them were fed up with local economic development departments—I hope that the new Assembly Minister dealing with that aspect will take note of that if he has time—and 40 per cent. were unhappy with the way in which local planning applications are carried out. That is a sad indictment of how the public sector is perceived by one of the crucial communities that it exists to serve. It clearly shows a breakdown in the confidence of those businesses in many of their public authorities, and a breakdown of communications and trust.
People may wonder why things have got to this stage. I shall give a simple example. As a chartered surveyor, I am relatively familiar with this issue, although not an in-depth expert, so I look forward to being corrected by Labour Members. As I understand the current situation—Labour Members will be happy to remind me of this—businesses in my English constituency will be able to veto any proposal from a local authority to create a supplementary or additional business rate, whereas businesses in the Welsh constituencies of Labour and 906 other Members will not have that veto and their voice will not count in the same way. That is wrong, because it discriminates against Welsh businesses, and it makes many of them second-class citizens.
Some people may say—sadly, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) is not present to say it, but I am sure he would if he were here—that with devolution there will be differences of opinion and different approaches. That may well be, but from the perspective of the small business man or woman, it puts them and their business at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis their English neighbours. That is probably the worst possible signal about the nature of the devolution settlement that we could give the engine of the Welsh economy, and it is one of the saddest aspects of how devolution has been allowed to spin out.
In my lifetime, the Welsh economy has undergone a radical transformation. That is in no small measure due to the hard work and the willingness to change of the people of Wales. Small business owners and managers want and need better business support. They want less regulation, and resent the complex political and bureaucratic hurdles that they have to tackle. Understandably, they resent the fact that they are now required every month to spend the equivalent of four working days simply complying with Government red tape.
I believe that small businesses in Wales deserve better, not just because they create local wealth and local jobs, important though they are, but because entrepreneurs embody the essential ingredient of a decent society. No matter who a person is—whatever his background, class, colour or creed—if he has the ability, skills and will to work, he can be his own boss and make his own way in the world. That is a vital message of hope for all, in whatever part of Wales. That is why small businesses matter in Wales, and why I believe that they deserve our full support.
§ Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South)
I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate, not least because St. David's day is my birthday, which is good for a Labour politician in Wales, but also because about five weeks ago I thought for a split second that I would not be able to speak ever again, when someone in another car in Cardiff decided to share my side of the road for a few seconds, and lost. I want to say publicly how well the emergency services of Cardiff and south Wales dealt with the accident, especially the accident and emergency department. Despite the doom and gloom that we hear from Conservative Members, A and E did a magnificent job for me and for the poor occupants of the other vehicle. The doom and gloom that we keep hearing about is not relevant. The police, the fire brigade, the ambulance service and the A and E people did a magnificent job for everyone involved.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who made a magnificent speech. The constituency problems he described are similar to those I experience: both constituencies are landlocked, and in both cases the ending of a mining tradition has left a legacy of poverty and deprivation. I think we are all here to try to put that right, and I wish my hon. Friend luck.
907 I want to raise two issues of specific interest to north-east Wales, and relating directly to Wrexham. I represent roughly half that area, but my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), who is present, may wish to speak later and to raise the same issues.
My first point relates to city status for Wrexham. As Members will know, throughout Wales Wrexham is considered to be the premier industrial, commercial shopping and administrative centre of north Wales. The area's achievements over the past decade are worthy of the recognition and honour that city status would confer on every resident, business, organisation and group that has helped it to create its new positive future.
Besides being the largest town in north Wales, Wrexham is now truly the regional centre of the north. South Wales has two urban civic cities, Cardiff and Swansea, but there is no northern equivalent. City status for Wrexham would help to correct a long-overdue imbalance in Wales.
Economically, Wrexham's fortunes have undergone a transformation in recent years, by any measure. City status would constitute an acknowledgement of a sustained period of achievement in the town's regeneration. That achievement is due to the drive and purpose of its people, and to partnerships developed with private and public bodies. For example, on average one new company is established each week in the Wrexham area. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) should note that: although we heard some doom and gloom from him, there are good stories to tell, especially in areas such as Wrexham.
§ Chris Ruane
I am glad that my hon. Friend is seeking to correct the imbalance created by the Conservatives. Last year in my county of Denbighshire, 44 new companies were started in Ruthin and 24 in Rhyl, with the help of the council and other agencies. That is a marvellous example of the expansion of the small and medium-sized enterprise base in Wales.
§ Mr. Jones
I am pleased to hear such news of another centre in north Wales. It may not be quite as big and prosperous as Wrexham, but I know that with the help of its Member of Parliament it will improve in the near future.
Development opportunities in Wrexham's town centre are eagerly sought, which reflects the confidence and vitality of the town and the surrounding area. The Henley centre for forecasting described Wrexham as one of the top 20 areas in Britain with above-average potential for economic activity during the 1990s. It has more than fulfilled its expectations, and continues to move from strength to strength.
So far the campaign for city status has proved a great success, and we are delighted with the Wales-wide support that we have received for our bid. To date, 56 per cent. of Members in Wales—excluding those on the Government payroll—have supported the granting of city status in this jubilee year. To that can be added the support of all five Members of the European Parliament representing Wales, 75 per cent. of Welsh local authorities and 61 per cent. of Members of the National Assembly. Given the expressions of support from thousands of people in all walks of life—those working in television, sport, business and tourism, health professionals and 908 religious leaders—we begin to see a huge momentum gathering in favour of a just reward for Wrexham and, indeed, north Wales.
City status would enable Wrexham to be seen as a location for quality and opportunity, not just locally and regionally but internationally. It would allow the town to compete in the global economy, and it would help the area to attract more new investment and to build on its strengthening economic base by bringing in high-quality jobs. The area would be enriched, to the general benefit of the people. I urge the Secretary of State, as he considers which Welsh town to recommend for city status in the coming weeks, to reflect not just on what such status would deliver for the people of Wrexham but, more important, on what it would deliver for Wales as a whole. It is time to redress the imbalance between north Wales and south Wales.
The second issue I want to raise concerning Wrexham is not unrelated. It involves the future of the North East Wales institute of higher education, and its ambition to achieve university status. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently met its principal, Professor Mike Scott, to discuss the prospects of that.
I endorse NEWI's ambition. Let me say at the outset that there remains an important role for the more traditional so-called supply-led universities, such as Cardiff and Bangor, in higher education in the wider national Welsh context. I believe, however, that there is also a real need for a new type of university in north Wales to meet the needs of local people, and I sincerely believe that NEWI can serve that purpose. It has the potential to work in partnership and alliance not just with the supply-led colleges in the university of Wales, but with its partners in the further education sector and in business, commerce, the arts and sport.
NEWI has a progressive and innovative vision that can be realised in its development as an independent entity with university status. Wrexham and north-east Wales need a new, high-quality university, and NEWI can fill that role with ease. I urge my right hon. Friend to think again about its ambition at the earliest opportunity.
Let me now deal with a matter that has concerned me for some time. It has come back into focus only recently, as a result of a campaign with which I have been involved in my constituency. My concern relates to the serious matter of balance in news coverage and current affairs programmes broadcast on the Welsh-language channel SpedwarC, or S4C. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be aware of those concerns, as I have copied to him recent correspondence that I have sent to the chair of S4C, Elan Closs Stephens.
I have genuine worries about the existence of a policy among S4C news and current affairs producers and editors effectively to exclude non-Welsh speaking MPs and Assembly members from coverage on their various programmes. Hon. Members may know of the campaign that I have fought to save Britain's oldest brand of lager, Wrexham Lager. It has received considerable coverage in recent weeks on independent networks and on BBC regional television and radio. As a natural consequence, the story also attracted much interest from producers and editors making news and current affairs programmes for S4C.
However, although my office received several calls from S4C production teams, my staff were asked only to provide background information for the story and to 909 suggest only Welsh speakers for interview on camera about the story. I became concerned that there was a possibility that S4C was operating a policy of linguistic apartheid when reaching editorial decisions. I certainly hope that such decisions are not based on a politician's ability to speak fluent Welsh, but all the indications are that that, sadly, may be the case at S4C. What other hon. Friends have told me reinforces that view.
As a result of my fears, I recently made some very interesting inquiries of TG4, the Irish-language national television channel of the Republic of Ireland. TG4 mirrors the function and the role of S4C in the Republic by providing a daily Irish-language programme schedule.
I was amazed to discover that non-Irish speaking politicians are not excluded from any news programmes on the basis that they cannot speak Irish. Indeed, in such circumstances, TG4 simply subtitles any interview or contribution. The only criterion for the broadcast of a news item is newsworthiness.
As an interesting aside, thanks to the endeavours of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his previous job as Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, TG4 is now broadcast in Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend's crucial and important part in securing peace through the Good Friday agreement now means that TG4 is broadcast for Irish speakers across the border in Northern Ireland. I am sure, therefore, that he is all too familiar with what I am describing.
Sadly, in Wales newsworthiness and balance do not seem to be taken into account by S4C producers and editors when they make editorial decisions. Language seems to be the overriding and determining factor in deciding the news agenda. That cannot be a healthy way to present news and factual programming, as it limits and restricts opinion. In any case, it does not reflect the Welsh nation as a whole.
S4C claims that it does as much as possible to help learners of the Welsh language. I know from my own experience of trying to learn Welsh and Spanish that the best way for television to help language learners is through the use of subtitles. In this case, subtitles should be both Welsh-English and English-Welsh.
