Mr Bernard Weatherill (Croydon North East)
I should announce to the House that, in view of the late start of the debate and the number of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to participate, I propose to put a precautionary limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 pm and 9 pm. If hon. Members who are called before that time are brief, it may be possible, in the general interests of the House, to relax that limit.
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
This annual St. David's day debate on Welsh affairs is traditionally a time for reviewing the most important events that have happened in Wales over the past year, and also a time for looking forward and assessing prospects for the future. Before I refer to developments in Wales over the past year, I pause to express the regret that I am sure that we all feel that, since the last time we met on this occasion, my dear friend the late hon. Member for Monmouth, Sir John Stradling Thomas, is no longer with us, and the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), and my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) and for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) are retiring at the general election. They have all served the House with great distinction and we shall be very sad to lose them.
It is impossible in the time available for me to deal with everything that has happened in Wales in the past year. However, I should like to touch on several subjects. Some topics, such as transport, will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State later in the debate if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Other subjects have been extensively debated in either the Welsh Grand Committee or the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. Most recently, we had an excellent debate on education a fortnight ago in the Welsh Grand Committee.
Mr Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
We are not certain whether there will be any further opportunity to discuss Welsh affairs between now and the election, which may well be called in a couple of weeks, but it has been suggested that before then there could be another meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee to discuss important questions about the future structures of government in Wales. Are we likely to have that opportunity? Clearly, if we are not, those matters will have to be included in this debate. Some guidance on that would be helpful.
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
I heard the hon. Gentleman raise that matter with my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council a few moments ago. I hope that we shall meet to debate devolution in the Welsh Grand Committee, and have that meeting in Wales, before the next general election. However, I readily accept that it must be done by agreement. I understand that discussions are continuing through the usual channels, and I hope that they can come to an early conclusion.
Mr Keith Raffan (Delyn)
Of course, it is two weeks since my right hon. Friend raised this matter in the Welsh Grand Committee. He said that discussions were continuing through the usual channels. Does that mean that one of the Opposition parties is creating an obstruction to holding the debate and delaying it? I am sure that my right hon. Friend is being diplomatic, but will he confirm that that may be so?
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
To be termed diplomatic by my hon. Friend is a compliment indeed. I used to be a usual channel, so I know that I must not trespass into that area, except to say that I hope that discussions will come to a successful conclusion as soon as possible.
The performance of the United Kingdom economy has been the background to events in Wales in the past year. I freely admit that things have been difficult. The world economy has been in recession, as has the United Kingdom economy. Wales could not possibly be isolated from those outside influences. However, our confidence in the underlying strength of the Welsh economy has been fully justified. The gap between Welsh and United Kingdom unemployment rates has continued to narrow in the past year. The latest available figures show that, for the first time in many years, average wages increased faster in Wales than in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Most encouraging of all, companies still want very much to invest in Wales. The year 1991 was particularly successful for inward investment. The 183 projects recorded promised more than 17,000 new or safeguarded jobs and more than £860 million of investment.
Mr Roy Hughes (Newport East)
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, as from 26 April, charges on the Severn bridge will be collected only from westbound traffic? Will he also confirm that tolls for motor cars will increase to £2·80, for minibuses to £5·60 and for lorries to £8·40? Does he appreciate the damage that that is likely to do to employment and investment prospects, let alone the Welsh tourist trade? Will the Secretary of State take a particular interest in my constituents in Caldicot, Magor, Rogiet and Undy, who took the advice of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) and got on their bikes to seek employment on the other side of the estuary? All told, does the Secretary of State agree that the charges are a severe, major—with a capital M—blow to the Welsh economy?
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
A few moments ago, Mr. Speaker asked all hon. Members to keep their speeches short. I said that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State would deal with transport if he managed to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am happy to respond to the hon. Gentleman. The Labour party has never opposed tolls. If I recall, it imposed them. All the issues have been debated at great length. The good news for Wales is that we are to have a second Severn crossing and that will be complete in 1995. That is very good news.
Many major international companies have demonstrated and underlined their confidence in the future of Wales by establishing manufacturing operations in our country. It is even more encouraging that, once established, they stay and expand their operations. For example, the announcement by Sony last May of its expansion at Bridgend was one of the major industrial landmarks of the year. The initial phase alone will create 1,400 new jobs, with potential to generate many more. That is good news for Mid-Glamorgan and for Wales.
Before the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) interrupted me, I was about to say that I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who played a part in securing that record inward investment into Wales. Of course, it is not just a matter of the Government. In Wales we have a positive partnership in which local and central Government, the public and private sector and the many agencies come together to stress the benefits of investing in Wales. They have as their trump card the quality of the work force in Wales. I praise everyone who has taken a great deal of time and trouble to enable us to win that record level of investment.
What is particularly heartening about the projects which have come to Wales, and the indigenous companies that have expanded their operations, is the diverse nature of the operations involved. They represent the future for Wales and the growing divergence of the economy.
Dr Kim Howells (Pontypridd)
Is the Secretary of State aware that there are grave worries in Wales that we do not possess a statistical database on our strengths and weaknesses to enable us to attract the next generation of investment from abroad into Wales? That was highlighted in the report by the Comptroller and Auditor General which was discussed recently by the Public Accounts Committee. It said that we did not have a sufficiently rigorous database to tell us the real effect of the valleys programme and other programmes. Will the Secretary of State do something about that and improve it?
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
Yes, I should like to improve it. We are extremely rigorous in the payment of regional selective assistance, which is paid only in relation to the numbers of jobs created. However, it is important to improve the database. I know that I could say that one need only go down the M4 and A55 to see the new factories and new opportunities, but we need to do more than that. We need to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My predecessor did that with the financial services initiative and a range of other initiatives. I seek to do the same in other areas. But the hon. Gentleman is right: we would benefit greatly from improving the statistical base. I must continually balance the cost of obtaining the information against the benefit. However, I believe that it is right to improve the position.
Mr Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
The Secretary of State said something which we in mid-Wales are a little tired of hearing. He mentioned the M4 and the A55. Of course we welcome what has happened along those belts. However, there is an awful lot of Wales in between the two. In the rest of his speech, will he bear it in mind that unemployment in Powys has increased by 30 per cent. in the past year? We feel that, despite the great efforts of the Development Board for Rural Wales, the area is somewhat neglected by the Welsh Office.
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
Wait a moment. I ought to reply to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile).
I spent some time at Welshpool just a few days ago. I went to see the site of the new Fisher-Gauge factory. The hon. and learned Gentleman will know that I went to see Bill Fisher in Peterborough in the state of Ontario in Canada. I applaud him for the fact that he decided to come to mid-Wales even though he had many other locations to consider, including some in our competitor countries in the EC. I was particularly pleased at the way in which everyone came together to secure that inward investment. Just as I was delighted by the help of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) over inward investment by the Diagnostic Products Corporation of Los Angeles at Llanberis, I am equally delighted by Fisher-Gauge.
We intend to do our utmost to bring much-needed investment to all of Wales. When I was first appointed Secretary of State, I said that I wanted prosperity to spread to all parts of Wales. That is still my determination. I hope that Welsh prosperity will never again be threatened by over-reliance on a few industries.
Mr Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
Before he heads for mid-Wales, will the right hon. Gentleman pause at Merthyr for a moment? I wish to draw his attention to the depressing and sad fact that next month could be celebrated by a two-week lay-off at Hoover. That experience will be shared by workers at Hotpoint and the people in the Minister of State's constituency. After 10 years of technological investment, changes in work practices, alterations and 4,000 job losses —that is equivalent to losing a steelworks—people are still having to face a two-week lay-off. Is that the economic miracle that we were expecting?
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
I know that the hon. Gentleman may feel it necessary to stress the bad side, but—[HON. MEMBERS: "Come on—answer."]—There are some positive sides to Merthyr. There has been an announcement that yet another Japanese company, and the first company to come in from Singapore, will fill those two factories. He and I were present at the launch of the east Merthyr reclamation scheme. There is a great deal of activity.
I cannot insulate Wales—nor can my ministerial colleagues, the Welsh Office or anyone else in Wales—against the effects of the recession outside, which has hit the white goods sector in particular. I do not think that hon. Members would expect anything else. Hotpoint, Hoover and other such companies are feeling the effects of the downturn in consumer spending, and I hope that that is a short-term problem.
Why are people still so anxious to invest in Wales? There are a number of reasons. One is the quality of the work force, which has the skills required by investing companies. That brings me to the first major development of the year that I wish to mention. Last September, the Prime Minister announced that responsibility for training would transfer to the Welsh Office from the Department of Employment. That transfer will take effect from 1 April.
From then on, the Welsh Office will be a training, education and enterprise Department. That will present us with an unprecedented opportunity to develop our people's potential. We also now have a full network of training and enterprise councils, drawing on the energy of local employers to develop the skill base. We issued strategic guidance to our TECs in November, which set a challenging agenda and I hope emphasised our determination to ensure that everyone is working in harness to develop the skills and enterprise of our people.
The TECs are prime examples of our policy of allowing those most closely involved with an activity to share responsibility for directing and undertaking it. I have sought to adopt that approach in other areas of community activity. I am especially pleased with the progress being made under the special initiative for the programme for the valleys, to encourage community involvement in social and economic regeneration. Those include the community revival strategies, in which five communities are benefiting from projects which encourage the environmental, social and economic regeneration of those communities.
Mr Peter Hain (Neath)
Could the Minister confirm that the Prime Minister has turned him over on his proposal for an economic forum for Wales, as suggested in his reorganisation of local government pamphlet, and that Downing street is blocking his proposal for economic regeneration work?
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me a chance to repudiate a totally incorrect story. The proposal, which was put forward by the Council of Welsh Districts, is still under consideration; I have not yet reached a conclusion on it.
I recognise that, in recent weeks, there has been increasing interest in the issue of a Welsh assembly. The Conservative party certainly has everything to gain by widening the debate on devolution. I do not regard the forum as part of that debate.
Some of the most telling and the best arguments against a Cardiff-based Welsh assembly were made in the 1970s by the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), the Leader of the Opposition. Perhaps he has not changed his views on the subject of an assembly, which would go some way towards explaining some of the mess and muddle on the part of the Welsh Labour party, not only about whether they would impose an assembly on Wales but, if they did, about what it would be able to do.
I shall read one page. The Leader of the Opposition said that a Welsh assembly would not
provide a factory, a machine or job, build a school, train a doctor or put a pound on pensions.
We have calculated that a Welsh assembly would cost £1 million per week. The right hon. Gentleman also said:
Who is prepared to give up £1 million to be bossed about by an institution in Cardiff?
He also said:
A new slab of Government in the form of a Welsh assembly would turn into yet another costly millstone around the necks of the people of Wales.
I agree with those comments, and I agree even more with the right hon. Gentleman's comment that the Welsh assembly would take—[Interruption.] I know that Opposition Members do not like hearing the words of their leader, but I am determined to shove those words into the debate in every possible way.
The right hon. Gentleman said:
that Assembly would take power and money from local authorities and the communities they serve"—[Interruption.]
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
I agree with every one of the words that I am quoting from the right hon. Member for Islwyn, who continued:
it would be even more centralised than the present system.
We have a right to know whether he has changed his view.
Mr Keith Raffan (Delyn)
While historical quotations arc interesting, and the Leader of the Opposition will shortly be history, my right hon. Friend has given an estimate of the cost of an assembly. Can he also give the House the estimated savings of going to unitary authorities? Does he not agree that the situation has changed totally since the last referendum? The Government must tackle this issue in the current context of the need for a Government of Wales and the need for a strategic authority when we move to unitary authorities.
Mr Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke North)
I have listened with interest to the Secretary of State. He started off well when he mentioned devolution. Will he confirm that he has no intention of giving the people of Wales an assembly?
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
I passed to the hon. Gentleman my only copy of "The Liberal Democrat Pocket Guide to Reform of Government". Could he possibly return that to me at some stage? However, I have a photocopy of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Under-Secretary of State has a copy."] I am talking about my copy.
A few days ago, the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) said that I was guilty of misleading the House because I said that the Liberal Democrats would make the post of Secretary of State for Wales redundant, once they had established the Welsh assembly. Page 8 of the pocket guide states:
We would create a Welsh senate for home rule for Wales. The role of Secretary of State for Wales would become redundant.
That is what I told the House, but I was accused of misleading it. I often find the policies of the Liberal Democrats unintelligible, but I think that the hon. Gentleman should understand them.
Mr Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke North)
Before the Secretary of State gets too excited, we are talking about the principle of devolving power and not the detail. Will he confirm, once again, that he is in favour of devolving power to the people of Wales? As I said on a television programme last night, it is a great pity that the Secretary of State plays about with a little piece of paper.
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
It is not just any piece of paper; it is Liberal Democrat policy. If the hon. Gentleman does not know about that piece of paper, it is entitled "The Liberal Democrat Pocket Guide to Reform of Government". I understand that the leader of the Welsh Liberal party told the Western Mail, when told of the document, "Oh dear, I had better check this with a party official." I would hope that members of the Liberal Democrats would at least be in some control of the situation.
Mr Donald Anderson (Swansea East)
The Secretary of State is enjoying himself by reading out comments by the Leader of the Opposition 18 years ago. We could enjoy ourselves by repeating what the Secretary of State said about the poll tax two years ago. Would it not be better if he were to consider the issues and tried to elevate the debate rather than to indulge in the diversionary tactic of referring to a meeting in Cardiff? Will he say yea or nay to whether, under any circumstances, he will grant an assembly to Wales?
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
I have made my position clear. The hon. Gentleman may have changed his mind, but has the Leader of the Opposition? We have not yet heard whether he has, and that the right hon. Gentleman owes it to the people of Wales to explain his views on a Welsh assembly.
Does the Leader of the Opposition think that a referendum is still necessary or that an assembly should be established? Does he think, as he has said before, that such an assembly would create divisions in Wales, and not heal them? Does the Leader of the Opposition still believe that the £50 million that would be spent on the assembly, if the Labour party ever came into government, would be better spent on schools and hospitals? The Leader of the Opposition has to justify his series of U-bends and S-turns to the people of Wales. He and the Labour party have been running away from this issue for too long.
The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) referred to the diversionary tactic of the Welsh Grand Committee. That is an important Committee of this House, and I want it to meet in Wales and to debate the issue of devolution. If that is not possible, I make it absolutely clear today that I want the Leader of the Opposition to participate with me in a live, televised debate on that subject in the next few weeks. The hon. Member for Caernarfon would agree to participate, and I also know that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North would. It is time that the Leader of the Opposition set the record straight and stopped standing on his head. The people of Wales have a right to know.
I want to marshal my arguments about a Welsh assembly, but I wonder whether the Leader of the Opposition has any arguments left to marshal.
Mr Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
On the subject of the Welsh Grand Committee meeting outside the House, the Secretary of State will know that, if that is to happen, we need a debate to change the Standing Orders. That is what the Leader of the House said. Is the Secretary of State saying that he is wrong? Did the Secretary of State clear the matter with the Leader of the House to make arrangements smoothly before he threw it at us at a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee on a day when I had constituents visiting the House?
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
I do not understand which day the hon. Gentleman is talking about. That was not what I proposed at the Welsh Grand Committee. I did not mention a date. I said that I hoped that it would meet as soon as possible. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would listen to what I said, because, a few moments ago, I said that I had heard the remarks of the Leader of the House. It is possible to reach an agreement, and then it would not be necessary to hold a debate. That is being discussed through the usual channels, and I hope the matter will be resolved quickly.
I believe that we have everything to gain from a wide-ranging debate on the imposition of a Welsh assembly, which would run Wales from Cardiff. [Interruption.] The Opposition may not want to hear the arguments, but I shall ensure that they are heard by the people of Wales, and I shall seize every opportunity to do that.
Ms Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
The right hon. Gentleman is frothing at the mouth so much that I wonder whether he thinks there is something dishonourable in changing one's mind. I wish that more politicians were willing to change their minds and were willing to say so, because there is nothing dishonourable in that. When the referendum on devolution took place, 80 per cent. of the people of Wales were against, but in the recent poll, 47 per cent. said that they were now in favour. Would he describe that as a U-turn as well?
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
I remind the hon. Lady that, before the referendum campaign took place, more than 40 per cent. of the Welsh were in favour of a Welsh assembly. However, once they heard the arguments, they rejected it by an 80 per cent. majority. I am not calling the right hon. Member for Islwyn dishonourable—I called him the right hon. Gentleman. I just want him to say whether he has changed his mind, but he has refrained from doing so. I challenge him to spell out his party's policy, because many in the House and outside still do not know what it is.
Before hon. Members intervened about the Welsh assembly—I hope that we shall have a wide-ranging debate on that important issue—I was discussing the question of community action. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) will be aware that we have provided funding towards the establishment of the Cynon valley business leadership team and towards its agenda for action programmes in Wales. The purpose of the "Agenda for Action" is to encourage companies and business leaders to support and increase development and prosperity in their local communities. I want to see that sort of approach develop much more widely.
A key part of our economic regeneration strategy is our support for the Cardiff Bay development corporation. The scope offered by the restoration of the old bay area is being recognised by investors. For example, the Prudential insurance company has decided to locate there its new regional headquarters for Wales and the south-west of England which will provide 200 jobs. The completion of the barrage—the legislation is now going through the House—will attract up to 25,000 new jobs and private sector investment of more than £1,000 million. The barrage, when completed, will represent the most prestigious and impressive waterfront development in Europe.
There is a tendency—I believe an erroneous one—to consider economic regeneration only in the context of the old industrial areas, but the rural areas of Wales are of vital importance. It was in recognition of this that, just over a year ago, I launched my rural initiative. As part of that package, I made £15 million available in extra provision for rural programmes, together with an extra £5 million set aside for local authority capital projects. On 9 December 1991, I published a document that set out my objectives for rural Wales, and at the same time I announced a series of related measures. As well as further increases in resources for the Development Board for Rural Wales, the WDA, the Wales tourist board and the Countryside Council, an important element of my announcements was a new competitive programme for local authority capital projects designed for the benefit of rural communities. I have set £6 million aside for that in 1992–93. The bids for projects under the programme are due in by next Tuesday. As last year, I hope that we shall have the greatest difficulty in deciding on the successful projects.
The key industry of the rural areas is of course agriculture. I fully recognise the difficulties which our farmers are facing at present. I firmly believe that a healthy agricultural sector is vital to the future economic, environmental and social well-being of Wales, and I assure the farmers of Wales that I will do everything in my power to achieve that. I am delighted that I have been able to secure for them the full 10 ecu increase in suckler cow premium funded by the European Community. I was also pleased to note last month that there had been an improvement in farming incomes over the past year, with aggregate net incomes rising by 15 per cent. compared with a fall in the United Kingdom as a whole of 14 per cent.
I have been twice, in the past three months, to see Commissioner MacSharry in Brussels to urge on him the necessity of any reforms in the common agricultural policy being fair to those, like our Welsh hill farmers, who are totally dependent on farming for their income. I promise our farmers that their interests are my interests and that their battle is my battle, and together we shall be heard in Brussels.
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
Yes, and I made it clear to Commissioner MacSharry that any reform of the CAP, which I believe must follow the GATT, must be fair to all farmers in the Community and not penalise Welsh farmers in particular.
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way. I am anxious to make progress.
On my visit to Brussels last week, I pressed Commissioner Millan about the importance of releasing quickly our RECHAR money for support for Britain's coal mining communities. I am delighted that he announced yesterday a package that will provide some £21·1 million for south Wales. That will allow a whole range of further measures to be supported with European assistance, including the regeneration of derelict areas, the further development of small businesses, improving the quality of life, assisting the creation and development of local and community initiatives and the provision of further training in new skills. I have also urged Commissioner Millan to accept an additional bid, which I understand he is now kindly considering.
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
I must proceed, because many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate.
There are still in Wales areas which are over-dependent on a small number of employers. Those communities are particularly vulnerable if, for whatever reason, the employer decides to reduce employment in the area. When problems of that sort began accumulating in Holyhead, I asked the Minister of State to take special responsibility for co-ordinating integrated programmes for the regeneration of that area. In recent weeks, a similar situation has arisen in west Wales, with the decision by the Ministry of Defence—as part of its "Options for Change" rationalisation—to withdraw from Trecwn and to cease flying training from Brawdy.
