Wales has a higher proportion of older housing than any other part of the United Kingdom. The difficulty is that the Government are not building the houses that people need. Their record on the building of new houses is the worst for 40 years, and a massive housing crisis is developing in Wales.
In Newport, homelessness is rife. The South Wales Argus recently spotlighted the problems in Newport. There have been widespread reports of abuses in the so-called bedsitter land. Threats of violence and intimidation are commonplace. There have been rip-offs with rents, and death-trap accommodation is the norm. The Government's policies are bringing about the return of Rachmanism, with all its attendant evils [Interruption.] It is not amusing for the people who have to live in such accommodation.
It has been said that the future is with the young. We all have a vested interest in the education of our children. The Government's proposals in the Education Reform Bill are ridden with dogma and controversy. The teachers' unions are up in arms about their negotiating rights being taken away, and they lobbied us about that yesterday. Every day there are reports of neglect in our schools, of an inadequate supply of books and equipment and of neglected buildings with leaking roofs and peeling paint. The Government's proposals for schools to be able to opt out are causing concern. They could lead to central Government closing a school at the stroke of a pen, from which communities would suffer.
Church authorities are concerned about the future of their schools. They could lose control of the unique education that they provide. The strongest possible representations have been made to me in Newport about the matter, particularly by the Catholic authorities.
Perhaps the greatest scandal of all is the rundown of the National Health Service. I certainly go along with the contention that the health of the people is the highest law. Within the service, there have been protests all over the country about surgery waiting lists, ward closures, staff shortages and so on. Nurses, ancillary workers and the major trade unions, such as the National Union of Public Employees and the Confederation of Health Service Employees, are protesting. The three presidents of the royal medical colleges told us quite clearly that, despite the efforts of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff, patient care is deteriorating and acute hospital services have reached breakdown. What is the Government's answer to those three eminent gentlemen? As yet, we have not had a satisfactory answer.
It is the wearer who knows where the shoe pinches. The attitude of the general public is most significant. Every survey has shown the public to be fully in support of a properly funded National Health Service in preference to tax cuts. The public do not believe in cuts and charges for the National Health Service. For me, their attitude is typified by a letter that I have received in the last few days from a young girl in Gibbs road, Newport, who wrote:
I ask that the Government think again about limiting the freely available eye examination, because of the health care dangers of deterring people from a regular eye check on cost grounds.
She has asked me, as her Member of Parliament, to make a representation to the Government on her behalf, and this I readily do.
I have also received a huge petition from Miss Sue Brookes, honorary secretary of the local branch of the Royal College of Midwives. The members of the college are calling for positive action to ensure safe standards of care for mothers and babies. They call on the Government to face the facts, and to provide increased public funding for their vital services.
I fully support early-day motion 762, headed by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond), and I am glad to be one of its sponsors.
In recent weeks, we have heard harrowing tales of young children dying because of delays in hospital services that they needed urgently. On Monday of this week, the Government gave their answer to all those protests: they announced an increase in prescription and dental charges. It was as if they were holding up two fingers to the nation.
As late as this afternoon, the position was crystallised by none other than Lord Young, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Apparently, he clearly stated that the welfare state had made people soft. The noble Lord, I feel, should be sentenced to a five-year stint in one of our low faces in the south Wales mines. He might not last five years, of course, but I should like to see him sentenced nevertheless.
In line with Lord Young's thinking, there is to be a further erosion of the welfare state. The Social Services Act 1986 comes into force next month. Among other things, weekly additions for heating and special diets will be abolished. Single payments for clothing and cookers will be replaced by the social fund—a sort of modern-day workhouse system. Housing benefit has been cut yet again, and pensioners and others with savings of over £6,000 will no longer be eligible at all.
Wales has heavy unemployment, inadequate housing and a high incidence of ill health, partly owing to its historic industrial structure. It will certainly fare badly under the new social security regulations. Where was our Secretary of State, the knight in shining armour in the Cabinet, when the proposals were mooted? Did he go to sleep? He knows the position in Wales, or at least he should.
There have been persistent leaks from the Chancellor's Office that the Treasury is awash with money. It has had the benefit of North sea oil, large revenues from privatisation, and selling off the family silver, as the late Lord Stockton described it. But, in the process, Wales has been robbed of nearly £1,000 million in regional aid and £750 million in rate support grant.