It is sad that on this day—the eve of St. David's Day, and of my birthday—S4C is leaving itself wide open to accusations of imbalance in news reporting. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to raise this matter at the earliest opportunity with the chair of the channel, and to establish once and for all that S4C serves the entire Welsh nation, irrespective of linguistic competency. I have supported S4C in the past as a valuable asset in Welsh life. A change in news and current affairs policy such as I have described would reinforce my support.
In conclusion, I should briefly like to deal with the work in this House of the Welsh Affairs Committee, of which I have the privilege to be the Chairman. We recently examined the shameful decision of the Children's Society to withdraw from Wales, a decision that angered many people in Wales. The Committee was not impressed by the society's reasons for pulling out of Wales, and the subsequent report emphasised that the society's action must not be seen as a green light for other charities to follow suit.
910 The House should know that our inquiry exposed some major flaws in the decision-making process adopted by the Children's Society. The Committee concluded that the adoption of the recent recommended code of practice by the voluntary sector in Wales could prevent such mistakes in the future.
Currently, the Committee is looking at the important issue of objective 1 funding for Wales, which was mentioned earlier. We are also receiving evidence on broadband internet provision. The Committee will be happy to hear evidence from anyone on those issues, and on the question of the operation of the legislative process in Wales, and its potential, following devolution.
I assure the House that relations and co-operation between the Welsh Affairs Committee and the National Assembly are very constructive indeed. That is a testament to the success and the drive of the devolutionary policies of this Government. This House can be satisfied that self-government for Wales and the relationship between Westminster and Cardiff go from strength to strength. The message is clear—devolution is working for Wales.
§ 5.9 pm
§ Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, which falls as close as possible to St. David's day.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones) on achieving another birthday and surviving the terrible car accident in which he was involved, thus sparing us the unedifying spectacle of the competition to see who would succeed him as Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) on his maiden speech, which was very good. I did not have the opportunity to get to know his predecessor, Sir Ray Powell, very well, because of the short time that I have been in the House, but I got to know the hon. Gentleman in the general election, in which he fought a vigorous campaign—fortunately, though, not vigorous enough to get the result that he wanted.
I will aspire to reach the high standard set for politicians by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). No doubt what I say will be reported back to him and judged accordingly.
I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) for publicising the Liberal Democrat "Focus" leaflets and the great effect that they have throughout the nation because of their positive content.
In this debate, we have talked about the economy, manufacturing, the service sector, tourism, agriculture and even shellfish gatherers, so we have had a fairly comprehensive tour. We have also considered how we are functioning as a society and how we are dealing with health, education and transport. The one aspect that we have missed out—although it was touched on by the hon. Member for Ogmore in his description of his constituency—is the environment.
The environment is one of our greatest assets and we must protect it at all costs. Much is written and spoken about sustainability, yet it is a little-understood concept and certainly not one that has captured the imagination of the general public. It is not used by planning authorities, for instance, to rank development proposals in order of 911 acceptability, and developments are taking place in Wales under the cloak of sustainability, environmental targets and international obligations that are profoundly and demonstrably unsustainable.
Unfortunately, Wales has had a history of being robbed and raped of its assets and of having its environment degraded and impoverished. One of the first examples was the desecration and deforestation of the hills of south and mid-Wales to produce charcoal to feed the furnaces of the early iron foundries. Those hills have never recovered their diversity—biologically, they will never recover. However, the process led to the wide, open and challenging landscapes that are so valued by the people who live there and by the visitors who bring money into the local economy.
The second great exploitation in south Wales took place in the name of coal, to fuel the iron and steel industries and to be exported as well as being used domestically. The coal rush brought very modest returns for the people who live in the area, and great social deprivation. The huge returns went to the coal owners. Because there were no environmental controls, the mining utterly destroyed some of the south Wales valleys, which were a landscape every bit as beautiful as mid-Wales, and probably more diverse in its wildlife.
The hon. Member for Ogmore mentioned the reclamation work being done by the Welsh Development Agency. I commend that. It has made a great impression and there has been a real greening of the south Wales valleys, but the hand of man does not compare with that of nature: man-made landscapes and environments lack the fascination of the real thing, which is what attracts and will continue to attract visitors. There are lessons to be learned: let us not destroy the very jewel of the Welsh crown that sits so well with the other jewels of culture, language and community.
Recently, the uplands of Wales have become the target of developers who use the words "renewable" and "sustainable" to cloak and cover a unique landscape with industrial structures, such as wind farms. Friends visiting me say, "Don't ever take that landscape for granted. Fight for its survival." A sense of wilderness is very hard to find today in urbanised Britain, but finding it is enormously spiritually uplifting for those whose lives have become humdrum and stressful. Such experiences are more than recreational; they are re-creational and truly renewing. They re-create people's spirit.
We should not be misled: when landscapes are lost to industrialisation, they are lost for many generations and probably for ever. Reclamation has always taken a very long time. In an important debate in the other place, noble Lords, including the Lord Bishop of Hereford, drew attention to the Cefn Croes wind farm development and the Department of Trade and Industry's decision to allow it to proceed without public inquiry. I shall not dwell on that too much, except to say—
§ Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)
I apologise for missing the earlier part of the debate, but I have just returned from Germany, where I was looking at renewable development. Given that the hon. Gentleman disapproves of wind farms, I hope he will explain his party's position on nuclear power. If we do not adopt one or the other, we may as well throw away any commitment to Kyoto.
§ Mr. Williams
I do not agree that the choice is between wind power or nuclear energy. The Liberal Democrat 912 party and I favour offshore wind farms, rather than the establishment of wind farms in Wales's wild and special places.
As I said, the debate in the other place made mention of the Cefn Croes wind farm development, about which there is huge disquiet in the whole of Wales. Ceredigion's local planning authority approved the application in a meeting lasting less than half an hour, even though the officer's report, which ran to more than 100 pages, recommended refusing the application. That recommendation was based on, among other factors, the view of the Countryside Council for Wales that wind farms are inappropriate in that location. Here we enter a circle of confusion. The CCW thought that it was not empowered to request an inquiry, and the Assembly thought it could not request one if its adviser, the CCW, had not done so.
The application then went straight from Ceredigion county council to the desk of a Minister in the DTI, without touching any other organisation in Wales. That Minister then took his decision without visiting the site; he merely consulted what we in Wales call snaps, or, in more technical language, photomontages. I wonder whether the Wales Office was involved in that process, and whether the Minister or the Secretary of State could give a personal view on it.
My main concern is the Camddwr trust's proposal to build 165 turbines, 400 ft high, on the Ceredigion-Powys border. One third of them would be built in my constituency above Abergwesyn, on land that is of national park quality but has never been designated as such. That application must not be fast-tracked in any way, but scrutinised in detail. In any event, a public inquiry must be held, involving an entirely independent inspector who is well versed in the impact of such developments on dramatic landscapes.
I am particularly concerned by a press statement by the Minister for Industry and Energy about future planning applications. On announcing the Cefn Croes application, he said:new rules which will relocate renewable energy projects…have been proposed under the non fossil fuel obligation but have failed to obtain planning permission".We are not quite sure what that means, but it fills us with horror. Perhaps there is some fast-tracking system for so-called sustainable or non-fossil fuel obligation developments. Once again, Wales is being exploited by a large organisation that is making huge profits from non-fossil fuel obligation subsidies. We must put our environment before financial exploitation.
§ Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)
I am grateful that I caught your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, in this important debate on issues connected with Wales. I am pleased to have been in my place when my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) made his maiden speech. He reiterated the principles that guide this party, so it was a tremendous pleasure to listen to him today.
I am also pleased to be here on the day that the Leader of the House announced a timetable that will, I am sure, eventually lead to the end of hunting with hounds. That is an important issue in Wales and I have had more letters on that than on any other issue since becoming an MP. 913 The letters have come from all sections of the population, but especially from young people. Recently, I have had letters from people who cannot understand why, when democratically elected Members of Parliament have indicated their clear will to ban hunting on several occasions, it has not yet happened. A ban to end hunting might help to restore the faith in democracy that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) mentioned. Such policies will help to convince the public that we do what we say we are going to do. I hope that we will not see a fudge on the issue of hunting. If this House votes in favour of a ban and the other place votes against, the Parliament Act should be used.
I shall address most of my remarks to the subject of crime and the Home Office's policies in Wales on prisons and on combating domestic violence. I strongly support the Home Secretary's aim, which he stated to prison governors recently, to reduce the number of people in prison and increase community sentencing, including perhaps weekend prisons and other ways in which prisoners can maintain their contacts in the community while serving their sentences.
I have long taken an interest in the position of women in prison. Because of the lack of a women's prison in Wales, Welsh women have had to serve their sentences in English prisons, which causes huge problems for their families and children. United Kingdom figures show that half of the children of Welsh women in prison are taken into care. An analysis of the 169 Welsh women in prison on 30 November 2001 showed that the majority were there for non-violent offences. Many of the Welsh women who are in prison today should not be there.
I fully support the proposals by the Prison Reform Trust for a network of local facilities to help to rehabilitate offenders. Women are treated differently from men by the criminal justice system. Those facilities should be made available, because women from Wales, and their families, would benefit from them.
The general population of prisoners in Wales, like that in the rest of the UK, has risen rapidly. An answer to a written question that I received yesterday reveals that the prison population in the Welsh prisons—Cardiff, Swansea, Parc and Usk, including Prescoed—rose from 1,437 to 2,191 between 1997 and 2002. That is an increase of nearly 50 per cent. In reasons for prison sentences, the biggest rise has been in drug offences. Some 124 men were held for drug offences in 1997 compared with 280 in 2002—another huge increase. The next biggest rise was for burglary—from 237 to 332. I do not have a deeper analysis of the drug offences, but it is difficult to obtain help for drug addiction in prison. We all know that, despite the best efforts of the prison officers drugs are still widely available in prisons.