No one, least of all Welsh Office Ministers, is indifferent to the impact of those decisions on the local economy. We responded immediately by setting up a task force to look at the economic consequences for the area and possible alternative uses, including Ministry of Defence uses, for the two sites. That task force's interim report will be considered by the strategy group, which I shall shortly chair at its first meeting. I am also looking forward to discussing the issue with the Welsh Affairs Committee next week.
Wales does not, and cannot, operate in isolation from Europe and the rest of the world, and that applies not just to our need to attract inward investment, at which we are outstandingly successful. Only last week, I went to Brussels to open the WDA's new offices there, which will provide a focus for Welsh business activity at the heart of the Community, and give interested parties overseas a key point of contact with those in Wales—not just the WDA but local authorities and the training and enterprise councils, which can help them.
I am delighted to have been able to support the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) to provide overseas marketing powers for the Wales tourist board. The Bill is now in another place, having completed its passage through this House. I have every confidence that we shall see it become law before the end of this Parliament.
We have also continued to work at our links with the four motor regions. I visited Stuttgart to meet the Minister President, Mr. Teufel, for talks last October, and my officials have had a number of exchanges with their opposite numbers in Baden-Wurttemberg. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has visited Milan to discuss closer links with Lombardy, and he and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary have separately visited Barcelona for four motors-related activities. Next month will see a wide variety of events in a Wales week in Baden-Wurttemberg which will celebrate two positive and successful years of co-operation since we signed our partnership agreement with that region. I also have high hopes for our co-operation with Rhones-Alpes.
Europe is of vital importance, but our regional links also extend to Japan. We have an active partnership with the Oita Prefecture, and I was pleased to welcome Governor Hiramatsu to Wales for the Oita fair in October, where there was a display of the traditional culture and products from that area of Japan. We shall be organising a reciprocal Wales fair in Oita in October this year. This link has already led to orders for Welsh goods and services.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent will agree that Wales' great forthcoming attraction is the international garden festival at Ebbw Vale. Every time I visit the site, I am more and more impressed and excited by the prospects for the project. The transformation that is taking place on the valley floor and up the hillside is nothing short of remarkable. It will be a marvellous attraction for tourists and business and will do an enormous amount to prove to the rest of the world what we in Wales already know—that the transformation of the valleys is a remarkable event, and that Wales is one of the most attractive places in the United Kingdom in which to live and work.
A key factor in forming our policies in Wales throughout this year has been the principles enunciated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he launched the citizens charter. We have already issued two charters in Wales. The first was the parents charter, which we launched last September, setting out parents' rights and responsibilities in a whole range of education matters. We believe in the right of parents to be effective partners in the education of their children and we intend to equip them to enable them to do that.
We shall also before long be publishing our tenants charter for local authority tenants, and Housing for Wales will issue its guarantee for housing association tenants. Consultation on both of those has now been completed. They will form part not only of our commitment to the citizens charter, but of the objectives which we have set ourselves under the Parliamentary Under-Secretary's document "Housing in Wales—An Agenda for Action".
I am delighted that I have been able to provide extra resources in 1992–93 towards the achievement of those objectives. For local authority housing capital programmes, total provision has been raised to £279 million. That includes an extra £80 million for mandatory home renovation grants, bringing provision up to £140 million.
I was also able for 1991–92 to provide record resources of over £117 million to Housing for Wales, and it is making excellent use of those resources. I have just had the opportunity, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), to open the 3,500th house that Housing for Wales has built in the last financial year. I expect the total Housing for Wales programme, including private finance, to amount to over £500 million in the coming three years. Those are major achievements, which will mean that Housing for Wales is making an exceptional start in reaching the targets that we set it in the "Agenda for Action".
I turn to the national health service in Wales, for which we have once again provided record resources in the current and coming year. The past year has seen a number of significant developments. We recently published "Agenda for Action Two," which sets out the key management action required of the NHS over the next three years.
We published also the patients charter for Wales, which has been delivered to all households. It will put the citizens charter initiative into practice in the National Health Service. We shall monitor the performance of health authorities against the charter standards, and health authorities will publish an annual report on their performance.
I was delighted to be able to approve the first national health service trust in Wales. The Pembrokeshire national health service trust will become operational on 1 April 1992. A further 14 health units have been invited to prepare formal applications for trust status in April 1993. Applications need to be submitted by the early summer. If they all decide to proceed, and are successful, that will mean that 65 per cent. of acute health care in Wales will be delivered via NHS trusts. The wide spread of interest in pursuing that option is a telling testimony to the benefits of trust status for those most concerned—the staff and patients.
Investment in the capital estate of health authorities during the life of this Government will be, including the provision for 1992–93, more than £1,261 million.
I am now pleased to be able to announce details of the all-Wales major health capital programme, where I intend to distribute £101 million. A copy of that programme, together with the new arrangements for allocation, has been placed in the Library.
In summary, I propose to provide some £55 million for centrally funded developments, most notably for the provision of a burns and plastic surgery unit at Morriston, the enhancement of adult and paediatric cardiac facilities in south Wales, and for information technology to assist health authorities in furtherance of the implementation of NHS reforms.
The sum of £33·7 million will be provided to meet the on-going cost of major hospital developments in course of construction—most notably at Ysbyty Maelor Wrexham, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, Royal Gwent, Ysbyty Gwynedd, Brecon War Memorial hospital, University hospital of Wales, Cardiff, and Morriston. Included in that provision is the cost of design fees and construction works on major hospital developments, which will commence on the Ynys-y-Plwm and Baglan bay sites to replace East Glamorgan and Neath and Port Talbot hospitals.
New major works covering the provision of community hospitals, and costing some £6·7 million in 1992–93, will commence at Ebbw Vale, Torfaen, Barry, Cardiff and north Meirionydd. Some £5·2 million will be held in reserve against the possibility of new starts in 1992–93. The funding of those developments will be subject to decisions to be taken on future years' funding as a consequence of this year's public expenditure survey.
That programme has been compiled with the aim of replacing old hospitals that are coming to the end of their useful life. New community hospital developments will provide patient care in a near-domestic environment, close to patients' homes. Other developments included within the programme will enhance the facilities at existing hospitals.
One subject that I have not yet addressed, but on which I receive the most correspondence, and have had the largest number of meetings over the past year, are my proposals for the reform of the structure of local government in Wales, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn referred. I published my proposals for consultation last June, and am now considering the views expressed to me in response. The local authority associations discussed the results of an extensive programme of work commissioned by the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance, and I will reflect on the issues it raised before announcing a decision. That matter is of vital importance to everybody in Wales, and I shall inform the House of my conclusions in due course.
I am pleased to announce the Government's intentions concerning the promotion and safeguarding of the Welsh language. The past 12 years have seen a number of significant developments. In 1981, we established S4C. Its success is there for all to see. I am particularly pleased to note the indications that the S4C channel has become an important cultural force not only in Wales but increasingly further afield.
The past 10 years have also seen a further strengthening and consolidation of the place of Welsh in education. That culminated in the introduction of the Government's proposals for Welsh in the national curriculum—widely recognised as the single most important measure taken by any Government in support of the language. The full effect of that policy will not become apparent for many years yet, but we made clear our commitment to giving every child in Wales the opportunity to become fluent in Welsh.
However crucial the role of schools, the language is not something that is or can be confined to the world of education. Over recent years, increasing attention has been paid to the position of the language in the community at large. Since being established by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) in 1988, the Welsh Language Board has become an important force for change. It has done much to raise awareness and to improve the level of service provided for Welsh speakers.
Under its chairman, John Elfed Jones, the board has made a significant contribution in the period since it was established. I am pleased to tell the House that the Government have decided that the board should be placed on a statutory footing. I am confident that, in its new form, and with new powers, the board will be even better placed to undertake the difficult challenge that it will face in future.
The House will be aware that, last year, the Welsh Language Board made proposals for legislation in support of the language, which I considered carefully with my ministerial colleagues. The board's proposals were themselves the result of extensive consultation, and I pay tribute to those who were involved in the considerable task of preparing them.
At the heart of the board's proposals was the principle of equal validity and, in the public sector at least, granting Welsh equal status with English. That principle is one in which I believe. In drawing up the proposals that I will present to the House in due course, I have therefore sought to concentrate on the practical implications of that principle and the elimination of some of the difficulties with which Welsh speakers can be faced.
I am persuaded by the board's argument that the progress achieved so far can best be safeguarded by further legislative underpinning. The Government will therefore bring forward a Welsh language Bill. The legislation will include a duty on local authorities and other public agencies in Wales to draw up schemes defining the service that they provide for Welsh speakers. Those schemes will have to conform to criteria covering all aspects of dealing with the public. The new statutory Welsh Language Board will have the key role of agreeing those schemes. Once they are agreed, the board will have the further task of monitoring their implementation and investigating complaints.
I want to reassure the House that that does not mean that everybody within the public sector in Wales will need to become Welsh-speaking. We shall build on and develop what is already happening. A range of Government Departments and other public bodies in Wales have already shown that much can be achieved by the adoption of imaginative policies, the harnessing of existing staff, and the use of translation services. Neither is it my intention that every public body should rigidly adhere to exactly the same policy. Instead, it will be the board's task to assist in devising policies that reflect the very different situations facing the range of public authorities in Wales.
The schemes will need to reflect the different positions of the language in, for example, the south-east compared with the north and north-west. They will also need to ensure that, in areas where Welsh speakers are in the majority, suitable provision is made for non-Welsh speakers.
For the first time, we will place consumers in a position where they will know what they can expect by way of Welsh language services from all the public organisations with which they deal. The board also made proposals concerning changes to the Welsh Language Act 1967, which I am minded to accept.
Mr Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
Will the Secretary of State's proposals include a right for children—if their parents wish it—to be educated in schools that teach exclusively through the medium of Welsh? Will it also include a right for children —if their parents wish it—to be taught in non-Welsh language schools where Welsh is available as a second language? That is an important issue in central Wales.
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
I accept that. I refer the hon. and learned Gentleman to what the Minister of State has said about the whole question of Welsh-medium education. We need to provide every child in Wales with the opportunity to learn Welsh. However, I shall not stray too far down that road; if the hon. and learned Gentleman and others catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, they can make their own speeches on the issue, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will try to respond. I have been speaking for some 50 minutes, but I have not yet finished my speech.
Let me explain to the hon. Member for Caernarfon that one reason why it took me 12 months—only 12 months —to consider the proposals put to me by the Welsh Language Board is the fact that the Welsh Language Act 1967 contains a mistake, which we now propose to put right. Section 3 currently allows Ministers to determine that, in the case of a dispute, the English version of a text takes precedence over the Welsh version. I am aware that a number of people consider that that is tantamount to granting a lesser status to Welsh generally, and I am happy to announce that I have accepted the board's proposal for the repeal of the provision.
It is, of course, important to get the legislation right. I shall be introducing a new Welsh language Bill—or, at any rate, I very much hope that I shall—and it will then be for the House to judge the proposals that it contains.
The Government's most important contribution is their help in creating an environment in which people who want to speak Welsh are free, and able, to do so. The present Government have an impressive record of pursuing many ways of creating that environment over the past decade. Throughout that period, we have had a guiding principle: ultimately, the future of the language depends on the people who speak it. It would be counter-productive to do anything that would disturb the current good will towards the language among Welsh and non-Welsh speakers alike.
Mr Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
I have been listening carefully to the Secretary of State's important statement, and I welcome the news that legislation is to be introduced. It is difficult, however, to respond to that news without knowing all the details. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he intends to incorporate all the Welsh Language Board's proposals in the draft legislation, rather than just picking out one or two of them? In particular, can he clarify the position of defendants who want their court cases to be heard in Welsh? Will jurors who understand Welsh be present so that the impact of evidence for the defence can be fully appreciated?
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
Now that I have announced our intention to introduce a Welsh language Bill, I shall arrange an early meeting with the Welsh Language Board. I want to go through the board's proposals. I am not picking and choosing—although some of the proposals strike me as unnecessary, while others would affect the principle of the random selection of jurors, which is a key principle of British justice.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to await the legislation. I have carefully set out a number of extremely important points which I hope he will have an opportunity to ponder. If he and his colleagues wish to discuss the proposals with me in more detail, I shall be happy to meet them.
I am confident that our proposals will help to create an environment in which Welsh speakers can continue to exercise choice and to speak the Welsh language for many years. The Welsh Language Board has an important role to play in creating such an environment, as does every branch of the public sector in Wales. My proposals create a clear framework in which they can do so.
No doubt a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House will say that I have not dealt with the specific issues with which they wanted me to deal. I trust that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will try to deal with some of them. I have been unable to address an enormous number of issues; if the House wished me to continue for another hour, no one would be more delighted than I, but I want to give others a chance to speak.
Let me conclude by saying that, despite a difficult economic background, this has been a good year for the people of Wales. They have experienced record inward investment; further commitment to the rights of the individual, under the citizens charter and other charters; and further developments in the integrated and partnership approach that has proved so successful in recent years. I believe that the Government have demonstrated their commitment to the people of Wales, and I am confident that the coming year will be as good a year as the past one. I am already looking forward to returning to this Dispatch Box in a year's time to report on it to the House.
Mr Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
That really was an "I am delighted" speech—but the Secretary of State cannot talk to me about U-turns. Dai Poll Tax cannot give us any lectures; Dai Poll Tax will get his answer at the general election. My right hon. Friend the Member for IsIwyn (Mr. Kinnock) leads a united party, and that unity includes policy. On the occasion of the last Welsh debate before Labour takes power, let me reaffirm that Wales is a Labour nation.
At the beginning of his speech, the Secretary of State mentioned a host of past and current colleagues, expressing the feelings of us all. He also displayed his experience as a "usual channel". Certainly Wales has a good record in regard to inward investment, and we welcome the good news; but the Secretary of State must account for his stewardship.
In vain did we wait for an apology for the poll tax. The people of Wales are still listening attentively in the hope of hearing such an apology from the right hon. Gentleman. He made an important statement about the Welsh language, however—although I should have preferred him to make a statement proper; he now expects us to respond to the details in the way in which he has given them. None the less, I welcome his commitment to introducing a Welsh language Bill, and his announcement of a statutory basis for the Welsh Language Board. Let me say, on behalf of the next Labour Government, that we will introduce a Bill: we will legislate speedily.
At long last, the Secretary of State has acknowledged the existence of a consensus throughout Wales, and, at the appropriate time, we shall consider the small print of what he has said. At no point in his speech, however, did we hear mention of practical measures to tackle the second great recession that we have endured under the present Government. At no point did we hear of a determination to halt the rising tide of redundancies; nor did we hear of a will to present new policies to end the disturbing rise in unemployment. We heard of no social or economic policy initiative to give hope to those who lack jobs, the homeless and the indebted.
I have here the Conservative party's manifesto for Wales for the 1987 general election. It was full of honeyed phrases and grandiloquent statements, but it was a false prospectus. It made no reference to opt-outs, recessions, redundancies, homelessness or hospital trusts. I remind the Secretary of State for Wales that NHS waiting lists in Wales are at record levels. Hospital beds in Wales have been cut by 2,800. There have been too many broken promises.
When the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist) was a Minister with responsibility for health he gave this pledge:
health authorities in Wales have been set a target to ensure that by March next year no patient should have to wait more than one month for urgent in-patient treatment, one year for non-urgent in-patient treatment and three months for a first-time out-patient appointment."—[Official Report, 6 July 1987; Vol. 119, c. 16.]
What happened? According to the House of Commons Library, since September 1987 the number of patients waiting for urgent in-patient treatment for more than one month has increased by 6 per cent., the number of patients waiting for non-urgent in-patient treatment for more than a year has increased by more than one third and the number of first-time out-patients waiting for more than three months has increased by 1 per cent. It is no wonder that when the Secretary of State published his patients charter he had to abandon the pledge made in the House in 1987 by his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central.
One of my constituents wrote to me and said:
I am writing to tell you I had Hodgkins Disease in 1984, and was very sick with the chemotherapy and radium. It came back in 1987 and I was very, very sick again with the chemo again. In October 1991, imagine my horror when the doctor said it was back again, but it was called non-Hodgkins Disease. I told the doctors I could not go through this again. Dr.… said that there was a drug on the market called Kytril anti-sickness pill, made by Smith Kline Beecham. This is the tablet to stop you being sick. So I started my chemotherapy again—a course of twelve treatments. I had to have a tablet every second one but after two I could not have any more because the drug company is charging too much … they can only give to very ill patients. It's not the doctor or the nurses fault. They would like to give it to every patient. It really upsets the doctor and nurses knowing that this tablet is available … Could you please see if you can help us?
I have been a Member of Parliament for long enough to know that it is not wise to demand a specific answer from the Government. I do not have an answer for cases such as
that put to me by my constituent, who has suffered horribly and who cares enough about other people to write to me with her heartrending tale.
I want the Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary, the civil servants and hospital managers to concentrate 100 per cent. on relieving such misery and pain instead of running around Wales encouraging national health service managers to waste their time preparing bids to become opt-out hospitals. We know how hard it is to face up to specific cases. I do not demand that the Minister should respond today to this specific case.
Mr Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
The hon. Gentleman knows that I shall have investigated by the district health authority concerned any individual case that he cares to put to me. Has he been in touch with that person's doctor about the clinical diagnosis? If the hon. Gentleman will send me the details, I shall look into the case, along with the district general hospital and the district health authority. I ought to point out to the hon. Gentleman, however, that since the Conservatives came to power spending on the national health service has increased, in real terms, by 62 per cent., compared with the 9 per cent. increase during the five years in which the hon. Gentleman had ministerial responsibility for health matters.
Mr Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
The Under-Secretary is the very man who is going round Wales urging hospitals to opt out. He is putting pressure on hospital administrators, but we want him to tackle the real problems that face the national health service in Wales.
The Government have spent the last 13 years undermining local democracy and eroding the quality of local services in Wales. There is no worse example of the Conservative party's arrogance, unfairness and disdain for public opinion than the poll tax. I remind the Secretary of State that more than £100 million has been wasted on its introduction and that more than 400,000 summonses have been issued in Wales. That is the cost of the Tory poll tax.
The Secretary of State may shuffle and squirm but he must listen and then consider apologising for the poll tax to the people of Wales. He has given quotations; I shall give one to him. At the 1989 Conservative party conference he said:
The fact is that, whatever Labour claim or do, the community charge is on course for successful introduction throughout England and Wales next year.
That might wow the blue rinses at Blackpool, but it will not help the Conservatives in Wales. What we seek from the right hon. Gentleman is an apology for the poll tax.
Mr Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
No. There is very real pressure on time in this debate. The Secretary of State for Wales spoke for almost an hour.
We demand an apology from the Secretary of State. He owes an apology for the poll tax to the people of Wales.
Ministers wish to evade the Government's record on the economy. Unemployment is now four fifths higher than it was in 1979. The number of employees in manufacturing industries in Wales has fallen by almost a third. There are now, astonishingly, 94,000 fewer manufacturing jobs in Wales than there were when the Conservatives took office. There is no better illustration of the Government's erosion of our manufacturing base than Wales.
Recorded crime has doubled and criminal damage has increased by 185 per cent. Nevertheless, there has been one blazing success, one superb achievement by Welsh Office Ministers: they have managed to increase Welsh Office advertising and publicity spending by 2,253 per cent. I recollect that in a debate in the Chamber in 1990 the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) referred to a remarkable transformation of the unemployment scene. He can say that again. In last year's Welsh affairs debate the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) said—it was a very bold thing to say—that
things are going to get better and not worse.
In the same debate the Secretary of State said:
the Welsh economy is extremely healthy".—[Official Report, 28 February 1991; Vol. 186, c. 1149–207.]
What has happened? Mortgage repossessions have increased by 4,000 in the past year. There are 35,000 people who have been out of work for more than a year —three in 10 of the unemployed. This year already there have been 2,500 job losses and I understand that 1,600 workers are to be laid off at Hotpoint in March. That is not a million miles from the seat of the Minister of State.
The list of job losses is worrying. It is like a "Who's Who" of Welsh business. There have been job losses at Ford in Bridgend and Swansea, Royal Worcester, South Wales Electricity, National Power, Dunlopillo, Howells, British Steel at Shotton and Port Talbot and Ferodo in Caernarfon. There have been 250 job losses at Dennis Ferranti at Bangor, the Brymbo steelworks has been closed and there have been job losses at Lucas in Gwent, British Aerospace in Clwyd, Hoover and Thorn in Merthyr Tydfil and AB Electronics in Pontypridd. As well as the job losses at those great companies there have been many pit closures. The pits that have been closed include Mardy, Blaenant, Deep Navigation, Penallta, Cynheidre, Marine, Merthyr Vale and Oakdale. Those redundancies are building up in areas of Wales where unemployment is at its worst already.
