In view of the large number of right hon. and hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies who wish to take part in this important debate, I propose to use my power to limit speeches to 10 minutes between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock. If, due to the restraint of those hon. Members called before 7 o'clock, that proves to be unnecessary, I shall ask the then occupant of the Chair to be flexible.
Since we last debated this subject a year ago we have, unfortunately, lost two of our parliamentary colleagues, Brynmor John and Sir Raymond Gower. I am sure that it is right to begin by saying that hon. Members on both sides of the House are united in their sadness at that loss. The two hon. Members had many qualities and characteristics in common. Both served their constituents exceedingly well and were dedicated to the prosperity and future of Wales. Both had a great spirit of public service and qualities of compassion and kindness which all hon. Members admired. We regret their passing.
I should also like to congratulate our new colleague, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), who has just taken his place in the House. Like him, I arrived at the House after a by-election. I must confess to relief that since then I have had to fight only general elections, not by-elections. For the period that the hon. Gentleman is a Member of the House, I wish him well and the fulfilment of his ambitions in parliamentary life.
During the past year, there have been many events which will affect the future of the Principality. A range of new schemes and enterprises have been set up, all of which will have a considerable impact on the future of Wales. During the past year, the valleys initiative has been launched and the enterprise initiative was launched by the Department of Trade and Industry. Major proposals have been made for housing, to which I shall refer later. The Welsh language development board has been launched and a White Paper on health has been published. Bills on the privatisation of water and electricity have begun their passage through the House. All those developments will have a considerable impact on Wales, and I shall have something to say about each of them.
I realise that the Opposition cannot say that the programme for the valleys is splendid. Understandably, they have to say that if it looks good, it is merely good publicity and public relations but not good in a monetary sense. I perfectly understand that reaction as I spent some years as a member of a shadow Cabinet in opposition to two Labour Governments. I do not think that my record would show me to have been full of praise for anything that those Governments did.
This week, one of the Welsh newspapers commented on a report sent in by the Welsh district councils. I have just read the report on the valleys programme, which they had also sent to me. I had replied to them and was surprised by the headlines in the newspaper. I thought that the report was constructive. It analysed what was taking place, devoted several pages of approval to the details of many of the proposals and ended with six major policy priorities, with virtually all of which I agreed.
A great deal is currently being done to overcome the considerable problems—in particular, the decline of the coal and steel industries—that the valleys have suffered and in some respects are still suffering. I think that everyone, irrespective of political views, will rejoice at the recent considerable new inward investment into the valleys. There has been one investment—often a large one —every two weeks, and many more are being negotiated. That will substantially increase the diversity of industry and commerce in the valleys.
I am sure that everyone is also delighted that Welsh Development Agency factory lettings have been at record levels. In the nine months from 1 April last year to 1 January this year, there were no fewer than two new factory lettings per week. Unemployment in the valleys, although still far too high, has fallen during the past three years by nearly 40 per cent. During the seven months since the launch of the valleys initiative, the fall in unemployment in the valleys has been even faster than the record falls in Wales as a whole.
In the past month, unemployment has risen in the Cynon valley, which still has the highest male unemployment rate in Wales. The valleys initiative has not done much to help towns in my constituency such as Mountain Ash, Penrhiwceiber, Aberdare and others which have been devastated by job losses in the coal industry.
As the hon. Lady will know, it was the chief executive of her local authority who prepared the report from the district councils in which he listed many factors in the valleys initiative of which he thoroughly approves. As the hon. Lady also knows, unemployment in her constituency peaked in 1986 and is now much lower, although a great deal still needs to be done there. In a recent parliamentary answer I listed all the initiatives taking place in her valley, where there is enormous public expenditure. If she would like to table a similar question on the likely benefits for her valley of the valleys initiative, I shall be only too pleased to answer it. Greater programmes than ever before for work such as derelict land clearance and factory building are now being undertaken.
Under the valleys initiative, the new small loan scheme and the valleys enterprise scheme now operate. Those schemes apply only to the valleys, and already several dozen valley businesses have taken advantage of them. I hope that many others will benefit from them in the future.
One of the most exciting elements is the new enterprise initiative launched by the DTI, under which firms can apply for substantial Government grants so that they can call in consultants to advise them on a range of important issues. No fewer than 360 projects have been undertaken for valley firms in the first few months of this initiative.
Another initiative of considerable importance, not just for the valleys but for the whole of Wales which I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome —and when it is built and completed, support—is the centre for quality, enterprise and design at Treforest. Building is now starting and I hope that the first occupants will arrive at the end of August. This institution will be unique to the United Kingdom, and I am glad that it will be in the valleys. Its object will be to have a major impact on improving design quality so that Wales and the valleys retain their reputation in that respect.
We await the outcome of the valleys initiative to see whether it will create new jobs and provide new money. If it does, everyone will welcome it. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept, however, that there are old industrial areas outside the valleys—old slate quarry areas, for example—which face problems similar to those of the valley communities? What initiatives does he plan to help those areas?
I intend to deal with other parts of Wales later in my speech. I am dealing now with the major new initiatives that we have launched, but I agree that such areas face a range of problems, that some have higher unemployment than the valleys and that action is needed.
The hon. Gentleman says that he awaits the outcome of the initiative and will judge it on the details, and I am happy for him to do that. In the first six months of the initiative, there has been a great deal of new money and, compared with the promises and predictions that I made, there has been more activity on derelict land clearance and factory building and letting, and more money is going in. I intend to deal later with today's announcement by the Welsh Development Agency of the new factory building programme for 1989–90, which is larger than last year's.
The figures for regional aid in the valleys are remarkable. Grants made since the initiative, to the middle of January, have covered projects involving 7,500 new jobs and private investment of about £180 million. The WDA's record advanced factory building programme is well under way. In the current financial year, it involves investment in 450,000 sq ft of new advanced factories. In addition, more than 300,000 sq ft of bespoke factory building has been completed, and more projects are in hand. Total WDA investment in factory building in 1988–89 will be more than £20 million in 1988–89 and about £66 million over the three years of the programme, which is £5 million more than my original forecast. Work is also in hand on more than 130 small local authority factory units, with Welsh Office urban programme assistance.
As my right hon. Friend knows, there is considerable disappointment in my constituency at the Government's decision not to extend the Delyn enterprise zone. Will he give an assurance today that the focus of WDA factory provision in north Wales will shift from south-east Clwyd to north-east and coastal Clwyd? At present there is an imbalance favouring Alyn and Deeside and Wrexham Maelor which we want redressed throughout north Wales.
My hon. Friend will be pleased to see the programme announced by the WDA today. I know how long and enthusiastically he has propounded the need for more factories. Today's announcement of the WDA factory building programme for 1989–90 includes plans for three new factories in the Delyn area, which I know will be welcomed by my hon. Friend and his constituents.
A great deal is happening in training in the valleys, where more than 20,000 people are expected to benefit from the Training Agency programmes in this financial year. Other major investments are taking place, too. It is now estimated that £56 million will be invested in the garden festival at Ebbw Vale. I hope that all local authorities, not just that of Ebbw Vale, will support the project, which will benefit the whole of Wales. In all the programmes of the Welsh Development Agency, the Wales tourist board and others, we must ensure that we take full advantage of this enormous capital investment.
Returning to the point about the Training Agency and future developments in training, I must point out that that has nothing to do with the valleys initiative, which is designed to reduce unemployment. Since the transition in Ogmore from enterprise to training we have lost about 500 jobs in an organisation of which I am chairman, known as CATO —community activities and training in Ogmore. When and how will those jobs be replaced?
I have discussed this with the hon. Gentleman. A decision was announced long before the event that the large sums being spent on training should be spent on schemes in which real training was provided to give the trainees future careers. The community schemes were of great service at a particular time, but it was then important to move over to training in greater skills with proper training facilities.
In the valleys initiative I pledged that £1 million per week would be spent on training in the valleys for the next three years. I intend that to happen, and that the money be spent on training of a quality that will use the skills, talents and abilities of the people of the valleys, because that is the best way of developing industry.
This week I met the key people involved in the training organisation. We have invited a group of people to serve on the advisory training board, some of whom have still to say whether they will do so. The board will consist of people of high quality. The previous chairman of the Training Commission, Sir Mel Rosser, has agreed to continue, and I am glad to say that George Wright of the Transport and General Workers Union has agreed to serve on the board. He was on the previous commission and has considerable knowledge of the training needs of the areas. I intend regularly to meet those responsible for training to ensure that that £1 million per week is well spent on improving the quality of training.
During this period there has also been remarkable progress in the clearance of derelict land in the valleys. Record levels of expenditure have been deployed. In 1988–89, expenditure is expected to be £14 million, compared with the original forecast in the valleys initiative of £12·5 million. Schemes involving the clearance of about 400 acres will be completed in 1988–89, and a further £40 million will be spent over the next two years. In all, 2,800 acres are expected to be cleared during the life of the valleys programme, an increase of 300 acres on my original forecast of eight months ago.
The urban programme package for 1989–90 includes allocations totalling £18 million of projects to benefit the valleys; that is a 19 per cent. increase over the record level of allocations this year and about 67 per cent. over the year preceding the launch of the valleys enterprise. The Welsh Office has also announced that it will make available additional funding of £5·5 million for 10 more valley health projects, which are proceeding. The forecast 25 per cent. increase in the number of houses benefiting from enveloping and block repair schemes is taking place; about 2,000 houses will be treated under the programme in 1988–89.
I could continue with more details. I challenge anyone to find anywhere in the United Kingdom with a population of 700,000 in which there is so much activity on such a scale and enjoying such considerable success.
The enterprise initiative launched by the DTI was important. Wales has a remarkable record during its first few months of that initiative. When I took on my responsibilities at the Welsh Office I discovered that, when major DTI schemes were launched to provide grants and facilities for industry, far from receiving more than its appropriate share, Wales virtually always got less. We endeavoured to communicate with Welsh commerce and industry—with considerable success—and the Opposition will be delighted to hear that in the first few months of the enterprise initiative, applications and grants provided under the scheme in Wales have been 60 per cent. higher than the DTI had predicted. Indeed, applications are better in Wales than in any other region of the United Kingdom, which reflects the vitality in what is happening there.
During the course of the year I announced the setting up of the Welsh Language Board and received criticisms from both sides about it. The English-speaking parts of Wales said that it was monstrous to set up a board whose members were all enthusiastic Welsh speakers. They thought there should have been a balance between English and Welsh speakers. I decided to set up that board because I wanted on it people who were enthusiastic about the Welsh language. They have started their work and made various suggestions to us. They will be making many more suggestions in the coming period. Partly on their advice and partly as a result of the examination that we conducted, I have today announced a record £4·6 million of grants for the Welsh language, a 40 per cent. increase over this year.
This large increase demonstrates the Government's continued commitment to the language and our determination to build on the enthusiasm and good will that already exists to secure its future. Welsh language education will receive £2·7 million, £2 million of which will be allocated to local education authorities, the Welsh Joint Education Committee and other educational bodies., including colleges. More than £700,000 is being given to support the Welsh language educational development committee to meet the cost of curriculum-led developments proposed by the committee.
I also hope that during the year there will be additional proposals which, if approved, can be supported from the £300,000 that I have yet to allocate. In addition to the £4·6 million, I have also made available £160,000 in 1989–90 for educational support grants to be given to support Welsh in the curriculum, and I hope significantly to increase that support in the future.
With regard to Welsh in the school curriculum, may I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind the fact that, although we in Pembrokeshire support encouragement being given to the Welsh language and culture, there is the traditional culture of Pembrokeshire which for nearly 1,000 years has been based on English? Will he also bear in mind the representations which are being made to him by the governing bodies of schools in south and mid-Pembrokeshire? They feel that rather than be obliged to have Welsh as a compulsory part of the curriculum, which will alienate the large number of English speakers, its inclusion in the curriculum should be voluntary.
I hope that, in all of what can be described as the predominantly English parts of Wales, considerable enthusiasm will be shown by education authorities to ensure that the teaching of Welsh is available. In terms of Wales as a whole, that represents a positive approach. I do not believe that there is any need for the English-speaking parts of Wales to show any fear or hostility towards the idea of more children of English-speaking families learning the Welsh language. The measures that we are pursuing in this sphere will prove to be important.
I note that the Welsh Language Board has been offered more than £250,000 to undertake the tasks that I have set it. That is the amount of money that it suggested that it would need in the coming year for the tasks that it will be taking on. In that area too, therefore, considerable progress is being made.
I wish to consider next the provisions that have been made and the legislation that has been passed in relation to housing. As yet, neither local authorities nor the people of Wales have recognised the radical change that is taking place and the way in which it can lead to considerably greater resources going towards improving the housing stock in Wales. The new housing improvement grants which will come into force in 1990 will be of particular benefit to Welsh householders and will enable us to target resources to those in greatest need.
For the first time, there will be a mandatory grant to enable dwellings to meet a new and more objective fitness standard. Discretionary assistance will be available to improve properties beyond that to a new target standard. Our test of resources will ensure that those in the greatest need receive the highest level of assistance, and for the first time grants of up to 100 per cent. of the cost of the works will be available. For example, a pensioner couple with an income of £90 per week will receive 100 per cent. assistance by way of grant. A married man with two children and earnings of £6,000 will also receive 100 per cent. improvement grant.
Considering the position and nature of the housing stock in Wales, the nature of the people of pension age and the fact that there has been a massive programme of housing improvement in Wales—in the last 10 years it was far greater than anything that had previously taken place— this new mechanism, by which throughout the United Kingdom a great deal of the money will go to those on lower incomes with the worst housing, will result in a considerable transformation of the scene in Wales. I hope that local authorities and others concerned will examine carefully how to take full advantage of the scheme when it is introduced in 1990.
The Cynon valley has the highest percentage of unfit housing in Wales, and more than half the privately owned houses are unfit for human habitation. will the right hon. Gentleman estimate how long it will take the Cynon valley to put right its unfit housing under the programme that he has been describing?
I cannot think of any part of the United Kingdom that will benefit more from this scheme than the Cynon valley, because, as the hon. Lady says, there are many people on low incomes and a large number of old houses. Never, under any Government of any complexion, has there been a mandatory right to 100 per cent. grant for people in that position. I hope that the hon. Lady's local authority will examine in detail exactly how it can take advantage of the scheme. The speed with which advantage is taken of the scheme is important in terms of planning, because Wales has experience of poor workmanship in house improvements. As the scheme will not come in until 1990, that is a good period for local authorities to examine, survey and decide how to meet the mandatory requirement on them to deal with the problem. For areas such as that represented by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), this will be an important and radical measure.
I come now to some controversial areas in terms of party politics. Before the White Paper on health is implemented, there will be plenty of time for dialogue and suggestions. I hope that we shall debate the White Paper in the Welsh Grand Committee, when I shall be interested to hear the views of hon. Members. As one of the small number of Cabinet Ministers who were originally involved in the drafting of that White Paper, I give a categorical assurance that there has never been any motivation that it should be a means of privatising the National Health Service. I believe that it is absolutely vital to keep the NHS and to manage it well.