With a rapidly escalating prison population we must find alternatives to prison. I support the tagging schemes that allow early release and that have been almost universally successful. I look forward to more community sentencing. Those who are a danger to the public must be kept in prison, but many of those who are not a risk could serve their sentences more effectively in the community. It is also important to ask how successful prison is and how good it is at preventing reoffending. We all know 914 that its record is poor. Reconviction rates are very high after a prison sentence, and I believe that the entire subject must be reviewed.
Another move by the Home Secretary that I strongly welcome is the ending of the policy of holding asylum seekers in jail. Very many asylum seekers have passed through Cardiff prison and I applaud the Home Secretary's decision, which means that there are now no asylum seekers there.
I previously visited asylum seekers in Cardiff prison, accompanied by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), and followed up the visit with a debate in Westminster Hall. Asylum seekers were unsuitably housed, on a top landing in an old, unmodernised section of the prison. That is no criticism of prison officers, who were placed in a very difficult situation and had to deal with it as best they could. For people who have committed no crime it was an entirely wrong policy, which I am pleased that the Home Secretary has ended so soon after entering his post. I was also encouraged by the report in the press this week that many of the old Victorian-style prisons will be replaced by more modern ones, which could affect us in Wales.
I shall now discuss violent crime against women in the home. In Welsh questions yesterday I raised the issue of future funding for the women's safety unit in Cardiff. The unit is one of several projects in Wales that are funded by the Home Office for a 12-month period as part of its crime reduction programme, and I was very pleased to hear that a Wales Office Minister would be visiting it soon. The unit, which was very recently launched in Cardiff, is a one-stop shop dealing with criminal justice, housing, finance and the emotional fall-out from domestic violence and rape, particularly in the 70 per cent. of rape cases in which the perpetrator is known to the victim.
The women's safety unit aims to provide advocacy for victims and their children and to reduce the risk of future harm. In the first 11 weeks of its operation, it has dealt with 140 women and 209 children. It is important that we do not forget the effects of domestic violence on children. There are some powerful and evocative images on posters, showing children cowering on the stairs or hiding behind doors when domestic violence is occurring in the home. We have not spoken much about children in today's debate, but obviously they should be at the heart of all our policies. Research has shown a strong link between domestic violence and child abuse, and children are absolutely key in all policies to do with domestic violence.
The women's safety unit has been able to change the structures of the criminal justice system in Cardiff so that cases can be quickly and appropriately dealt with. In Cardiff there is a named prosecutor from the Crown Prosecution Service. There is a domestic violence pre-trial review court staffed by a clerk who, along with all the Cardiff magistrates, has received training from the women's safety unit in how to deal with domestic abuse. It is absolutely essential that people who are dealing with that type of case receive the training to enable them to understand the implications. The time that it has taken for such cases to be heard has been halved in Cardiff, which means that there is less time for the victim to withdraw because of fear or intimidation.
The major problems to be tackled by the unit are the under-reporting of violence in the home and the fact that very many of those women who do report violence drop 915 out before the case reaches court. In Cardiff in one week last October there were 52 call-outs to incidents of domestic violence. Those resulted in six arrests, and four people being charged. Thus, following 52 incidents, only four people were charged.
I applaud the Government for putting domestic violence high on their agenda. Projects such as those that we have in Cardiff pave the way for a complete change in attitude and approach to this very damaging situation. The Government have made a tremendous start on the projects that they have set up. There are several throughout Wales, but the funding for those projects is only for 12 months. I want to reiterate very strongly that it is impossible to tackle an issue of such major importance with 12-month funding. I ask the Minister again to use all the power he has to persuade the Home Secretary to increase the funding for these projects.
§ Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)
I am glad that the hon. and new Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) is back in his place. As a fellow socialist parliamentarian and a fellow west Walian, may I add my words of warm congratulation on an excellent maiden speech? The hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) is not here, but he will know that the best intellectuals in the Labour movement have always come from west Wales. I am glad to see that that civilising missionary spirit is carried forth, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will endeavour to raise the consciousness of the Ogmore constituency Labour party for many years to come.
This is my maidenesque appearance in a Welsh day debate, which is an interesting if rather peculiar institution in some ways—a bit like this entire Parliament. The first Welsh affairs debate took place in 1944, and such debates became an annual event two years later, under a Labour Government. That was something of a sop at the time, although I do not wish to be in any way ungrateful for the opportunity that the debate gives us to discuss Wales affairs. Obviously, we are very grateful for every opportunity to raise issues of importance to Wales. The idea of having a Welsh day is slightly redolent of tokenism. Of course, every day needs to be a Welsh day, and we look forward to a time when we have a Welsh Parliament—obviously with family-friendly hours—when every day will indeed be a Welsh day.
One of Parliament's interesting conventions is that we are not allowed to see outside the Chamber, but it is fair to say that perhaps the media interest at United Kingdom level in this Welsh affairs debate may be rather less than we might have hoped.
§ Adam Price
Possibly, yes. In a sense, Welsh politics and affairs have been pushed to the periphery of interest by successive Governments. Hon. Members on both sides of the House would try to resist that kind of metropolitan centralism. [Interruption.] I shall gladly give way to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) if he has something of relevance or interest to say. I am only 60 seconds into my speech, and I shall try to get on to the matters of interest.
Of course, it is true to say that, during the past month, a Welsh story, broken by the Welsh media and by my party, has come to dominate the headlines throughout the 916 United Kingdom. I certainly cannot remember the last time that a story made in Wales has come to dominate the news agenda in that way.
§ Adam Price
The hon. Gentleman is incisive as ever.
The story was originally published by the Western Mail four weeks ago today, and it has rightly been at the forefront of political debate in Wales. On that day, the Under-Secretary of State for Wales was involved in an interesting spat on the BBC. It was as poetic as ever, and I remember the phrase "maggots on the corpse". I am not sure what the corpse was—perhaps it was that of the Welsh Labour party, but I thought that that had a little bit of life left in it. I remember the prophetic words, "Adam, if you have any evidence of impropriety, then publish it." Four days later, we found the famous letter on the Romanian website, and I am sure that that will go down in history.
Clearly, there are two stories at the heart of that affair. The first is the set of circumstances surrounding the Government's support for the Sidex deal, and I shall concentrate on that. As the Secretary of State for Wales said, there will be an opportunity for further discussion, especially on the second issue—the cover-up. I do not want to try your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I have counted nine fundamentally untrue statements or misleading statements that have been made by the Prime Minister and his official spokesperson as a result of those allegations. Clearly, my party is focused on the significance of that for the Welsh steel industry.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must choose his words carefully. I am not quite sure what he said a moment ago, but he should not accuse any Member of deliberately misleading the House. If he did, he should withdraw that remark.
§ Adam Price
I withdraw it if you advise me to do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Prime Minister's official spokesperson has made a slightly evasive and confused series of statements, but I shall not detain the House further. I am sure that there will be ample opportunity to discuss the matter on Tuesday night. The Secretary of State for Wales should not have to answer on the matter—he is an honest man whose commitment to support the steel industry is of long standing, and he was not consulted on the Sidex deal. In fact, as we know from the Minister for Europe, the only Minister who saw the letter was the Prime Minister. Surely, therefore, the Prime Minister should respond on behalf of the Government on Tuesday night. We look forward to that—at least, we live in hope. The message is, "Don't lose your idealism."
The Sidex deal was never in the national interest of Wales, the UK, or, indeed, the British—I have no problem with the word "British", as the Welsh and Cornish are the original Britons, are they not? The deal was never in the interests of the Welsh steel industry—Graham McKenzie commented to Scotland on Sunday that not only the plant in Romania but the plant in Kazakhstan owned by Mr. Mittal produce flat-rolled steel, which, of course, was produced in Llanwern and Ravenscraig. Therefore, Mittal's plants are competitors. Eastern European steel 917 imports doubled in 1999–2000, and low-cost competition from eastern European steel producers is one of the core problems facing the UK steel industry. It was therefore never in our interests to support the deal.
The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) pointed out that a deal was going to happen anyway. In a sense, that is true, and many things are happening in the world that will be detrimental to the prospects for Welsh companies in a range of sectors. However, should our Government actively support such developments? Technically, one could argue that the Usinor deal would have been less damaging to our steel industry because, as we have heard, the company employs more people in the UK than Mittal. At least its profits are retained in the European Union, which has indirect benefits, and the main focus of Usinor's steel production—it is formerly state-owned—is in western Europe. It would not therefore be in Usinor's interests to flood western European markets with low-cost steel imports, which is what Mr. Mittal intends to do with his plants in Kazakhstan and Romania.
We should never have supported Mr. Mittal's acquisition of Sidex: quite apart from the Labour party's insensitivity in accepting a donation from a prominent competitor, jobs in the Welsh steel industry will be endangered. Subsequently, we learned about Mr. Mittal's lobbying efforts in the United States. We await President Bush's decision—which he must make by Wednesday under the section 201 inquiry—and we may know it by the time of the debate on Tuesday.
Why was it not possible to seek an undertaking from Mr. Mittal that he would desist from his lobbying efforts in the United States as part of the price of UK support in Romania? As I understand it, no such undertaking was given or sought. It is incumbent on the Government, because of their support for Mr. Mittal both in the letter that clinched the deal and the loan, to use the full power of the British state to introduce a package of measures to support our beleaguered steel industry if President Bush imposes tariffs.