The Secretary of State did not want to deal with those issues. He set up diversions and tried to concentrate on issues a long way from unemployment and the state of the economy. Since the right hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt) became Secretary of State, unemployment has risen by 50 per cent.—a staggering 40,000 increase. That amounts to 2,000 for every month that he has been in the Welsh Office. The Secretary of State has lost highly skilled Marconi jobs in his constituency. Many members of that work force live in my constituency.
Unemployment in the Pembroke area is nearly 90 per cent. higher than when the Conservatives took office. The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), has been watched closely by his constituents. Has he really fought his corner? We are far from convinced that he has.
Unemployment in Mid Glamorgan has increased by more than half compared to 1979. In the past year alone, unemployment in Brecon and Radnor has increased by 36 per cent. Unemployment has gone up in the Vale of Glamorgan by a quarter and in Monmouth by nearly a third.
It seems that Cardiff has become the unemployment capital of Wales. More than 20,000 people are unemployed. In the Cardiff area, unemployment is 50 per cent. higher than when the Conservatives took office. The situation in Cardiff, Central is appalling.
The glib comments by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the complacent comments by the Secretary of State will not get Wales out of recession. Sir Peter Phillips of the Confederation of British Industry in Wales recently said:
What we now need is a spark to recovery".
We will not get that from the Chancellor or the Secretary of State. In the face of the most severe United Kingdom recession in the past 60 years, the Government are paralysed by their failures. They have no strategy and do not know what to do. The Secretary of State's speech today gave no answers. There was no will to succeed and no policy. Wales has had enough of struggling out of the pit of one recession, only to be knocked back down again by the next. The Secretary of State must take that on board.
As the Government near their end, is not this a lamentable record? After all the propaganda, press releases, oil revenues, privatisation revenues and two savage recessions, what does Wales have? Wales has high and rising unemployment. Every week this year it has experienced blue chip companies making redundancies. This is a Government of failure and indecision. For those reasons, I predict that Welsh Office Ministers and their Back-Bench Members will lose their seats and a Labour Government will be swept into power.
Mr Ian Grist (Cardiff Central)
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) made some glib predictions. Unemployment in my constituency was higher at the time of our triumph in 1987 than it is now. He might like to bear that in mind.
I made my maiden speech in the St. David's day debate in 1974, when three right hon. Members and one hon. Member from the Labour party were present and two Conservative Members were present. That Parliament ushered in a most extraordinary Government. The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) was eventually, and rightly, taken on as a Minister of State at the Treasury when real monetarism was brought into play. He would be the first to tell us that under the International Monetary Fund we went through the most unpleasant period of economic restraint. The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) had to withdraw programmes right and left, whether on housing or health, the number of people treated as out-patients fell and the Government were split over whether we should remain a member of the European Community. The Cabinet was so badly split that we had to have a referendum. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) was on one side of the argument and the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon on the other.
The Conservative argument won hands down on that occasion, as it did in the St. David's day referendum on devolution. The Labour Government were kept in office by the Liberals and the nationalists because of that argument, and when it failed the Government failed: the two matters were intimately linked. The Labour party should remember that. The current Leader of the Opposition, then the hon. Member for Bedwellty, in answer to a claim by Mr. Cledwyn Hughes that the arguments on devolution had been well ventilated, said that the idea had been shot as full of holes as a colander. That was one of the better cracks that he made on the issue.
That was a miserable Parliament. Labour left office after the winter of discontent, when there was darkness, unburied bodies and surgical operations refused, all because of trade union abuse of power. One of the great changes that we have introduced is to free people from the domination and bullying perpetrated by the allies and creators of the Labour party.
Unfortunately, we still suffer from some of the attitudes which were born in the 1960s and earlier but are responsible for some of the problems today. I refer to the attitudes, which I espouse, to relaxing the sexual and social traumas of the past, freeing people and leaving them to make their own decisions. Unfortunately, that has often been taken as a form of licence. We have seen the breakdown of family life, the abuse that has resulted from that, and the traumas and difficulties of young people having to deal with step-parents, and so on. That has led, ultimately, to a growth in illegitimacy, which is a problem in my constituency—other hon. Members will be aware of this—with many young girls coming in from the valleys and elsewhere, giving rise to housing problems. The growth in homelessness is based largely on people not being able to keep their tempers. Such breakdowns in family life can be traced back to the change in social attitudes in the late 1950s and 1960s and on into the 1970s. We are paying a heavy penalty for that.
In most respects, Wales has flourished. The physical appearance of the country alone tells us much. The streets, villages and town centres of Labour Members' constituencies have benefited from the urban programme and the enveloping of streets. I have had more enveloping in my constituency than any other in Wales. We have seen the renewal of the physical fabric, with the grassing over of enormous derelict areas by the Welsh Development Agency, which has conducted the largest programme in Europe. We are greening Wales again, making it an attractive place, and the garden festival is the most visible symbol of that. That has been one of the Conservative Government's greatest achievements.
The education achievements of the people of Wales, which we debated in the Welsh Grand Committee, have improved. There has been a remarkable increase in training. Employment, to which the Secretary of State referred in his speech, is now varied rather than our being trapped in two or three major declining old industries. I should have thought that everyone would welcome that.
New roads, which were cut when the Labour Government had to go to the IMF, have been constructed. I bitterly remember the dual carriageway to Merthyr Tydfil coming to an abrupt halt at Taffs Well—another project which foundered on the rocks of the overspending espoused by the Labour party in 1974–75. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] If Labour Members contest that, the book of their former Chief Secretary is a good read: the facts are clearly laid out there.
Tremendous improvements have been made in the NHS. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside ignores the fact that fewer out-patients were treated when he was the Minister. Under the Conservative Government, outpatient treatment has risen by a third, in-patient treatment by more than 40 per cent., and day case treatment by about 150 per cent. There has been expansion in the number of doctors, consultants, nurses and therapists. New hospitals have been constructed throughout Wales. Labour Members should use their eyes if they believe otherwise. We are now able to perform more hip, knee and eye operations.
The Labour party is trying to ride the Western Mail programme for devolution. That is not surprising because it is a media-run campaign. It is one of those subjects which, if raised with ordinary electors, never features. They are concerned about mortgages, jobs, the price of food and education, but devolution never arises. It is only when they are specifically asked and guided that devolution emerges, as it did in the 1970s. I am amazed that Labour Members advance such a policy, especially the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside who as Minister in charge of the policy at the time received a slap in the face from his constituents and from constituents throughout Wales. They knew that it was nonsense and that any form of serious devolution would mean, as the Liberal pamphlet rightly says, the end of the Welsh Office and the Secretary of State. But that might be a small price to pay compared with losing the voice of Wales in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom. The rights of Members of Parliament from Wales would be cut, because we should not be able to vote on issues affecting England and Scotland. We would have to be imperial Members of Parliament, voting on the big issues, but not on those affecting our constituents because they would be left with the Welsh assembly.
English Members of Parliament would not be happy because they would have to vote moneys to be spent by other elected bodies over which they had no say—unless, of course, we were to follow the logical path of having an assembly which raised its own funds, which the Labour party has never dared to suggest because it knows what it would mean and the answer that it would receive from constituents.
That is the underlying weakness of the talks about devolution. The Labour party should come clean by explaining to people the real repercussions of going down that path. I am sure that people do not believe in it any more than I do. The nationalists use devolution merely as a means of getting an independent Wales.
Mr Wyn Roberts (Conwy)
Is my hon. Friend aware of the report in The Daily Telegraph that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has said that an assembly could cause income tax to vary by as much as 2p either way in Scotland and Wales?
Mr Ian Grist (Cardiff Central)
I had not seen that report, but the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) arrives at an odd conclusion. I am not sure how he arrives at that figure of 2p in the pound. If a Welsh assembly had to raise its own funds, Welsh income tax would rise by much more than 2p. We might get back to 35p in the pound, which we had under the Labour party, and perhaps 98p on savings. I believe that Labour Members want to increase the tax on savings and return to the merry old days of the last Labour Government.
I wish that the Labour party would make clear its attitude to the Cardiff bay proposals. The barrage will put the final touches to the redevelopment of south Cardiff and to the whole city. It will transform Cardiff into one of the greatest cities in Europe. More than any action taken by the Government, it will cause the spotlight of fame to fall on south Wales. People will be drawn to south Wales to see the changes to the valleys, to see our good communications and to see the waterfront at Swansea and other places where great transformations have taken place. As yet, the Labour party has said nothing about whether it will continue the policy that we have espoused.
Mr Gareth Wardell (Gower)
I want to concentrate on housing, which did not play a prominent part in the Secretary of State's speech. Indeed, he spent most of the time—certainly the first quarter of an hour—discussing a subject that has not burnt in the breasts of the people of Gower since I have been in the House. Indeed, I cannot remember receiving one letter or telephone call about devolution. I should be interested to know how much correspondence other hon. Members have received on the subject. Perhaps I have completely missed what my constituents are concerned about, but so far as I am able to glean it is not devolution.
I wish to consider two documents which constitute a savage indictment of the Government's paralysis and complacency on the housing needs of the Welsh people. The first is a letter to me from Swansea city council, dated 10 February, informing me that the only single persons or childless couples who can be considered for a one or two-bedroom flat are current council house tenants requesting transfers. In other words, the city of Swansea has, in effect, closed its housing list to all except those who would be at risk on medical and social grounds and who could qualify for one offer of housing under the Housing Act 1985. The letter is in reply to a young couple's case of a type with which we are all too familiar.
When Mr. and Mrs. Thomas first planned their wedding, they put their names on the council waiting list. They were prepared for a wait, but when Mr. Thomas was offered a different local job with a tied cottage, he took it. They had a home of their own in which to start their married life, but they remained on the council list. That was five years ago. Mr. Thomas was made redundant and the couple were therefore made homeless. The council could not help and, in desperation, the couple put their furniture in relatives' sheds and spare rooms and moved in with Mr. Thomas's parents.
As Mrs. Thomas wrote to me, it was not that her parents-in-law were not nice, kind and understanding, but they had retired; they thought that they were free of parenthood and they wanted their house to themselves. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas both work but could never hope to buy a house on the Gower peninsula, where they were born and where they lived and worked. They have postponed having a family because they want a home first so as to provide a proper environment for their children's upbringing.
As Mrs. Thomas said, if they had acted irresponsibly and had had the two children they planned, they would be high on the council list. As it is, they have seen families who are considered to be a higher priority take the few houses and flats that have become vacant over the years. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas are typical of thousands of couples in Wales.
The Secretary of State's claims about increased prosperity in Wales are not borne out by any measure one cares to use. The reality for couples such as Mr. and Mrs. Thomas is entirely different. Gross domestic product per head in Wales is 28 per cent. lower than in the south-east of England. We have the lowest GDP per head of any region in Britain. When the Government came to power, pay levels for men and women workers in Wales were virtually the same as in England, but 13 years later Welsh male manual workers are the lowest paid in Britain and average male earnings overall in Wales have fallen by 8 per cent. compared with earnings in England. Similarly, female Welsh workers have gone from being the second highest paid in Britain to last but one in the pay league. Whichever way pay in Wales is analysed—by industrial sector, occupation or area—pay levels in comparison with England are extremely low and have become much worse during the 13 years of the Government's regime, leaving Wales firmly at the bottom of the British pay league.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas's joint pay is less than £180 per week. In 1990, 60 per cent. of council tenants in south Wales had a gross household income of less than £80 per week and 92 per cent. had less than £150 a week.
Mr Huw Edwards (Monmouth)
As my hon. Friend said, Wales is the low pay region in Great Britain. I am sure that he will wish to condemn the Government's recent proposals to abolish wages councils, which fix minimum wages for one in eight workers in Wales in some of our biggest sectors such as retailing and catering. It is a scandalous proposal which shows that the Government are prepared to try to reduce unemployment by driving low wages even lower.
Mr Gareth Wardell (Gower)
I am grateful for that very helpful intervention. It reminds me very much of the argument used by the Victorian economist Nassau Senior who said that industrialists should drive down wages in order to increase profits. Fortunately, since then, more erudite and sensible economists have seen the great advantages in an economy of high wages. High wages frequently bring high productivity because people on low wages with a low standard of living are often unable to produce the goods and services necessary to bring us into the early years of the next century.
As unemployment levels have climbed to almost 10 per cent., poverty will grind down more families in Wales. The Government's mismanagement of the economy and their belated attempt to control a credit free-for-all created a price explosion in housing which caused 190,000 home owners to be dispossessed of their homes last year. Swansea city council's efforts to rehouse its share of those desperate families have finally nailed the hopes of couples such as Mr. and Mrs. Thomas for council housing in their home areas.
Despite lower average wage levels, widespread poverty and the number of house repossessions—all of which impress and reinforce the case for an increase in social, public and low-cost housing to rent—the Government refuse to recognise the problems facing thousands of Welsh couples and families. On the contrary, the Government regard their housing policy as a success because the number of people in Wales who own their own homes has increased from 62 per cent. in 1981 to 71 per cent. in 1990.
That is the background against which there has been a massive loss of public housing, which is still running at over 7,500 per year. Between March 1980 and March 1990, almost 90,000 homes in Wales were sold under the right-to-buy scheme. Funding for Welsh housing associations will allow only 3,500 new homes to be built this year. That represents an estimated annual shortfall of about 4,000 homes and does not take into account the 3,151 couples and families facing repossession orders in the Wales and Chester area courts.
I said that there was a second document that I wished to mention. It involves the advice that the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, which I am pleased to chair, received on 21 January this year about the Government's response to our report on housing in Wales. I wish to register my great disappointment with the Government's response, and I shall give three examples to illustrate some of the reasons for that disappointment.
As the Secretary of State said, I am sure that the Minister of State is taking copious notes and examining the document that he and his Department produced. Recommendation 10 refers to a review which we recommended that the Welsh Office carry out of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, to enable local authorities to establish trusts similar to the Winchester housing trust in England, which the Committee visited during its deliberations.
The Welsh Office response made the adviser and me wonder whether the Minister had read our report at all. We wondered, too, whether even the officials had read the report—certainly the Welsh Office response to that recommendation leaves a great deal to be desired. I hope that the Minister will read the relevant section of the report again and accept that what is good enough for Winchester is good enough for Wales.
It is not acceptable that, although the Government are prepared for English local authorities to take advantage of certain schemes, the Welsh Office is unhappy about Wales having the same facilities.
Mr Keith Raffan (Delyn)
Does the hon. Gentleman—I almost called him my hon. Friend, which he certainly was in the Select Committee—agree thatmes what he has said about the Government's response to the Select Committee report simply emphasises the urgent need for Select Committee reports to be fully debated, and for the Government to be brought at least to the Welsh Grand Committee, if not to the Floor of the House—or, indeed, the floor of an assembly—to answer fully for their responses to Select Committee reports?
Mr Gareth Wardell (Gower)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan), who has been a good ally in the work that we have done together in the Select Committee. I know that he will share my feelings, and those of other members of the Committee, about the great debates that we have had. On very few occasions did we manage to introduce such debates on the Floor of the House. In fact, I can think of only one such occasion—the debate on the Towyn floods. That debate had the great advantage of allowing us to show the people of Wales that we are extremely concerned when such events take place, but it illustrates what the hon. Member for Delyn said—that it takes an event such as the Towyn flood, and a Select Committee report on it, to bring about such a debate. I fully accept the hon. Gentleman's point, and I hope that the Government will move in the direction that he suggests.
In response to recommendation 9, the Welsh Office provides no justification for the fact that existing housing associations cannot do what trusts can do. I hope that the Government will reconsider that, and the evidence that we provided, which clearly shows that the Winchester housing trust can do things that Tai Cymru and the housing associations cannot do. I hope that the Minister replying to the debate will deal with that matter.
Recommendations 11 and 12 of the Select Committee report reflect the Committee's great anxiety about the continuing lax planning in Wales, but the Government's response shows that they do not share that anxiety. The Committee was so dissatisfied with the lack of Welsh Office monitoring of planning that we decided to send out to the chief planning officer of every district council in Wales a detailed questionnaire so as to establish a district-bydistrict index of lax planning.
The Welsh Select Committee has to do what the Welsh Office refuses to do. Unless it is done, there will be a continuation—even, perhaps, an increase—of what the Committee described in recommendation 12 of its report. We said that as
we meant district councillors in particular—
have suggested that developments should be permitted anywhere, it is extremely likely that there will be residual hope value near village settlements in many parts of Wales and land will not be offered at a very low price for local people.
It is a fundamental truth that the Welsh Office must begin to monitor closely what district councils throughout Wales are doing—they often flout their local plans, and the Welsh Office refuses to become involved. Indeed, I feel that the argument about a Welsh assembly misses the point about unitary authorities. The question is this: when authorities are merged, who will monitor the difference between local authorities with no local plans and those subject to county structure plans?
Recommendation 18 suggested that the Welsh Office establish and fund a Welsh rural housing trust, but the Welsh Office disagreed. The Secretary of State for the Environment is a Welshman. Indeed, he contested Gower in 1959, when his opponent was my predecessor. The right hon. Gentleman did not do too well then, but he has gone on to higher things since—or so I am told. The Secretary of State for the Environment wants England to continue with its own rural trusts. He does not want England to be subject to circular 30/86, which gives rich people almost a right to come into Wales and obtain planning permission to build houses in the open countryside. Such a right does not exist in England—only the Welsh have to put up with it.
That is another example of the fact that although the Secretary of State for the Environment, who says what can happen in England, allows rural housing trusts, which are making great, and successful, attempts to build affordable housing for young people, the Secretary of State for Wales is not prepared to give the Welsh the same facilities as the people of England. That is not fair. The Government obviously do not consider that what is good enough for England is good enough for Wales to have on the same basis.
Rural housing trusts are the sort of schemes for which small rural Welsh communities are desperate, but the Secretary of State has turned a deaf ear. Perhaps Tai Cymru has succeeded in bending his ear, and as a result has succeeded in preventing the initiative from coming through. To turn a deaf ear is the Secretary of State's privilege and the people of Wales's loss. But the time has now almost come—it will come next week, or the week after—when the people of Wales will turn a deaf ear to the Minister's claims that the Government have met Welsh housing needs. That will be the Minister's loss. He and his party will be voted out on their ear on 9 April.
Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd North West)
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), who has been the Chairman of the Welsh Select Committee throughout this Parliament. He has carried out his duties to the unqualified admiration of all Members of the Committee, and has shown an extraordinary assiduity in research and in marshalling facts. However, on this occasion I thought that some of the facts that he marshalled were excessively assiduous and a bit selective.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman how important it is that the hard work done by the Select Committee should be taken seriously by the Welsh Office, and that it should not be fobbed off with what could be described as pretty glib responses. I hope that what the hon. Gentleman has said will have struck home.
I am only too conscious that 12 months ago I said that I was making my last speech in a Welsh debate in this place. This time it really is the last time, and I promise not to do a Mr. Chips act. I shall look back over 13 years of Tory government in Wales and try to draw up a balance sheet from a standpoint slightly more detached than other hon. Members may be able to afford on the eve of a general election.
I will certainly not step so far out of character as to claim that everything that we have done has been good; nor will I claim that everything that the previous Labour Government did achieved nothing at all—or that the policies which Labour now advances are entirely misguided. I have never believed that my lot were 100 per cent. right and the other lot 100 per cent. wrong. Still less do I doubt the sincerity and good intentions of the Labour party, although I must remind the House that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
What is more, I am ready to concede that the achievements of the past 13 years—the huge rise in personal living standards, the dramatic increase in home ownership, the modernisation of the Welsh economy—have been bought at a price. It has been a cruelly high price for thousands who have lost their jobs or who are now on short time, and for many hundreds of businesses and firms built up by a lifetime of hard work and thrift, which have been swept away, first by the harsh processes of industrial reconversion and then in the recession.