I hope that, when people examine the White Paper—as I had to examine it in terms of drafting—they will bear in mind the importance of deciding what levels of quality to set for the management of the NHS. Irrespective of the complexion of the Government in power, that is a very real problem. By considering the quality of management, the manner of its recruitment, the amount that it is paid and the diverse nature of the skills required, we wish to improve the quality of delivery, whatever total Government expenditure is put into the NHS.
I am eager and willing to look at ways to achieve that improvement. For example, would there be advantage in having more managerial power at hospital level rather than at district authority level? If that were to be done, it would have to be on the basis that management had all the obligations to carry out all the services that were needed in the locality served by that hospital. Not only would there have to be a management structure by which that would continue to be done, but we would have to monitor the situation to ensure that it was being done after the change had taken place.
There are many issues in the White Paper, some controversial and others not, but they are all important, considering the considerable resources that are being spent on health. In what I might call the Welsh passage in the White Paper, we can see that in Wales perhaps more than in most parts of the United Kingdom there is considerable scope for improving the services to see that the lifestyle of the people, the prevention of illness and health care is improved. We are examining proposals on those matters and I hope that they will come forward in the coming year.
On most issues we shall be issuing papers similar to those for England, and of course those principles will apply. I think that they are to go out this week. Thereafter, we shall issue papers on specific Welsh proposals. There will be plenty of time for discussion and I am anxious to hear the views of hon. Members in all parts of the House.
I recognise the party political differences on water and electricity privatisation. When those proposals have been implemented and are fully in operation they will have to be examined by the people of Wales. Prior to vesting date, many issues will arise about the form of privatisation, the way in which the shares are placed and the use of land holdings. I am happy for those two proposals to be examined on their merits when they are in operation.
I should like to say a few words about the general economy of Wales and deal with some regional matters. In regard to north Wales, I have asked my hon. Friend the Minister of State to examine the implications of the completion of the A55. He will be meeting local authorities and will welcome the views of Members of Parliament representing north Wales and other areas. Currently, the movement of inward investment in north Wales is very encouraging. A whole range of potential planning applications are under consideration. Obviously, I cannot comment on them, because any appeals will come to me.
There is no doubt that there is enormous interest in development along the A55 and enormous potential for tourism. We have to examine carefully ways to attract to mid-Wales, west Wales and north Wales businesses and interests in which the geographical location is no longer of any great importance. Due to the nature of telecommunications and monocommunications for a whole range of service industries there is no disadvantage in being in a place that is not on the main routes but is very attractive. I want to persuade local authorities along the A55 to take a postive approach to planning and not merely react to applications that are put in. They have to make clear which areas they would like to see developed and the type of development that they would prefer.
I understand the fear that development will damage Welsh language and culture, but nothing has been more damaging to the language than the lack of economic development, which has led Welsh-speaking people to move away. If economic development means firms and managers coming from outside, one has to examine the education system and ensure that the Welsh language is preserved, but one also has to consider the enormous advantage of active economic development. In the coming months, therefore—before the summer recess, I hope—the potential of the A55 to north Wales will be examined.
The letting of factory units in mid-Wales during the past 12 months has been quite staggering, and way beyond what was predicted. For that reason, we have given the go-ahead to further investment programmes. Some further units are under construction and some are to be built in the coming year. If we consider the scale of population concerned there are considerable advantages in making such efforts.
In regard to south Wales, in the long-term communications are terribly important. The completion of the second Severn bridge is also of considerable importance. I am delighted that the firms to which the tender documents are being sent were announced yesterday. We have given them a very short time in which to put in their tenders and I hope that shortly afterwards we shall be able to make decisions and proceed quickly with the building of the new bridge. Likewise, an improvement of the railway services is extremely important to south Wales and will take place on a considerable scale.
What discussion has the Secretary of State had with British Rail and other interests in the railway sector? Has he considered a direct rail link through the Channel tunnel to European capitals for passengers and freight? It is totally unacceptable for such a link to go through London, as it would cause complete chaos.
I have had talks with the chairman of British Rail and with the chairman of the Channel tunnel company about that. British Rail has a statutory requirement to produce a basic plan for building an infrastructure fitting into the Channel tunnel during this calendar year and it is working on that. I have relayed to British Rail the importance of good freight and passenger services.
In regard to freight, the important thing is riot necessarily the direct line to the Channel tunnel, but where, how and how speedily the carriages are assembled and how quickly they go through the Channel tunnel. In various parts of Wales, we have to create very good modern freight terminals in which carriages can be assembled and made ready to move as whole trains or to link up with other trains to go through the Channel tunnel. We are considering those issues in great detail with a view to creating an extremely good service.
We should remember, however, that 82 per cent. of all freight traffic to Europe will go by means other than the Channel tunnel. Everyone is becoming obsessed with the Channel tunnel, which will convey a very important 18 per cent. of the freight, instead of concentrating on improving communications for the other 82 per cent. of freight from the United Kingdom to Europe. There is considerable potential for south Wales in a possible link with Portugal and Spain through Milford Haven docks. Although the docks have been built, road improvements would be needed. There is considerable potential for getting a considerable amount of United. Kingdom freight to Spain, Portugal and Ireland by that route.
Before the Secretary of State leaves the subject of railway links, will he confirm that British Rail has been considering the possibility of reopening the Severn tunnel junction which was closed —in my view, ill advisedly—only two years ago? Will he also say something about railway halts in Gwent? There is certainly a clamour for one in Magor, which is developing fast. Can the Secretary of State give any assistance to Gwent county council as it seems that British Rail is asking for an exorbitant amount of money to provide that halt?
I have not discussed either of those matters with British Rail. I have heard nothing from British Rail about those issues, but I shall look into them.
We must consider a number of issues concerning south Wales. Newport and Cardiff enjoy a great deal of inward investment, including the big Ford investment. I believe that the area surrounding Swansea also has considerable potential. The WDA factory programme announced today suggests a specific programme, and a number of local authorities around Swansea bay have formed a consortium, including a number of places currently confronted with considerable difficulties, such as Llanelli. I hope that there can be a range of promotional activities and factory building which would greatly benefit areas further west along the M4 motorway.
In regard to the economy, the WDA factory building programme announced today is on a considerable scale. I shall not bore the House with the details other than to say that they are a considerable increase on anything that has taken place before. However, I shall say a few words about an important issue to Wales—the future of inward investment. Recently, the Select Committee examined inward investment and made a range of proposals. There is no doubt that inward investment into Wales in recent years has been on a considerable scale and has proved a great success.
In the past year, inward investment has broken all records in terms of forward investment. Even excluding Ford, it breaks all records for inward investment. We are enjoying a big proportion of the inward investment in the United Kingdom. We have an attractive package of measures, thanks to the selective assistance and the Welsh Development Authority. The most important and attractive ingredient is the fact that we have gained a good reputation in labour relations and productivity.
I believe, however, that our drive for inward investment must be even more professional in the immediate future than in the past. We have had colossal benefit from both investment and jobs, each of which has risen year by year on a considerable scale.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the quality of the inward investment is important, that a number of the jobs that have been created in Wales recently are low paid and part time, that current average male earnings in Wales are the lowest of any region in Britain, and that the position of women is even worse? Is there not a possibility that people are exchanging poverty-line benefits for poverty-line wages?
That is a very bad remark to make about the quality of inward investment. It creates the impression both at home and abroad that the only thing coming to us is low quality investment. Does the hon. Lady think that the Ford investment is low quality or that some of the investment in the chemical and electronic industries is of low quality? As for average male full-time earnings, in two of the Glamorgan county council areas they are higher than in the west and east midlands at present. The image that the hon. Lady constantly wishes to depict of low earnings and unskilled people is just not true. I ask her to go down the list of inward investments over the past two years. How can she suggest that they are of lousy quality? They are very high-quality investments, bringing a new range of activities and considerable skills to the Welsh economy. I warmly welcome them and hope that they will continue to be of such high quality.
One of the important new injections into the Welsh economy in investment is financial services. These are going on now on a considerable scale. In the recent past, the Trustee Savings bank has brought 2,000 jobs to Newport. There has also been investment by the National Provident institution, a major French bank, Rothschild's, and the expansion of Lloyd's bank in Swansea. We also have a whole range of small firms expanding their staff and their activities. Over the past eight years, 20,000 additional jobs have been created in financial services in Wales. Nobody would have predicted that rise such a short time ago. I am glad that it is accelerating, and I am glad that the Cardiff bay development will add to it. It is something that will benefit the whole of Wales.
It is interesting to hear the Secretary of State refer to 20,000 extra jobs in financial services in the past eight years. He must realise that in the past 10 years we have seen a reduction of 153,000 full-time jobs in Wales. When does he expect us to get back to the levels of employment that existed when Labour was in power?
I suggest that if the hon. Gentleman waits for the forthcoming figures he will be pleasantly surprised. He may, when he sees them, say that this is due to the very small sample that was taken, and that may well be true, but all I can say is that in Wales we have the remarkable fact that since its peak in May 1986 unemployment has dropped by 62,000 despite the fact that in that period we lost 10,000 more jobs in coal and steel. Financial services are a very important part of the economy.
The Select Committee said that it did not like the title of WlNvest, and that it should be replaced or altered. I accept that recommendation, as I do not think that it is a good name.
That might be much better. If it comes about, I shall cite the hon. Gentleman as the proposer.
We see, therefore, that Wales is experiencing a substantial fall in unemployment, has an enormous flow of inward investment and has the biggest factory building programme for its size anywhere in the United Kingdom and perhaps anywhere in Europe. The diversity and number of new jobs is increasing and new training is being carried out on a considerable scale. The combination of all these factors is transforming the Welsh economy. I believe that the people of Wales recognise that this transformation is taking place and that it is very much to the benefit of future generations in Wales.
It was interesting to hear the Secretary of State refer to inward investment and to a record building programme. Some of us on the Opposition Benches thought that the really big record was his output of press releases during the past year: they have rained down on Wales thick and fast.
I had hoped to hear in the right hon. Gentleman's assessment of the economy how he saw the impact upon small and medium-sized businesses in Wales of a possible further rise in interest rates. As regards inward investment, I had hoped to hear some sort of statement on the Toyota project. But he did not mention them. I would use the word "sanguine" to describe his speech, even "over-sanguine", and as a corrective I will offer a reference to the report by the Low Pay Unit in today's Western Mail, which says that:
the divide between Wales and the south-east of England is now greater than it was a year ago.
According to the Western Mail,
The report argues that the situation has worsened since the loss of relatively well-paid, male-dominated jobs in the Welsh coal and steel industries in the early 1980s. Low pay is also common in rural Wales.
It makes the serious statement:
Average earnings for men are lower in Wales than in any other region of Britain".
More facts as an antidote to an over-sanguine speech. In Clwyd male unemployment is 12·8 per cent., in Dyfed 14·8 per cent., in Gwent 14·2 per cent., in Gwynedd 17·1 per cent., in Mid-Glamorgan as high as 17·3 per cent.; South Glamorgan has 12,459 unemployed men and some 4,200 unemployed women, and West Glamorgan has 14·5 per cent. male unemployed. These are very serious figures. The right hon. Gentleman's approach today took no account of the very large-scale unemployment that still exists throughout Wales today. One of the disadvantages that he labours under is that his Prime Minister, early in the 1980s at a Conservative conference in Swansea, actually said that the unemployed of Wales should travel to England to find work.
The right hon.Gentleman referred to two late colleagues of ours. Sir Raymond Gower was regarded by all of us as a very personable man and a very gentlemanly person—a very nice man. Nobody would deny that he was a House of Commons man. None of us ever heard from those Benches any harsh or personal statements that were offensive. In the Tea Room he was a pleasure to talk to. He had a great deal of humour; he used to understate matters. In the Welsh Grand Committee, Raymond Gower was always very loyal to his Ministers, and he displayed a great deal of insight into the politics of Wales. I rather think that, over the years and behind the scenes, he gave Ministers a lot of good advice. Nobody can take from him his superb constituency work. He was probably one of the finest ever constituency Members. Nobody could say that Raymond Gower had other than tremendous personal and loyal support from Lady Gower. Our proceedings will be the poorer for his death.
In passing, I draw attention to the pressure in modern politics throughout Wales. I remember Mike Roberts, Alec Jones, Brynmor John and Euan Evans. We can all draw some conclusions from the passing of these colleagues.
Having spoken about late colleagues, I should now like to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) who had an exceptionally warm welcome today. He fought a fine campaign and is no stranger to us. He is a considerable broadcaster and his by-election victory is a watershed in this Parliament. I enjoyed listening to all his speeches in the campaign, and I especially like his identification with and loyalty to his own industry of mining. I was impressed by his love of the Welsh landscape and know that he will do his best in the House to guard it. He spoke up strongly for the under-privileged in his constituency—those on low wages and people who are badly housed. When my hon. Friend speaks in the House, some of these issues may come forward.
I was disappointed in the Secretary of State's response to the loss of jobs in the steel industry. In Trostre, Velindre, Brynawel, Ebbw Vale and Shotton, there have been heavy job reductions, over 1,000. Those were hi-tech, full-time, first-rate male jobs in manufacturing, and the economy cannot afford such job losses. I emphasise our great regret at the lack of consultation. It seems that, once the steel industry was privatised, the board was able to act at will. I do not think that the Secretary of State lifted a finger to help. I regret that, because we have lost some of the best jobs in Wales.
Perhaps the Secretary of State will say something about the tinplate industry in Wales as we go towards 1992. Our steel workers who suffered job losses are getting a poor repayment for first-class productivity. They generated profits but have suffered a reduction in manning because there have been many redundancies over the years. The Secretary of State should take into account the strength of the industry. I do not want that strength to be dissipated now that the industry is privatised. I warn the Secretary of State that many steel workers in Wales fear that their jobs will go to contractors. I am informed by trusted and experienced trade union leaders that there is always a decline in the status of jobs provided by contractors. That decline is in health and safety, pensions, wages, holidays and other conditions that were hard won and jealously guarded over many years.
I should now like to turn to the south Wales coalfield. There is now a revue of the Cynheidre and Marine collieries in which about 1,500 jobs are being looked at and about 500 jobs are under review elsewhere in the coalfield. The loss of 2,000 colliery jobs would be serious because coal and steel jobs are important. I have a hot question for the Secretary of State. Why is the Carway Fawr mine at a halt after the investment of £35 million? The miners believe that production has been halted so that when people are taken on again they will be non-NUM members.
We think that the supposedly moderate face of British Coal in south Wales is a blind. The south Wales NUM is noted for its good day-to-day industrial relations. We have every reason to believe that British Coal is acting provocatively and, arguably, wanting disputes. I should like the Minister to refute that. He should meet the chairman of British Coal and the area director for south Wales and raise these matters because they are of great importance to the coalfield.