Although the package of measures for steel communities is welcome, in terms of additional central Government money it is less than Mr. Mittal received from the British taxpayer to fund his acquisitions in Romania and Kazakhstan, for which he got £6 million and £14 million respectively. That is depressing.
§ Adam Price
It is depressing for all of us. I would support many aspects of the Labour tradition in Wales. I have always said that I feel like a prodigal son of the Labour party, which I am sure will disown me. I distinguish between the best traditions of the Labour movement in Wales and the way in which the leadership of new Labour have dealt with that issue. I know that privately many Labour Members have sympathy for that sentiment.
The affair has corroded public confidence in politics and we are left with a sobering insight into new Labour and its priorities. Does the Prime Minister care more about his billionaire friends, as the draft letter referred to Mr. Mittal, than the families in the steel communities that 918 have loyally supported the Labour party for more than 100 years? Coming from a mining constituency, I know enough of the failings of old Labour in Wales. I certainly would not whitewash the Labour party's past, but at least there was a moral compass. It did not have an unblemished record, but it was possible to shine up the failings of the Labour party locally against its principles. The problem is that no one is clear about new Labour's principles and it is condemned by its actions. Its inability to realise or to admit what it has done wrong—it committed a grievous injustice to steel communities in south Wales—defines the ideological vacuum at the heart of the new Labour project.
§ Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd)
I am pleased to contribute to this St. David's day debate, even though I have to turn my 13-page, 15-minute, well-researched, finely crafted and perfectly delivered speech into a five-minute ramble.
§ Chris Ruane
I will confine my comments to town centre renewal. All hon. Members will have empty shops in their constituencies. It is a national issue, but in particular it affects the poorer communities in Wales. First, however, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) on his fantastic victory in the recent by-election. Well done—llongyfarchiadau.
I intend to draw on my constituency experience and on recent research by the Joseph Rowntree trust, an excellent organisation that has produced a research paper called "Local Shops for Local People". It researched 14 centres around the United Kingdom, including one in Ferndale in Wales, that have reinvigorated, renewed and regenerated their town centres. Lessons can be drawn from that. I urge the Minister to ask his civil servants to study that document. There is a copy available in the Library, which I have used.
I pay tribute to the Labour Government for what they have delivered in our communities and town centres. First, objective 1 funding will allow our local economies to regenerate so that our people are employed, have money in their pockets and can spend it in our town centres.
Secondly, there have been changes in heritage lottery funding since Labour's victory in 1997. Members may recall that, prior to that, £12 million of heritage lottery funding was spent on the Churchill diaries, and £5 million was spent on improving playing fields at Eton. Labour changed the rules so that such money is now used in areas where there is architectural merit and poverty. As a result, Denbigh town centre in my constituency is to benefit from £6 million of heritage lottery funding and Rhyl town centre, which is in Rhyl west, the poorest ward in Wales, is to receive £6 million. So, we have made big inroads into improving our town centres.
The main threat to our town centres, as everyone will realise, has come from out-of-town shopping centres. They are built on cheaper land and because of that benefit from a range of economic factors to the detriment of town centres. The main thrust of my speech is not to turn the clock back 25 years—I shop in those centres on a weekly 919 basis, as I am sure do many hon. Members—but to create a level playing field to ensure that we have the means to regenerate town centres.
The Joseph Rowntree trust research said that we should be creating town centres and not shopping centres in our communities. There is a difference. The town centre should be part of the town and should include the voluntary and community sectors. I opened the Clwyd Coast credit union in my constituency two weeks ago. Because it is located in the centre of Rhyl, its 1,000 members go there weekly and spend money there. The benefit advice shops and citizens advice bureaux are also in Rhyl town centre, which increases the footfall. Not only that: together with the welfare rights unit, their advice brings an additional £4.5 million in benefits into Denbighshire each year. That money is spent in our communities. So it is vital that we create town centres and not shopping centres.
There are other ways in which local and national Government can help our town centres. They can locate employment services in town centres, as they have in Rhyl. Healthy living centres, doctors surgeries and libraries could all be located in town centres.
"Local Shops for Local People" also revealed that for success we need partnerships—not just the traditional partnership of shops and offices in a commercial centre. We are blessed in my community with such business associations in Denbigh, Prestatyn and Rhyl—the three principal towns in my constituency. We need wider partnership and to consider the best examples around the country. The Borough Market renovation, not three miles from this House, enlisted the support of the Churches, residents' associations, the voluntary sector, the community sector and local authorities. We should be aiming for such wide partnership.
Another key factor in reviving our town centres is a safe environment. The Labour Government need to be given credit for creating partnerships to tackle crime and disorder, which bring together the community, local authority and voluntary groups. A month ago in Rhyl, I jointly opened a project to ban the drinking of alcohol on our streets. It aims to convince street drinkers that the areas around the railway station and the piazza are not the places to do their drinking as it deters shoppers.
Labour should be given credit for the closed circuit television that we have introduced in towns and communities all over Wales and for other initiatives such as club safe in Rhyl, which aims to monitor antisocial behaviour in clubs—there are 10,000 clubbers every weekend—and pub watch. It is vital that we create safe communities in which people can shop.
We need to co-ordinate employment, training and education for the work force who will work in our shops. If we regenerate our communities, our local people must benefit. We should target the unemployed and economically inactive in our communities. We should do so carefully, taking a long-term approach to families suffering inter-generational unemployment who have lost confidence. We must reach out to those people, give them training and restore their confidence so that they can go back into the community to be employed in our shops.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to look into a key factor in many of the 14 regeneration projects around the country, which is the use of simple kiosks. They are low cost and low rent, so for a minimal outlay people can use 920 them to set up their own business: if successful, they can go on to fill our shops; if they fail, no harm is done. Two national chains were first established in my home town of Rhyl—Iceland and Kwik Save. I believe that there are many more Albert Gubays out there in our communities—people who if they were given the opportunity could make great innovations in British retailing.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider three fiscal steps to help town centres, the first of which is to enable flexible rates to be set in depressed communities and town centres. That has been done for the post offices and shops in small rural communities, and I want it to be extended. Secondly, I want the Chancellor to consider re-rating out-of-town shopping centre car parks, and ring-fencing the money for use in revitalising the communities that such centres have done down over the years. Thirdly, last April, the Prime Minister made an announcement about business improvement districts, which would allow local communities to use part of their rates to improve their town centre. I believe that taken together those three fiscal policies would do a great deal to revive our town centres.
§ Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster)
I congratulate the Chairman of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs and wish him many happy returns of the day. I congratulate the new hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) on a first-class maiden speech.
Before speaking about violent crime in Wales, I wish to discuss the death of my daffodil. I put it on this morning and was complimented on it throughout the day, but during the speech, of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), my daffodil died. I suspect that it may have been the slightly sanctimonious nature of his speech that did for my daffodil.
§ Lembit Öpik
The whole point of my remarks was that everyone, including the Liberal Democrats, needs to be more humble and more positive. I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the chance to make that clear.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I am grateful for that intervention, but I wonder what else about me will die next.
Statistics recently released by the Home Office have revealed an increase in violent crimes against the person across Wales. That type of crime now accounts for 17 per cent. of all recorded crime across the four police areas in Wales. My constituency borders Wales, so I know that the Welsh people are fed up of living with the threat of violent crime. They are being let down by a Government who must focus more energy and resources on reducing those figures. The good people of Wales cannot be allowed to live in constant fear of attack.
I am sorry to say that that fear is compounded by the continuing fall in the number of special constables in Wales. Since 1997, that eventful year, the number of serving specials has fallen from 1,140 to 811 in 2000—a fall of 41 per cent. More specials are needed in Wales for the fight against violent crime. While the Government claim that overall police numbers in Wales have gone up, they can no longer ignore the rapid decline of that important part of the force.
Recent Home Office-funded research made several recommendations on how to reduce the high wastage of special constables. Among the recommendations to 921 prevent many specials leaving the force in Wales are plans such as local monitoring of wastage and improvements to management structures. Those recommendations are laudable, but they smack of new Labour's increased bureaucracy. The people of Wales need real policies to keep quality men and women in the force. Such policies would improve the pay and conditions of specials in Wales and complement the essential recruitment drive in that area. I am pleased that the Government have expressed commitment on that issue, but that must be backed by practical results for the distressed people of Wales.
Another major problem is the availability of treatment, or lack of it, for victims of crime in Wales. It is not comfortable to be confronted with a situation in which millions of pounds are spent rehabilitating offenders, yet the victims of crime are ignored. Statistics published by the Home Office itself reveal that only 3 per cent. of victims see the person who has targeted them charged and put through the courts. A further 1 per cent. receive some kind of monetary compensation for violent crime.
Those pathetic statistics mean that the Government are overlooking the needs of 96 per cent. of Welsh people who become victims of crime. The same report highlights the fact that insensitive treatment by some official bodies ends up making things far worse. The Government spend tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on rehabilitation schemes for people convicted of crime. Victim Support points out that only a tiny fraction of that sum goes towards support and help for those unfortunate enough to be victims of crime.