Society—for the avoidance of doubt, there is such a thing—carries an inescapable responsibility to the victims of change. I am hugely relieved that the Government, whom I am proud now to support, have not hesitated to acknowledge that responsibility. What is more, I have a horrible feeling that, although we may reasonably expect a revival of small businesses, the numbers of unemployed will not fall even when we move out of the recession.
In the past, experts always told us that technological change did not product lasting unemployment: new jobs came along to replace the old ones. I am not sure that that is now true. Until now, we have been thinking in terms of white-collar jobs replacing manual jobs, but it is precisely in the office that the information technology revolution will bring the largest job losses. These changes have portentous consequences for the future of our society. I do not believe that any Government in any country or any political party in this country has any kind of an answer, nor do I believe that academic thinkers are much help in trying to find one.
Having planted those seeds of doubt—they are indeed dragons' teeth—let me now continue my retrospective. What would have happened if Labour had been in power these past 13 years? I do not go as far as to say that all the coal mines and all the steel works operating in 1979 would be operating today. Labour closed a large number of coal mines during its period of office, but it is certain that a Labour Government would have put off and put off the decisions, as they did with the closure of steelmaking at Shotton. It was left to their Conservative successors in 1979 to take those tough and unpopular closure decisions.
When I arrived in north Wales in 1970, the whole area was frighteningly dependent on steel and coal. The Labour Government had consistently refused to face up to the problems that arose from overcapacity in steel and from the wrong siting of some Welsh steel works. They refused to face the consequences of the growing exhaustion of accessible coal seams in Wales, and, more damagingly still, they tamely acquiesced in the refusal of the Scargill-led National Union of Mineworkers to contemplate working methods which might have given a reprieve to some coal mines and which would, still more, have enabled other more profitable pits to be opened up.
In this as in other industries, Labour's record in opposition has been one of fighting to the death to preserve the sunset industries and the jobs that go with them. That is not necessarily an ignoble strategy, but it is one that would have hindered the emergence of the far healthier mixed industrial economy which can be seen today in Deeside, Wrexham, all around Cardiff, Newport and Swansea.
Whatever the solution to structural unemployment may be, one thing is quite certain: only a wealth-creating economy can possibly provide the necessary conditions for that solution, and that wealth-creating economy cannot be sustained by obsolescent industry. Any hon. Member who doubts that should go to eastern Europe and look.
Then there is the other huge consideration of Labour policy towards the European Community. I am delighted that the Labour party has now recognised this new elephant sitting on its doorstep, to use the picturesque phrase of the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), but there is no getting away from the fact that, if Labour had won the election of 1983 under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) or that of 1987 under the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), Britain would now be outside the European Community—and once out we could not have got in again except on our knees.
What then would have happened to all the inward investment which not only provides so many tens of thousands of jobs but which has done so much to raise standards of management in Wales? The old xenophobic prejudices still lurk below the surface of the Labour party—I can almost sense the presence of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in his seat. Perhaps a future Labour Government would no longer threaten to take Britain out of the European Community, but potential inward investors would not feel the same comfortable certainty that investment in Wales guaranteed open access to the whole single market of the European Community.
It is all very well for Liberal Democrats to promise just about everything to everybody—or rather, everything that the opinion polls show people want—because they will never have to deliver, but it is disturbing to see how far the Labour party is going in the direction of finger-in-the-wind politics.
To take a trivial but revealing instance, opinion polls show that the abolition of fox hunting would be a vote winner. Personally, I think that hunting and killing animals for pleasure is a nasty business and that some so-called sports, such as hare coursing, constitute real unjustifiable cruelty and should be outlawed forthwith. I cannot be persuaded, however, that hunting foxes with hounds is a crueller way of killing an extremely cruel predator than shooting, which as often as not leaves a wounded animal to crawl away to a slow and painful death.
But that is not the point. The point is that the Labour party, which as a party has never shown that animal welfare is right at the top of its priorities, has suddenly scented a possible electoral quarry. By preventing a minority from enjoying something that they very much enjoy doing, the Labour party hopes to win votes from the majority, guided thereto by obliging opinion polls. I find that pretty squalid.
Then there is education. It was a Labour Secretary of State, Mrs. Shirley Williams, who gave us comprehensive education, and a mixed blessing it has turned out to be. Of course there are some excellent comprehensive schools—I have some outstanding ones in my constituency—but variety of educational provision is worth preserving. It is not to be lightly cast aside—all the less so when there is so little of it left.
Labour's pledge to abolish the remaining direct grant schools and to bleed the independent schools to death by abolishing the assisted places scheme may satisfy the envious instincts of an electoral majority, but the money saved by abolishing the assisted places scheme will have no discernible effect on total provision for maintained schools. It will do nothing to improve standards of education, which benefit immensely from what little choice and competition has been left by the rush to mass comprehensivisation.
What would a Labour Government have meant—what would a Labour Government mean—for the health service? It would have meant quite simply a refusal to accept the changes—necessary, even if they were at first unpopular—that would enable the national health service to survive the pressure of ever-mounting demands created by its own success. I am glad to say that the Labour party has picked a loser, and that serves Labour right. The Government have stuck to their guns over hospital trusts and budget-holding practices. There is increasing evidence that the changes are working well and are popular.
Finally, we must consider devolution, which we may or may not be debating in the Welsh Grand Committee in Cardiff, depending on whether the Labour party has the stomach for it. As those hon. Members who are members of Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats are aware, my views on devolution are not far removed from theirs. I am quite happy with the idea of an independent Wales as a full member of the European Community on fully federal lines with strict regard for the principles of subsidiarity—but eventually. I do not believe that the time for such a radical change has come, and it probably will not come this decade.
I am reminded of the former French Prime Minister, Mr. Rocard, who went to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) when she was Prime Minister. When he emerged, he said that he was glad to say that his views and hers on European integration were virtually identical. He had asked her when she thought that there would be a united states of Europe, and she had said, not in 1,000 years. Mr. Rocard said that there would be one within five years. He then said, "As you can see, the difference is merely one of timing."
Whatever the opinion polls may say, I remain totally unconvinced that public opinion in Wales is really ready yet to pay the price of devolution. That price involves inevitably higher taxes of one sort or another, not just to run the assembly. If there is to be an assembly, it must have revenue-raising powers. There is a price also in terms of disincentives to inward investors, who may fear that devolution might impose new burdens and fresh complications on them. Above all, there is a price in terms of the loss, or at the very best the downgrading, of the Secretary of State for Wales, who, in this Conservative Government, has been such an outstanding success in getting for Wales far more than its due share of inward investment and central Government funds—for example, by way of revenue support grant.
Until I am satisfied that the people of Wales regard an elected assembly as something more than a status symbol, I shall support the cautious approach of the Secretary of State and his advisory council. In this, as in so many other matters, I have great faith in the judgment of my right hon. Friend. He has shown a quite extraordinary sensitivity to Welsh feelings and aspirations, and a startling ability to fight his corner for Wales in the Cabinet. I can hardly suppose that he will remain in his job after the election: he is clearly destined for higher things. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Scotland?"] That might be a good idea. My right hon. Friend will be a very hard act to follow, perhaps even harder than his predecessor. I believe that, in their secret hearts, all hon. Members, in all parties, wish him well.
Mr Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer). He has not lost his diplomat's statistical panache, as was clear when he referred to the French, and we will miss him greatly when he leaves this place. I do not entirely agree with what he said about some of the things that the Welsh Office has been up to, but there are two sides to the House and we hold different views about such things.
I thank the Secretary of State for his announcement about the Welsh language Bill. That Bill is long overdue, and I wonder why the Minister of State did not contrive to introduce such a Bill earlier in this Parliament. However, I hope that it will become an Act soon. At least all four parties in Wales now have a commitment to a Welsh language Act in their manifestos for the general election, and that is how it should be.
The tone of the Secretary of State's speech was one of impartial self-congratulation. When we analyse cruelly what has happened in Wales over the past 12 months or so, we should consider the matter more analytically than was the case in the public relations exercise conducted by the Secretary of State.
The Chairman of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), was right to highlight the problem of housing in Wales. In a reply to a parliamentary question that I asked within the past 10 days, it has emerged that about 3,500 council houses were completed in Wales in 1979. It also emerged that only 380 council houses were completed in 1991. It is all very well for Ministers to claim that 3,500 houses are being completed through Tai Cymru—Housing for Wales but many of those houses are unaffordable. Council houses are at least affordable in terms of average Welsh earnings, which, as we have already heard, are the lowest in the mainland United Kingdom. However, the rents of many housing association houses are unaffordable. Such rents are often between £45 and £50 a week, and they can comprise 40 per cent. of the incomes of people working in relatively low-paid jobs in Wales.
I am sad to say that some housing association houses in my constituency are unoccupied because local people cannot afford the rents. That shows that housing association grants are not generous enough. I hope that the Minister will accept that those housing association houses need more generous housing association grants so that the people of Wales can afford to live in them.
Within the past week, I asked a parliamentary question about homelessness in Wales. I was told that 14,402 people were classified as homeless in Wales in 1987. However, by 1991, there were 23,694. That is an increase of 9,000 within the past four years. That is unacceptable. Indeed, an additional 3,000 people came on to the homeless list in 1991.
I feel particularly strongly about unemployment. It seems to have returned to the state that it was in the 1930s, when my father was unemployed for four years. He was born and brought up in Brecon, but left to travel the seas of the world as a master mariner. The only job he could find in the 1930s was as captain of a dredger in the Gulf. Within six months of obtaining that job, he was dead. My mother lost my father when I was three. She had to return to work, and we had a very tough time.
The barren policies of the 1930s have returned. People cannot find work. There are 128,000 people out of work in Wales today—an increase of 27,000 since the start of 1991. That is not a record of which to be proud. One third of the unemployed are aged between 18 and 25. That is astounding. What future do the young people of Wales have when 43,000 of them are out of work? We must all be concerned about that, no matter which political party we represent in the House.
The situation in the countryside is not good. Farm incomes, in real terms, are at their lowest levels since the second world war. There has been a minor rally in the past 12 months—an increase of 15 per cent.—but in the previous year we saw drops of 21 per cent. in dairy farming incomes and 25 per cent. in hill farming incomes. Many farms are going bankrupt. We cannot accept that.
In the United Kingdom, 1,000 agricultural jobs are being shed every month. Fifty farmers a week leave the land. That has been happening since 1980. We know from research carried out at the university in Aberystwyth that 15,000 people in Wales are expected to leave the land in the next five years. That is not satisfactory. I wonder whether the Government have an adequate agricultural policy to tackle those problems. Also, 4,112 businesses in Wales have gone into receivership in the past 12 months and 2,000 people have become bankrupt. That is a 92 per cent. increase over the previous year. Mortgage repossessions have already been mentioned.
There is tremendous pressure for an announcement before the election on the reorganisation of local government in Wales. I counsel the Government to take a longer and harder look at that matter, whatever the colour of the Government after the general election. Such a decision cannot be taken rapidly. I cannot understand why there is no independent commission to make recommendations to the Government of the day, based on an objective assessment of the needs of local government in Wales. If we are to have unitary authorities, they should be allied to a Welsh assembly. To have unitary authorities without a Welsh assembly does not add up to a logical policy.
The danger is that we could have many small unitary authorities being exploited by the Government of the day because they will not be strong, whereas, if there were a Welsh assembly, we could have a proper structure and a proper strategic body which could democratically allocate and sort out priorities. In local government, we need democracy and we need accountability from democracy. The cost implications also must be taken into account.
We in Wales live in a wonderful country. The people are friendly—probably the most friendly people in the United Kingdom. They have wit, humour, imagination and inventiveness in the workplace.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and the Welsh Office on setting up in Brussels an office for Wales in the past week. That was long overdue, but it shows the way that Wales is going in its relationships with the European Community. Wales will become more important in those relationships. We need to look with imagination to the future for Wales. I believe that it is optimistic if the people are given the reins of more power to exercise their undoubted abilities.
Mr John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)
I take this opportunity to bring to the attention of all Welsh Members a problem that has arisen recently and affects us all. It relates to one of the long-standing Welsh economic success stories—the banana trade between Wales and the eastern Caribbean islands, the Windward islands. I have spoken on the subject on a number of occasions. Until recently, we thought that we had achieved considerable success in persuading the Government that certain steps should be taken to secure preferential access for Afro-Caribbean and Pacific bananas into not only the United Kingdom market but the European market. Until 20 December 1991, we thought that we were well on course in achieving that.
The Government produced a paper in March 1990, setting down proposals for dealing with our former colonial suppliers under the single European market. That working paper was unacceptable and the Government withdrew it. I believe that Ministers agreed that a new formula had to be found to guarantee the supply of bananas from the Windward islands in particular and from Afro-Caribbean and Pacific countries into Europe. They were moving toward a formula that would guarantee a quota on fruit coming into the European Community, a tariff on the price from major competitors in central and south America, and the ability of suppliers to get licences also to deal in fruit from central and south America.
In December, the Secretary-General of the general agreement on tariffs and trade organisation, Mr. Dunkel, produced a paper which he thought would offer a resolution to the Uruguay round of the GATT talks which would satisfy everybody. To my horror and to the horror of many hon. Members, he suggested that the banana should be included for the first time—it was never mentioned before—in the GATT round of talks, which completely cut across the steps that we had taken, in the right direction, in protecting those markets.
What are the consequences of our failing to find a solution that protects the traditional market for Wales? The port of Barry in my constituency is the home of Geest Banana Co. That prestigious and successful company imports 55 per cent. or therabouts of all the bananas that come into the United Kingdom. We are major banana consumers. In fact, we consume almost 500,000 tonnes of bananas a year. On average, every man, woman and child in the United Kingdom eats a banana once a week. One can do some quite marvellous things with bananas.
Only last night, I had the pleasure of going to a small but excellent restaurant in Waterloo, called South of the Border, and ate a Bali banana, which was a banana baked in pastry and served as an entree—absolutely wonderful. It is a beautiful fruit; it is part of our staple diet.
If we do not find a solution to the problem, Geest may no longer be able to operate from the port of Barry and may no longer remain the biggest importer of that fruit from the Windward islands. For Wales it will mean the loss of a substantial number of jobs—approximately 300 direct and indirect jobs. It will also mean the loss of a very successful company, the Barry Stevedores Co., which was set up two years ago. It is one of the most successful co-operatives and it depends on that trade. It will also mean a loss of prestige. When the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) was Lord President of the Council, he fondly recalled seeing the great banana boats going in and out of Barry bay. We may never see them again. That would be tragic not just for me, because it is my constituency, but for all hon. Members, because of that great Welsh tradition.
That trade has provided an historic link with the Windward islands. They are almost entirely dependent on the banana trade not only for their economic survival but for their social survival. If they lose access to the United Kingdom markets, it is almost certain that political chaos will reign in those countries, as they depend on the income from banana exports, which ranges from about 35 per cent. of the income of the smaller eastern Caribbean islands to 55 per cent. That could be lost overnight.
I discovered another disturbing feature when I recently had the opportunity to visit the islands and speak to the political leaders about their anxiety at the failure to reach an agreement for 1 January 1993, when the single European market comes into force. It took me by surprise. Until now, we have believed, and in speeches made in the House it has been pointed out, that if the Windward islands and other eastern Caribbean islands could not produce a legitimate cash crop of bananas, there is a danger that they might turn to producing illegal crops. On a weekly basis they have paid for 50,000 producers who own small plots of land. The danger is that they might start to grow ganja and export it to Europe and north America to substitute for a legitimate income.
The position is worse than that. The greatest fear is not that ganja will be grown and exported from the islands. The greater fear is that cocaine will be taken from Venezuela and Colombia to the islands, which will be used as trans-shipment areas for the European and north American drug markets. Dame Eugenia Charles told me, "The Europeans face a choice. They either continue to buy our bananas or their children may well buy cocaine that comes through these islands." We need to bear that in mind when considering the implications of our trade arrangements.
We also have a moral obligation to the Windward islands. I was delighted to extend civic and cultural links between Wales and the eastern Caribbean when I visited the islands. We should remember that the islands were former colonies of Britain. We encouraged them to produce bananas from the 1950s onwards. To that extent, we made them dependent on that fruit and, for many years, we benefited.
It is possible to buy bananas much more cheaply from the big multinationals such as Chiquita. Such bananas are grown on massive plantations on the large plains of central and south America. Cheap and sometimes slave labour is used to produce those bananas. The multinationals dominate the world market. So those of us who believe that, where appropriate, competition is a good thing see that if the multinationals are allowed to dominate the European market, which is the second largest in the world, there will be no competition whatever. The fruit from the West Indies is a different type of fruit. Its quality is superior to the bland and starchy, large, uniform in size and always unnatural in colour dollar banana, as it is called.
I wish to draw to the notice of the House the reason why I am so worried. All the other countries in the European Community—they have various arrangements and we must find a standard and universal formula—have agreed to object to including bananas in the Dunkel text in the GATT round. France, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain have objected. The only country that has not done so is the United Kingdom. I ask the Secretary of State to consider speaking to his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and to plead with them to insist that the banana is taken out of GATT.
Mr Gwilym Jones (Cardiff North)
I agree with what the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) said. In Cardiff we all know the importance of Geest. One of my good supporters is a master mariner, Captain Clive Jenkins. We have been in correspondence recently. I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I hope that an appropriate solution will be found to maintain the important banana trade through the port of Barry.
I was delighted to have the opportunity to listen to what may have been the last speech in Parliament of my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer). I have always listened with interest to his speeches. They are a touch cynical, well considered and most compassionate. I often fancy that it is a pity that his talents were not better recognised and that at least some of his years were not spent on the Treasury Bench rather than the Back Bench. Had he been one of our Welsh Office Ministers during the past 13 years, our progress in Wales would have been more interesting and, I am sure, enriched.
I started my day this morning by listening to the radio. I was saddened to hear that our local councils in Wales have the worst record on community charge increases this year. From a study by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, I understand that councils are increasing the community charge by 11 per cent. in England, by more in Scotland, and by an average of 24 per cent. in Wales.
Mr Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth)
Will the hon. Gentleman be precise? The study did not say that the Welsh result was the worst. It said that it was the highest, and it blamed the Government for that.
Mr Gwilym Jones (Cardiff North)
I leave the hon. Gentleman to develop his own argument, if he can, on that one.
Welsh local councils have produced the worst increases in the community charge. Perhaps we have been fooling ourselves by saying that, with only one or two exceptions, we have more moderate councils in Wales and that the most extreme left-wing councils are in England. An increase in community charges twice as bad as that in England suggests that that is wrong.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State certainly must maintain his capping powers to deal with local councils in Wales, for that is the last defence of the people of Wales against an extreme council. I know that it will not come to pass, but I am appalled at the prospect that if a Labour Government were elected, they would scrap the capping powers. My constituents in Cardiff, North would probably see the community charge double within weeks. South Glamorgan council, which is acknowledged as the most left-wing in Wales, has already published its intention to spend an extra £25 million over and above that which has already been agreed under the standard spending assessment.
Since we had our last St. David's day debate, VAT has been increased by 2·5 per cent. That has mitigated the community charge, especially in Wales. It is my personal preference that a greater contribution should be made by VAT. That is fairer as it is linked with ability to pay far more than mere possession of a house is.
I understand those who point out that the Government provide 93 per cent. of the spending by local councils in Wales. I understand when people in Wales say that it might be time to scrap the last 7 per cent. so that all spending by local councils is financed by the Treasury. That would be regrettable, but if it came to pass the councils would have only themselves to blame.
Happily, the reform of the financing of local councils has been resolved. As the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) said, there are now great expectations in Wales for the reform of the structure of local councils. There is little love for large, remote councils. I was most interested to receive from the Welsh Counties Committee this week a document costing the administration of councils. It said that when authorities in Wales reach a size of 50,000 in population terms there is little difference in the cost of administering those councils.
In the same document, anxiety is expressed that if we had smaller councils some of them might have to rely to an extent on joint services. I have it on the authority of the chief executive of Cardiff city council, who has put this into perspective, that an average council in Wales employing a staff of 1,300 would need to have only 20 staff contracted or engaged in joint functions. Of course, that does not apply to Cardiff, the capital city of Wales. I shall not pursue my wish to see the capital city expand. That is a consideration for the future. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has to consider all the representations that he has received about local councils in Wales, but I look forward to the earliest pronouncement from him. I want to see Cardiff made into a real capital again. I want it once more to be an independent capital city of Wales without an artificial tier of local government above it. To me, that is real devolution in Wales.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was too diplomatic. I shall pursue his argument as to why the Labour party is scared to face devolution. Why can we not have a Welsh Grand Committee in the capital city of Wales? That would be the right place to hold such an important debate, and I claim credit for suggesting that at the last sitting of the Committee. Indeed, I have gone further than that and approached the Lord Mayor of Cardiff. The city hall is available, and it would be a perfect place to stage the debate.