I spoke about great pressure on miners. They are somewhat bitter because it seems that the productivity goalposts are being moved. They are also worried about the import of anthracite from China and there is apprehension about the effect on the south Wales coalfield of electricity privatisation. Because of the importation of anthracite our production centres are being closed. The Minister should intervene, not step aside and ignore the worries in the coal industry.
When we consider the potential loss of 2,000 coal jobs and 1,000 steel jobs, we see that even if the Toyota project were to come to Wales, the jobs that it would provide would be negatived. We could put it another way and say that, to replace the steel jobs soon to be lost in Wales, we would need several more of the magnificent Ford Bridgend investment projects. That shows that the matter is serious.
Interest rate levels have prompted warnings from the business community in Wales. A recent survey by Cardiff chamber of commerce showed that high interest rates are an increasing headache for businesses in south Wales. We have had a warning from the director of the CBI in Wales, Mr. Ian Kelsall, that sustained high interest rates will lead to a decline in investment. I was disappointed that the Minister did not address himself to the problem of high interest rates in relation to industry in Wales. He did not address himself to the continuing impact of the balance of payments crisis or to the effect on businesses of likely increases in the cost of water, electricity and gas. He did not speak about inflation, which may well hit 8 per cent. before long.
The Secretary of State and I both know that the Budget surplus is estimated at about £10 billion. Will he use the authority and influence of his Department to ensure that the Severn bridge tolls are not increased? We should like to hear about the date on which it is intended to start the second crossing. We are worried by recent statements by the Minister for Public Transport, because it seems from reading reports of what he has said that he is not prepared in any way to say that the second crossing is a certainty. We expect the Secretary of State and his Ministers to fight hard for the earliest possible starting date. Given the size of the Budget surplus, there is no reason why the Department of Transport should not seriously consider electrifying the Crewe-Holyhead railway line.
We should have a guarantee of major increases in funds to tackle the housing crisis. The Secretary of State forgot to tell us that more than 4,500 people are homeless in the Principality, according to a recent answer to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman). We should like the Minister to press for an increase in child benefit and for more funds for the National Health Service, with the aim of mounting a meaningful attack on waiting lists and financing a genuine programme of preventive medicine in Wales.
The right hon. Gentleman should devise schemes to assist exporting industries in Wales. Something should be done about bringing in lower interest rates. On these Benches we say no to a free market; we know, and the right hon. Gentleman knows, that Wales needs public investment, intervention and more and more funds.
While I and my right hon. and hon. Friends have criticised various legislative proposals that have come before the House in recent months, we need legislation which the Government have not brought forward. There was no mention in the Queen's Speech of a measure to make an attack on environmental pollution. Yet in Wales last year the infamous poison ship, the Karin B, wanted to dock at Neath. In my constituency poisoned soil has been dumped near houses, having been brought to Mostyn dock from Rotterdam. The Dutch did not want it; we in Wales had to receive it.
In the borough of Torfaen, Rechem has an infamous smoke stack. Its outpourings frighten the local population. My hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) is fighting hard for a public inquiry. We should have a public inquiry too about continuing pollution of the river Dee, from which water is extracted for domestic use. There have been far too many pollution incidents on the river. The right hon. Gentleman surely saw the Daily Post this week where it is reported that the North West water authority still intends to dump raw sewage in Liverpool bay. Much of that deposit ends up in the north Wales area to the detriment of our beaches and our tourist industry. Public opinion demands ministerial intervention in the near future.
Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of pollution, will he please not forget probably the worst industrial polluter left in Britain, the phurnacite plant in Abercwmboi in my constituency? Does he agree that if that plant were in the south-east of England it would have been shut long ago?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It would be instructive if the right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his many visits to Wales, were to go with my hon. Friend to see for himself what it is like.
More Welsh people should be involved in decisions affecting the environment. Above all, we want an adequate inspectorate. We have only one inspector responsible for poisons for all of Wales, yet the importation of foreign poisonous waste is a burgeoning industry. There has been a 13 per cent. increase in carbon monoxide from cars in the past 10 years. Expenditure on research into the environment has been cut by 17 per cent., yet there has been a tenfold increase in the importation of hazardous waste since the Government came to office. We want legislation, and we want the right hon. Gentleman to speak up for us on this matter.
Much of what the right hon. Gentleman said today related to the valleys initiative. We have a mandate to make our views known. The initiative has a noble aim if it is properly funded, strategic and not tactical, long term rather than short term, and if it is free of any taint of a confidence trick or of the technique of the sting. The right hon. Gentleman made an error last week. Two days before the Pontypridd by-election, he could not resist the temptation to meet some of his cronies and make a speech to them, instead of making a statement to the House on the Monday. I am sure that his civil servants advised him against doing that.
The right hon. Gentleman is stung. He is embarrassed. He knows that he made a monumental error of judgment. By his demeanour during his intervention, all of us on these Benches know that he has virtually made an apology. I respond to the right hon. Gentleman in the same spirit as he made his intervention.
My advice to the right hon. Gentleman is that he should not play around with the initiative for short-term gain. The councils in the valleys are good councils. They are well informed and responsible. Their reaction to the initiative has been reasoned. That is important for the whole programme. I want to give the right hon. Gentleman some advice. The areas outside the valleys are getting nervous. He has to do something about them. Yesterday in the Western Mail we had the headline:
Urban aid package share out is attacked".
The article said:
Dyfed County Council yesterday bitterly attacked its share of Wales's £20,600,000 urban aid package. The county's
share, of only £48,000, was described by civic chiefs as bitterly disappointing, with West Wales being sacrificed at the altar of the Valleys Initiative.
The right hon. Gentleman has work to do; he must tell areas outside the valleys that he is not robbing Peter to pay Paul, as it were.
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) has quoted the Western Mail as a definitive newspaper. During the recent by-election it was grotesque that the Western Mail and the South Wales Echo were taken over by the Welsh Office. At one stage we wondered whether the cost of their publication would be included in the Conservative candidate's election expenses.
It is "Walkervest" and "Walker Mail". That is in keeping with that newspaper over generations.
The £8 million for housing envelope schemes is welcome, but that amount could be used entirely by but one local authority in the valley areas.
Valley councils fear a stop-go policy on derelict land clearance schemes. A consistently high provision of cash is necessary, not just in one or two years. What specific extra funds will he given to deal with the awesome problems posed by our aging population in the years ahead? If the right hon. Gentleman has not thought about that, he had better start doing so in the context of the initiative.
Will the Secretary of State meet the valley communities to hear their response? Will he take the time to hear their views? Will he meet the local authorities with his junior Ministers, not just once but several times in the years ahead? The three-year programme is welcome, but if the initiative is to get off the ground it must run for at least eight years because continuity is all important.
Surely the urban programme funding should be increased significantly. The valley councils clearly believe that the initiative can prosper only as a rolling programme. The Secretary of State instances 25,000 to 30,000 jobs in three years. What private enterprises will put their money into the valleys and who will pay for the infrastructure to facilitate such an advance?
Regional development grants are out, but the Secretary of State has included them in his package, having the cheek to talk of a massive increase in applications. The massive increase was because regional development grant was to be phased out within three months. That is typical of the right hon. Gentleman. Local authorities do not think that regional selective assistance will be sufficient to fill the gap that will be created by the loss of regional development grants.
In a document published by the valley councils, they say:
It was surely deceptive to draw attention to a 'massive increase in applications', when the main reason for such an increase was the three months period given for firms to apply for RDG before it was removed. Obviously this ultimatum generated applications from firms who wished to protect their position, thereby beating the deadline".
The councils use the word "deceptive", and it is that sort of approach that I want to warn the Secretary of State against. The initiative must work. The programme must be carried forward.
The valley councils fear that their economic efforts will be secondary to those on the coastal plain. The Secretary of State must give some assurances on that. The Government's financial cuts have left valley road maintenance in a scandalous state. They say that the fabric of their roads may disintegrate entirely. Will the right hon. Gentleman make cash available to avoid that? Where are the proposals to upgrade the present antiquated three-lane sections of the heads of the valleys road? Surely upgrading that road is of fundamental importance to a strategy for the region. That is of prime importance, but the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to it.
The figures that the Secretary of State has given for housing are not enough. The total repair bill for the valleys is in excess of £300 million. The employment and financial status of many home owners is disturbing. That is the only word to use. A rolling programme for housing is necessary.
Let me remind the Secretary of State that the poll tax would be a devastating blow to his own initiative. How can his initiative revitalise the valleys when the burden of the poll tax will fall disproportionately on the valleys? The right hon. Gentleman's support of the poll tax undermines the very programme that he has been extolling to the House. Again, that is typical of the right hon. Gentleman. We want some answers from him on that issue. If he does not make money available over and above the normal provision, his initiative will fail.
It is daft for the right hon. Gentleman to include the improvement of hotels arid pubs. Many brewery refurbishments were completed before the valleys initiative was announced. That has caused some hilarity in the valleys at the right hon. Gentleman's expense.
I have read the impressive response of the Committee of Welsh District Councils to the valleys initiative. I know that the Secretary of State has read it and I hope that he will meet members of that committee.
I support the idea of the valleys initiative. Much needs to be done to create jobs, to provide good housing, better health and better education and to improve the quality of the environment in the valleys. But the Secretary of State is an expert at gift wrapping. The paper is nice and shiny. The bow is beautifully tied. But when the right hon. Gentleman's parcels are unwrapped there is not much in them. We shall have to look carefully at his statements and examine them in detail.
The Secretary of State is willing to take the credit for the valleys initiative—he went to Merthyr to get it—but, he must share responsibility for the Government's policies and their impact on the valleys. The Opposition know that the Government's economic policy is at odds with the aim of the valleys initiative. Until the right hon. Gentleman can work that out we have a serious problem.
The Electricity Bill guarantees electricity for our Welsh people, but at a much higher price. It will have a serious impact upon the south Wales coalfield. It will encourage a flood of cheap imported coal and there is no guarantee in the Bill of security of supply in the mid-1990s. It is defective legislation.
The Local Government and Housing Bill continues Heir Majesty's Government's attack upon local government in Wales. It guarantees large increases in council house rents Those rent increases that the Government will force upon council house tenants are likely in turn to force tenants to buy their homes. In case the Secretary of State has not read it, I can tell him that his name is on it.
The Secretary of State's name also appears on the Education Reform Bill which has since been enacted. That Act goes overboard on testing. It puts a great deal of pressure on the primary school pupil and it ignores the current demoralisation of the teaching force and the need for money for staff in order to meet the demands that the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for Education and Science are making through the curriculum. Worse, it is potentially divisive.
Worse—if it can be worse—is the Water Bill. If ever there was one, here is an unwanted, friendless Bill. Its name could be "the great Welsh land sale". When last were some 85,000 acres of beautiful Welsh landscape put under the hammer? The Bill there virtually guarantees that the ownership of our own Welsh water authority will slide into the hands—the profit-hungry hands—of City institutions. That is to be the fate of the Welsh water authority. In respect of this Bill, the Secretary of State has been as weak as water. His name is on it.
Why has no Welsh national rivers authority been mooted? My right hon. and hon. Friends and I say to the Secretary of State that he should have had Wales exempted from this Bill. Without a doubt, it is a stain on his reputation. The Secretary of State for the Environment —the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley)—bested the Secretary of State for Wales in Cabinet. The Secretary of State for the Environment has overturned the right hon. Gentleman's own water reorganisation of 1973. If ever there was a departmental humiliation, this measure is it. However much the right hon. Gentleman may squirm, he knows that the Bill is a major defeat for him and his Department, yet he had the recklessness to put his name to it. It guarantees high costs, but does not declare a war on pollution or guarantee quality water, yet the right hon. Gentleman failed to have Wales exempted from it.
Then there is the Local Government Finance Act 1988. I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that the poll tax goes against the Welsh people's instinct for fair play. As if he did not know it, the poll tax will bear heavily on the larger, poorer families of Wales. Women, too, will lose out. When the full impact of the legislation is measured, it will be seen that our valleys curse the poll tax and curse the right hon. Gentleman who failed to have Wales exempted from it.
We have also the White Paper on the National Health Service reforms. Does not the right hon. Gentleman know that these reforms are unwanted by patients, by nurses, by doctors and by ancillaries? Does he not realise that the White Paper is a lost opportunity? It contains no substantial proposals about how to provide quality care for the elderly—just a proposal for private health insurance and private beds. How can the average pensioner afford private health insurance? The Prime Minister should explain, because, despite the Secretary of State's disclaimer today, and despite his soft words and his honeyed phrases, there remains in Wales the suspicion that the Health Service is to be prepared for privatisation. I remind the Secretary of State that Mr. Aneurin Bevan, the architect of the Health Service, drew his spirit from the people of Wales—and the pervading spirit was social justice. This White Paper goes in the opposite direction. It is another instance of an error of political judgment on the part of the right hon. Gentleman.
I understand that my own county health authority— Clwyd—condemned the overhaul of the National Health Service. It said that the health authorities that provide regional services—Merseyside, for example, offers cancer services to North Wales—have their costs reimbursed through extra Government funding, but that under the new arrangements they would charge for those patients they treat. Dr. David Jones, the general manager, said that between £5 million and £10 million would be needed. As recently as yesterday, the health authority voted, by nine votes to one, with one abstention, to reject the right hon. Gentleman's own White Paper. This measure is not needed by the people of Wales, and when the general election comes, and when there are further parliamentary by-elections, the right hon. Gentleman's party will be called severely to account. That I predict.
These measures—all of them—will be the means by which the right hon. Gentleman's party loses many, many votes in Wales, and, symbolically, I throw the book at him. He will deserve the criticism that he will get throughout the length and breadth of Wales for putting his name to measures that Wales does not want and does not deserve. He should know that he is putting very heavy burdens upon the backs of his hon. Friends who will present themselves to the Welsh people for re-election.
I firmly believe that the Prime Minister appointed the right hon. Gentleman as our Secretary of State by error. Perhaps she thought that his constituency—Worcester— was in Wales. These legislative measures will quicken the electoral decline of the Conservatives in Wales. The Education Reform Act, the Local Government and Housing Bill, the Electricity Bill, the proposed changes in the National Health Service, the poll tax and the privatisation of our water industry are against the grain of our nation's history, and I know that they will be rejected by the electorate. The Secretary of State for Wales, who so carelessly—indeed, cheefully—endorses them, will in the long run be found waiting by the Welsh people.
For all his skills of presentation, the right hon. Gentleman cannot hide the fact that he is politically the Prime Minister's messenger-boy. The most experienced member of the British Cabinet, and arguably the most able, is the Prime Minister's apologist for unjust, unwanted legislation in Wales. I remind him that at Prestatyn last year he was rash enough to say that he would make the political map of Wales blue. Well, he has got the blues now. Pontypridd gave him the answer. Hon. Members on this side reject the free market approach. We shall redouble our efforts, because we believe that the Conservatives are in decline. We look forward to the hustings, when our programme will point to victory and to social justice.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) reminds me of nothing so much as a small boy sitting on the edge of a canal bank, fishing aimlessly through the long afternoon with a bent pin, and coming up with nothing more than a few rusted tin cans.