Research by Victim Support confirms that most victims of crime, violent or otherwise, receive little or no help from the state other than services provided by volunteer groups. The chief executive of Victim Support, Dame Helen Reeves, said that that negligible level of support is unacceptable. She said:It is staggering to think that even though 14 million crimes are committed every year in England and Wales, most public services turn a blind eye to the specific needs of those affected.About 23 per cent. of the population are affected. Dame Helen is referring to the lack of awareness in agencies such as the NHS and housing departments. Some great things are achieved with rehabilitation, but it is not just the criminal's future activities in society that deserve consideration. The lives of the victims of crime can be changed radically. Coming to terms with such upheaval can be difficult and traumatic, so it is as important from a sociological perspective to ensure that the victims can interact positively in future as it is to do so for the criminals themselves. Rehabilitation for the victim may include involvement with official bodies such as the NHS or housing departments, so it is essential that such organisations are equipped with the finances and the training to be helpful, rather than damaging, to the unfortunate victims of crime.
That principle is true anywhere, but it is particularly applicable in areas with unacceptably high levels of violent crime, such as Wales. Violent crime in Wales unfortunately permeates all aspects of life across the border. It is a sad fact that nearly every major hospital in 922 Wales has its own police officer to protect medical staff from the threat of violence. The Western Mail carried out a survey which revealed that NHS trusts in Wales are:so concerned about verbal and physical abuse by patients that they are either already funding the services of a police officer or have plans to employ one.As the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff recorded 788 incidents of violent crime in a 10-month period, the new measure is hardly surprising. Statistics show that the employment of those police officers is proving to be effective. Indeed, Ysbyty Gwynedd, which had recorded 508 incidents of violent crime in a year, managed to reduce that figure by 35 per cent. following the employment of a police officer by the North West Wales NHS Trust. That sounds like an improvement, but surely such a move should never have been necessary. There is still an average of almost one violent incident per day at the hospital. When violent crime prevents doctors and nurses from doing their job, the situation is clearly out of hand. I recognise the good work that has been done to reduce crime in Wales, but the figures for violent crime are still distressing. Not enough attention is being paid to reducing these upsetting incidents.
In 1997, the number of crimes of violence against the person in Wales was 17,386. After almost five years of Labour government, that figure stands at 38,230, which represents an increase of 120 per cent. The total figure for violent crime in Wales in 1997 was 20,071. That figure has increased by more than 100 per cent. to 40,880 in the past five years. Why is Labour neglecting to rectify such an unacceptable element of Welsh society?
I know that the Government will point to an increase in police numbers in some areas of Wales. Some types of crime, I am happy to report, are being reduced, but violent crime—from preventing the incidents, right through to conviction and victim support—is not receiving the attention in Wales that it needs. Will the Government pledge today to start to right that wrong? Will they give some assurance of practical solutions to the present frightening situation, which is a reality for too many people in Wales?
§ 6.1 pm
§ Albert Owen(Ynys Môn)
I am proud to speak in this Welsh affairs debate, on the eve of St. David's day. I hope in future to take part in the debate on the eve of a St. David's day public holiday. I was one of the Members who signed early-day motion 662, and I shall give my staff the day off tomorrow so that they can spend St. David's day with their families. We should start to recognise St. David's day.
I shall concentrate on the Welsh economy and the need for even economic development throughout Wales. I shall also discuss the practical arrangements between the National Assembly for Wales and Parliament. As a newly elected Member and one of the first batch of post-devolution Members from Wales, I believe that we have a responsibility to ensure that that settlement works for the people of Wales.
The Welsh economy has made good progress since 1997. It enjoys the fruits of the Chancellor's labour, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. We have the lowest interest rates, low inflation, low mortgage rates and low unemployment. The Government's desire for a 923 stable economy is shared by the Welsh business community that I meet weekly, against a background of boom and bust under the Conservatives.
§ Albert Owen
More bust than boom, it must be said.
The Labour Government's policies, such as the minimum wage and the working families tax credit, along with the new deal, have helped the unemployed and the low-paid in my constituency. Youth unemployment has been cut drastically. That means that school leavers no longer move from the classroom to the dole queue, but receive real training and hope for the future.
In my constituency, some 2,000 people had an immediate rise in earnings when we introduced the minimum wage. Almost 50 per cent. experienced a doubling of their hourly rate to £3.60. Let us not forget that the Conservative Government opposed those measures, and Plaid Cymru sat on the fence and made no decision about them.
Prior to my election to the House, I ran an advice and training centre. I saw the impact of the minimum wage and working families tax credit on unwaged people and those on low wages. However, in an area of high long-term unemployment such as mine, those benefits do not have the same impact as in the rest of Wales. Yes, unemployment is down. On the claimant count in my constituency, it stands at 7.7 per cent., which is down 0.5 per cent. on the previous year. On the residents base count, which is available in the House of Commons Library, male unemployment stands at 8.7 per cent., which represents a decrease. I welcome any drop in unemployment, but at 7.7 per cent., it is too high. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s in my constituency unemployment remained twice the average in Wales. One statistic that is a legacy of the representation of my constituency by the Conservative party and Plaid Cymru in the past two decades is the evidence of depopulation in two successive censuses. Mine is the only county in Wales that has seen such a drop in its population. Most stark is the depopulation among young people: 18 to 36-year-olds are leaving in droves to find jobs and opportunities elsewhere in the United Kingdom. With them goes the Welsh language and the Welsh community spirit that they hold, and the communities that people like me want to support. It is economic decline that leads to loss of the language in constituencies such as mine. It is not incomers who are responsible, as some have suggested, but lack of economic opportunity.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
I am listening with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Will he be specific on this point: when in the two decades to which he referred did he see decline in Anglesey? Exactly when during that time was Plaid Cymru in government here or in Cardiff, or even in control of the local authority in Anglesey?
§ Albert Owen
The answer is firmly to say that when Plaid Cymru was elected to represent us in 1987, the individual concerned promised a big difference from the situation with his Tory predecessor. There was no such difference, but only a continuation. That is my answer to the hon. Gentleman.
924 Let me turn to skills training. I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke in answer to a question that I asked in Welsh questions yesterday about the vocational qualifications that are coming in at GCSE level. It is important that people in my area have the opportunity at a young age to get vocational training so that they can enter the jobs market.
I want deliberately to be critical of the Welsh Development Agency. We have heard from previous speakers about the boom areas in north Wales, but unfortunately, such areas do not come as far west as Ynys Mon. If we are to achieve an inclusive Welsh society, we need even economic development and it must come across the Menai bridge to Anglesey to provide job opportunities.
I am conscious of the time and I know that other hon. Members wish to contribute, so I shall move straight to my conclusions. In 1997, people in Wales looked forward to a new, inclusive Wales. We were promised a bonfire of quangos and a more inclusive society. I am a pro-devolutionist and I will fight for devolution and to ensure that the devolution settlement works. However, if we are serious about devolution, we have to devolve economic opportunities throughout Wales.
I said that I was proud to speak in this debate. I am proud to do so as a Labour Member. I quote my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's predecessor, the first Secretary of State for Wales, who once said:I am not merely a Labour man. I am more than a member of the Labour party—I am also a Welshman. As a Welshman, I want to see Wales, all of Wales, to have a share in the economic development of the United Kingdom, and not allow it to slip back into an economic and industrial backwater, as it did under the Tories. I want to see a confident, forward-looking strong Wales in a strong United Kingdom.I believe that this Government, in partnership with the National Assembly for Wales, can deliver that.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Hywel Williams (Caernarfon)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies)—or for Ogwr—who is sadly not in his place. I should say that I have had some problems with the pronunciation of my name since I have been in the House, so it is a great relief to see someone else with an exotic name taking his place in the Chamber. I use the word "exotic" because he is a Davies and I am a Williams.
Perhaps it is stating the obvious to say that it is very appropriate for us to debate the Welsh language on dydd Gwyl Dewi, St. David's day. It is especially so because this year marks the 40th anniversary of Saunders Lewis's seminal radio lecture, "Tynged yr Iaith"—"The Fate of the Language". It led directly to the establishment of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg—the Welsh Language Society, which has proved such a dynamic force in Wales in the past 40 years. It is loved by some people, loathed by many but rarely ignored.
The issue of the languages of Wales is wide, perhaps as wide-ranging as life, given that language permeates all aspects of human activity. It is not surprising that the Welsh language is close to the hearts of those of us who speak it, those who have learned it and others who do not speak it but support it. We are bound to have mixed feelings as we survey the state of the language today. We eagerly await the results of the census that was held last year. They will give some idea of the language's health.
925 We have some information, thanks to Professors Carter and Aitcheson at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth and the Mercator project there. For example, we know that approximately 500,000 people speak Welsh and that the age distribution of speakers is changing. In the past, the language was predominantly spoken by older people. That proportion is declining, but that of young people who speak Welsh is growing quickly. The language is getting younger, and that is a hopeful sign.
We also know that half the Welsh speakers live in the north and west of Wales—the so-called heartland areas—and that half live in the south and east, which are not generally regarded as Welsh-speaking strongholds. However, there are more Welsh speakers in Cardiff than in Llyn and Eifionydd in my constituency, and more in Swansea than in Dwyfor. Public services are fairly easily available through the medium of Welsh in constituencies such as mine, but they are not so easily found in other areas where there are larger Welsh-speaking populations.
The number of Welsh learners is increasing every year, thanks to the dedicated efforts of learners and their teachers throughout Wales. I pay tribute to the National Language Centre at Nant Gwrtheyrn in my constituency. It has done remarkable work for more than 20 years.
Welsh speakers in the heartland areas perceive that the language is under threat as the number of communities where it is the everyday means of communication diminishes. The danger to the language must be taken seriously. Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National party and supporters of the language in Wales profoundly regret the fact that the Housing (Wales) Bill, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) promoted recently, was talked out. It was a missed opportunity.