Mr Gwilym Jones (Cardiff North)
On more than one day, but if that does not suit the Labour party I have an alternative. I spoke to the managing director of HTV and suggested a television debate so that the people of Wales could watch it, and he readily agreed to host such a debate. That is another opportunity, if only Labour were not scared of facing it. I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State suggested that the Leader of the Opposition should answer the debate. Clearly, the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) is ducking and dodging the issue.
I suggest that my right hon. Friend should go a stage further. I know that the matter was touched on in business questions today, but let us put a motion on the Order Paper to enable a sitting of the Welsh Grand Committee. Let my right hon. Friend take the initiative. Let us call Labour's bluff. If the Labour party stopped the motion going through, the matter would be resolved. The people of Wales would realise that the Labour party is stopping us having that debate.
The city of Cardiff is very much a city of enterprise. That is how it was built. It was once the second busiest port in the world, and the busiest coal port. Sadly, that was in its heyday and is no longer the case. However, we have exciting plans to redevelop the south of Cardiff.
Mr Gwilym Jones (Cardiff North)
I cannot give way as I am under a time constraint.
The Cardiff bay barrage would totally transform our city. It would be a major environmental improvement and also an important flood defence. It would recoup the investment involved and generate up to 30,000 new jobs. It is a wonderful example of team work. Under the leadership of the Welsh Office, all political parties in Cardiff are happy for the scheme to progress. I understand that the Labour party has produced a new statement of its policies for Wales—it may have been entitled "Opportunity Wales"—but that this contained no mention of Cardiff bay and the redevelopment. How could that have been left out? It is too great an opportunity to be omitted by any responsible political party. I fear that there is only one reason: Labour is moving towards total opposition to the redevelopment of south Cardiff. If so, at the very least Opposition Members should be honest and say so. They will pay dearly in Cardiff if they do not continue to be positive supporters of those most exciting plans, which will benefit not only Cardiff but a wider area of south Wales. That is the positive way forward for our capital city and for the rest of Wales.
I am disappointed. All that I have heard from the Opposition today has been doom and gloom. The shadow Secretary of State made one pronouncement—that he would imitate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in introducing a Welsh language Bill. What agenda was he offering the people of Wales when he knows that there will be an election within a few short weeks? He can offer no alternative—or rather, I know the alternative: high tax, high interest rates, and high inflation. That is what the people of Wales would pay if we took that alternative. It would mean 19 per cent. more taxation on those who create jobs in Wales. As if that were not enough, it would also mean £20 more taxation a week on the average family and 9 per cent. more on savings. Up would go mortgages and inflation.
The alternative being offered to the people of Wales by the Opposition is like the Bourbons of France: they learn nothing and they forget nothing. I conclude by paraphrasing Oscar Wilde: it is the unelectable offering us the unendurable.
Mr Martyn Jones (Clwyd South West)
My area is suffering from the Government-created recession in the same way that many other hon. Members have outlined—with factory closures, homelessness, decaying schools and public transport cuts.
As a large part of my area is rural, many of the effects of the slump are hidden. Rural areas depend largely on farming for their culture and viability and it needs to be at least marginally profitable. As we have heard from other hon. Members, there is a crisis in farming. Farm incomes are at their lowest level in real terms since the second world war. Every month, 1,000 jobs in agriculture are being shed. More than 50 farmers a week have been leaving the land since 1980.
On top of the severe cuts in agricultural support, British farmers have had to cope with high United Kingdom interest rates, damaging food scares and UK regulations which are especially stringent and which have put British farmers at a disadvantage compared with their continental neighbours. The level of farm debt is £7·4 billion, which is twice the level of 1981.
Uncertainty about the future is undermining many farmers, and in the present policy climate it is virtually impossible to plan ahead. We must acknowledge that farming needs at least five years of stability to plan for the future.
Investment is falling, and young people are leaving the industry. Although the number of people directly employed in agriculture has been falling, farming provides the backbone of the rural economy in my area. In addition to farmers, farm workers and their families, people are also employed in related service and supply trades, and all of them depend on a healthy farming industry for their livelihood. If farming is allowed to deteriorate any further in rural areas, the effects will be felt far beyond the farm gate.
As time is short, I must turn to another important subject, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some news tonight. Although rural areas have problems, it is still a joy to represent a beautiful part of the beautiful country of Wales, and to represent Llangollen, which is a beautiful town and has the distinction of being the base for the international Eisteddfod. I have the dubious distinction of being as old as the Eisteddfod, since it started in 1947.
Thanks to Clwyd county council being successful in obtaining project of regional and national importance—PRNI—approval for a permanent pavilion on that site, we have a unique opportunity to produce something which will benefit Wales and the world. The Eisteddfod is a wonderful institution which has had effects throughout the world for the past 45 years.
Mr Martyn Jones (Clwyd South West)
It should be encouraged, and I know that the Secretary of State agrees, as I see him nodding.
I am sure that he is aware that, in addition to the PRNI approval for £2·1 million to build the pavilion, the Friends of Llangollen have raised about £500,000, which is a tremendous feat at a time when many people are suffering from compassion fatigue from all kinds of worthy projects. In addition to the £500,000, there has been support from Glyndwr and the Wales tourist board. The total project cost has been taken to £3·1 million.
The project has also benefited from a grant from the European Community to the value of £1 million towards the cost. Until now, that was the maximum that could be spent on the development. However I have been told that, since 1 January, there are new rules. I hope that that means that we can obtain European development funding for the money that the Friends of Llangollen have raised. There is a slight problem and I hope that the Minister will he able to help.
Mr David Hunt (Wirral West)
I must tell the hon. Gentleman that Clwyd county council has not formally approached my Department, but our respective officials have discussed the matter and perceive no difficulties at all.
Mr Martyn Jones (Clwyd South West)
I shall not endorse the churlish comments that my hon. Friend is making, no matter what I think.
I am delighted to hear that assurance from the Secretary of State and thank him whole-heartedly, but it has destroyed the rest of my speech. However, I shall carry on regardless, because it is worth explaining how such private funding can attract money from Europe. In itself, that is a good thing. I take it that the Secretary of State will agree to the possibility of transferring some capital allowance to cover the 12 months before we receive the money from Europe.
Clwyd county council is supporting another project delayed under the PRNI rules. At St. Asaph business park, there has been financial slippage and, although the county council has not applied, I understand that the Secretary of State would consider that application favourably. That would be wonderful as it would allow the pavilion to be brought up to standard while the contractors are on site. It is a genuine project of regional, national, and probably international importance. It will serve the people of Wales and the world for a long time to come.
I look forward to July, when I hope to visit the site as, I fondly hope, the Member of Parliament for that constituency. I want to see the project come to fruition, with all the necessary seating, toilet facilities and groundworks, which have not been done until now. It will be a fitting setting for the Llangollen Eisteddfod and for the music and the international camaraderie that that engenders. The people of the world will see that Wales can put such a project together. It will be a setting for the Eisteddfod for the next 45 years and I hope to be able to go there on my birthday in 45 years' time. In fact, I may even make the centenary.
I thank the Secretary of State once again for destroying my speech and giving Clwyd county council the ability to complete a worthwhile project.
Mr Huw Edwards (Monmouth)
Given what the Secretary of State offered to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones), if he is prepared to grant assisted area status to Monmouth immediately, I shall not continue my speech.
Mr Huw Edwards (Monmouth)
Clearly, the Secretary of State will not do that. Therefore, I shall continue with my speech.
It is a privilege to contribute to the debate on Wales, which traditionally takes place on or near St. David's day. I have attended and have read the Hansard reports of those debates for a number of years, and it is a privilege to take part this year.
I represent a constituency that, historically, was not alway a part of Wales and it is one of the most anglicised areas of Wales. I noted what the Secretary of State said about the introduction of a Welsh language Bill and I welcome that. I am sure that he will also welcome the proposal to introduce a Welsh medium school in Abergavenny, which I hope will be implemented in the next year or so. The Secretary of State has acknowledged that, in my constituency, there is some anxiety about Welsh appearing in the national curriculum. I wish to convey those anxieties.
I hope that it is possible to attract, naturally, Welsh-speaking teachers to Gwent to involve them in the implementation of the language programme there.
Issues relating to the economy, the environment and public services are causing great concern in my constituency. I cannot deny that, traditionally, Monmouth has been one of the more affluent areas of Wales, but, in common with many other areas, it has been hit by the recession. I have had meetings with the Abergavenny chamber of trade and the Monmouth chamber of commerce and I have heard business people express their anxieties about the recession. It is a tremendous disappointment to come across people who thought they were enjoying an economic miracle two or three years ago who now face bankruptcy or have already gone bankrupt. Such bankruptcies also cause family problems and homelessness often goes with it.
The matter of assisted area status for Monmouth has caused some controversy and I have been disappointed by some recent developments. A delegation, of which I was a member, was to meet the Secretary of State to put the strong case for assisted area status. However, Monmouth borough council received a letter from the private secretary to the Secretary of State to the effect that, as Monmouth was not going to get assisted area status, there was absolutely no point in the Secretary of State meeting that delegation. Subsequently, another announcement was made to the effect that the Secretary of State was prepared to meet a delegation that was to include the Conservative candidate for Monmouth. If this meeting produces assisted area status for Monmouth before the next election, I would be the first to congratulate the Secretary of State, but I doubt whether that will happen. The delegation, which is supposed to meet the Secretary of State 'on Monday, is disintegrating before it is even assembled. Gwent county council and Monmouth chamber of commerce have decided not to participate and I doubt whether Monmouth town council will participate. They realise that it is nothing but a political stunt. They are totally unimpressed because they can see it for what it is.
My constituents are also anxious about threats to the local environment. My constituency covers 300 sq miles encompassing part of the south Wales coalfield right down to the Severn bridge. It is one of the most beautiful areas of Wales. There is also beauty in the bleakness—for example, up near Blaenavon and Pwll Du—but opencast developments pose a serious environmental threat to those areas. I have visited other opencast developments in south Wales at Nant Helen near Glynneath and I do not want such devastation to be visited upon Abergavenny. I hope that the Secretary of State will take note of the considerable objection to the Pwll Du development and listen to the people of Clydach and Llanelly Hill who are totally opposed to it.
At the other end of my constituency is the Wye valley, which is one of the five designated areas of outstanding natural beauty in Wales. There is much concern about proposed developments in that area, which are contrary to not only the Gwent structure plan but the intention of Parliament, which was to give special protection to the area. It is a matter of great anxiety that a precedent could be set by insensitive developments in the Wye valley. Such developments could also then take place in the other areas of outstanding natural beauty, the Anglesey coast, Llyn, the Clwydian range and the Gower peninsula. There is considerable concern about any infringements in those areas.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) has announced that the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs is undertaking an inquiry into planning. There is widespread concern in my constituency about the whole planning process, much of which was revealed in an HTV documentary shortly before Christmas. The programme revealed the inconsistency, inequity and possible illegality in some of the planning applications and approvals that have been given and the way in which planning recommendations are overturned at a political whim. I am delighted that the Select Committee, of which I am a member, is undertaking that inquiry.
Wales has had a high tradition of good quality public services. The public sector in my constituency, as in many others, is by far the biggest employer, yet much of the public sector has been undermined by Conservative policies in the past 13 years.
I have spoken in the House before about the controversies affecting Nevill Hall hospital, but I will restrict my comments on that issue today to the proposal to introduce car parking charges. That proposal has absolutely outraged the people of Abergavenny and all who travel from the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot)—many members of staff as well as patients come from his area to Nevill Hall—and elsewhere to the hospital.
The staff, patients, visitors and volunteers who give up their time to work in the hospital are outraged by the proposal. They say that the imposition of parking charges would infringe the principle of a free national health service. They see no support for the idea in the patients charter and they are bitterly opposed to it. They hope that such charges will not be implemented at Nevill Hall or any other hospital in Wales.
I have spoken before in the House about the housing crisis in Wales. I have said previously that £741 million has accrued from the sale of council houses in district authorities in Wales in the past 10 years and that it is a public scandal. I think I see the Under-Secretary shaking his head in dissent. Not only has that money not been devoted to the provision of housing, but even parliamentary answers have not explained what has happened to that money.
Mr Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
The sum of £741 million represents total receipts over the past 10 years. Most of that money has been spent by local authorities in credit approvals for local government expenditure on all sorts of capital projects. I have made it clear at Question Time in response to the hon. Gentleman that local authorities can use 25 per cent. for housing and the other 75 per cent. for capital redemption against credit approvals. If he does not understand that, he should not be in the House.
Mr Huw Edwards (Monmouth)
Redeeming debt is not as high a priority as housing homeless people, and there is a growing crisis of homeless people in all our constituencies. If the Minister does not believe that, he should have been with me a few days ago when I went around the Rother estate in Abergavenny. The people in those council houses are appalled at the idea of there being no prospect of their children finding local authority housing. There is nothing that they can buy in the private market and very little for them to rent in the housing association sector.
My constituency comprises many people of moderate means. They appreciate what has happened in the past 12 years, which is why last May they elected a Labour Member. I am confident that I shall have the privilege of representing them after the next general election.
Mr Keith Raffan (Delyn)
The Welsh day debate is the highlight of the parliamentary year for the Principality. It is one of the far too few occasions when Welsh matters can be debated on the Floor of the House. That is yet a further strong argument why we need another debating forum for Welsh affairs. We need one not just as an all-Wales strategic tier on top of the unitary authorities, which I hope we will shortly have, but because there is such inadequate debate of Welsh matters in this House—far more inadequate than the debate of Scottish issues.
I wish to look beyond the dying embers of this Parliament to the issues that will dominate the next Parliament. As I shall not be a Member of it, I thought that I would have my say now. Two related issues are likely to dominate that Parliament. The first is the ever closer union of Europe, political and economic, and the second is constitutional change in the United Kingdom. Both are inevitable. Foolish men may try to resist the tide of history, but ultimately it will overwhelm them.
I am a committed, indeed passionate, European who is strongly in favour of further European integration. Those opposed to European unity tend to use the one word "sovereignty" as their ammunition. They seldom define what they mean by it. In the dictionary or thesaurus sense, sovereignty as
supreme and independent power, free from external control",
no longer exists.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), by taking us into the EEC in 1973, conceded sovereignty. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher)—perhaps she would not care to remember it now as one of the most illustrious achievements of her distinguished career—agreed to the single market in 1985, she did the same and ceded further sovereignty. The present Prime Minister, in his former incarnation as Chancellor of the Exchequer, by joining the exchange rate mechanism in 1991, merged our sovereignty with that of our European partners by tying sterling more closely to their currencies.
Sovereignty is not a symbol to be worshipped from afar, an indissoluble whole which can only be preserved intact. It is a commodity to be bartered, ceded, pooled and shared in the interests of the people, for their economic benefit and well-being. There is no realism in speaking of sovereignty as sacrosanct when our interest rates are directly affected—some might even say dictated—by the Bundesbank, and when our economic affairs are so strongly influenced by German wage claims and the cost of German unification.
I believe that sovereignty will come back to us with a single currency. At least we shall have a seat on the board of a European central bank. No wonder the Bundesbank —my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley too casually ignores this—is so guarded about monetary union. It foresees a loss of power and sovereignty.
I contend that there is no fear among the Welsh people at a loss of sovereignty in the cause of European union. Indeed, long ago the people of Wales largely lost sovereignty to Whitehall and Westminster, and I tend to agree with them that it might be better to lose it even further afield—further afield geographically—but to a place that is more sensitive to their needs and aspirations.
We in Wales see ever-closer union with Europe not as a threat but as an opportunity. It will give us a chance to come out of the shadow of our larger neighbour and vigorously to reassert our own identity within a Europe of the regions. Wales within Europe, just like Scotland within Europe—those concepts have an understandable appeal. The Government must recognise that appeal and respond to it.
On the European issue, my party is still resisting the tide of history, though less fiercely than it did before. It is also still out of tune, though less than previously under my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley, with the mood of the moment. We say that our place is at the heart of Europe, yet we have not learnt the lesson of our delayed entry. We should be in the vanguard, but we are still in the rear. We are still dragging our feet.
It is a matter of great sadness to many of our European partners—I was speaking yesterday to some distinguished representatives of Spain—that we are not in the vanguard. They want us to be fully committed to, enthusiastic and wholehearted about, the Community—right at the heart of it—not just saying we are there but effectively acting there to counterbalance the increasing power of a resurgent Germany.
The European and constitutional issues are closely related. There is a delicious irony in the fact that the British Government, in the European context, is fiercely fighting against the centralisation of power in Brussels, while in the United Kingdom context they are determined to retain power in the centre, here in Whitehall and at Westminster. Britain is the largest unitary state in the world, apart from Japan. It is extremely centralised, even more so than France in practice. But we have already modified the supremacy of Parliament to accommodate the upward flow of power to Brussels. Why can we not also modify it in the opposite direction, by devolving power downwards? Indeed, devolution could offer the opportunity of an effective counterbalance to centralised decision-making in Brussels.
The principle of subsidiarity, to which we are committed at the European level, is equally valid within the United Kingdom. In a lecture to the Conservative party conference entitled "Conservatism in the 1990s", my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who is perhaps one of the Cabinet's more adventurous thinkers, said:
In a more and more complex world, devolving decisions to the lowest level strikes me as a sensible precept. That is the approach that we have been pursuing at home, in health, in education and in housing. It makes good sense for Europe as well.
If it makes good sense in health, education, housing, and Europe, why not also for United Kingdom government?
The dispersal of power has been a central concern of political philosophers since Aristotle. Devolution as a concept is a particular British contribution to politics. It first appeared in a speech in the House in 1774 by Mr. Edmund Burke on the subject of American taxation. Burke is not normally thought of as an extreme, radical thinker out of sympathy with Conservatism. He attempted to show that it was possible to reconcile American demands for local autonomy with imperial power centred in Britain. American legislators would have the freedom to decide domestic policies while being subordinate to the imperial Parliament.
When preparing his first home rule Bill, Gladstone—and I am sorry to have to tell this to the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells)—did not resort to the tomes of distinguished Liberal political thinkers but went straight to the speeches of Edmund Burke, studied them closely, and remarked that they were
a mine of gold for the political wisdom with which they are charged.
Gladstone was also influenced by his political mentor, Sir Robert Peel—founder of the modern Conservative party —and his conviction that our institutions could be successfully adapted to the needs of a particular time.
Devolution is not therefore alien to Conservatism but an innate part of it. Gladstone concluded:
the concession of local self-government is not the way to sap or impair, but the way to strengthen and consolidate unity. Such a policy is eminently a Conservative policy.
That is why I find it so surprising that members of my own Front Bench do not acknowledge that devolution as a concept and policy has distinguished Conservative antecedents, indeed originated with Conservative political thinkers.
If in the view of Ministers the case for constitutional change is unproven, they should explain in detail why they think it is. It is not enough for them to dismiss the question with tabloid slogans or historical quotations, for that will only diminish their reputations. They must heed the mood for change and respond to it. They cannot ignore or dismiss it.
No party which is so lamentably weak as ours is in representation in Scotland and in the Principality and which has gone—I nearly used the word "run", but I respect my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State too much—to England for its last two Secretaries of State can afford to do other than to take the issue seriously and debate it fully.
There must be an end to the current intellectual inertia on this side of the House on the issue of constitutional change. If there is not, I fear for the future of the Conservative party in Wales after the next general election. Our moral authority to govern Wales with a handful of Members of Parliament will be gravely, if not fatally, undermined and we will find ourselves facing a constitutional crisis—a crisis of our own making.
Mr Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
Although I recognise that the Welsh environment is improving in many respects, it would be a dereliction of duty not to point to a number of serious problems that have yet to be overcome. I refer first to water quality. Ministers trumpet readily enough that the privatisation of the water industry has resulted in the availability of more investment than the Government themselves were prepared to make. However, throughout the 1980s, the Government gave a low priority to the quality of drinking water and of our waterways, which affected our coastline. Despite the belated efforts to tackle pollution in Wales, serious problems remain.