I am very conscious that this slot in our debates was almost invariably filled by my good and close friend, and the friend. I believe, of every Welsh Member, Sir Raymond Gower. On a later occasion it will be my privilege to pay a fuller tribute to him, but at this point I must say that he had one quality in particular that I think we should all do well to emulate: he invariably gave his political opponents credit for sincerity and for good intentions. I will try, at any rate in this speech, to live up to his high standards in that respect
After the Pontypridd by-election, which was caused by the untimely death of another much-loved and much-admired Welsh colleague, Brynmor John, and which has brought into this House a very distinguished new Member, whom we all eagerly look forward to hearing, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, the Labour party, very understandably, is feeling rather pleased with itself. It can hardly be blamed for licking its lips over the prospects in Vale of Glamorgan, where the act of Raymond Gower will be a hard one to follow.
There were two fundamental reasons for the Pontypridd result. There is the natural disenchantment that comes after any Government have been in power for some time. The only surprise is that it took so long in coming. What is of more specific interest is to assess how far the mid-term unpopularity has been mitigated and aggravated by the Government's policies, particularly those affecting Wales. I intend to deal mainly with those policies but, before that, I must face another relevant issue.
During the by-election campaign the Labour party concentrated on attacking the value of the valleys initiative of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside did the same today. There was a lot of talk about hype from one Opposition Member and much derision over the paucity of visible results from the initiative. Fair play; that is all part of the rough and tumble of politics and I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be the last to complain. He knows the value of a sharp jab in the solar plexus. In trumpeting so loudly the scope and huge aims of his valleys initiative he was laying himself open to just such a jab, especially with a by-election coming when it did. No doubt there will be other such blows in Vale of Glamorgan.
However gleefully the Labour party exploits the contrast between my right hon. Friend's policies and the achievements shown to date, it knows two things well. First, the valleys initiative represents a major effort by one Minister, in a Government who are excessively addicted to market forces, to intervene purposively in the economy and to use the power of the state to unleash large-scale private investment. Secondly, it shows something else which offers an even sharper comment on its by-election tactics. My right hon. Friend, in this matter as in everything else that he has undertaken in his long and immensely distinguished public career, has always been conscious of the need for boosting morale. He knows that if he can create the impression that the valleys are about to enjoy a rebirth of activity, private investors, scenting a boom, will want to get in on the act. That, in its turn, will touch off other investors until the process of growth becomes self-stimulating.
I apologise for a brief attack of total recall, but I can remember the mood of dismay with which those of us in the British forces in this country in 1943 contemplated the prospect of making an opposed landing on the heavily fortified coast of northern France. I remember how, within a few weeks of his appointment as commander-in-chief, General Montgomery, speaking directly to all the troops under his command, had convinced us that the landing was not merely possible but something to look forward to with relish and cheerfulness. My right hon. Friend is perhaps too young to have come under Monty's spell, but he has some of his qualities—at any rate the electorate of Wales seems to think so.
A truly startling poll conducted by the Western Mail just before the by-election—if Opposition Members wish to dispute the validity of the poll, may I say that it predicted the result of the by-election with uncanny accuracy—showed that no less than 93 per cent. of Conservative voters who expressed an opinion said that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was doing the best job among Welsh party leaders. That is perhaps not surprising. It showed that 73 per cent. of Liberals thought the same, and the cruellest blow of all for the Labour party was that half as many again of Labour voters approved of my right hon. Friend as approved of the Member for Alyn and Deeside. Almost every Welsh Member is prepared to admit in private that the Secretary of State is the best thing that has happened to Wales in many a long year, and his speech today was good evidence of that.
I come to the more controversial matter—the impact or the Government's policies on Wales. Without the substantial economic progress that has occurred under this Government, there would not have been the recovery from the painful process of industrial reconversion that was forced on Wales by the previous over-reliance on the older, heavier industries. There is no doubt that the Welsh economy is infinitely better placed to withstand any future blast than it was even 10 years ago. I am aware that there is plenty of room for discussion as to whether the social price of the conversion has been higher than it need have been or whether the fruits of the new-found prosperity have been shared out with tolerable fairness. However, the prosperity is indisputable, and I see unmistakable evidence of it throughout my constituency, most notably in Rhyl.
However, some of the Government's policies have exceptionally, and sometimes needlessly, damaged Welsh susceptibilities. There is the exclusive reliance on interest rates as a means of combating inflation, which is causing hardship and resentment among farmers and home buyers. There is the sheer lunacy of the poll tax, which will turn out to be at a higher level than we have been led to expect and will be far more expensive for local authorities to collect than the Government have allowed for. I withdraw none of the criticisms I have repeatedly directed at that daft idea. However, it is now the law and must be obeyed.
There is the privatisation of water, which is at present dragging its serpent path through Committee and making few friends on the way. I still find it as intensely and deservedly unpopular in Wales as it has ever been, and the news that the Government plan to spend £100 million telling us how splendid it is is hardly calculated to endear it to us any more.
There is the privatisation of electricity, which does not arouse the same hostility but which does not send the blood coursing through Welsh veins.
There is also the fundamental reform of the National Health Service, which is certainly necessary and well intentioned. However, it will be hard to make it acceptable unless the Government are seen, at the same time, to be making a massive additional injection of public funds into the Health Service. That should be done in much the same way as they could more easily have secured acceptance for the changes in the social security system if they had not tried to combine those changes with limiting the growth in expenditure at the same time.
Of course, there have been the confrontations with the doctors, nurses, social workers, farmers, house buyers and, in their time, the teachers, miners, postal workers, civil servants, the BBC, all our EEC partners and the Governments of Australia and New Zealand—and now, as if that was not enough, the serried ranks of the lawyers. That is far from being an exhaustive catalogue. It is all seen by many people in Wales as part of the syndrome, once described by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), of the Prime Minister being unable to see a British institution without wanting to hit it with her handbag.
It is not as if there was any great love in Wales—any more than anywhere else in the United Kingdom—for those institutions. However, there is a growing feeling that enough is enough and that privatisation is in danger of becoming an obsession of the sort more usually associated with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and Mr. Enoch Powell. It is more urgent to improve public services than to pull them up by the roots.
More and more people in my constituency, including many of my Conservative supporters, wish that the Government would stop and let us catch our breath instead of turning everything upside down for the sake of it. Also, they are not as convinced as they might be of the overwhelming merits of the reforms to date. They have been told time and again that the Department of the Environment has sorted out local government. However, they find that, despite all the talk about curbing local council extravagance, Clwyd county council is making a gigantic increase this year in its rate precept while, at the same time, failing to carry out its full responsibilities in education or social services. They ask how that can be when Clwyd had a generous rate support grant settlement and the new machinery is supposed to be in place to stop such extravagance. However, the intolerably large increases go on just the same. What will Ministers do about it? What can they do about it?
The people have been told, rightly, how much the Government have done for the police, where their record is miles better than that of their predecessors. But they read also that the north Wales police have asked for 30 extra posts and have been allotted six, and at the same time they read of more and more loutish riots in hitherto peaceful villages.
Although we have the best Home Secretary that I can recall, the Government are not seen to be winning the battle against crime or disorder. It would be dishonest to pretend that a large increase in police resources would turn the tide. However, the impression which is now widely prevalent in north Wales, that the Government are refusing the increase in manpower for which the police are asking—an increase which is needed if they are to cope with imported hooliganism in seaside resorts and the home-grown variety in the villages without totally depriving the countryside of any cover—reinforces the growing sense of unease that the Government are getting some of their priorities wrong. I ask the Secretary of State to convey to the Home Secretary the deep disquiet that is felt throughout north Wales on this matter.
It is not just in the matter of law and order that there is growing concern about the Government's priorities. There certainly was a need to diminish the power of the state, to give the individual more room to breathe and to assert himself over mighty corporations. The new freedom has brought results that benefit the whole community, but there are things that can be better done by collective action. I refer to public order, the protection of the environment, education, and health. People seem to sense that fact more vividly in Wales than in other parts of the United Kingdom. That feeling will have to grow and deepen before it constitutes any real threat to the Government at the next election—although, no doubt, it will fuel many a by-election humiliation. As long as divisions in the centre and on the Left persist—and they will persist—there can be no effective challenge to Conservative supremacy. We Conservatives will continue to govern this country for a long time.
I do not know whether the ambitious projects that my right hon. Friend has launched, not just for the valleys but throughout Wales, will have shown enough results to enable our party substantially to increase its representation in the next Parliament. It certainly deserves to. What I do know is that a Conservative Government who rely for their power and authority solely on English seats are not the kind of Government whom I want in my country. I should find it hard to support policies that seem designed to produce such a result, and I have profound comfort in knowing that neither would my right hon. Friend or any of my hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench.
I echo the tributes that have already been paid to my distinguished predecessor, the late Brynmor John. As Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Minister of State in the Home Office, chief Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland, defence, social security and agriculture, and simply as a decent human being, Brynmor John gained the respect and admiration of all whom came into contact with him. As a member of Labour's shadow Cabinet, he maintained a special interest in defence, community relations and Welsh affairs. He listed his chief interests as music and watching rugby.
During my by-election, his and my favourite club, Pontypridd, fought a hard and uncompromising duel with Llanelli. As I sat and watched the huge, force-fed Llanelli forwards manhandling our smaller, spirited Pontypridd pack, I thought of Brynmor and wondered what he would have made of such a spectacle. Would he, like me, have been reminded of the similarity between Llanelli's tactics and those of the majority of the Cabinet when they rudely trounced the former right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, beginning a train of events that resulted in a by-election in that constituency being held on the same day as that in Pontypridd? Would he, like me, have been struck by the similarities in the one-eyed press coverage given to both bloodbaths, with Pontypridd and the former right hon. and learned Member for Richmond portrayed as the guilty parties, leaving Llanelli to pour its players into the present Welsh national side and the Prime Minister to retain her grip on the national economy?
Given the less than distinguished record of the current Welsh rugby team and the Government's performance in controlling inflation and their balance of payments deficit, Brynmor John would have smiled and whispered something about how it is better to lose a short battle but win the war. If ever the Welsh rugby establishment or the Prime Minister care to venture into the Pontypridd constituency, there will be a special welcome there. It may take some getting used to, but it may also help them on their way to wherever they plan to retire. The Pontypridd constituency is modern Wales in microcosm. I am far from certain that the Welsh rugby establishment or the Prime Minister has any notion of what that means.
Oh, they have their methods for gauging the mood of the Welsh nation. The rugby bosses seem to favour the sacrifice of a goat at midnight so that they can judge the composition of the national squad from reading the carcase's entrails. The Prime Minister employs as her own diviner in Wales the right hon. Gentleman from the English marches who continues to chant, "Initiative, initiative," as though he believes that, at a stroke, the very word will eradicate all the economic and social problems that his Government claimed to have cleared up five years ago.
My constituents bear little malice towards those who, because of accident of birth, walk in ignorance of the true nature of modern Wales. They have almost certainly forgiven the candidate for the Social and Liberal Democrats, for example, who, in the recent by-election, referred to Pontypridd as a black hole. They did not forgive him quickly enough to prevent him from losing his deposit, but never mind. Pontypridd's intrinsic sense of fair play ensured that the SDP candidate lost his deposit as well.
As I said, the constituency is modern Wales in microcosm. Its northern extremities embrace the old heart of Wales's coal industry. In the south, it is fringed by the M4 corridor of newer, lighter industries, and to the east and west by constituencies which, like Pontypridd, have experienced considerable changes of character since the second world war. Evidence of those changes is spread evenly across the Pontypridd constituency. There has been around its southern communities a welcome expansion of new industries.
At the northern and eastern ends of the constituency the evidence of change is less encouraging. For example, the Tonyrefail community was proud of its colliery— Coedely—until it was closed under the auspices of the Conservative Government. Similarly, if we travel south and east, we find the community of Beddau, where the Cwm colliery was located. That colliery employed 1,000 men until it was closed under the auspices of the Conservative Government. Travel south and east and we find the community of Nantgarw, which lost its colliery at the same time as Beddau lost the Cwm colliery.
There is no let-up to such closures. Just an hour ago I heard directly from British Coal that it has lodged the strongest possible public complaint at news of the Central Electrical Generating Board's decision to import, via Newport docks, a test cargo of 30,000 tonnes of American coal for its Aberthaw B power station. British Coal is particularly upset at the news, because, as the Secretary of State knows only too well, it has invested heavily in the collieries which supply Aberthaw. British Coal has made it clear that that investment has resulted in an unprecedented increase in efficiency and productivity, and a perfectly adequate supply of low-cost fuel from its pits to Aberthaw.
I fail to see the sense in allowing the CEGB, which is about to be hocked off to private enterprise, to destroy the good work of this investment just for the sake of making a fast buck on the international coal market. I deplore the prospect of my constituency's electricity supply depending for its fuel on sources beyond the boundaries of Wales. Although we in Pontypridd may have reservations about the price that we pay for our electricity, and even greater reservations about the lack of anti-pollution technology installed in power stations, we are glad that our electricity is generated from low-sulphur Welsh coal at the Aberthaw power station.
We are far from glad to note the Government's enthusiasm not merely for imported coal but for the construction of a nuclear pressurised water reactor at Hinkley Point, just 20 miles from the southern edge of my constituency. Although, no doubt, some of my constituents may enjoy the remarkable spectacle of the Secretary of State for Energy attempting to emulate Tony Curtis in that great old film "Trapeze" by performing the political equivalent of a triple somersault as he justifies the need to ring-fence the nuclear industry at the same time as he throws the rest of the power industry into the open market, many more of my constituents will be hoping and praying that the Secretary of State for Energy will find no equivalent of Burt Lancaster to catch him as he hurtles towards the temporary safety net of the Back Benches,, taking his poor nuclear policy with him.
The people of Pontypridd do not intend that their elected representative should remain silent on such issues, and nor shall I, as long as I manage to attract the attention of your fair and most reasonable eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.
It is rare to have the privilege of following a maiden speech, especially in mid-term, as a result of a by-election. It is traditional that maiden speeches are listened to without interruption and greeted with approval. I have no wish to depart from that tradition, although I do not do so merely out of tradition. The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) is already a known face from his appearances on television. I was most interested to see in a recent television appearance that he has such diverse interests as jazz music and our own exciting proposals for redevelopment in south Cardiff. He now has the opportunity to be a known voice —or an even more known voice—as he has taken his place on the Opposition Benches.
I unhesitatingly offer the widest welcome to the hon. Gentleman personally because, whatever political differences any of us may have with each other, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is as sincere in representing his constituents as I and every other hon. Member try to be. Whatever our differences, we must try to remember that we are human beings as well as hon. Members and we must try to work together. The hon. Gentleman will know as well as any of us what a hard act he has in following the late Brynmor John. He was a loved and respected Member of Parliament. He was loved and respected in the House and as a neighbour, in that my constituency abuts the Pontypridd constituency. I know that Brynmor John was loved and respected in south Wales as well. I wish the hon. Member for Pontypridd well in his membership of the House, and I am sure that in our continuing debates we shall hear much more from him.