Out-migration poses a genuine threat, as does the relatively poor economic position of Welsh speakers when compared with that of English speakers in the north and the west. A former colleague, Dr. Delyth Morris of Bangor university, undertook research that shows a direct link between Welsh speaking and a lower position in the socio-economic order. Clearly, that should be tackled.
The Welsh language is the subject of consultation by the National Assembly. I am sure that all hon. Members look forward to its conclusions. We also look forward to sufficient resources being made available to carry out any recommendations. Resources are crucial. Any conclusions that the National Assembly reaches about further legislation will be especially interesting to hon. Members. I hope that if it recommends further legislation, a way will be cleared for it here.
The legislative history of the Welsh language is illuminating. The Act of Union of 1532 aimed to expungeall sinister usages and customs",that is, speaking Welsh. It was a matter of pride to me as a younger man to be notorious for such "sinister usages and customs".
The Act also states:No person who uses the Welsh speech or language should have or enjoy any manner of office or fees in the realm of England or Wales or any of the King's dominions.That led to centuries of keeping the language under the hatchet, the denial of basic human rights, and terrorising children merely for speaking their language.
926 Matters progressed with the Welsh Language Act 1967. I shall not detain the House with the details of the Act, except to say that it introduced the concept of equal validity—that is, that Welsh was as valid as English. The Act, however, contained the statement:In the event of a discrepancy between an English and a Welsh text, the English shall prevail.For example, "dau a dau yn bedwar"—which means "two and two is four" in Welsh—could be supplanted by "two and two is five" in English. That is clearly ludicrous.
The Welsh Language Act 1993 states that Welsh and English should be treated on a "basis of equality". The use of Welsh is, however, qualified, in that it should bereasonably practicable and appropriate in the circumstances.These issues need to be addressed, and I hope that the National Assembly will steer its recommendations in this direction, possibly with a view to legislation.
Some hon. Members might remember that the First Secretary of the National Assembly for Wales, when he was in this place, opposed the Welsh Language Act 1993. He said that it was a Tory Act, and that Labour would act differently in government. That was the last we heard of that promise, but we shall see what comes from the review by the National Assembly.
The 1993 Act introduced the concept of language schemes in the public sector, and public bodies throughout Wales now have plans for implementing the principles of the Act. Significantly, however, these language schemes were not extended to the private sector. It is perfectly possible and reasonable for the private sector to adopt language schemes. Indeed, the Welsh Language Board has informed me that five large, established enterprises have already done so. The emphasis on size here is crucial. Those organisations are able to absorb the costs involved, and I am sure all hon. Members will recognise that there is a cost element to ensuring that people have the basic right to use the language of their choice in communication not only with the Government but with commercial enterprises.
The problem is how to extend this best practice from the five large organisations to other commercial organisations. We see a specific role for the Welsh Language Board there, but it will need resources. Indeed, resources are the crucial element in creating the power to bring about change. The resources are the power. The three elements to language planning—I shall try to say them slowly—are legitimisation, institutionalisation and power. If we change the law, we legitimise the use of the Welsh language. If we extend the powers of the Welsh Language Board, we institutionalise it, and if we provide the resources, we provide the power for change.
§ Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly)
It is sometimes difficult to chart the progress of this Labour Government simply by speaking in vague generalities. So, in the short time available to me, I shall give some specific examples of how Labour is benefiting some of the poorest communities in Wales. I shall begin with the Aber valley, a small valley just north-west of Caerphilly. It contains two small communities: Abertridwr and Senghenydd, the village where the largest mining disaster of the last century occurred. This community has some of the most acute poverty, the poorest health and the lowest incomes anywhere in Wales.
927 It is significant, however, that today the community is coming together behind the National Assembly's Valleys First initiative. Resources are also coming into one of the great community institutions of Abertridwr, the YMCA. The YMCA has been massively expanded with a grant of £650,000, providing real opportunities for the community as a whole and for disadvantaged young people. The question is, where is that money coming from? Two thirds of it is from objective 1 funding. Objective 1 money is coming into south Wales and west Wales because of a deal that was struck by a Labour Government.
Only a few months ago, we heard a great deal about the lack of match funding and long delays. The reality is that we have match funding: a formula is in place that goes beyond Barnett to ensure additionality. Projects across west Wales and the valleys are materialising before our very eyes.
I mentioned the YMCA in Abertridwr, but if we extend our horizons slightly to the Caerphilly borough as a whole, we see resources going to Ystrad Mynach college to provide lifelong learning initiatives, a former colliery site in Penallta where Groundwork is taking a lead, a youth café in Bargoed with two youth workers and internet facilities, and a new business and technology centre in Tredomen where £160,000 has been provided. All those resources are meaningful and worth while.
In just one year, Caerphilly borough as a whole has received £7,485,381. That has come about not because of Plaid Cymru or the Conservatives, who argued for many years that it was not possible to get objective 1 funding. It came about because of the determination and advocacy of a Labour Government. Those practical results on the ground have come about because of Labour, and let us not forget that.
§ Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
First, I should like to welcome my colleague and comrade, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies). I, too, was in the rain, which is where my flu comes from, so I hope hon. Members will excuse me.
I want to talk about crime and disorder. Yesterday, I tried to raise the issue of antisocial behaviour orders, and the Tories tried to shout me down. I wanted to talk about the speed and frequency of their use from experience in my constituency. The Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs visited my constituency recently to meet people in the community who are trying to deal with these issues. He saw the community police officers Kyle Manns and Cath Parker, who told him that they needed the tools to do the job, including help to speed up that process. That is why I want to raise this issue.
We have a strong local partnership to deal with these problems. We bring all the agencies together—the local authority, the youth justice team and the health boards—so we are able to examine the issues across the piece. One of the organisations involved is Safer Merthyr Tydfil, and we have an experience to relate from which others may learn. It helped to establish community warden schemes, and people have since moved from those agencies to Government Departments, from which has come the experience of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, which is replicating those schemes in England.
In my constituency, this activity is carried out by the voluntary sector. I want to make a plea. The involvement of the voluntary sector is a good thing—it is not a local 928 authority scheme—but to maintain its involvement, it needs sustained funding, and I would like that matter looked into.
The police community takes most of the action against crime and disorder, and we are experiencing the benefits of intelligence-led policing. Others across the United Kingdom should consider that approach, because it is bringing benefits. We are working in partnerships, so I do not recognise the description that was given earlier—of my community fighting itself. The trend in the United Kingdom as a whole has been for the sickness rate of police officers to go up—it is about 12 days a year—whereas in Merthyr it is coming down, to 6 or 7 days a year.
The extra resources are being used for intelligence-led policing initiatives and good management processes, and they are bearing fruit and bringing benefits. In five years, domestic burglaries in my community have been reduced by 60 per cent. There are initiatives on violent crime which we need, as we know that we have a problem, but there is a 90 per cent. detection rate in Merthyr, and that is the highest in the force. At Christmas, we ran a special scheme called "crystal clear" which reduced by 28 per cent. the amount of facial and other injuries from bottles and glasses in pubs and clubs, which all hon. Members will know about.
We are learning from our own experience and I think we have something to offer others, but we need extra help. Although so many good things are happening we still have massive problems, not least the problem of drugs. I am glad that one of my hon. Friends mentioned that earlier. We need not just enforcement and reduction measures, but better treatment facilities.
Although we require the co-operation of all Government agencies if we are to provide help, we realise that we are making the improvements we are making only because of sustained investment by the United Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer. Redistribution is taking place. That is something the Tories would never do, something the Liberals cannot do, and something that narrow nationalism would destroy.
§ Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, and I too praise my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) for an excellent maiden speech.
As many Members will know, in the early 1980s Deeside experienced the greatest number of redundancies ever experienced in one day. Ten thousand people lost their jobs at Shotton steelworks, and many thousands of job losses followed as a knock-on effect. The community spirit went into free fall, crime rocketed, and the hopes of youngsters were shattered. Those events became a lasting testament to the Tory Government's industrial policy—and now the Tories have the nerve to talk of being the friends of the steel industry and its work force.
Since 1980 the community and policy-makers of north-east Wales have been striving for a strong and stable economy, looking to the future rather than the past. Massive strides in industrial development and expansion have been made since the steel closures. A major component in the reconstruction has been the creation of the Deeside industrial park, in which my predecessor Lord Jones played a vital role.
929 Deeside lies on the English border, and acts as a motor for the entire economy of north Wales, Cheshire, the Wirral and Merseyside. Without the industrial park, the biggest of its kind in Europe, that would not be possible. Because we have focused on building for the future, tens of thousands of highly skilled jobs have been created in north Wales and the north-west of England. No barriers exist between the two regions, which rely on each other for growth and strength.
Yesterday's announcement by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions of improvements in the north Wales link to the north-west and the M56 is excellent news, both for Alyn and Deeside and for north-east Wales in general. The route constitutes an important link in the economic bond between the north-west and north Wales, and the improvements are crucial to economic growth in the region. The National Assembly for Wales has welcomed the plans, considering them vital to economic expansion.
Last Friday, however, a panel of Assembly Members decided to rule out the expansion of the Deeside industrial park. In my view, the reason given for refusing planning permission to double the size of the park was not justifiable. The Assembly's inspector claimed that the land on which the park would be expanded was of high quality, and that the area's farming industry would therefore be compromised. While I fully support our farmers in Wales, we should remember that the original park was built on that land. If such a decision had been made in the 1980s, we would not have the jobs that we have today.