The Government are also bold to declaim the powers and effectiveness of the National Rivers Authority, yet it is not given the money that it considers necessary to do its job. In the 1980s, for the first time in 50 years, river water quality in Wales deteriorated. Even more worrying is the increase in pollution incidents throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. In 1990, there were 2,707, and that is not good enough.
Worse still, such incidents result in few prosecutions —and when they are successfully brought, only pitiful fines are imposed. In the two years that Welsh Water has been in existence, it has been fined for 17 pollution incidents a sum of only just over £18,000. In the first year of its existence, it made profits of £120 million; and in the first six months of its second year in operation, the company made profits of more than £60 million. The fines imposed on Welsh Water, therefore, represent no kind of penalty. In fact, it is cheaper for a company to pollute the aquatic environment than to meet the cost of 100 per cent. pollution prevention.
Mr Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
When Labour was last in power, it cut investment in the water industry by 50 per cent. It is hypocritical of the hon. Gentleman to criticise this Government, who established the National Rivers Authority, which has a budget of £431 million for Wales this year. This Government also increased water pollution fines tenfold in the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Welsh Water has already done tremendous work, and the National Rivers Authority is working hard—and this year the quality of water in Welsh rivers actually improved.
Mr Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
The Minister's panegyrics on the quality of Welsh water and the work of the NRA run counter to certain facts. It is indisputable that Welsh Water was fined only £18,000 for 17 pollution incidents and that the quality of Welsh river water has deteriorated over the past decade. It is also indisputable that NRA funding is less than the minimum that it considers necessary to do its job properly.
Let me remind the Minister that, in October 1991, the Government announced a 12 per cent. cut in funding for the National Rivers Authority; and that, in November, it was announced that, in the 1992–93 financial year, the NRA would receive £15 million less than—in the NRA's view—it needed to do even the minimum to improve water quality.
I emphasise that point because, very often, a single incident of pollution can utterly destroy life in a river. It is important to enter into the minds and the culture of those on Welsh Water, and other companies whose industrial emissions end up in our rivers. In any one year, a single incident of pollution is one too many; and the record of the first two years of the 1990s does not bode well for the rest of the decade.
It is not only the aquatic environment that is threatened. Although considerable improvements were made in the 1960s and 1970s, our air quality is now in danger. The Government are not committed to the European Community standard, which requires the stabilising of carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. They appear to be prepared to countenance air pollution simply because other countries are not willing to take action. They have put it on record that they do not intend to meet the stabilisation target unless other countries do the same. If we do not give a lead, however, how can we expect others to commit themselves?
I believe that the quality of the Welsh environment is too important to be left to the decision-making powers of an American President. We need to take a lead for ourselves, and, if necessary, to show the Americans the way. I am sure that, once they had perceived the significant advantages to he gained from commitment to the lowering of pollution levels, they would follow suit.
The sooner such madcap schemes as the burning of orimulsion down in Pembroke are jettisoned, the better. It would be welcome to hear from the Minister that, unless full anti-pollution measures are adopted, that scheme will not get off the ground. Without such measures, I believe that it should be shelved.
Mr Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
A Welsh day debate is a bit of a stock-taking exercise. It is difficult, in the space of 10 minutes, to deliver a full audit on developments in Wales and the effect of Government policies there.
The future is mixed: there is good news and bad news. There have been welcome developments over the past year, and even over the past few months. We should welcome wholeheartedly developments involving factories and other aspects of industry, whose significance far exceeds their scale. The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) is trying to introduce a measure to allow the Wales tourist board to export work overseas to bring people to Wales. That measure has all-party support, and is long overdue. Last week, the Welsh Development Agency and Welsh local authorities jointly opened an office in Brussels. Many of us have canvassed for such an office for a long time, and it will have an important role to play.
Nevertheless, some aspects of the present position cause considerable worry. An obvious example is unemployment, which has increased by 30 per cent. over the past 12 months. There are unemployment blackspots throughout Wales. Let us take the south Pembrokeshire figures, which should be close to the heart of the Under-Secretary of State. Not only are they high now; they are projected to reach even higher levels—disastrously high, following the closures at Trecwn and Brawdy. In the valleys—in the Cynon valley, for instance—unemployment is unacceptably high, as it is in rural Wales. In south Cardiganshire, in my constituency, and in Holyhead, something needs to be done about the level of unemployment. Indeed, that applies in every part of Wales—north, south, east and west.
The other major problem facing ordinary people in Wales, especially those who cannot get a job, is their inability to obtain housing. Someone who cannot afford to buy will have precious little hope of being able to rent in the present circumstances. Council housing stock has declined; much of it has been sold off. I understand the policy involved, and I understand people's wish to buy their houses, but the stock has not been replaced. There is a waiting list of 60,000 in Wales, and nearly 10,000 people are homeless.
In a civilised society, that is unacceptable. If people cannot obtain jobs or houses, what are we doing to our country? The Government should admit that the problems are serious and must be tackled.
There are also problems in the health sector. I was pleased to hear from the Secretary of State that, during the coming year, the provision of a hospital to serve east Dwyfor and north Meirionnydd will go ahead. I hope that the other community hospitals that are needed in Gwynedd and elsewhere will also receive the resources that they need: without Government money, such projects cannot proceed.
Challenges exist in health care, education, the environment—we heard about that a moment ago—employment and housing. I now wish, however, to address two of the themes that the Secretary of State introduced. It appears that, at long last, a new Welsh language Bill is to be introduced. I accept that the Secretary of State has been in possession of the draft of the Welsh Language Board's most recent version for only a little over 12 months; however, the subject has been under Welsh Office scrutiny for the best part of six years. I remember attending a meeting in October 1986, with Lord Prys-Davies, the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) and Mr. Nicholas Edwards, then Secretary of State. Work has been in progress ever since, and it is time that we saw some action.
The question is: what sort of action will we see? What will the Bill contain? It is not enough to legislate for the sake of legislating; we must get things done. The Welsh language faces challenges that must be dealt with.
In an earlier intervention, I cited the position of a defendant in a court case who wanted to speak Welsh. In years gone by, how many people who were not very good at expressing themselves in English—if, indeed, they could speak it at all—have appeared before the courts, and have not been able to testify in their own language? How many innocent people have gone to prison, or even lost their lives, for that reason? I do not pretend that that happens now, but the fact remains that the defendant in a case is the person on whom the maximum pressure is exerted. If defendants wish their cases to be heard in Welsh, they should be able to do so. It is a question of linguistic rights.
Equally, if a defendant's evidence is to be heard and understood by the jury, it must not be heard in translation. The nuances, the emotion and the uncertainties must be heard and felt first hand.
I understand that, in some parts of Wales, the shortage of Welsh speakers would make random jury selection impossible. In other parts, however, that is patently possible. Cases should be heard in Welsh in areas in which Welsh is spoken. There are centres within travelling distance where that can be done: Cardiff, for example, can serve a catchment area in Glamorgan and Gwent.
Today, 800 people have demonstrated in Swansea because of the inability to provide Welsh language education in that city and the area surrounding it. That should be a basic education right for people who want their children to be educated using the Welsh language. The people of Swansea have lost the opportunity for generations to be educated by means of the Welsh language because provision for it has not been made.
Will the Bill address that question? Will it ensure that equal validity is a meaningful concept? Will it ensure that an individual filling in a form can choose to fill it in either in Welsh or in English? It is official bilingualism that makes equal validity meaningful to the consumer, to whom the Secretary of State referred in his speech.
If people working in Welsh factories who speak Welsh find that somebody tells them that they cannot speak in their own language to their fellow workers on the factory floor, will the Bill stop that discrimination? Will it make that discrimination, which has happened year after year in Wales, illegal? When the Government introduce the Bill —if they have the opportunity to do so after the election —that is one of the issues that we shall consider.
I was under the impression that there was to be a debate in the Welsh Grand Committee, sitting in the capital city of Cardiff, on the government of Wales. I understand, though, that there is some doubt about that. It appears that all that the Government have to do is to lay an order. Those who do not want a debate to take place on the important question of the government of Wales should speak up and be identified. I do not know which party is creating difficulties. Certainly it is not my party. If those who do not want self-government for Wales fail to turn up in Cardiff, having been challenged to do so, so be it. Those who are concerned about the future government of Wales should be allowed to put forward their ideas so that they can be thrashed out before the general election. Then there will be an opportunity for a real debate during the election campaign.
Opinion polls published this week show that there is a majority of two to one in favour of an elected, all-Wales body and that that majority increases to 70:30 if a similar proposal for Scotland—some form of Scottish parliament —were put forward. That 70:30 figure shows a majority in favour of the proposition in north, mid and south Wales among the elderly, the middle aged and young people and that majority includes people from every political party, including Conservative voters in Wales. It is time that the message got home if a proper balance is to be secured within the European structure to which the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) referred.
We have to think of Wales, Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom as part of a united Europe, if there is to be a meaningful relationship between Wales and the committee for the regions. The Secretary of State has not said whether there will be Welsh representatives on that committee and how many seats Wales will have. These are important questions. Without an all-Wales level of government, Welsh voices will have no legitimacy in Europe and there will be no democracy in Wales.
The unpalatable truth for the Secretary of State and for the others who sit on the Treasury Bench is that never since 1868 have the Conservatives had a majority of seats in Wales. They do not have a legitimate right to govern Wales. The time has come to allow the people of Wales to have a voice in the government of their own affairs and to decide on the social and economic priorities for Wales. Wales needs a Chamber that can devote all the time that is necessary to the problems that face our country and that can devise policies which meet the aspirations of our people. That is the challenge that faces the Conservative Government and every party in the House. They must come clean and be open about what is being offered to the people of Wales. They must move towards that goal.
Mr Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff West)
The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and many others referred to the clean-up of government in Wales. A corrupt system of quangos now governs Wales. The members of those quangos are mates of the Secretary of State for Wales. He staffs all the quangos of Wales with his mates. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) said that he envisaged devolution as single-tier authorities, roughly similar to the present districts. He says that that is the sort of devolution that Wales wants, but he forgets that Wales already has a great deal of devolution. The problem is that it is not democratic devolution. We have devolution by quango, by nomination and by patronage. Such devolution permits the Secretary of State to put Tory rejects—people rejected by the Welsh electorate—or Tory trainees—people who are going to be rejected by the Welsh electorate at the next election—on quangos so that they can develop a little administrative or governmental experience and earn a few bob, moonlighting as it were, by means of this non-democratic form of devolution.
The people of Wales object to that. Why should a Tory Government, who are rejected by the people of Wales, run Wales through nominated bodies that the Secretary of State can use as a form of re-start scheme for semi-employed Tories who have no chance of winning elections in Wales? They obtain power that they cannot win by democratic means—through the ballot box—by means of the Secretary of State's patronage. That is a fundamentally corrupt system. Even as late as last month, with an election in the offing, the Government decided to set up yet more quangos. A higher education funding council for Wales is to be set up. Who do they put upon it? They put on it Sir Idrys Pearce—no doubt a very distinguished figure, but it is not insignificant that he was the Tory candidate for Neath in 1959. I see the Minister of State looking quizzically over his spectacles at me as though I am wrong about the identity of the gentleman concerned. I should like to think that I am wrong, so perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will get up and tell me that I am wrong. That is yet another person on a long list of people who have lost their deposit or who have lost out on being elected in Wales but have been rewarded for their loyalty to the Tory party by being made chairs or vice chairs of various bodies.
There was a day when the big five who were seen as very important to the life of Wales were the Welsh rugby selectors. People went in awe of them. That no longer applies. The big five now are those who are chairs or vice chairs of more than one quango in Wales at the same time. Those five people are John Elfed Jones, the chairman of Welsh Water which was a quango at the time although it has now been transformed into a private company; he is also on the Welsh Language Board; Dr. Gwyn Jones of the Welsh Development Agency and the BBC broadcasting council for Wales; Sir Donald Walters, the vice chair of the Welsh Development Agency and chairman of the council of University college, Cardiff; Geoffrey Inkin, chair of the Land Authority for Wales and of the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation; and Mr. John Allen, chairman of Tai Cymru, or Housing for Wales, and vice chairman, under Geoffrey Inkin, of the Land Authority for Wales. The Tories do not have all that many people to put on those quangos, so they put them on to two quangos at a time. The reason is that the Tories do not trust many people in Wales, because not many people in Wales trust the Tories. Apart from those five people, they cannot find anyone else whom they regard as trustworthy enough and safe enough to serve on quangos.
At a time when the Tory Government are so unpopular, they realise that these chaps go to the same dinner parties and therefore they form part of a little freemasonry which runs Wales, with the Secretary of State's assistance. That arrangement is about as ethical as the day Caligula appointed his horse a pro-consul in the outer reaches of the Roman empire. At the election, the people of Wales will reject what the Tories have done.
Quangos are devolution without democracy. It is high time that democracy was put into devolution. Under this extremely corrupt system, in which all those people are mates of the Secretary of State, they all throw their weight about to a completely unacceptable extent. Only last week at a meeting of the court of University college, Cardiff, complaints were made that Cardiff Bay Development Corporation was blocking a development in south Cardiff. The college is extremely keen about opening up a third campus. It wants to spend £69 million, which would create hundreds of construction jobs and hundreds of places for students in University college, Cardiff.
Of course, the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation is throwing its weight around saying, "We don't really like this." It does not have to submit that view to any open and democratic test. If it does not feel like it, it blocks it. It means that the ideal financial year has already been lost. The window during the recession would have meant that the land could be bought cheaply, cheap building contracts could be obtained, and the momentum would have got going. That would assist in the creation of those thousands of jobs in Cardiff bay to which the hon. Member for Cardiff, North referred. The reality is that the quangos are blocking those new jobs. It is the opposite of the picture that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North tried to paint.
South Glamorgan health authority is another quango run by a rejected Conservative politician, Mr. Alun Jones. He is close to the Secretary of State and is attempting to hide from the people of Cardiff, West and the rest of south Glamorgan the hidden agenda for closing Rookwood hospital—a rehabilitation hospital—the Prince of Wales Orthopaedic hospital in my constituency, and Cardiff Royal Infirmary in the constituency of the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist).
Mr Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff West)
I am sorry, but it is impossible under the 10-minutes rule.
Since Mr. Jones is a mate of the Secretary of State, the right hon. Gentleman will not let him down and announce just before the election that those hospitals are to be closed. They are major hospitals and none of them has fewer than 150 beds. We find out about the proposed closure only when a document is leaked to the local press.
The Welsh Development Agency is in an interesting state at the moment. The Public Accounts Committee is investigating how the chairman elect came to have a grant of £ 17,500. The following year the WDA made it clear that the old corn mill in Porthmadoc, for which the grant was made available under the rural conversion grant scheme, did not qualify. Two and a half years later, the chairman has started to pay back that grant. The money is being paid back only after probing by myself and investigating journalists and with the prospect of an investigation by the Public Accounts Committee. That gap of two and a half years between notification and the money being paid back would not be a privilege applying to any small private business man, but it occurs when one is a mate of the Secretary of State and attends the same dinners. There is the temptation not to obey the same rules as ordinary small business men. That is what is so appallingly corrupt. There will always be the temptation to make up the rules because the Secretary of State will offer protection. I have been told that the shredder at the Welsh Development Agency is likely to need a new motor by the end of this week. I appreciate that that was said in humour, but it is an interesting and worrying comment. I hope that it is not true, as the WDA has to produce a note for the Public Accounts Committee about what happened in the dealings between the chairman and the WDA.
Despite the blithe confidence shown by the Secretary of State in the future of the Welsh economy, a wave of bankruptcies is passing across Wales. The companies involved include Hailey Park Motors, Cladcolor Profiling, Precision Circuits in Cwmbran, Baverstock's Hotel, EC Computers in Cardiff and the Three Salmons Hotel Group. The greatest bankruptcy of all is the bankruptcy of the Government's economic policy.
Mr Raymond Powell (Ogmore)
I was tempted not to participate in this debate, because I know that many of my colleagues wish to speak and because most of my day has been spent launching the proposals for the new building in Parliament street. I should like to put on record the fact that, in the Committee dealing with phase 2 of the accommodation, we have total co-operation from Government Members. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for matters concerning Wales.
When the Secretary of State was a member of the usual channels, I always thought that he had a pleasant disposition and was above all sorts of intrigues. When he was appointed Secretary of State, I congratulated him as I had congratulated his predecessor. I congratulated his predecessor because he represents Worcester, which is where my parents were born.
Many figures for unemployment levels are bandied about. It is worth putting on record the facts since 1979. Part of the area that I represented then is now represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). The Boundary Commission decided to carve up the constituency in the hope of creating a Tory seat. For the first three or four years, that was successful, but we have changed that now, as on 9 April we intend to change many more Tory seats.
In 1979, my constituency of Ogmore had a working population of 100,000. Without all the distorted record keeping that has been imposed on us by the Tory Government, there was 3·7 per cent. unemployment. A total of 2 per cent. of that 3·7 per cent. were unemployable, as they were ex-miners suffering from silicosis or pneumoconiosis. In 1979, there were seven pits in the Ogmore constituency, employing 7,800 miners. There were many others employed in the industry, in transport and so on and in the many other industries connected with mining.
From 1979 to 1982–83, every pit in that constituency was closed. In addition, the de-manning of the steelworks at Margam, introduced by the Tory Government, led to 12,000 redundant steelworkers, most of whom were constituents of Ogmore. Within three years, 20,000 of my constituents were put out of work. Ministers continue to tell us that unemployment is low in Ogmore. Hon. Members who represent constituencies in Wales and hold surgeries there know the facts. I know that the Secretary of State cannot hold any surgeries in Wales in order to know what the people of Wales are thinking, because he does not represent a Welsh constituency.
People do not seem to recognise that Wales is represented by 26 Labour Members, six Conservative Members, three Plaid Cymru Members and three Liberal Democrats. Whenever there are negotiations on any issue, the majority party—the Labour party—should be consulted first. Instead of that, the tail is wagging the dog and occasionally shaking the dog about. The six Tory Members dominate negotiations because we have a Tory Government.
We have had a disaster in Ogmore since 1979. I have given the facts and figures, but on the broader issues we look to the experts to give us the details. The expert on housing is Shelter. No one can suggest that it is dominated solely by the Labour party or trades union movement. I am sure that the Secretary of State has received a copy of Shelter's document. It refers to the housing crisis that now affects all parts of Wales. It
estimates that 65,000 people will have experienced homelessness in one form or another in Wales in 1991"—
65,000 people homeless in Wales, not in London.
Some of us have worked as volunteers on the soup kitchens, going down to Victoria embankment at midnight to give the homeless cups of soup, chocolate or tea. I wonder whether any Minister is compassionate enough to do that. If he is, perhaps he will think about the 65,000 homeless people in Wales and the thousands of unemployed construction workers who are crying out for a job. They could easily be employed if the Government were to be more compassionate in allocating funds to enable local authorities to build council houses and to house those 65,000 homeless people.
almost one hundred thousand homes in Wales were considered unfit or lacking basic facilities in the last government survey of house conditions.
Shelter Cymru's case and enquiry statistics are one of the most complete records of housing problems in Wales. The most recent figures show: increasing young homelessness, increasing mortgage arrears and repossessions, increasing illegal evictions, increasing debt and eviction. The housing crisis can affect anyone at anytime, as just some of the enquiries on a typical day at a Shelter Cymru Housing Rights Centre show.
Mr Huw Edwards (Monmouth)
Those statistics show the housing crisis in Wales. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Secretary of State should show how each district authority in Wales is spending 25 per cent. of its capital receipts on housing? If that is what the Government claim, can they prove it?
Mr Raymond Powell (Ogmore)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who covers the point.
In my opening remarks, I referred to the Secretary of State and the compassion that I thought he had when he took office and my reasons for extending him congratulations. I regret that, since taking office, the situation has become drastically worse.
I must refer also to another document—I accept that most of its authors are members of the Labour party or affiliated to it—produced by Wales TUC: "The Training Deficit in Wales and the Wasted Talents". I do not have time to quote from it, because you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are telling me to wind up. I will do so at your request, but I urge the Secretary of State and the few Welsh Conservative Members to look at the document, which shows conclusively how ridiculous training in Wales has become and how badly we have been treated, especially in reduced funding for TECs.