Another hard act to follow was the late Sir Raymond Gower. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) spoke admirably in his tribute to my late hon. Friend. He said that Sir Raymond Gower was arguably the finest constituency Member of Parliament for Wales that we have seen. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside never spoke truer words. I can subscribe to those words because for much of my life in south Wales I lived in the late Sir Raymond Gower's constituency. My first involvement in politics was in 1964, when I canvassed the area in which I lived on behalf of the then Conservative candidate, Sir Raymond Gower. Most recently, when I had the privilege to enter the House, Lisvane, where I live in south Wales, was in Raymond's constituency.
There has always been intense media coverage about what will happen after the loss of Sir Raymond Gower. It struck me that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) made a most appropriate comment on Monday in delivering some form of rebuff to his counterpart, the leader of the Social and Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). He suggested that there was no great haste to be discussing the Vale of Glamorgan as the late Member for the Vale of Glamorgan was not even buried at that point. There have been unseemly moves in that direction, and I am afraid that the speculation about who may replace my hon. Friend continues.
Only last night the editorial in the South Wales Echo said that whoever was to be the new Conservative Member for Vale of Glamorgan had to be an outstanding Member of Parliament. Yet we do not know who will be the next Conservative candidate for the Vale of Glamorgan and we do not know when the by-election will be held. As the right hon. Member for Devonport said, there is plenty of time to speculate about that. When we have a new hon. Friend to join us on the Conservative Benches—if that is to be the outcome—I sincerely hope that, whatever qualities he has, we shall be able to say that he is another Sir Raymond Gower, who is truly fit to represent the Vale of Glamorgan which Raymond represented so well and for so long.
I do not want to fight the Pontypridd by-election again. I will admit to the hon. Member for Pontypridd that I went up there myself. At the end of Thursday night, when I was still going round the doors of Hawthorn in the cold rain, it went through my mind how marginal a constituency we were fighting there. But we can learn from Pontypridd. I refer again to the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside, who called the result in Pontypridd a watershed. I find it interesting that he should describe it as a watershed because, as far as I can calculate, it was Labour's second worst result in Pontypridd at least since the end of the second world war.
I may be criticised by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), who made a fascinating attack on his own Front Bench by strongly criticising the use of references to the Western Mail, just as the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside was doing that. I suppose that I knew what he meant when I saw on the front page of last Tuesday's Western Mail:
Thumbs up for PM and Walker.
The Western Mail was certainly not prophesying the result of the Pontypridd by-election in putting that headline on its front page, but there were some interesting points in the opinion polls to which the Western Mail article referred.
An issue that has been on our Welsh agenda and to which it is pertinent to refer in a Welsh day debate is the question of devolution, which most of us in Wales thought had been buried on this day 10 years ago, when the people of Wales voted overwhelmingly and convincingly for having no truck with the Labour Government's Welsh assembly. That was borne out by the opinion poll that was reported in last Tuesday's Western Mail. Excluding those who did not know or did not answer the question, 44 per cent. of the respondents said that they did not want devolution. Out of the supporters of the party that espouses devolution—the Welsh National party—a majority wanted devolution, but a not insignificant number of those who said that they were going to vote for the Welsh nationalists—23 per cent.—said that they were opposed to devolution.
I am somewhat surprised by that correction. The respondents to the Western Mail opinion poll would have felt that Plaid Cymru was espousing a form of devolution—the ultimate form of devolution. My understanding of the hon. Gentleman's policy is that he wants to see an independent Wales within the Common Market. To me, that is a form of devolution. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that, besides the 23 per cent. of his own supporters who say that they do not support devolution, a further 20 per cent. say that they do not know—and that is a total of 43 per cent. of those who claimed to support Plaid Cymru in the Pontypridd by-election.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) has already referred to another result from the opinion poll—the substantial approval rating for our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. He had a far higher approval rating than the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside or the leader of the Welsh nationalists, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas). I know that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy will join me in noting that that was a far far higher approval rating than that for the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey), the leader of the Democrats in Wales.
When it comes to approval ratings and opinion polls, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the best opinion poll was the by-election result in Pontypridd because we attempted to make that election a referendum on the policies of the Secretary of State and the electors of Pontypridd gave them a firm thumbs down?
Yes, I do count the votes, but I contend that my party did no worse in the Pontypridd by-election than the Labour party, because the Labour party regarded that seat as its own but it got its second lowest ever result in a Pontypridd election since 1945. It was even worse than its 1987 result and was worsted only in the 1983 election.
When the approval ratings were broken down by the political allegiances of those questioned, 19 per cent. of Labour supporters preferred my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales while a mere 13 per cent. approved the actions of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), who is my right hon. Friend's counterpart on the Opposition Front Bench.
Those questions and approval ratings were not confined to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to his opposite number because my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's approval rating was tested among the Pontypridd electors. She scored 34 per cent., which was significantly more than the leader of the Labour party. Indeed, out of those who said that they would vote Labour —we know that there were substantial numbers on Thursday—one in four preferred my right hon. Friend to the leader of the Labour party.
From all that I deduce—this is most relevant to our consideration of Welsh affairs—that there is still a form of traditional support for the Labour party in the valleys in Wales. However, that support is grudging and owes most to tradition. When the electors of the valleys of south Wales are asked specific questions about policies and the people who implement them, there is a far higher approval rating for my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Wales and for their Conservative policies than for the Opposition. On that evidence the by-election result is not a watershed. It is the death knell, or rather yet another death knell, for the Labour party in Wales and underlines the aim of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to turn the map of Wales blue.
What else can we learn from that result, and what else has happened in this past year? I have learnt that we have a new spokesman on the Labour Front Bench and that he displays a more positive approach than his predecessor. Indeed, he referred positively to the valleys initiative this afternoon. I wonder how much the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside regretted comments in the press this week that, under the leadership of the lion. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), who unfortunately is temporarily not in her place, a study has been set up, comprising Labour party researchers, which is determined to prove that the valleys initiative is a sham, a hype and not worth proceeding with. How typical that reaction was of a destructive attack from Labour and how much it must be regretted. How much more refreshing it would be if a Labour Member representing the valleys had said that he or she was setting up a study group to try to show how the valleys initiative could be improved and how one could build on the excellent work done by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
However, when such conversions happen, they are something of death-bed conversions. Again in the Western Mail this week I noted that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside outlined his policy for housing and his commitment to the right-to-buy for council house tenants. I wonder how that commitment has come about. Is it because it is now an elephant on the doorstep and cannot be ignored because nearly 60,000 tenants of council houses and flats in Wales have now exercised their right to buy? In view of its poor result in the Pontypridd by-election, the Labour party clearly cannot continue to attack council house tenants who have exercised their right to buy. There is still a strong and continuing stream of applications from tenants who want to exercise that right to buy. Therefore, I welcome the hon. Gentleman's conversion, which is probably a good, if a late and dated, example of his pragmatism.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside will now welcome the new Housing Act. Rented accommodation has usually been a smaller proportion of the housing stock in Wales than in the United Kingdom and instead home ownership has traditionally been higher. Since 1979 the proportion of those who own their own homes in Wales has increased from 59 per cent. to 68 per cent. I very much welcome the Housing Act and hope that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside will soon do so. It provides tenants in Wales with more choice and better services.
I am glad about the establishment of Housing for Wales, which takes over the responsibilities of the Housing Corporation. I believe that it will operate those responsibilities better. Mr. Allan from Cardiff is to be the new chairman and I particularly welcome one of my constituents, Mr. Adam Peat, who is to be the chief executive. I am glad that the financial resources for Housing in Wales for 1989–90 will be 19 per cent. greater than for the previous organisation.
More emphasis in Wales is now rightly being put on housing associations as being the providers of socially necessary housing. Since 1979 housing associations in Wales have either built or renovated 15,000 additional homes. They are providing necessary additions to the council housing stock and the stock of the private rented sector. As not everyone wants to be a council tenant, the greater emphasis on housing associations is especially welcome.
Local councils appear to be frightened of some of the provisions of the new Housing Act. They appear to be especially frightened of the freedom for tenants to change their landlord. Why should councils in Wales be frightened of that new freedom? If they are good landlords who look after their tenants, there should be little for them to be frightened about—if "frightened" is the right word— because tenants would not want to change from them. If we consider the theory of that new freedom, we should ask why local councils are frightened of tenants having that opportunity which merely represents a freedom that the tenant can exercise, if he so chooses, after a ballot.
I am glad to note that two tenant groups in Cardiff are already actively considering the opportunity to change themselves into housing associations. Their estates would be owned by housing associations which they could feel were their housing associations. They would be able to feel that they could more closely control the places in which they live. I cannot predict the outcome. The tenants may ultimately resolve to remain with Cardiff city council and not to form themselves into housing associations. However, it is good that those two groups are giving this issue their fullest consideration and I hope that all tenant groups in Cardiff and elsewhere will also do so. If there are any minor shortfalls on the part of housing authorities such as Cardiff city council, this exercise will at least encourage them to be better landlords and more responsive to the proper needs of their tenants.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales also referred to the new Local Government and Housing Bill. I welcome especially the new grants regime. It will overcome the frustrations that many people in my constituency and elsewhere have felt at being eliminated from assistance when making necessary repairs to their homes simply because their homes were not built before 1919. I welcome the fact that the greatest help will go to those in the greatest need and that 100 per cent. mandatory grants will be available to those who most need them. I have many examples in the Tongwynlais, Gabalfa and Heath areas of my constituency where there is 1920s housing which is just as much in need of that help as pre-1919 housing. The people who live in those houses also need those 100 per cent. mandatory grants.
In many ways, that matter is a less well publicised aspect of the work of the Welsh Office. Inevitably our press is filled with the controversy surrounding new housing developments. The latest planning application to change yet another green field makes significant headlines, but the important progress made in improving Wales's existing housing stock and the further progress that will be possible when the Bill becomes an Act have certainly not been promoted.
I confess that I have had enough cause to quarrel with the Welsh Office. I was particularly upset to learn recently that the North Penwyn development in my constituency now seems certain to go ahead. What can be laid directly at the door of the Welsh Office is the allowing of an appeal by the Land Authority for Wales enabling it to develop parts of my constituency when the local council had overwhelmingly turned down the application. I still feel that that is entirely against the authority's remit, which should be to facilitate land and housing development where that is a commonly desired objective, not to act in the same way as a speculative developer and flout the wishes of local residents and councils.
I tend to prefer the strong policy operated by the Vale of Glamorgan borough council, which has largely tended to say that the vale is full and that there is no more room for speculative housing development there. That council is not only working in an excellent way to conserve the Vale of Glamorgan, but redirecting finances towards projects that need them—for instance, the redevelopment of older housing stock that could be brought up to a superior standard if only the money were spent. There is an opportunity for 5,000 new homes to be built in the south Cardiff redevelopment, but instead the green fields in my constituency are being destroyed. I suggest to my right hon. and hon. Friends that more promotion of the excellent work being done to improve existing housing stock could result in preserving those green fields.
Let me finally deal with the subject of health, and in particular transplants—especially kidney transplants. This is a cause that I still hold dear. Wales has led the way in improving kidney dialysis treatment, to the benefit of many patients. Pioneering work has led to the establishment of subsidiary renal units. In the last Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) promoted a ten-minute Bill, arguing that if only the English Department of Health were to emulate Wales there would be a tremendous improvement in kidney treatment there. I especially welcome the recent letting of two new contracts for a further two new subsidiary renal units, including one in my constituency, at the University hospital of Wales.
I congratulate the Under-Secretary, with his responsibilities for health, on agreeing to walk in Cardiff's St. David's day "Walk for Life" on Sunday, and I also pay tribute to the lord mayor, who has done so much to promote it. I urge my hon. Friend, when he is walking on Sunday in a most excellent cause—and, I hope, raising a good deal of money—to reinforce his determination that Wales should maintain its leading role in kidney treatment. I need only remind him of those disturbing newspaper reports about the deplorable sale of organs, involving foreign patients and transplants taking place in this country.
There is a continuing demand for kidney treatment, and a potential for the number of transplants to be increased through the adoption of the concept of "required request". If only the right questions were asked at the right time I am sure that many more transplant operations could be carried out, and that opportunity should be taken. I urge my hon. Friend on his walk to meditate on the possibility of maintaining the spirit of the lead and taking the matter up with the Department of Health in England. What could be better for Wales's leading record in improving kidney treatment than for us to hear in the Queen's Speech this autumn that a transplant notification Bill will be introduced, making the necessary progress here—as it has been made in so many parts of Wales?
First, I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) on his excellent speech. We all knew him, to our advantage, when he was a distinguished research officer for the south Wales branch of the National Union of Mineworkers and many of us relied on his expertise when problems arose—as they still do—involving the coal industry. I shall not follow what my hon. Friend said, especially his remarks about that famous match in which Llanelli once again beat Pontypridd, save to say that if he comes to Llanelli we shall give him and his team a traditionally warm west Wales welcome.
The Secretary of State spoke very briefly about water privatisation. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) rightly said how ridiculous the measure was. In all our debates, both in Committee and on the Floor of the House, I have been unable to hear or read any cogent argument or sensible justification for abolishing the Welsh water authority and replacing it with a company quoted on the London stock market. If past experience of the privatisation of public utilities such as gas and telecommunications is any guide, the service to the consumer will certainly not improve and will probably deteriorate. Prices will rise steeply and Welsh industry— which already has to pay far more for its water in many respects than many other parts of the United Kingdom —will suffer and find itself at a competitive disadvantage.
The privatisation plans cannot be justified on any of the grounds on which the Government have sought to justify privatisation in the past. It certainly cannot be justified on competition grounds. I concede that, when the Government privatise what used to be known as the trading part of the public sector, such as steel, it can be argued that competition will result. The steel industry has to compete with other steel companies, with imports on the home market and with other countries on the export market. Steel also competes with other products such as aluminium and plastic.
The case for privatisating public utilities, however, is much weaker, although I suppose that it is possible to argue that even in the case of gas there is competition in that there are other energy sources. There is no competition whatever for Welsh water, and there will be no competition for the new water company, because there is no substitute for water. The privatised water industry, as has been said, will be a total monopoly. In their ideological madness and Ayatollah-like fundamentalism, the Government are trying to graft on to a total monopoly principles and structures which can be applied only to a free competitive market. Because there will be no free market in water, the result will be a terrible botch-up, to the detriment of consumers.
The second justification for past privatisation has presumably been money. The Government have made a lot of money out of it. Now, however, they have a massive surplus on their public sector accounts—a surplus that has come about not through shrewd economic management but through the temporary benefit of North sea oil, through other privatisation measures, through the sale of council houses and through running the economy at levels far above its productive potential. The Chancellor now has so much surplus money that he dare not do anything with it. He is in the extraordinary position of being frightened to touch the money. All that he can think of is the futile exercise of repaying the national debt.