I wanted to speak for longer, but I know others want to contribute.
§ Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)
In the three minutes available to me, I will say something about some of the problems experienced by Cardiff, as Wales's capital. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) has an important three-minute constitutional speech to make.
The press, early-day motions and speeches in the House often criticise Cardiff as a capital. It is frequently alleged that it sucks in resources—possibly because people in Cardiff did not vote for devolution, although the swing in the 1999 referendum was one of the largest in Wales. Cardiff, however, makes an important contribution to the economy. Members may not realise that, in 2000, 70,600 people came into Cardiff from the surrounding communities to work each day. The fact that those people went home and spent money in their communities represents a vital contribution to the south Wales economy. It is impossible to separate Cardiff s economy from that of the rest of south Wales; south Wales would be a much poorer place without that vibrant economy.
Cardiff still has problems, however. Levels of unemployment in my constituency are frequently among the highest in Wales. Month after month, communities such as Ely in my constituency are in the top four when it comes to deprivation—although I see that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) finds that amusing.
930 There are real housing problems in my area. Many newspaper column inches are devoted to the problems of rural housing in Wales, but those problems pale into insignificance when compared with the housing problems in Cardiff. House prices in my constituency are very high. Ironically, many of the most expensive houses are owned by people who have come to live in Cardiff from some of the communities mentioned by Opposition Members.
That is not a bad thing: it is good, as we in Cardiff encourage diversity of language, culture, and race. However, I shall give the House a few figures relating to housing in my constituency. For example, the average price for a terraced house in Cardiff is £83,000. In the Canton area of my constituency, the average price is £102,000.
Over the past 20 years, the local council has sold 9,000 properties under the right-to-buy legislation. Of those, only 900 were flats. At the current rate, the number of council properties remaining in Cardiff will fall in a couple of years to 13,600.
I shall have to skip many of the figures that I have prepared, but there is one statistic that I must share with the House. In Canton, there were 1,119 applicants last year for three-bedroom council housing. Three properties became available in that period.
I could say much more on the subject, but I shall do so on another occasion.
§ Ian Lucas (Wrexham)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak, and to my comrades for allowing me three minutes in which I may ruin my political career.
I intend to make what I hope is a constructive proposal with regard to the relationship between the National Assembly for Wales and Westminster. My premise is that Wales and the United Kingdom are inextricably linked. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) has spoken already about the close links between north-east Wales and the north-west of England. It is clear that the future for north-east Wales, where there has been much prosperity, lies in working with the rest of the United Kingdom to take matters forward.
However, I am also a convinced devolutionist. I believe that we need to devolve as much power as possible to the different countries in the United Kingdom, and to the different regions. There are regions within Wales, and we need to think of devolution not as a nationalist matter but as a way of securing better government.
I believe that the way ahead is through the use of draft legislation. This Labour Government have successfully pioneered what most hon. Members agree is a good way of improving scrutiny. We need to consider more draft legislation, especially Bills relating to Wales that come to us prior to Second Reading. I think that all hon. Members would agree that those Bills need to be looked at more closely.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has already spoken about the National Assembly for Wales and Westminster looking at Bills in parallel. I do not see why there should be anything to prevent the National Assembly and hon. Members with Welsh constituencies from looking at draft legislation together in a Joint 931 Committee. In that way, the people involved could present suggestions and discuss matters in a positive manner, before a Bill reached Second Reading.
I believe that it would be important for the discussion taking place at that stage that no vote would be held in such a Joint Committee. Proposals put forward by the Wales Office and the Welsh Assembly Government should be considered in a Joint Committee consisting of members of the Assembly and Members of Parliament. The opportunity to meet members of the Welsh Assembly in that way would be very positive, for us and—more importantly—for the people whom we represent.
If we are going to make devolution work, we must start a dialogue for the benefit of the people whom we represent. I believe that the proposal that I am floating is a starting point for discussion. I am a new Member and I want to try to make the situation better, which I think can be done. I would like hon. Members of all parties to talk about the issue and try to improve matters.
§ Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset)
I am making a guest appearance at the Dispatch Box tonight—perhaps I could use the phrase "famous for 12 and a half minutes". It is a delight to be back at the Dispatch Box at a time when Wales is doing better. That is nothing to do with the Secretary of State or the Government, because I am not talking about the Welsh economy, the health service, tourism or agriculture—not even a video referee could hide the Government's lack of progress in those areas. Incidentally, were it not for the video referee and the enthusiasm of Scott Quinnell, Wales would be going to Saturday's game against Italy one up and on their way to the six nations championship.
The Secretary of State referred with some glee to the general election result, but I must remind him that there was a 6 per cent. fall in the Labour vote in Wales. In his own constituency, there was a 5.25 per cent. swing to the Conservatives. The Labour vote in Wales fell by 220,000, or a quarter of the people who voted Labour in 1997. I remind the Under-Secretary, too, that the Conservative party is still, in electoral terms, the second party in Wales, with 50 per cent. more votes than the next party on the list.
Much of what the Secretary of State said was fairly predictable. Much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) had to say, by contrast, was very much to the point, especially what he said about the grotesque favouritism shown to Mr. Mittal's offshore activities at the expense of the Welsh steel industry.
The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths)—for the Secretary of State's benefit, there was a 4.05 per cent. swing to the Conservatives in that constituency—talked about the health service in Wales. I remind him of the Government's record: there are 4,000 people in Wales who have been waiting more than 18 months for treatment, and since 1997 there has been an 850 per cent. rise in the number waiting for their first appointment in an out-patients department.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) made an interesting, varied and sometimes wandering speech. He took the moral high ground, almost oblivious of the activities of the leader of his party in Wales—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Perhaps I should make myself clear: I mean the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Welsh Assembly.
932 The hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) made a worthy maiden speech, following his predecessor, Sir Ray Powell, although sometimes I felt that he may have pushed the limits of political controversy. He has succeeded an excellent Member of Parliament and I am sure that he, too, will serve the people of Ogmore well.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) made some predictable points. He made serious points on objective 1, which I will come to in a moment, and then made a predictable plea for a larger block grant.
§ Mr. Walter
Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman has got the better of me, but I should point out that I am still waiting for the bottle of champagne that I should have been awarded in the Adoption and Children Bill Standing Committee for the best pronunciation of his constituency by an Opposition Member.
I was delighted to hear from the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) that we have yet another Gower boy—the hon. Member for Ogmore in the House. The hon. Member for Gower made an impassioned speech on the problems of the cockle industry in the Loughor estuary, and I am now better informed on diarrhetic shellfish poisoning than I was at the beginning of the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) gave a clear and concise view of the Welsh economy, and discussed growth in Wales during a period of considerable change under a Conservative Government. I was particularly impressed by his commitment to the small business sector; and in pointing to the divergence of the English and Welsh economies he highlighted the different policies on business rates.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones), who is Chairman of the Select Committee, talked about the plight of Wrexham and the potential for city status, and about university status for the North East Wales institute. At one stage, I thought that he was going to ask for a new underground system and international airport for Wrexham. I was concerned about his point about bias on S4C. I am not sure that I have ever noticed bias. Certainly, I, an English-speaking MP, have been included on its programmes. I have always admired its tremendously helpful coverage outside Wales, particularly its Saturday evening club rugby programme, even if the subtitles are about two minutes behind the action.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) made a good speech on the interaction between the environment and industry, and strayed into the subject of wind farms and renewable energy. As always, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) spoke with passion on women's policy and prisons policy. The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) made an old-fashioned nationalist—socialist, even—contribution, but he gave a very good trailer for next week's "Mittalgate" debate, which we await with interest.
The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) made a good speech on urban renewal. Uncharacteristically, he did not mention the Tories once, which was a refreshing and intelligent development. My hon. Friend 933 the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) told us of the fate of his daffodil, for which the Liberal Democrats were, I think, responsible. None the less, he gave a key speech on crime and the fears of ordinary people. His plea for better policing and use of the specials was very welcome.
The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) struggled to say something positive about employment in his constituency under a Labour Government. I am afraid that the speeches by the hon. Members for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams), for Caerphilly (Mr. David), for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard), for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) and for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) were somewhat curtailed by the numbers who wanted to speak.
Two factors have dominated the past year in Wales, one of which must be foot and mouth disease. Some 118 farms were devastated by confirmed outbreaks, but the impact was far wider, affecting the entire agricultural sector and the communities in which those farms are located. We all know about the number of goats, pigs, cattle and sheep that had to be slaughtered. That was bad enough, but the businesses that depend on those farms and on agriculture have suffered as a result of the disease, as has tourism throughout Wales. As we maintain calls for a ban on substandard imports into this country, there must also be a very real effort to ensure that we hold a public inquiry into the entire foot and mouth outbreak.
The second factor is the economy, which we discussed. Other hon. Members spoke about job losses and manufacturing, and many spoke about objective I money. It is right that we should continue to say, as I have said before, that no new United Kingdom Treasury money was committed to objective 1. There was new European money, but the other money had to come from existing budgets. Now we are witnessing a very slow development of objective 1. The notion that inertia has gained its own momentum takes on new meanings when it comes to the allocation of objective 1 money. After two years, business in Wales is exasperated and frustrated that less than 3 per cent. of the allocated funds has been spent.