Dr John Marek (Wrexham)
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) went to the root of what concerns the people of Wales before the next general election. I am a committed devolutionist, but that is not a topic on which people will decide how to vote. I urge hon. Friends who are concerned about devolution and the Welsh language not to mix them up, because if they do the cause of devolution will not be well served. It is important to keep the issues separate.
I want to concentrate on the bread-and-butter issues that concern my constituents. Brymbo steel works made a profit in each of the last 20 years of its existence, yet it was allowed to be closed down by a Conservative Administration who believe more in political dogma than common sense. United Engineering Steels will take two years to clear the site, and then there will be two or three years of opencast mining or redevelopment. It may be up to another two years before any factories appear on the site and jobs are created. That is not good enough. It will be six or seven years before another job appears on the site.
The Secretary of State has to consider that issue, which is essential to people in Brymbo. It is now a dismal place. The ISERBS payments have run out. People do not have money and cannot go out in the evening or be social. The situation will worsen as redundancy payments run out. So far, the Government have not given any hint of anything better to come.
After the general election, my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) will be Secretary of State. I shall look to him to ensure that United Engineering Steels does not take two years to clear off the site. It should take two weeks or perhaps four weeks. We want some action, and I would prefer action by the Conservative Administration in the time that they have left.
There have been developments in the past 13 years of Conservative rule, but they have been rather second-class. The A55 dual carriageway is not finished. It has dangerous junctions where one can turn right against oncoming traffic. People will continue to be killed simply because the Government have not allowed sufficient expenditure to build a proper underpass.
The Wrexham bypass is a dual carriageway. There is an at-grade junction at Croesfoel that the Government are belatedly going to grade separate. How much extra will that cost five years later? Ruabon bypass is dual carriageway. Newbridge bypass is 7 m wide and the Chirk bypass is 10 m wide, all because of public expenditure cuts and dogma. That would not have been allowed to happen on the continent. There would have been a uniform grade for the A483 from its junction with the Chester southerly bypass down to the Coventry bypass.
I asked the Minister of State at Welsh questions on Monday to give a pledge that, if a Conservative Administration are returned to office, InterCity services will continue to run between Euston and Holyhead—a simple, straightforward pledge. I am concerned about InterCity services continuing to run to Holyhead if the Government are returned and they privatise the rail system. The constituency of the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) will be affected, and his electors want to know where he stands on the issue. Of course it is a political point, but we are in a political Chamber. If he can give a pledge, I will give way.
Dr John Marek (Wrexham)
It is fine if the right hon. Gentleman is going to improve InterCity services between Euston and Manchester or Euston and Liverpool, but let us be specific. There is a straightforward way of giving a pledge which everyone in north Wales will understand and that is to say, "Yes, we will ensure a continuation of InterCity services to Holyhead." That is the phraseology that reasonable people understand, and I should like to hear it from the Minister.
At the moment, our InterCity service is not complete. We have only two high-speed train sets to Holyhead and we need three. There has again been overcrowding in recent weeks and I look to the Welsh Office to help to get from British Rail a third HST set so that we can have five InterCity trains in each direction each day.
There is a lot of unease in the Wrexham Maelor hospital. The expression of intent that has recently been sent to the Welsh Office refers to contact being made with fund-holding doctors in Chester and the surrounding areas. That upsets my constituents, because it is clear that fund-holding doctors will get priority, and if they happen to be in Chester or elsewhere in England, they will get priority over my constituents in Wrexham. That is not how I envisage that the national health service should work.
I bitterly resent the commercialisation that has been introduced. The expression of intent document also contains phrases about public relations exercises being undertaken to ensure that any opposition is kept to the minimum. That is not what it is about. People are not visibly opposing the Government at the moment, because they know that a general election is coming, but let us be clear that commercialisation will not happen under a Labour Government. It will be swept away.
There has been no new public or council housing in the Wrexham area this year. I have said it before and I say it again—the leader of Wrexham Maelor borough council said that he had £12 million of ready money that he had obtained from the sale of council houses. Houses had been sold, but no new ones were to be built. In fact, I believe that there is more than £12 million, but it cannot be used by the borough council because the Welsh Office has prevented it. However, there are 2,000 or 3,000 people on the waiting list in Wrexham, of whom 1,000 desperately want a home.
That was the very point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore. The money is available, but it is not being used. What nonsense to have such a system. It is a question not of the borough council having to borrow the money and pay interest on it but of its not being allowed to use it.
We have perhaps one more week of business followed by the Budget the following week, and it is likely that the election will then be announced. The Government have run up to the buffers. The opinion polls rightly show that people in Wales desperately want a Labour Administration, not another Conservative Administration. I believe that this time the Government have been caught out in their handling of the economy.
The Secretary of State said that there was a world recession, but he did not say which other country in the European Community is suffering a recession at the moment—Germany, just, and that is because of East Germany. No other country is suffering a recession. Our recession is a home-grown recession. The Government began with a recession in 1979, 1980 and 1981. Inflation went up to 23 per cent. We then had the "loadsamoney" economy, and we now have another recession. The public will not be fooled this time. In three or four weeks' time, I shall see my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside sitting on the Government Front Bench behind the Dispatch Box.
Mr Donald Anderson (Swansea East)
I do not intend to criticise the Secretary of State personally, but he has to work within a self-imposed constraint of Thatcherism and now Majorism which means "public bad, private good". There are still examples of that ideological obsession, especially with regard to British Rail with which I shall deal in a moment.
More importantly, the Secretary of State does not represent a Welsh constituency. That has a number of effects, one of which is that he is unaware in his surgery of the problems that I and my colleagues encounter every time that we meet our constituents. Those problems include the slump in housing and difficulties arising from the Government's public expenditure policies. I give the Secretary of State one example.
On Saturday last week, I met an individual who said that he had submitted a detailed application for a discretionary renovation grant in July last year. He is on income support and his wife is registered blind. The ceiling of their home in the St. Thomas area of Swansea has collapsed. He has been told
that the Council is no longer in a position to approve any discretionary grants for the immediate future
because of a change in Welsh Office policy. The Secretary of State may pull the levers in Cardiff, but he is unaware of the effects of policies on individuals at the micro level.
The appropriate officer in Swansea city council promises me that he will examine the gentleman's house to see whether
conditions have deteriorated to the point that a mandatory application can be considered. This is far from satisfactory and only serves as an encouragement to some people to allow their houses to fall into serious disrepair.
What an indictment of a policy designed to treat houses in Wales, which has the greatest proportion of pre-1919 houses of any region. The circumstances which I have described may be an unintended effect of the new priorities within the Welsh Office system, but we are brought face to face with such effects on individuals who live with the ceilings in their houses falling down.
As the Secretary of State does not hold a Welsh seat, he does not experience those effects and therefore remains unaware of the effect of the policies that he puts into operation. That is one reason why the fact that he does not hold a Welsh seat is wrong. It is also wrong because it shows a complete lack of confidence by the Prime Minister and others in the competence of members of the Conservative party who currently hold seats in Wales.
Mr Donald Anderson (Swansea East)
That remark shows that even those who represent Welsh seats can get just as out of touch. The slump in house building in Wales did not come about by chance, because of some malign fate; it came about because of the reduction in public priorities for council and other forms of building. The fact that more is being spent on renovation is welcome, but I am talking about the effects—possibly unintentional—of policies which have come about because the Secretary of State does not have an intimate connection with the impact of Welsh Office policies on people in his constituency.
The main part of what I wanted to say has already been dealt with by my hon. Friends, who have talked about the effects of Government policies on housing and education, and the way in which the social fabric of Wales has been damaged. That damage has been done by the Government's obsession with private good at all costs, and their failure to see the interdependence of the public and private sectors. If any area in the United Kingdom depends on a positive public expenditure policy, it is Wales. As a result, Wales suffers the most from the Government's obsession to promote the private sector at all costs.
I understand that the Minister of State will reply on transport, so I address my remarks on that subject to him. We in south Wales remember that the M4 was completed by the 1970s. Since that time, transport policy has concentrated on north Wales, to the disadvantage of the south—so much so that, for example, the missing link between Baglan and Lonlas, in my constituency, remains to be completed. Happily, it will be completed soon, as it has had such an adverse effect on our area.
The Severn bridge tolls are increasing, not just because of inflation and other such factors but because of the Government's decision to privatise the new bridge, and that affects tolls on the existing bridge. When business men consider locating in Wales, Severn bridge tolls are bound to be a major disadvantage. Any geographer, or anyone who knows how industrialists take decisions on location, will say that distance remains a key factor. The Severn bridge and its tolls are bound to have a substantial adverse effect.
On the railway, the current high-speed trains represent the technology of the 1960s. They came into service in the early 1970s in south Wales, and since then the quality of rail services has deteriorated. Journey times between London and Swansea are longer, the sleeper service has gone, and services at the beginning and end of the day have been chopped.
I hope that, in the six weeks or so left to the Secretary of State in his present job, he will consider the European dimension, and examine the impact of the channel tunnel on Wales. What effect will the change from Waterloo to Stratford and King's Cross have on the accessibility of the channel tunnel to Welsh travellers? What will be done about the crossover from Paddington to King's Cross?
Because of the Government's parsimony and the harsh conditions that they impose on British Rail with regard to electrification and because by the end of the century, even if we are lucky, only a small proportion of the west line will be electrified, Wales will lose out again, and become a peripheral part of Europe.
I shall finish by talking about the Welsh dimension. The Secretary of State spoke passionately about it, and its impact on Government decisions. An old Baptist minister of mine said that he was advised by a more experienced minister that if one's argument was bad one should raise one's voice. Certainly the Secretary of State—usually so moderate and gentle—suddenly began to raise his voice and flash his eyes when he talked about the Welsh dimension.
Surely the Secretary of State must realise that, at an all-Wales level, there is a great vacuum in the governmental structure. We remember that after the 1979 referendum the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, Nicholas Edwards—Lord Crickhowell—said that there would be a Welsh forum. However, that idea has been allowed to go to sleep. Much has happened since then.
As for the European dimension, I am delighted that the Secretary of State and his predecessor went to the motor regions of Baden-Wurttemberg, Catalonia, Lombardy and elsewhere. While in Baden-Wurttemberg, did he find that the good citizens of that land were concerned about the amount of money that they were spending on their land government? Did he ask them about their system; did he find any great anxiety about the decentralisation of opinion-making in the federal republic structure? I offer the following thought to the Secretary of State: his party, which calls itself a unionist party, may by its intransigence destroy the Union, not only because of the policies of the past decade but because of the Government's failure to acknowledge what is happening. In Scotland, there is a strong view that the Scots want to run their own affairs and enjoy a degree of democratic control over their institutions. To a lesser extent, that applies to Wales too, and that feeling has been strengthened by the developments of the past decade.
The Secretary of State must also recognise that he has caused much offence in Wales by carrying political cronyism to a new art form. He has placemen in a number of quangos, yet while in opposition his party used to criticise precisely that. It is an immense affront to the people of Wales. I do not suggest that these quangos should be wholly or even mainly peopled by those of a radical disposition, but the opinion polls in Wales show that the Conservative party represents but a small fraction of the Welsh people. The right hon. Gentleman has packed the health authorities and all the other quangos with his cronies. He can hardly criticise us if, following a change of Government in six weeks' time, we learn one or two lessons from the rather brutal way in which he has put his cronies into those non-elected bodies.
We heard what the Secretary of State said about his willingness to announce his decisions affecting local government within a reasonable period. He knows that at least two counties have gone well beyond his guidelines on the poll tax. He appeared not to be aware of that—or else he wanted to avoid the issue at this stage. Does he still intend to use the unit set up in the Welsh Office to charge cap authorities which are not profligate but which are forced, just to provide basic services, to go beyond the guidelines that he set?
I think that I have gone over the guidelines that others have set for me in this debate, so I intend to sit down soon. One thing is sure—the days of the Government and of the Secretary of State are numbered, and there will be a great sigh of relief and much joy in Wales when their time is up.
Mr Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
I am very glad to have the chance to participate in this debate. I should like to discuss my own constituency first and then move on to some larger matters which also impinge on what is happening there.
The Secretary of State for Wales referred to the garden festival which we are to have in Ebbw Vale. I certainly agree that it will be a great event for my constituents and for Wales. In fact, it will be the best of all the garden festivals. I am glad to acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman's part at one critical moment, and at some others, in setting up the festival. At one especially critical moment, he gave us great assistance, and I am happy to acknowledge that.
Having studied the matter—the Secretary of State will understand that I have been closely associated with the festival from the beginning—I know that the bodies chiefly responsible for ensuring that our plan won the competition—it was won against stiff competition, as my hon. Friends from other parts of Wales can testify—were Blaenau Gwent council and Gwent county council. They worked together, and I hope that by doing that they have taught the Secretary of State a few lessons about the virtues of local government. Conservative Governments do not understand local government, but I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that the proposal could not have been put forward without the local authorities taking a risk and showing imagination and intelligence.
Mr Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
I see that the Secretary of State has achnowledged that.
I hope that the Secretary of State will be equally forthright about the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), who referred to the opencast mining operation which British Coal would like to operate at Pwll Du. It would be an utter absurdity for our valley if, having seen the possibilities under the garden festival arrangements, British Coal decided to ruin the upper valleys for the next 10 or 12 years through that operation.
The Secretary of State for Wales does not have much time left in office. I have raised the issue of the operation at Pwll Du with him on many occasions. In fact, when he was first appointed as Secretary of State, I wrote to him saying that that was one of the issues with which we would like him to deal. That was quite a long time ago. He could have put the kybosh on it. That would have saved a lot of money, and he can still do it.
When the Secretary of State's predecessor left office, I wrote to him advising him to read the parable of the unjust steward. Not many people understand that parable properly and I recommend it to the present Secretary of State. If the right hon. Gentleman reads it with a proper sense of his own delinquencies—I am sure that he has, although I do not want to mention things like the poll tax—he will understand that, even when an injustice has occurred on the scale for which the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor are responsible, he can still make atonement at the last moment.
Pwll Du would have figured well in that New Testament parable. I am not so eminent on these matters as some of my colleagues and I do not like to preach sermons other than to Secretaries of State who still need to learn a lot. Even in the short time left to the Secretary of State, when he goes to the office tomorrow perhaps he will read the parable and settle the problem with Pwll Du in the next few days. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth will be in this place after the general election to ensure that the problem is solved and he has played a prominent part in putting the case for Pwll Du ever since he was elected. I hope that that will make the Government determined to do something about the matter.
I want now to consider the larger issues. They may not be larger issues than what happens in constituencies because nothing can be larger than what happens there. However, the Secretary of State sometimes refers to the deadly, dangerous or highly objectionable things that are happening in our constituencies which have nothing much to do with real developments. I am afraid that that is a serious misunderstanding of the scale of the problems that we face in this second terrible recession.
All Wales, particularly the valley towns, was hit hard in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983. I remember that devastation. Unemployment rose from 12 per cent. to 24 per cent. in a few years. Not one house was built. Every housing plan was stopped for two or three years, and we still do not have agreement to go ahead in one part. We were devastated.
Of course, there was a huge loss to our economies and to our people when the Government poured down the drain the amount of money that they had to spend to maintain unemployment at 21 to 24 per cent. That is what we had to endure from 1979 until 1983. Of course we did not wish to retain the old industries in the old manner, but we said that such transformations must be done gradually and intelligently. If one hacks away at old industries before one has a proper plan for putting in new ones, one will undermine and destroy our communities and return to the horrors of the 1930s. Wales suffered more from such policies than nearly any other country.
We thought and we learnt from those events. Indeed, from 1945 until the Government came to office at the end of the 1970s, we had the most essential support for our sane regional policy, backed by real finance. Partly, that was done through local authorities and by a Government who understood that that was the way that it should be done. They knew how to spend the money and organise the policy. Partly, it was done by direct regional policies, and we worked them out.
After the crisis of the latter years of the 1970s, we had worked out a more careful, adventurous regional policy than we had ever had before, and we were putting it into operation. In my constituency, we were the first to do that because we had the biggest rundown in the steel industry, but we did it in other parts of Wales, and we were setting the pattern for the rest of the country.
The Secretary of State should not be consulting at this late stage; he should have learnt a long time ago, because we told him time and again at every available opportunity. He and his predecessors came to us and said, "We have a different and better regional policy for you; you do not have to worry." We objected most strongly to the drastic cuts that they made in the regional rate support grant. Every local authority in Wales had to suffer in that respect. We have suffered as much as anybody. On top of that, the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors said, "We have much better ideas for regional policy. We will do away with regional grants and assistance. You don't have to worry much because we'll find something just as good to substitute, and we will do that on a more discriminatory basis," or whatever the words were. Of course, they have wrecked our regional policy and all the advantages that were introduced primarily by the Labour Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), when he was at the Welsh Office, worked out our plans. We had special development area status for places that were hit by 10 to 20 per cent. unemployment. Those plans were in operation for years, but the Conservative Government took them from us.
The Secretary of State's predecessor thought that he knew a bit more about these matters—he was not an old Thatcherite like some of those whom we had to put up with before. He had even heard and thought that Keynesian ideas had some advantages. I refer to the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), and I am sure that he would not disown what I am saying. Even he said, in effect, "I have to agree with the nonsense that they agree in London and carry out the same policies that those half-wits are imposing on England." I was not discussing everything with him in biblical terms, but he was saying, "Look at what they are doing in England," and I was saying, "Do we really have to go through it?" He said, "I'm afraid that those are the policies." We warned the Government time and again. The Secretary of State will confirm that.
Monitoring committees were set up in our time by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), the then Secretary of State. We had special plans whereby local authorities, county councils, the Secretary of State and the Welsh Office could work out a plan for the changeover. We planned to ensure that we did not have huge dents of mass unemployment thrust upon us again. But now we have unemployment again not only in my constituency but in so many others. To have it again after 10 years is a disgrace.
If the Secretary of State wishes to come again to my constituency, I will show him the garden festival, but I will also take him on a tour of my neighbouring town of Tredegar to see what is happening there. I have been the Member of Parliament for that constituency for 32 years and I am ashamed at what is happening. Other towns such as Llanhilleth and Abertillery have similar problems.
In Tredegar we had a problem which was a classic microcosm of the Government's policies coming to fruition. I will tell the House exactly what happened. We had the buses privatised. It was all to be a wonderful plan to make the buses more efficient. Then a few weeks ago the privatised bus company went bankrupt. Of course, that was all part of the plan. But it was also part of the plan that the receivers would refuse to take over the bus station because they might have to apply safety laws and it would be too difficult. So for a whole period the buses of the collapsed company did not know where to go. The whole town of Tredegar was thrown into chaos by what had happened. When we turned to the local authority to rescue the buses from the chaos caused by privatisation and the mad pursuit of ideas by the Welsh Office, it said that it did not have the powers. Local authorities do not have the powers to do everything that they want and, of course, they do not have the money to run the buses properly.
I shall be happy to take the Secretary of State to Tredegar if he is happy to visit it before the election. He will be safer there than in some other places. We will look after him. I will show him the main street of Tredegar. I hope that he will be as ashamed as I am. He will see shop after shop that has been closed by his recession. Shop after shop has been wrecked either by the new rating system or the combination of that with the recession. Time and again we have been hit. It is a shame that it should happen once, but for it to happen twice in 10 years is a scandal of the worst order. I should not be true to the people who sent me here if I did not say these things as strongly as I can. I have sent the Secretary of State messages on the matter, as I have on other issues.
I hope that the next Government who come to power will learn the lessons. I do not believe that it was through ill will on the part of the Secretary of State that he achieved the results that I have described, any more than I thought it of his predecessor. They are the two unjust stewards. It is not a question of ill will. The results that I have described were caused by allegiance to policies which have no relevance to our modern world. Through such policies, the Government turned their back on the real experience of what happens in industrial areas when it is necessary to change from one type of industry to another. We are in favour of doing that when it is necessary. The Secretary of State said earlier that we had delayed the change, but we simply wanted to do it more slowly. It is possible to do it more humanely and to keep communities together. In the end, that is a much less expensive way of bringing about the change than thrusting whole areas into economic ruin and thinking that they can pull themselves out every three or four years.
I thought that the Secretary of State had learnt a lesson, or that some members of the Government had, after one terrible recession, but it has taken two terrible recessions to teach them that lesson. That is two too many. I hope that the new Government will have a proper plan to ensure that never again shall we suffer the afflictions that we have had be bear. Central Government and local government can act together. I believe that the Secretary of State has learnt some lessons about that, but he will have to carry it much further if we are to see for Wales that which it deserves.