The third justification was that privatisation would establish what the Prime Minister describes as "popular capitalism" in Britain—a share-owning democracy. The privatisation of the Welsh water authority will do little for that. The Secretary of State waxes lyrical about his proposal to ensure that 15 per cent. of shareholders in the new quoted public company will be individuals. That may well happen—I do not know—but I can say for sure that the other 85 per cent. will he held by City institutions.
The accountability, albeit imperfect, which currently exists through the House and the Welsh Office will be removed and economic power will be transferred to a kind of corporate conspiracy between the managers of the new publicly quoted company on the one hand and the managers of City institutions such as pension funds and insurance companies on the other—the actuaries, the investment managers and what the Chancellor describes as the "teenage scribblers" of the City of London. We shall have corporate capitalism, as opposed to the popular capitalism that we thought the Prime Minister favoured.
The Government have no moral right to sell off the assets without returning the money that they receive to the local authorities and the ratepayers who have paid for and created those assets. There may be legal challenges in the courts, as there were with the Trustee Savings bank, and perhaps the Government will beat them off, but there is no moral right on the part of the Treasury or the new company—unless there is a restriction on the dividend—to expect that money to go back to the coffers of central Government. If the Government had any moral sense they would return the money to the local authorities.
It has been estimated that the Government's plans will probably mean that the price of water to Welsh consumers will increase by about 50 per cent. In the past few years the price of water in Wales has gone up by about 10 per cent. over and above the retail prices index. Under the new arrangements—we have not seen them in detail— apparently the new stock exchange company will be allowed to increase prices first by the RPI and then by something called the K factor.
The K factor is a figure made up of a number of complicated ingredients and indexes. One element in the K factor will be the cost of investment. If the new stock exchange company wants to invest, presumably it will have to borrow money. We all know about the level of the pound today. As things are going, it will cost upwards of 20 per cent. to borrow from the money markets. The cost of that borrowing can only be met by the Welsh consumer through price increases—it cannot be borne anywhere else.
In the competitive market place situation in which the Government believe when companies invest they often, though not always, recoup the cost of that investment not just from existing consumers but, they hope, from increased turnover and sales, an expanded market and by beating their competitors. Such companies therefore spread the cost of the investment. The new Welsh water company, however, cannot increase its sales. Everyone wants purer water, better sewers and less polluted beaches, but such improvements will not increase the sales of water or produce new customers, so there will be no chance to recoup the cost of the investment by spreading the cost —the existing customers will have to pay the lot.
It gets worse, however, because the K factor will include another figure which we should perhaps call "Special K" for the dividends that will have to be paid by the quoted company as a kind of Danegeld to its owners—the insurance companies and the pension funds. Those owners will want to be told about the dividend before the sale takes place or they will not buy the shares. As a general principle, the dividends of companies—on the stock market or otherwise—are usually paid out of profits. Profits may also result from lower costs, and there may be some scope in the Welsh water authority for reducing costs, although I doubt it because everyone knows that it is a capital intensive operation, so there is little chance of substantial cost reductions.
There is not much hope of paying for the dividends out of sales increases. As I have already said, one cannot sell any more water than at present, however much purer the water, better the infrastructure or cleaner the beaches. On top of the initial basic costs of water and the investment costs, those extra dividends—12 per cent., 15 per cent. or whatever the City demands—will have to met from the price paid by the consumer. Welsh water consumers will want to pay for better services, albeit grudgingly in some cases, but they will also have to pay for the transfer of funds from them to the new owners of the company, 85 per cent. of which will be owned by City of London institutions.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside has said, a sensible Government would use some of their huge surplus funds to improve our water infrastructure and to make our water and our beaches cleaner rather than to pay off the national debt. Such expenditure would be non-inflationary, unlike the Government's proposals and despite what the Chancellor says about inflation being a terrible thing. Improving services would not have an inflationary effect on prices. If the Government were concerned about efficiency they could set up an independent body to monitor the use of their money in the new companies. A sensible Government would do that and there would be no problem.
A responsible Secretary of State—I am sure that in private the right hon. Gentleman believes this—would go to the mullah at No. 10 and tell her that the whole thing is nonsense, that the Welsh people do not want privatisation because it will not help our services and it will do no good. If the right hon. Gentleman did that, he would serve the Welsh people well, but it would probably be his last service to the Welsh people.
I join my colleagues in congratulating the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) on his victory after what we all know was a hard-fought campaign and on diving in so quickly and delivering an eloquent and witty maiden speech. I look forward to hearing him again in the Chamber, as we all do, as well as in the smaller more initimate atmosphere of the Welsh Grand Committee—which meets shortly and to which we all look forward with such enthusiasm—and, who knows, perhaps even in the Select Committee on Welsh affairs.
This debate is the principal Welsh parliamentary event of the year. As has already been said, today's proceedings are tinged with sadness because of the recent loss of two of our senior Members, Brynmor John and Sir Raymond Gower. Both were good, decent and kindly men who were well respected on both sides of the House. Sir Raymond, with his 38 years of service as a Member of Parliament, narrowly missed being Father of the House, but in a real sense he was the father of Welsh Members. The Financial Times said of him:
His interest was his constituents and he was assiduous in their welfare".
Those words could equally apply to Brynmor John. Both raised politics from what Alan Watkins of The Observer calls "a rough old trade" to something closer to a noble calling.
Last December, towards the end of his speech in the Welsh Grand Committee, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he was
anxious that we take full advantage of what the A55 can do for north Wales.
He was keen to examine closely the immense opportunities arising from the £500 million investment spent on dualling that road. He drew a parallel with the enormous impact on economic development in south Wales of the opening of the M4 corridor. My right hon. Friend then announced that he was asking my hon. Friend the Minister of State to confer with local authorities and agencies in north Wales
to achieve a much more co-ordinated concept. That will attract economic activity, inward investment and develop existing business."—[Welsh Grand Committee, 7 December 1988, c. 9–10.]
I hope that that "much more co-ordinated concept" will develop into—I dare not use the word initiative—a full-blown programme for north Wales. Some may ask why that is necessary and why the Government have to intervene in view of the fact that much economic progress seems to be taking place naturally.
In my own constituency, unemployment has dropped by 48 per cent. in the last two years. That is the fastest falling unemployment rate of any Welsh constituency during that period. In close second and third places are Alyn and Deeside and Wrexham Maelor. Much has been achieved but more still remains to be done.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the fact that unemployment has fallen faster in several of the valleys than in north Wales. There are currently more people out of work in Clwyd, North-West and Ynys Môn than in the Rhondda, Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent, Cynon Valley, Islwyn and Pontypridd. A more co-ordinated and positive approach is needed to ensure that the prosperity that is beginning to be seen in north Wales is pushed along the A55 corridor into coastal Clwyd without by-passing any area on the way.
I want to make two important points which must be faced if we are to realise the full value of the A55 improvements. The first concerns roads—I have made it before and I shall make it again and again until the necessary action is taken by the Welsh Office. We need adequate access link roads to and from the A55. I am, of course, aware of the division of responsibility for roads between the Welsh Office and the county councils. But that is not a sufficient response.
Clwyd has no coherent road strategy. That is not just my view or that of Delyn borough council, but that of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). I informed the hon. Gentleman that I was going to say this today and he totally endorsed my view. It was also the view of the previous Secretary of State. Clwyd county council, having dragged its feet for a long time, finally commissioned an A55/A548 road link from consulting engineers Frank Graham and Partners. They concluded what we all knew —that the road network in the area of Flint and Holywell is unsatisfactory in terms of safety, environment and travel conditions. Yet, the county council deferred indefinitely any further study until the Flint by-pass, the third Dee crossing and Northop by-pass has been completed. It said that those roads would relieve congestion on the current link between Northop and Flint—the A5119.
Delyn borough council takes a diametrically opposed point of view. It believes that a new road link between the A55 and the A548 is of vital importance and should be completed before the Flint by-pass is completed and before the third Dee crossing is even started.
The borough council commissioned a study of strategic road issues affecting Delyn, including an A55/A548 link, from Messrs. Colin Buchanan and Partners. The report is due in three or four weeks' time. I understand that, with those prestigious engineers carrying out the report, it is already striking dread into the hearts of the county surveyors department at Clwyd.
It is astonishing that the transport section of the Clwyd first structural plan alteration contains no mention of the benefits that the A55 will bring to Clwyd. Delyn's view is in sharp contrast. The council is particularly anxious to exploit the opportunities offered by the A55. We urgently need Welsh Office intervention to ensure the development of a coherent road strategy for Clwyd and the whole of north Wales so that the vast investment of taxpayers' money in the A55 is worth while. That strategy requires adequate access link roads.
I turn now to my second point on industrial development. I welcome the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State today of three further WDA factories in Delyn. I do not want to sound like a broken record but he knows that there is too great an imbalance with the concentration of Welsh Development Agency factory space in the south-east of Clwyd, in Alyn and Deeside and Wrexham Maelor.
In the ten years since 1978 the total industrial floor space has increased in Alyn and Deeside by 72 per cent. in Wrexham Maelor by 46 per cent., while it has increased in Delyn by only 23 per cent. Admittedly, in Rhuddlan it has risen by 67 per cent. but that was from a very low base. I might add because it emphasises my point, that the situation becomes more worrying further along the north Wales coast. In Glyndwr industrial floor space is up by 25·9 per cent., in Colwyn it is down by 2·1 per cent., in Aberconwy it is down by 3·6 per cent., in Arfon it is up by 9·6 per cent., in Dwyfor it is down by a massive 50·2 per cent., in Meirionydd it is up by 9·6 per cent., and in Ynys Môn it is up by 2·5 per cent.
This clearly shows the need to shift the focus of the WDA property efforts in north Wales away from the present heavy emphasis on factory provision immediately adjacent to the English border, further west along the A55, following, in effect, the improvements in the road. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the positive move that he has made in regard to north Wales. I believe that we are now poised to take full advantage of the dualling of the A55.
As usual, all the fresh ideas are coming from the Conservative party. We initiate and the Opposition react. We set the agenda and the pace and they set up a policy review committee to try to keep up. We look to the future and they look to the past. We come up with new, fresh ideas and they rehash old, stale ones—
Of course I shall not give way: I have only 10 minutes.
We come up with fresh ideas and the Opposition rehash old ones. To see that we need look no further than early-day motion No. 69 in the name of the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells), entitled "Welsh Parliament".
Today is a famous anniversary—I do not know whether the Leader of the House or those involved knew it when they organised today's business. It is the tenth anniversary of the day when the Opposition parties suffered a monumental defeat in the referendum on a Welsh assembly, by 80 per cent. to 20 per cent.
I am a kind and considerate chap, so I tabled an amendment to the early-day motion gently to remind Opposition parties of that event so that they would not humiliate themselves again, but to no avail. They seem to have forgotten 1 March, 1979. However, there is of course one Opposition Member who should not have forgotten that date. He led the "Labour says No" campaign so ably that he brought down his own Government. I refer, of course, to the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), who is always so much more effective when opposing his own party than when opposing ours.
Let us look at the right hon. Gentleman's record. He was for devolution in 1974; against it in 1979; for it again in 1989. He has done a triple backward somersault as spectacular as any that Greg Louganis has ever performed but without any water to break his fall.
If we go back 10 years we find an unbelievable treasury of quotes on devolution from the right hon. Gentleman. Here is a sampler:
The irony of devolution is that it will smash beyond healing the unity of Britain".
He also said:
A new slab of Government in the form of an Assembly would turn into yet another costly millstone around the necks of the people of Wales",
In practice it"—
would simply mean a divisive and destructive scramble over limited resources with no gain in money or democracy to the people of Wales",
For the price of an Assembly we could have a new hospital or six miles of motorway or 10 comprehensive schools every year".
He had the nerve, the gall or—that wonderful Hebrew word—the chutzpah, to say a couple of weeks ago:
I've always supported devolution—a devolution that is right for Wales".
"Something old; nothing new"—that is the Labour party refrain. As Neil Ascherson, the Observer columnist, put it:
Devolution is a withered word".
The phrase "something old, something new" applies equally to the speech of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones)—[Interruption.] I am being asked to wind up just as I was coming to my best bit, but never mind, I shall use my speech again like the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside. He made a speech which has again shown him to be the original "Green". All he does is recycle his old speeches; we had another old one today. He forgets, as his colleagues forget, that Pontypridd, where Labour had a reduced share of the vote and where its majority was almost halved, will not win Labour the 98 seats it needs to achieve victory at the next election.
Order. It was remiss of me not to do so before, but I take the opportunity to remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock.
Braint ac anrhydedd yw caelsiarad am Gymru a'r. Ddydd Gwyl Dewi. To some of us St. David's day is very important but perhaps it is not so to the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan), who does not understand the aspirations of the Welsh people and the nation. Turning, the clock back a few years to St. David's day 1974, four of us in the House today will never forget that day as it was early in the morning of that day that we were elected for the first time—the hon. Members for Cardiff, Central (Mr Grist), for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), and myself. Whatever views people may hold about us, we are still here and we hope to remain for a long time. When we entered the House a week after St. David's day we were fortunate to be met by the two hon. Members who have already been mentioned—Sir Raymond Gower and Brynmor John—who advised us in a nice way on how we should proceed in the House, and thank God that we had the pleasure to meet them and to know and work with them.
Today we have listened to the new hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). It is an historic occasion for him—I can recollect no other Welshman making his maiden speech on St. David's day. That is a wonderful achievement. The hon. Gentleman's delivery was excellent. He made a humorous speech and I predict that in a few years he will be one of the greatest orators in the House. He has an excellent baritone voice and I wish him well. He is also a staunch devolutionist. Better still, he is one of the Howells clan—a rare commodity in Wales today.
Turning to the Secretary of State for Wales while I am in a complimentary mood, I congratulate him on the way in which he has looked after the interests of the Welsh language. As a Welshman and Welsh speaker, I congratulate him on his great endeavours and concerted efforts to save the language before it is too late. I am only sorry that other Conservative Members do not share his will to support Wales, its language and its culture.
On the 10th anniversay of the referendum on devolution, it is appropriate to look back over the intervening years to see what has happened in Wales under this most centralist of Governments, after the rejection of the measures on offer at that time. I am not afraid to talk about devolution, I am willing to argue with the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) whenever he wants to discuss the aspirations of Welsh people and the devolution of power to them, which he does not understand.
Although the Secretary of State claims great advances in manufacturing output, well above the United Kingdom average, he fails to point out how much ground there was to make up after the dismantling of the traditional industries during the lifetime of this Government. Wales, more than anywhere else, has suffered from the concentration of power and resources in the south-east of England, and continues to do so. The Welsh Office may paint a fine picture of factories, valley initiatives and inward investment, but that is more a tribute to its public relations efforts than a reflection of the true state of the nation.
We still have a crumbling infrastructure in Wales. Where are the plans to build the north-south road link? We still have the worst housing stock in the United Kingdom. Unemployment in some areas is disgracefully high. For example, despite the Government's massaging of the figures, it is still very high in my constituency. Standards of education in many parts of Wales are far lower than they should be. School buildings are in poor repair; parents and pupils have to run bazaars and jumble sales to provide the funds for fairly basic requirements in the schools. Our university colleges are struggling for survival in an unfriendly and philistine environment. Agriculture in Wales, which has not yet been mentioned, has suffered some of the worst years in living memory but the Government have steadfastly refused to provide any special help for the worst afflicted areas. After 10 years of Tory rule, Wales has gained little and lost a great deal.