By the next St. David's day debate the focus will be on the National Assembly elections, and the people of Wales will be able to pass judgment on a second term of Labour Government in London and the cosy Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition in Cardiff. It will be a judgment on the National Assembly building, a judgment on Corns and Mittal, a judgment on education in Wales, a judgment on foot and mouth, a judgment on crime and a judgment on the national health service in Wales. I will make no predictions—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—but I can tell the House that, as far as the people in Wales to whom I speak are concerned, time is running out for Labour in Wales.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig)
May I at the outset give a temporary welcome to the stand-in on the Conservative Front Bench, the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter)?
The debate has demonstrated again the depth of experience and knowledge of Welsh Members and the importance that we collectively attach to this special day of debate. The first such debate was graced by the words 934 of Nye Bevan and I know that all parties in the House will join me in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the new Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who spoke so well today in the tradition of Nye Bevan, outlining the practical politics demonstrated by democratic socialism. His predecessor Sir Ray Powell will be missed, and I join all those who paid tribute to Ray today. He has a fitting successor in my hon. Friend, who in his maiden speech spoke movingly about his constituency and his people, for whom I have no doubt he will be a doughty champion in the coming years. He spoke of the real issues and concerns that affect real people.
This day of debate continues to be an important one for Welsh Members, as demonstrated by the fact that 18 Members have already taken part. Indeed, the Welsh contribution to the affairs of the House continues to grow in importance. Many Conservative Members predicted that devolution would leave Members from Wales with little to do, but the past three years have shown how wrong they are. Devolution has in fact increased the amount of Welsh business in the House. Most major public service Bills, such as those that we recently discussed concerning education and reform of the national health service, contain significant Wales-only clauses, and in the national health service (Wales) Bill, which the Secretary of State mentioned earlier, we shall be discussing a Wales-only Bill. The contribution to the House by Welsh Members remains strong and vibrant and will continue to be so in this, the Parliament of a united Britain.
I thank the spokesman for the main Opposition party, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), for his kind and generous tribute to Ray Powell. As I said, I thank all colleagues for their comments to Ray. I am afraid that afterwards, the hon. Gentleman took the usual tack down hill to one of his rants. He gave us a catalogue of horrors from the national health service and spoke about the problems of waiting lists, but the fact is that more people are being treated by the health service in Wales. One of the things that we shall need to do if we are to tackle the problems of waiting lists and improve the health service in Wales is to put in resources and reform. When we put in the resources, Conservative Members said that we were being reckless. When we proposed the reforms, they voted against the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill. We remember what the Tory years involved in Wales—cuts in the number of doctors, nurses and hospital beds.
The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about the Welsh economy. Like so many Conservative Members, he talks down the Welsh economy. He and the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) talked about the problems that the manufacturing economy in Wales faces. The hon. Gentleman frequently uses cuttings from the Western Mail. I would not be without my cuttings from the Western Mail either. I have a copy of a report published in the business section of the Western Mail, which states:The economic slowdown is showing distinct signs of thawing with manufacturers reporting their highest level of optimism over future profits for two years, according to research from Cardiff Chamber of Commerce.The chamber's latest quarterly economic survey shows that the marked downturns in domestic sales, exports and business confidence in previous quarters have reversed.Confidence amongst manufacturers in improving profitability over the next year has risen dramatically".That is the true picture of the future economy in Wales.
935 I note that in this evening's Evening Standard the Governor of the Bank of England has said:The economy has turned the corner and is starting to show clear signs of recovery.It is important that we all recognise that we have had knocks and job losses in Wales, but it is also important that, rather than talking Wales down, we boost it. We have confidence in a new dynamic and energetic Wales—a Wales that has a rich heritage, a strong economy and a good future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) spoke very well—and authoritatively, of course—on health matters. He welcomed the fact that spending on the NHS in Wales is three or four times above the rate of inflation. He spoke with authority because, as the first Labour Minister in the Wales Office after the 1997, he started to stop the rot in the NHS in Wales that the Tories had left us. We owe him a debt of gratitude for that.
I thank the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) for his tribute to Ray Powell. The hon. Gentleman went on to give a most interesting exposé of the new politics. I do not know much about the Liberal Democrats' new politics, but I know about being the victim of Liberal Democrat tactics. I was the Labour candidate in the 1992 general election campaign, fighting in Richmond in west London, and the Liberal Democrats carried out market research into the fact that I am Welsh. They asked people whether they were troubled that the Labour candidate was from Wales or was Welsh. All their literature throughout that campaign referred to the fact that I am Welsh. That is why I am not sure what their new politics involves.
I will ensure that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) receives a full response to the questions that he has asked. Many of those issues were raised at the evidence sessions of the Welsh Affairs Committee, which I believe will publish its report on objective 1 in October. The key role that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State played in ensuring that additional funding has been provided, through Barnett-plus, to support our objective 1 initiatives must not be underestimated. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the case for recognising structural funds outside the Barnett formula was part of the last spending review. I further remind him that, on that occasion, the Government stood by Wales and provided the extra funding that we needed, despite speculation to the contrary.
At Question Time yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) raised an issue about the cockle fishery problems in Gower. I am aware of that problem. I will take on board the points that he has made and I shall certainly ensure that he is fully involved in any response on those issues that I receive from colleagues in other Departments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones), who does a tremendous job as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, said how well the emergency services responded when he was involved in a near-fatal accident recently. That is the point. When push comes to shove, we have some first-class public services. They are some of the best in the world, and we should be proud of them.
My hon. Friend also made some points about Wrexham gaining city status. I welcome the interest that has certainly been shown in the competition throughout Wales 936 for city status. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor hopes to announce the names of the new cities in the United Kingdom in March. My hon. Friend also spoke about the North East Wales institute's hopes of becoming a university, and I wish those involved well in their efforts. I understand the points that my hon. Friend makes about S4C, and I have no doubt that they will be taken on board by S4C in due course. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) recalled our history of environmental impoverishment, which I understand, as I come from the mining valleys of south Wales. My valleys are green again, as are the valleys across Wales, but I share the hon. Gentleman's commitment to ensuring that this gift of nature which mankind has now had a hand in retrieving and improving is made secure. It is right to describe the Welsh environment as one of the jewels in the Welsh crown.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) spoke about issues related to hunting and welcomed the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House today. I share my hon. Friend's concerns about community sentencing and tagging, and I note her points. She has been a strong champion of women's rights, and I take on board her point about how we care for and handle women prisoners in Wales. She also spoke about domestic violence, which is a serious matter. I think that she was the only Member who raised the issue in relation to its effects on children. Too many incidents of domestic violence go unreported. Our clear message must be that domestic violence must be reported so that the services can respond and so that families are protected.
The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) contributed a series of smears and innuendos, to which he may want to return in the debate next week. I noted that he had not been speaking for more than five minutes before he had to start retracting some of his innuendoes, which is not untypical. I also note that he thought of himself as a prodigal son of the Labour party, and talked about socialism. Let me tell him this: when people from my party were fighting fascists in Spain, the founder of his party was declaring his admiration for Hitler and Mussolini.
§ Mr. Touhig
My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) welcomed the success of objective 1 and the changes that we have made to the heritage lottery fund.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) talked about the rise in violent crime. In fact, there has been a fall in violent crime in England and Wales in the past five years. I remind him that in the last year of the Conservative Government there was a 9.2 per cent. increase in violent crime in Wales.
Contributions were also made by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), for Caerphilly (Mr. David), for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard), for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) and for Wrexham (Ian Lucas). I am sorry that I am not able to respond to all of their points.
In the year since we last met in this forum, the people of Wales delivered their verdict on Toryism and nationalism in the general election. What a verdict it was. 937 The Tories were not required and very few nationalists were wanted. That will be the case in the Assembly elections, too. Why did the people of Wales reject Toryism and nationalism? Because neither have anything to offer our country. The Tory campaign had nothing to offer, and neither does the Tory Front Bench. The Tories tell us that our public services can never be improved, only privatised. They tell us that public services are destined for disaster and that the state can never help—it must only be rolled back. They scour the world for specious examples to back their case. We say that services can and will be improved, and we are not afraid to take the difficult decisions to make that happen. We have delivered the investment in public services that the Tories said was reckless, and we will deliver the reforms that the Tories say are impossible.
Nationalism remains a pale reflection of Toryism in Wales. The Tories and the nationalists both say that we cannot build a stronger Wales. The Tories blame public servants, while the nationalists—daffodil Tories—blame the English. They are welcome to each other. Wales does not want them, and neither do we. The brave new dawn of the nationalists that was predicted only months ago has turned into an endless nightmare. They have a weak and ineffective leader who is unable to take control or lead his party anywhere. Once again, we see the clear parallel between Toryism and nationalism. One party cannot decide whether to embrace or extinguish Thatcherism, while the other cannot decide whether to love or leave the language extremists. Both parties, though, are united by a narrow xenophobia—fear of the outsider.
Wales is growing in economic strength and confidence. It is doing so as part of the world's fourth strongest economy and the world's largest single market, but it is also proud of its traditions of solidarity and care. It was no accident that the national health service was founded by a Welshman—indeed, a man from my county of Monmouthshire. It was no accident that in June Wales returned a Labour Government with a clear mandate for investment in and reform of our public services.
We will be true to that mandate. We represent the true spirit of radicalism and reform in Wales. We will continue to turn Britain from the country that it became under the Tories into a country of which we can all be proud. My colleagues and I are determined that this Labour Government will deliver on our manifesto pledges, as we are doing now, throughout the country. We will ensure that the people of Wales and the people of Britain gain the services that they deserve and that our country needs. I have no doubt that Labour will succeed in the Assembly elections and go on to win a third general election.
§ It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.