Mr Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth)
It is always a pleasure to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) speak in the House, with his authority and his experience—what a contrast with the beginning of the debate.
When one listened to the Secretary of State for Wales no one would have thought that we have had devastating trade figures today, which demonstrate the depth of the recession and the long-term cost of the Government's failure to act. Exports are down by 7·5 per cent. That is yet another illustration of the Government's failure to manage the economy. Our industrialists in Wales are fighting for their survival and that of their companies against that background. From the Secretary of State's speech one would not have thought that there was a problem. All we heard was a glitzy piece of over-optimistic public relations and a failure to face facts.
For weeks, the St. David's day debate has been hyped-up with the expectation of a statement on the Welsh language from the Secretary of State. In contrast, his announcement was pathetic. The Secretary of State did not make a proper statement. There was not enough substance or detail in his speech for him to answer questions from hon. Members. He showed complacency over education in the Welsh language. He praised the Welsh Language Board and placed it on a statutory basis, but he has not listened to its advice, and has wasted more than a year in failing to build on the consensus which has developed in Wales during the past five years.
Why does the Secretary of State suddenly come to the House with precisely the promise that he was asked to make a year ago? Why has he not put a Welsh language Bill into law in the past year? All he has done is fulfil the prediction that we made in the past year: that he would do nothing until he was brought up short by the threat of an election.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) rightly concentrated on unemployment and homelessness, before turning to the Welsh language Bill. After the election, I look forward to discussing the detailed issues he raised, both in the House and in the Standing Committee which will deal with the Bill that we introduce, keeping the promise that we made more than one year ago.
The Secretary of State has done less today than we asked of him a year ago, and less than we promised to do had the Prime Minister dared to call an election then. If he had been serious, the Bill that he promises today as jam tomorrow would already be on the statute book.
The Secretary of State rejected the idea of an elected assembly, while closing his mind to change. The Exocet from Delyn, his hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan), made a thoughtful speech, which the Secretary of State should read, mark and inwardly digest before he comes back to pontificate—if he retains his role in the shadow Cabinet after the election. The fact is that, with the honourable exceptions of the hon. Members for Delyn and for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), the Conservative party has run away from the debate.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) suggested that we should debate devolution. That was a little foolish of him when the Secretary of State is under such attack from his own Benches. The Labour party in Wales has had its debate and made proposals, which are public, clear and there for all the Welsh people to see. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North wants a televised debate. He wants the Conservative party to go into that debate with a lack of policy, of principle and of position.
What about a televised debate on the national health service in Wales? That is the sort of debate that my constituents are concerned about, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) said. Important as other issues are, why is the NHS in Wales not an important issue for the Conservative party?
What about a televised debate on unemployment, and the devastation that the Government have created? What about a debate on homelessness, or on the Government's neglect of our schools? The Government will not allow a debate or a vote to those hospitals in local areas that are threatened by opting out or to those who work in the hospitals and care about the national health service. The Government are not interested in debate.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, North was unwise to make a petty party political point on the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill. On a constituency point, I remind the hon. Gentleman that, if he and the Secretary of State had pulled in all the Conservative votes or if the Bill had been a Government one, it would now be law. The hon. Gentleman shoots himself in the foot, as assuredly as he shoots the Secretary of State for Wales in the back.
Even more damaging, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North repeated his usual nonsense in his attack on local government services in Cardiff. With his experience in local government, he should defend local authorities and the electors in his constituency instead of acting as a Back-Bench poodle for successive Secretaries of State. The hon. Gentleman has blamed local authorities time after time when they are struggling to overcome the difficulties that Conservative Governments have placed upon them.
In support of that I shall quote not a politician in local government, but from a neutral statement by the city treasurer in Cardiff:
The budget process has been dominated by the threat of charge capping, which has brought a degree of risk and uncertainty that is undesirable in the financial decisions of public authorities.
That is the criticism made by Mr. Peter Brown.
The Government's fixing of the figures for standard spending assessments, with no consideration for need, mean that Cardiff city council has had to cut £1·4 million simply to achieve a standstill budget—last year's budget plus inflation. That is the effect of the Government's decisions.
South Glamorgan county council is in a similar position. To achieve a standstill budget, it has had to make cuts of £4·5 million. That has led to cuts in youth work and adult education. One can respect the decision of local councillors to protect the basic services of the schools, but it is short-sightedness for the Government to force such choices on local authorities which lead to cuts in necessary facilities. For example, the local authority in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) has had to take devastating decisions to close badly needed facilities.
All that has come at a time when the Home Secretary has suddenly discovered that one needs to knit services together and that it is not just policing, but the working together of services and the provision of activities for young people that lead to the reduction of crime. The Home Secretary has had a blinding insight, which he had rejected when we previously put it to him. That has happened just as the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Wales are devastating the services provided by local authorities.
The Government's expectations for local authorities and their predictions for their finance are unrealistic. What is that all about? It is about the Government's poll tax and the way that it is run. It remains with us. We have heard in the debate about U-turns and people changing their minds, but we have not heard the Secretary of State for Wales and his colleagues apologise for the poll tax.
Let me remind the House of the voting on the poll tax. There were 11 opportunities to vote for the poll tax, which were taken with enthusiasm by the Minister of State—the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts)—and the hon. Members for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist), for Delyn and for Cardiff, North.
Mr Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth)
The hon. Member for Delyn has the grace to apologise, and I respect his willingness to do that.
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) voted for the poll tax nine times only. Perhaps he was abroad on the other two occasions, because I do not imagine that he lacked enthusiasm for it.
Apart from the change of heart of the hon. Member for Delyn, the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West showed an honourable nil in his voting record. I pay tribute to him for being more far-sighted than his hon. Friends and the Secretary of State for Wales.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central gave us some interesting reminiscences in what will be his farewell speech.
Mr Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth)
Yes, my right hon. and learned Friend uses the posh word for farewell.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central seemed to blame family breakdown and human misery on everybody except himself and the Conservatives. He fails to appreciate that the realities of social change have been with us for some time and should have been recognised. The Government have failed to act on obvious dangers and are responsible for the misery of homelessness throughout the communities of Wales, much of which could have been avoided had they acted.
Throughout Wales—I saw this in the early 1970s, when I was a councillor—as we built local authority houses and were able to house people, so surgery lists went down. Later, as the Conservatives got to grips with housing in Wales, the surgery queues increased and the misery suffered by the people on those lists became worse. The Conservatives have failed to recognise the reality of what they should have tackled.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central talked of hospitals, as though every hospital in Wales was gleaming and sparkling new. In his constituency, the Cardiff royal infirmary is rundown and devastated. Repairs costing £20 million are needed to the University hospital of Wales, and there is planning blight on the health authority and on hospital services throughout south Glamorgan.
Mr Ian Grist (Cardiff Central)
The major repairs needed to the University hospital of Wales arose in the days of a Labour Government. I recall what happened in 1968 in relation to the concrete that was put in, although I do not think that any blame attaches to the Government of the time. I spoke of the breakdown of family life, the rising divorce rate, the alienation of children from their step-parents leading to the breakdown of families and rows in families leading to homelessness. All the statistics show that the breakdown of personal relationships creates most of the homelessness.
Mr Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth)
I am tempted to say that that is a piece of bloody nonsense—[Interruption.]—but I shall restrain myself. Changes have taken place in society, and the Government have failed to recognise them, while other changes, particularly homelessness, have been created by the Conservatives. It is ridiculous for the hon. Gentleman to close his eyes to that fact. He referred to the cash that was needed for the University hospital of Wales. That money must be found, but the Government have given no answers about how it will be found. No doubt they will leave it as part of their legacy to an incoming Labour Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) referred to the scandal of low wages and the Government's deliberate third-world approach to turn Wales into a low-wage economy. It seems that the Conservatives want the people of Wales to be poor. That is why they oppose legislation for a minimum wage. Such a move would hurt the economy, they say. Why can we not learn from other countries—and suffer, for example, the economic difficulties that the Germans have had in the last decade? Why is it impossible for Conservative Members to recognise what has worked in other countries?
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) was right to criticise the decline in rail services and to talk of the cancelled, late and dirty trains and the removal of late London-Cardiff trains. We need trains both ways late at night if the economy of a city and tourism and entertainment are to develop. We need a link to Europe and a strengthening of the Cardiff and valley services. The local authorities have recognised that need and put money into it from South Glamorgan and Mid-Glamorgan, but the Government have repeatedly failed to recognise the need for investment in our rail services.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East referred also to housing and the misery of homelessness in his constituency. The same point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower who pointed to the horrors that had arisen from Government housing policy in Swansea and surrounding areas. Those policies have undermined family life and damaged often responsible and caring parents and their families. My hon. Friends and I see that all too often as we deal with the problems of our constituents.
The problems of children in Wales, and the United Kingdom generally, were highlighted in a neutral report from National Childrens Homes. The detail of the report revealed the position in Wales for poor families, with poor nutrition, and showed that the effects of eroded child benefit were scandalous in the United Kingdom generally but were worst of all in Wales.
There has been a breakdown of law and order in recent years, and the Government have not accepted sensible suggestions about working together to divert young people from some of the activities in which they have indulged. Indeed, delinquency has almost been encouraged by the Government's disregard of the Sunday trading issue.
It was left to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) to produce what was in effect a White Paper that the Government should have published, and to present a detailed Bill that the Government ought to have introduced. Instead, the Government avoided debate on that sensible measure and prevented the House from taking a constructive approach—leaving responsible local authorities, such as Cardiff city council, to try to enforce the current law.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) told the House a great deal about the place of the banana in the cuisine of our nation. He was making a serious point about the jobs and future of the port of Barry that I hope will be taken seriously.
There is an international perspective to the problems that confront us. The Secretary of State said that international companies have demonstrated confidence in Wales. They have—in responding to the excellent work of local authorities, the sympathy of trade unions, the Welsh Development Agency—the establishment of which was opposed by the Conservative party—and the positive experiences of companies that have already come to Wales and know the support they enjoy from the Principality. We need to ensure next that secondary manufacturing is sourced within Wales, and that the WDA's work is devolved to each part of the Principality so that it can approach economic development in partnership with local firms and authorities.
Over the past 10 years, a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have spoken of the jobs lost in mining and many other industries. I may tell the Minister of State, Welsh Office that, when I recently visited the constituency that he represents, Conwy, I found that Hotpoint. Denis and Ferranti felt that they have been left to suffer the effects of Government policies without Government help. The same point was made at meetings with industrialists in Cardiff. There is general concern about ministerial complacency, with one industrialist telling me only last week, "Ministers don't seem to recognise that this recession is cutting not into the fat but into the muscle and fitness of our industries, which will be desperately needed as they work towards recovery."
After 13 years, we have a right to ask what the Government have done for the people of Wales. Have they helped the old? No, the Government have robbed them of their pensions. Have they helped the young? No, the Government have taken from them opportunities for training and the chance of employment, and have encouraged delinquency. Have they helped the middle-aged? No, they have suffered the mortgage burden that is the result of the Government's economic mismanagement. Have they helped industry and commerce? No, and the voices of people in industry condemn the Government for their failure to help. Have they helped the sick and disabled? No, the Government have attacked and undermined the national health service, introducing care in the community without providing the cash and resources needed to do the job properly.
Have the Government helped anybody? They have helped only those failed Conservative candidates who have been given fat salaries to serve on unaccountable quangos.
This evening, we heard valedictory speeches from two hon. Members who will not be standing at the next general election. We all regard with great affection the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West, and we listened with pleasure to that great parliamentarian, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent. He spoke with authority and eloquence of the devastation and economic damage suffered by our valley communities under this Conservative Government's economic mismanagement.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West gave the Labour party credit for good intentions, but said that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. The road to heaven is not paved with the policies and intentions of the present Government. With the Labour party under the firm leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), we start with good intentions, sound principles and clear plans—and we have a chance of not ending up in the hell of human misery, unemployment, homelessness, and poverty that the Conservative Government have left us as their legacy of 13 wasted years.
Thank goodness there are only a few weeks to go before the people of Wales can celebrate having a Secretary of State elected by Welsh constituents, in a Labour Government led with power and authority by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn, and with Welsh talent on the Government Benches. That cannot come too soon.
Mr Wyn Roberts (Conwy)
This has been a wide-ranging debate, to say the least. We have been able to take in the Windward islands and the banana trade, owing to the interests of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith)—including the Geest operation at Barry.
First, let me say a few words about the roads programme, with which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did not have time to deal in his opening speech. During this financial year, three major schemes will have been completed, including the magnificent Conwy tunnel, opened by Her Majesty the Queen on 25 October. During the same period, a further three contracts have been let. They are the M4/A4042 Brynglas tunnels and Malpas relief road scheme, the A483 Welshpool bypass and the M4 Briton Ferry to Earlswood scheme.
Far from being satisfied with those achievements, the Government remain committed to an extensive road programme. Today, we have published this year's supplement to "Roads in Wales".
A start should be made on a further six schemes during the coming financial year: the A487 Port Dinorwic bypass; the M4 Baglan to Briton Ferry scheme, which I am sure will cause delight to the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) when he can manage it; the A55 Aber improvement; the M4 link to the second Severn crossing; and the A465 Glynneath to Aberdulais improvement.
As hon. Members will know, powers have now been granted to construct the second Severn crossing and the associated road links on both sides of the estuary. Construction of the new bridge is likely to start around the end of April, and the whole scheme will, we hope, be open to traffic by 1995, as my right hon. Friend said. The new bridge—which is to be privately financed and operated—will more than double the road capacity across the Severn estuary. I am sure that all hon. Members will welcome this vital and most important development for south Wales. The new crossing will bring with it the potential for considerable domestic economic benefits.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) asked about British Rail. Let me tell him that the best guarantee for the London-Holyhead services is the use that passengers make of them. Ministers do not run British Rail.
We are glad of the general welcome that was given to my right hon. Friend's proposal to introduce a Welsh language Bill. I am pleased to say that the proposal has been welcomed outside the House as well, by the Confederation of British Industry in Wales.
Mr Wyn Roberts (Conwy)
I have moved on from the subject raised by the hon. Gentleman. I have little time left.
No Government have done more to support and promote the Welsh language than the present Government. We have established Welsh as an integral part of the national curriculum——
Mr Wyn Roberts (Conwy)
I have already dealt with the hon. Gentleman's point.
Welsh is being taught in an increasing number of schools in Wales. Since 1979, we have spent some £25 million in support of Welsh language education alone. We have increased direct funding to voluntary organisations promoting the Welsh language from only £350,000 in 1978 to £7·6 million next year.
Mr Wyn Roberts (Conwy)
I know that Opposition Members do not want to hear what I am saying. They are determined to wreck my final speech in this St. David's day debate. The hon. Member for Wrexham is being incited to interrupt by Opposition Front Benchers.
We established the Welsh Language Board in 1988 to advise Ministers on matters relating to the language. They have done valuable work in preparing not only proposals for legislation but guidelines for the public and private sectors. These have been welcomed and acted upon. I have been particularly impressed, for example, by the way in which the Department of Social Security has produced a package of forms and documents in Welsh. My right hon. Friend's announcement today will ensure that that work goes forward.
There is extensive evidence that the Welsh people as a whole wish the language to flourish. Its survival ultimately depends upon the will of those who know it to use it in their daily lives and to pass on their knowledge to their children. No Government can legislate a language into life. They can only provide a favourable framework for its use. We shall continue to do that.
The criticism to which the 1967 Act, passed by the Labour Government of that time, is now subjected shows the importance of taking care over the preparation of legislation. Section 3 of that Act, which relates to the possibility that English can take precedence over Welsh in the case of disputes, was intended to be no more than a means of resolving uncertainties over two versions of the same text. However, that section is seen increasingly as granting a lesser status to the Welsh language more generally. I am pleased that we shall be able to take the opportunity provided by the legislation that we propose to remove the confusion that has been created by the section.
The difficulties that surround the 1967 Act further serve to underline the importance of taking great care over the preparation of legislation. That we shall do. The Welsh language is so important that we must get the legislation right.
Mr Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
A new Welsh language Act would be very welcome, but will there be a right for children to attend a secondary school, if their parents so wish, where the medium of instruction is exclusively Welsh throughout the school?
Mr Wyn Roberts (Conwy)
The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that his question must be addressed in the context of education legislation as a whole—in the context, too, of the duties of local education authorities and of the reasonableness of the requests made to them. That ethos and ambience have to be taken into account when answering his question. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the number of schools in Wales that do not teach Welsh to some extent is becoming ever smaller.
I must turn to——
Mr Wyn Roberts (Conwy)
I turn to the speech of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones). He must hold the record for totally negative speeches. Today he seems to wallow in gloom and doom, rather like a happy hippopotamus. On Monday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales described him as agony aunt, but in my book agony aunts always give positive advice. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside is more like one of those who write to agony aunts. I am beginning to wonder whether he writes to some of his safe socialist friends such as Clare Rayner, who attended the £500 champagne bash at the Berkeley hotel to raise funds for the party. If so, I wonder what he says to her. My mole has been at work.
Mr Wyn Roberts (Conwy)
I must tell the House of the sort of letter that I think that the hon. Gentleman might write. It would say:
Dear Auntie Clare,
We've got this awful election coming up and if we win, which I very much doubt, I could become Secretary of State for Wales. I don't really want the beastly job and all the hard work that goes with it, so I am planning to palm off as much as I can to an Assembly in Cardiff so that they can take the blame for anything that goes wrong. What do you think?
The reply would say:
Don't worry, it will never happen.
During the debate we have heard remarkably little about Labour party policies, even the finger-in-the-wind policies referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer). We heard nothing of its education policies in our debate in the Welsh Grand Committee. It was left to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I to refer to the policy document. Is the Labour party ashamed of its policies? Other people are ashamed of them, as I mentioned in the Welsh Grand Committee. The two American experts commissioned by The Sunday Times to investigate our education system said of the Labour party's policies:
The Labour Party is a lost cause when it comes to education reform … The Labour Party is trapped by its past, a defender of the status quo, and a purveyor of old, hopelessly out-moded ideas.
Of the Labour party's proposal for an educational standards commission the experts said:
this hardly deserves to be called a reform. It is more of the same from a party that appears incapable, politically and ideologically, of offering anything different.
We have heard nothing of the Labour party's destructive, bureaucratic NHS reforms. It plans to sweep away the NHS trusts and general practitioner fund holders. Is it ashamed of those reforms? Others are, including The Times, which wrote:
The last thing the NHS wants is another upheaval to take it back to the old days.
The news that the Labour party means to abandon the recent reform of the NHS should it ever come to power is immensely depressing. Reform was needed. The Tory reforms are in the right direction and are gaining ever wider acceptance within the NHS.
We have heard nothing of the Labour party's alternative policies for dealing with the recession. Labour has failed miserably to pin the blame for the recession on the Government. The recession is worldwide and everybody knows it. People know that the companies for which they work, such as Hotpoint and Hoover, are facing a lack of customer demand that extends far beyond our shores, to our export markets in Europe and the United States.
Labour has failed to grasp that taking money out of people's pockets through increased taxation and national insurance is a sure-fire way of worsening and prolonging the recession. Every worker in manufacturing industry knows that we need to increase demand for products.
The Labour party has failed to grasp that the key to recovery is competitiveness. Its political somersaults on major issues will go down in history as the biggest volte face of all time. Labour Members will be known as the most desperate political trimmers of this century and the most dangerous since Sweeney Todd. All the chopping and changing of views, policies and principles and all their inconsistency have come about because they have seen their political credo discredited. Socialism has failed worldwide.
Undaunted by that reversal, Labour Members have changed their political colours like the chameleons that they are. They claim to be able to run a capitalist system better than those who believe in it. But even in opposition Labour Members are beginning to find out that their conversion is incomplete. They keep reverting to socialist ideas and their rose is returning to the briar that it was. The suckers of socialism are sprouting everywhere, hence their £37 billion of spending commitments, which make them so antagonistic to the idea of tax cuts to restore consumer demand and lead us out of the recession.
The electorate will not be deceived. They will not be made into socialist suckers. The Labour party will be rejected as having no real remedies to deal with the recession or, indeed, any of our problems.