I am sure that if a Welsh Parliament had been established in 1979 we should not now be facing the iniquitous poll tax, which will hit people in Wales who are at the lower end of the income scale. We should not now face the cost of water privatisation or fear the privatisation of British Rail, which could cut our rail services to the bare minimum. We would give short shrift to the Government's latest proposals for the so-called reform of the National Health Service, because the people of Wales know that those proposals will bring little benefit to the sick and the elderly. We would protect our institutes of higher education and defend our research institutions. By now, a north-south road would have been part of the plans for an improved road and rail network, and plans for improved housing would be well advanced. Education would be given far higher priority, and local government would be streamlined to respond to the needs of the community.
The truth is that Wales has already comprehensively rejected Thatcherism, as shown by the falling number of Tory seats and the evidence in recent polls of a growing desire for a Parliament for Wales. There is something profoundly undemocratic about the way in which we are governed by the bureaucracy of a Welsh Office and ruled from London by various quangos full of Tory appointees. The Welsh people are waking up to the fact that if they are to have what they want—what is good for Wales and her people—government must be brought closer to the people through a fairly elected Welsh Parliament which can deal directly with the problems and aspirations of our country.
I said in 1979 that a Tory Government with centralist ideas would delay the establishment of a Welsh Parliament for at least 10 years. I now feel that there is a real awakening of enthusiasm for the principles of devolution, not just among politicians but in the population at large. It is time to reopen the debate in the context of the present economic, social and cultural state of Wales—we should not wait for another 10 years. Most hon. Members representing Welsh seats are now in favour of devolving power to the people of Wales. One thing is certain— whichever party now in opposition takes over from the Conservative Government, all are pledged to support a Welsh Parliament. We look forward to that day, and I hope that it will come soon.
You said, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we could speak for 10 minutes. You may not be aware that I was to have spoken fourth today but I made way for the hon. Member for Pontypridd to make his maiden speech, so I wonder whether you can give me any extra time.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, north (Mr. Howells) seems to think that a panacea for the problems of Wales is a Welsh Parliament. It is clear from proposals that have been put forward in the past for a Welsh Parliament that, far from being a panacea, it would be a recipe for disunity and argument between the Westminster Parliament and an assembly in Cardiff. The Westminster Parliament would have to decide how much taxes could be raised for spending in Wales. In any event, we could not have the break-up of the United Kingdom that the hon. Gentleman wishes to see.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, as I did last year, on some constituency matters, but I wish at the outset to pay tribute, as hon. Members in all parts of the House have done, to the late Sir Raymond Gower. I was able to pay tribute to Brynmor John in the debate on 1 February on the Pontypridd by-election. I remember Sir Raymond sitting a few feet from me, chuckling with delight as the debate progressed. That was typical of the man.
Those of us who, as new Members, got to know him well in the Tea Room in recent years became aware of his friendly, avuncular personality and the way in which he would give warm advice, would teach us some of the ways of the House and would tell us how to perform our work as constituency Members. I greatly regret his passing. I am sure that whoever follows him as the Member for Vale of Glamorgan will have a difficult role to play in emulating the hard work that Sir Raymond did over 38 years.
My route to my constituency takes me down the M4 through south Wales to the far corner of west Wales. Driving down that motorway, I see the remarkable transformation that has taken place in the Principality in the last few years. It is incredible to see the new housing and factories going up and to witness the prosperity that has come to Wales under this Government.
That has been seen in the figures for unemployment across Wales. My constituency has the highest single unemployment rate in Wales. Whereas in 1987 we had 7,381 people out of work, that had fallen last year to 6,232 and at January this year the figure was 4,899. It is still far too high, but it is a fall in two years of 33·6 per cent. I welcome the improvement in the economic circumstances of my constituency. Initiatives have been put forward in recent months for Tenby, Pembroke, Narberth and, above all, for Milford Haven. But there are still worrying signs in my constituency.
The reply I received to a written question on Monday of this week showed that imports through Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock had fallen to 7,151 tonnes in 1987. I am glad to note that the figures for Fishguard show an improvement, but there are still problems in my part of the world, caused partly by the geography of being so far from the major centres of population and markets.
However, on the good side there are wonderful signs of revival. In Pembroke Dock there are clear signs that it is becoming a boom town, and I pay especial tribute to Govan Davies. one of our leading entrepreneurs in that town. He has raised nearly £7 million, mainly through private means, towards funding his deep-water dock facilities which are being constructed in the town. When completed, that will provide 500 jobs. It will also provide, on the warehouse site, 300,000 sq ft of new warehouse accommodation. He was the subject of an article in the February edition of Management Today, which said:
Moreover, Pembroke Dock has certain undeniable advantages over many other ports. It has no lock gates which open only when the tide is high, as at Bristol, for example. Davies' quays will be accessible, except to big Panamax vessels, at all states of the tide. They will work seven days a week, round the clock … It should thus be possible to turn round shipping, which earns money by being at sea and only incurs costs when in harbour, as quickly as anywhere in Britain. Milford Haven Port Authority charges are among the lowest in Europe. Davies also suggests that shipowners should be able to negotiate cheaper insurance rates by avoiding the English Channel.
There are also clear signs that, with the revival of the B and I ferry service to Ireland from Pembroke Dock and with the growth of the Ledwoods company and the Jenkins and Davies company in the town, the manufacturing base of Pembroke Dock is on the up.
But in the 10 minutes available to me I wish to concentrate on the local economy and the future of Milford Haven. There, unemployment is still running at 24 per cent., far higher than the Welsh average. In discussions about the future of the royal naval armaments depot in Milford Haven, the Secretary of State promised to contact the chairman of the Welsh development agency to see whether action could be taken on Milford Haven. I was delighted that, as a result of the pressure which I, local trade unions and local residents put on the Secretary of State, he announced at the end of last year the establishment of the Milford Haven business initiative by the WDA. I look forward to seeing the report which the chairman has promised will be with us shortly.
In my speech last year I referred to the subjects of small business units, the improvement of the infrastructure, the improvement in inward investment and the need for Government offices and agencies to be brought to west Wales. Today I shall refer to only two of those, the first being the infrastructure.
We must ensure that the A477 and A40 are brought up to dual carriageway standard throughout their total length, for that is the way to ensure that the goods and services that we need in west Wales and the goods and services that we can provide—the imports and exports— can go swiftly to the large markets and centres of population.
But we must also push British Rail into improving its services to west Wales. Hon. Members who use BR will be aware that it takes only two and a half hours to get to Swansea by InterCity 125. But it takes nearly another two hours to get from Swansea to Haverfordwest, which is only another 60 miles away. We do it in dirty, two-car diesel multiple units which are hot in summer and cool in winter. One cannot see out of the windows for the dirt and, because there are only two cars, inevitably large numbers of passengers must stand. My constituents in west Wales are entitled to a decent railway service, and that would be the way to attract more passengers and customers.
Those who took part in the Welsh Affairs Select Committee visit to the far east last year were impressed with the determination of companies, especially in Japan, to invest in Wales. They saw Wales as a country of growth and potential with good labour relations and a good tax regime. I want to see my right hon. Friend encouraging those Japanese and other companies to expand westwards into the west and mid-Wales. It is all very well having a great deal of new investment around Cardiff, Newport and Wrexham, but those of us in west Wales—I see the hon Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) nodding in assent— want those companies to be brought to our areas.
The green field site of the former Esso refinery would make a superb opportunity for use by Nissan, Mitsubishi or one of the other companies which is expressing interest in Wales. By providing valuable work to the local economy, it would have the effect, through the multiplier. of increasing the amount of cash in the shops and thus. helping to build up the local economy.
I welcome the Secretary of State's comments about increasing trade with Spain and Portugal. It is vital that we make a headlong rush towards increasing trade with those countries because that is an under-developed market where there should be ample opportunities to export our goods.
I have time to refer to only one other matter, and that must be the farming community in my constituency. They are concerned about the review which is now taking place of the Potato Marketing Board. I have told my constituents that I want to see the outcome of the review before reaching a conclusion. The Government must have extremely strong arguments before I shall be convinced that we should get rid of the Potato Marketing Board. It has been a good stabiliser for the local farming economy.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate, and I welcome the fact that the economy of Wales is improving greatly.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I have served longer in this House than anyone else, and during those years we have heard tributes paid to colleagues who have served here and passed on. Today, hon. Members in all parts of the House have paid tribute to Brynmor John and Raymond Gower. Each tribute has been fulsome and has emphasised the warmth, dedication and commitment of those men. I join my colleagues in those tributes and I believe that we should be failing in our duty if we did not mention Mrs. Ann John and Lady Gower, whose support for their husbands made it possible for our former colleagues to give the quality of service that they did to the House and to the people whom they represented.
Today we have also witnessed the commencement of a new parliamentary career. We welcome to our assembly my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). He speaks eloquently and with ability and I am sure that his contributions will enhance our proceedings in the Mother of Parliaments.
I extend an invitation to right hon. and hon. Members to visit Neath to see the excellent development taking place there, especially the pedestrianisation of the town centre, which makes it among the best in Britain. Before the Secretary of State dashes out with a press statement claiming it as another of his great initiatives, I place it on record that the development in Neath owes nothing to the whizz kid from Worcester but is a result of the confidence of the people of Castell Nedd. The development was designed by a former borough engineer, Mr. Alan Jenkins, and authorised by the borough council in co-operation with West Glamorgan county council. When I was a youngster in my home town of Barry large numbers of day trippers used to come to the town—many of them, no doubt, from Neath. When I visited my home town recently it occurred to me that it might be very useful for some of the citizens of Barry to take a day trip to Neath and see what is being achieved under a Labour council and perhaps compare it with what is happening in Barry under a Tory council.
It has been said that life in south Wales centred around two great industries—coal and steel. That is perfectly true. Those industries did not just create employment—they moulded the character and quality of the people and their communities. From those and related industries came our religious leaders, our community leaders and our industrial leaders—leaders of the Welsh people, some of whom, such as Nye Bevan and Jim Griffiths, went on to become leaders of the British people. Today those industries have declined from their former strength, but they are still important to the communities in which they exist and to the economy of Britain. Unfortunately, the present Government, unlike many people in south Wales, do not see those industries as related to the lives of the people of south Wales but only as a means of private profit and expendable if that profit is not achieved.
Last week Blaenant colliery, which is in the Dulais valley in my constituency and the only deep mine left in west Glamorgan, was on stop and £1 million was lost, and what was it all about? It was about the pig-headedness of British Coal management at area level. Twelve months ago Blaenant faced possible closure. Now, as a result of co-operation between men and local management a new face has been opened up which will provide good quality coal for another four years. The seams are rather thin—2½ to 3 ft high—and, unfortunately, very wet, especially at times of heavy rainfall, so the men working there get soaked to the skin. In addition to the wet conditions, air passes through the pit at high velocity and makes it bitterly cold.
During the past 30 years it has been custom and practice among men working in such conditions to get on with the job, finish it and get out of the pit, which often meant working through food breaks so that the work could be completed. That flexible approach by the men and the local management has been the means of turning around the future of the pit. The pit was closed last week because an edict came down, without consultation, that the men were not to leave the pit but were to remain there until the end of the shift, in conditions which were likely to injure their health. The Secretary of State understands these things much better than any of his Tory predecessors as Secretary of State for Wales, as he was responsible for the coal mining industry when he was an Energy Minister. I ask him to intervene and to stop the nonsense which closed Blaenant last week and thus remove the men's suspicion that there are other motives behind British Coal's action.
I remind the House that Blaenant is in the news again this week because of the accident on Monday evening when two men, Calvin Jones and Clive Havard, lost their lives in the pit. The sympathy of right hon. and hon. Members goes to those so tragically bereaved by that accident, which is a reminder to everyone that mining is not like working in a shop, an office or an electronics factory—it is dirty and dangerous, and those who work in it and their community are very special. Those two men grew up together, played together, went to school together, worked together and ultimately died together.
Finally, I want to say a few words about the steel industry, in which I have to declare an interest. I notice that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are signalling to me to sit down. That is a pity because I am concerned about the tin plate industry and its effects on the steel industry in Wales. There is a fear that unless we are able to maintain steel and tin plate in south Wales, we shall lose our steel industry in Wales and perhaps the ideas of Eden and Ridley in the days of the Heath Government will come to pass.
Perhaps the Secretary of State for Wales is not happy that we are not so enthusiastic about his endeavours for Wales, but we want success in Wales. That is why we set up the Welsh Development Agency when Conservative Members voted against it. We want it to succeed because its success will mean a better life for the people of Wales.
The Secretary of State for Wales has an avowed mission to convert the valleys to Conservatism. He is not making very much progress and we are not seeing his light at present. Equally, it is the right of the native to convert the missionary, and that is our aim and purpose. One reason why he is not making progress is that fundamentally the valley communities do not share the attitude, the approach and the values that are the driving force of specific Government policies.
I notice that an almost simplistic model of policy is now being applied to practically everything, whether it is steel, gas, coal, health or housing. It is the simplistic idea of the competition model—that if one manages to create conflict, if one manages to divide, if one manages to break things up in the name of competition and motivate people with money and incentives, everything will be infinitely better.
The valley communities do not work on that basis. The people in the valleys do not share those values or possess that kind of mentality. They believe much more in co-operation than in conflict. They believe much more in collectivist action than in highly individualistic or competitive attitudes. It does not mean that we do not want to get on, but when it comes to the community and, in particular, areas of service in the community we do not believe in this simplistic competition model being applied to every aspect of our life and our services. The Secretary of State will find, as the Government seek to apply this model to areas that touch the very heart of our services and the very nature of our community, that the reaction and the revulsion will increase.
I will illustrate the point by reference to the White Paper on health services, for it is almost archetypal of this competition model approach to what is a vital and central service in our community. I do not know whether hon. Members read the day after the White Paper came out the remarks of Dr. Hugh Saxton, a distinguished consultant and chairman of the management board of Guy's hospital. It would transform attitudes to patients, he said, referring to the White Paper:
We will have to look outwards for our customers instead of just watching them come through the door. Every patient becomes in some sense a private patient, a valued customer who is bringing the money for treatment with them.
I find that attitude absolutely nauseating. Are the thousands of patients who are currently passing through the doors of Guy's hospital not valid? Are they just watched through by the Dr. Hugh Saxtons and the rest of them because there is no money motivation in it? Are the concept of the Hippocratic oath and the idea of service no longer enshrined in the attitudes of consultants who run our hospital services?
It is that instinct, that mentality, which runs right through the White Paper on the Health Service to which we fundamentally object and which we reject—the idea of trying to create, in the one and only Health Service that most of our communities have, some sort of conflict, some sort of competition, when the fact is that we want to make the one Health Service that we have work much better, we want not to break it up but to build it up and improve it. We have only one district hospital and one Health Service in our community. We do not expect any others to turn up. We want to make the service better and even more responsive to the needs of the community that it is meant to serve.
I listened with some interest to the important statement of the Secretary of State about the role of the so-called self-managed hospitals and his commitment to the notion that all the services provided by them will be committed to the community in which they are built. This is not what the working papers issued by the Department of Health show. I hope that when the Minister replies he will clarify the position. One working paper makes a clear distinction. It says that these self-managed hospitals will be responsible only for what it calls "core services". It says:
'Other Services' are those where there may be expected to be … an element of competition in supply".
Let me tell the House what those services are—not the committed core services but the treatment of cataracts, hernias and hip replacements, all vital services that we expect from our own district general hospitals. According to these working papers, these services are not necessarily to be the function of one district hospital or another; they will be open to some sort of competition in supply. What a nauseating concept it is that elderly patients in my constituency, who are hobbling with terribly arthritic hips or suffering from the painful condition of hernia, will have to hunt around perhaps as much as 50 or 100 miles away from the hospital up the road from where they live, the hospital that is within walking or bussing distance. They will have to look for whoever is competing in supplying treatment for hernias or hip replacements.
In my community, because of the climate, we have a high incidence of ear, nose and throat conditions in our young people. The notion is that families have to peddle: their children and hunt round to Ysbyty Gwynedd, to the West Wales hospital to get an ENT condition seen to. That is the idea written into these working papers, and we reject it utterly.
Where is this competition in supply? I have the figures for all our district hospitals and their waiting lists for treatment of conditions like hernias and cataracts and ENT conditions. At Prince Charles the waiting time is over 209 days for hernias—that is when one gets on to the waiting list. Would we look for treatment at East Glamorgan? No, it has an equally large waiting list. Perhaps we can send our people all the way up to Ysbyty Gwynedd—there is only a 65-day waiting list there. Is that the idea—that the patient hunts for a service he should be albe to expect from the hospital that the community has built and in many cases has financed and supported voluntarily?
That is one of the reasons why the Secretary of State will fail hopelessly in his mission to convert the valley communities to this narrow-minded, mean and petty attitude towards life and society and community.
As I said, the natives have a right to try to convert the missionary, and I would like to convert the Secretary of State and his Ministers into taking another approach to our Health Service. There is much common ground. I have welcomed and supported, as the Minister knows, the efforts of the hospital waiting lists initiatives that the Welsh Office has promoted. There is a necessity, as the White Paper says, although it is rather weasel-worded in this respect, to define closely the role and contracts of major consultants in all our hospitals to ensure that we get the maximum service from that formerly great profession.
We must deal with and settle once and for all the unfortunate notion that the recruitment of private patient work in our community has something to do with the lengthy waiting lists in our hospitals, thus giving rise to potential conflicts of interest. We could give stronger powers to patients. We should not be hidebound by earlier, old-fashioned views about how the hospital system was accountable to the community. We could look at various ideas.
I should like to borrow one idea, promoted possibly by the Secretary of State when he was in the Department of Energy. I have been rather impressed by the function and work of James McKinnon on behalf of the customers of the gas industry. Let us look at the idea of a health regulatory body which would stand up for patients and demand that hospitals delivered the services and achieved their objectives. There are whole areas where we could reach out to some common ground, but we will not reach out to common ground on the basis of the present proposals.
I am no medical expert, but I understand that if one tries to transplant an alien organ into a body it is highly likely to be rejected. There is a very high likelihood that if the Government continue to attempt to graft American-style attitudes and money-motivated methods on to the British National Health Service they will be rejected and, in the process, the Secretary of State himself will be rejected.
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) not only because, like him, I was a research officer in Wales, not only because he managed to win a by-election in Wales, which I did not, but also because over the years I have followed his progress, and he has exuded such frankness and honesty that this place will be the better for his presence.
There is a long-standing myth that the Welsh language was effectively extirpated by the Act of Union in 1536. However, 300 years later 90 per cent. of the Welsh population still spoke Welsh. The trouble is that the victims of that myth have assumed that the salvation of the Welsh language depends upon the reimposition of the official status of Welsh, perhaps through a new Welsh language Act or otherwise.
All the new bilingual forms and the rights of Welsh people to speak Welsh in court and to deal with local and central Government in Welsh have probably not created one more Welsh speaker—welcome as those developments have been. The salvation of the Welsh language lies in education. For that to make progress it must exploit the substantial reservoirs of good will that exist in the monoglot English-speaking majority. To a great extent, that opportunity is impeded by those who do wilful damage and deliberately disobey the law in a cause which they believe will advance the Welsh language. That causes damage because it enshrouds the Welsh language in negativity. To win hearts and minds, people must draw others towards them and not repel them. In 1755 the Cymmrodorion knew that when they said that their aim was to
reveal to the world the value of this old language in such beautiful colours as it will be reckoned an honour henceforth to speak it.
That is an important message and it is one that Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin has learned. It has exuded that attractiveness. It was started in the early 1970s and it has
now grown to an organisation that schools 10,000 children a year. It has 530 groups and 320 mother and child groups. Its target is to have 600 groups in the near future, each fed by a mother and child group.
That expansion has had to be fuelled by hard cash. Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin is a voluntary body, proud of its independence and, to a large extent, it has raised its money through its own sweated labours in fund raising that often involves parents. The plural funding on which it depends has given it an independence and a zip that no local education authority could hope to emulate. Welsh Office funding has grown generously by about 827 per cent. since 1978, to £383,700 in 1987–88. It also receives local authority social service grants of £120,000 a year from the Welsh Office to support its field operation and headquarters. Sadly, I do not think that those LASS grants have grown in line with inflation. It also receives some funding from local authorities, although some are not as generous as Gwynedd, Clwyd and Dyfed.
Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin desperately needs more money to pay for desperately unfulfilled needs. It needs more development offices, the people who go around monitoring progress and pump-priming new groups. It needs a great increase in the number of group leaders, especially in the south-east and north-east of Wales. I understand that it has made a submission to the new Welsh language body asking for resources so that young mothers can be trained in pre-school education and so that they too can take on the duty of educating these young groups.
The insufficiency of group leaders can be attributed to the rapid growth of Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin, which has meant that it is outstripping the resources available to it. That is a signal to the Welsh Office that more resources will be needed for Welsh medium teachers. Young children have the facility to absorb language in the way that rain is absorbed. Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin turns them out at the age of four and a half potentially bilingual. Because of that the organisation is engendering a demand for Welsh medium education at primary and secondary school levels.
The Government believe, or at least they say that they believe, in parental choice, in diversity to make that choice real and in higher standards. In Wales we have ready-made excellent standards in Welsh medium schools, and that fact derives from the highly motivated teaching staffs within them. We have ready-made cultural diversity and a ready-made real alternative.
The demand for Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin often comes from English-speaking monoglot parents, especially in the south-east and north-east of Wales. That should be presented as a blockbuster argument to the Welsh Office, because if we believe in parental choice we should accommodate that choice. If the believers in the Welsh language and in its future are prepared to manipulate the Government's aims to their objectives, we could achieve the jewel in the crown—the right of children in Wales to be educated through the medium of Welsh.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) who is a dysgwr—a Welsh learner— himself, and I am sure that his support for Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin will be noted by that movement and by the Government.
It is also a pleasure for me to welcome and congratulate my hon. Friend the new Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) on his maiden speech. Those of us who have known him for many years know that he has rhetorical skills and I am sure that he will apply them in the House as he has done elsewhere for many years. He secured a good vote in the Pontypridd by-election but I can claim to speak for 25 per cent. of the Pontypridd electorate. Our candidate in that by-election, Syd Morgan, fought a positive campaign that elicited a strong response from the electorate in that valley community which no doubt resonated in other valleys.
The untimely death of Sir Raymond Gower occurred after a hard day's campaigning. I know that that was the way he would have wanted to go. That may be a cliché, but I know that Raymond would have appreciated it. It is right to put on record our appreciation of the tradition of Welsh Toryism from which he sprang and for which he was such a valuable representative for many years.
In paying tribute we also look back to the history of the last 15 years in Welsh politics as my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) has done. I have only 10 minutes and I shall spend one minute on history and the remaining time in dealing with the future. The history of events since 1979 have been recounted in the debate and by my friend Jon Dressel in the Western Mail this morning. We had the disappointment of the failure of the devolution referendum, but it is important to put those events behind us because Welsh politics have moved on since 1979.
In that sense, I attempted to give a short, salutary lesson to the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) who tried to suggest that the party of Wales believed in devolution. I have made it clear on a number of occasions that we do not believe that the question of a devolved assembly and the relationship between Wales and this House is the most important question about the government of Wales. The most important question is about the powers to be established in an effective Welsh Government in Cardiff and the relationship that such a Government would have with the European Community.
Whether we like it or not we are living in the age of federalism. The days of a centralised nation state and of the bandying about of notions of national sovereignty, whether of the United Kingdom or of the putative sovereignty of a Welsh state, are over. We are living in an interdependent world and have to try to find what levels of government make sense for which functions. That is why we in the party of Wales have always argued that we should have an elected Welsh Government with competence over the whole of the economic and social life of the nation and the ability to relate the Welsh economy and society to the other constituent parts of western Europe. Indeed, we need look no further than the success of our sister party in Flanders, which not only has a vice-premiership in the Belgian state Government but has been able to negotiate a new federal structure for Belgium which assures, among other things, that resources are adequately distributed within the state and that the Flemish Government has direct links with other similar regions. That is the model that we take for the development of Wales.
Whether the Welsh people like it or not—clearly, some representatives do not like it—the position in the United Kingdom is changing. The people of Scotland are expressing themselves in various ways. I will not comment on the internal discussions which are going on in Scottish politics; it would not be appropriate, particularly since I have a fraternal relationship with the Scottish National party. Whatever the specific debate, the momentum in Scottish politics is towards an elected Scottish government.
The people of Wales have to decide whether they want to end up as an addendum of an English region or whether they have a level of government adequate to meet the needs of Wales for the 21st century. In a sense the debate in the Pontypridd by-election disappointed me. I lay down a marker for the Vale of Glamorgan by-election in the hope that we will get a better debate about the future government of Wales, the future planning of the Welsh economy, the way in which services can be provided and the relationship between that and the role of Wales as a small European nation and region.
I went on record a few years ago alleging that the people of Estonia, that small republic in the Soviet Union with a population of 1 million, was likely to get autonomy sooner than the people of Wales and Scotland. If the raising of a flag is a sign of autonomy, it appears that Estonia has achieved that in the last few days. So the movement towards smaller nations being the building blocks of federal structures is the norm not just in western Europe and the European Community but in central and eastern Europe.
The irony is that when these "nationalist" movements such as the popular movement in Estonia, achieve a degree of political support, it is saluted widely by people who are unionist in the House—there are unionists on both sides of the Chamber—as a sign of democracy. But when it happens in Scotland and Wales it is "separatism", in the old jargon, or, now, the "dismembering" of the United Kingdom. Apparently it is appropriate to dismember the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics but not to create democracy in the United Kingdom.
We must realise that the future belongs to the federalists—those who believe that government is not located in one place, either in this House or in any other single assembly, but organised in levels of functions. The function appropriate to a locality is one level, as is the level of the region, the level of the historic nation as a cultural community, and the level of the international community such as the European Community, with the relations between the Community and its Mediterranean partners and its partners in central and eastern Europe. That is why. we do not apologise for having a vision about the future of Wales.
It is also a deeply internationalist vision. Welsh nationalism is progressive. It implies that we see our problems and opportunities in common with other nationalities and people in Europe. If we believe in our heritage of a nuclear-free Wales and of ensuring the removal of nuclear weapons from Europe, starting with unilateral action, which we still believe in, and moving on to multilateral responses, which we also believe in, that policy can be implemented through the action that small nations such as Wales can take on the European stage. That may sound far removed from some contributions to the Welsh affairs debate, but it is important that a nationalist should intervene in the discussion with an element of internationalism.
Today is St. David's Day when we consider with pride and affection the fortunes of our own dear little country of Wales. It is even more special, perhaps, because we mourn the death of two colleagues whom we valued dearly, Sir Raymond Gower and Brynmor John. I endorse the generous tributes that have been paid to both of them.
It is also an occasion to say a big "croeso" to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). He made an admirable speech. During his election campaign the people of Pontypridd launched their own and the real valleys initiative. The poor Tory was left barely holding his deposit.
Our county councils are concerned about their relationship with the Welsh Office over the partnership arrangement with the EEC. That partnership, particularly relating to structural funds, should cover the preparation, financing, monitoring and assessment of operations. So far as I understand, the Welsh Office has not taken any initiative by way of informing or discussing with the county councils how the partnership might work. Apparently the relationship is better between the EEC and Scotland and other regions of England. The Commission considers that the partnership arrangement is being operated more successfully with every other member state of the Community. The lack of co-operation is difficult to understand. In his reply, will the Minister shed some light on the matter? Perhaps we may be told what steps are being taken to bring about a more balanced and harmonious partnership.
A matter which vitally concerns Newport is the proposed takeover of Plessey by GEC and Siemens of West Germany. Plessey is the major employer in Newport, with two factories in my constituency. The original one, developed in the 1970s, employs over 350 people; the second one, the former Standard Telephones factory in Corporation road, employs 170. Three years ago, in my humble way, I worked closely with Sir John Clark, chairman of Plessey, to prevent a takeover. Now there is a fresh attempt. This tends to create unease amongst the work force. It undermines morale.
There is little doubt that, if the merger goes ahead, there will be further rationalisation. That could bring about hundreds of redundancies in Newport through work being transferred elsewhere. Surely the Monopolies and Mergers Commission will take the employment aspect into consideration before coming to a conclusion. Likewise, such a vast concentration of industrial might and virtual monopoly, with foreign linkage, in an area of strategic importance is not to be desired. Lord Weinstock's initiative should be rejected. It is better to retain an element of competition. I hope that the Secretary of State for Wales will throw his weight behind the opponents of the proposal.
Generally there has been a more optimistic outlook about the Welsh economy in recent months. Of course, there are black tides as well. The closure of the Velindre steelworks, with hundreds more redundancies, is one example. We have witnessed the decimation of the Welsh coalfields, with 12,000 jobs lost since the end of the strike. The proposed closures of the Marine colliery in Ebbw Vale and Cynheidre in Llanelli are pending. Other pits are now on the hit list. New investment in Wales has a difficult task to keep up with so many redundancies and closures.
The Secretary of State keeps on telling us that unemployment is coming down, but we are entitled to ask who put it up in the first place. To use that old adage, charity begins at home, and I want to look briefly at unemployment in Newport in order to draw back the curtains a little. It has always been my belief that, with a fair crack of the whip, Newport will achieve prosperity. Situated on the eastern seaboard, it has perhaps the most favourable geographical location in Wales. It is linked by the motorway network to the south-east and the midlands. There are excellent rail facilities and modern docks. There is a fair amount of prosperity, but there is a good deal of hidden poverty as well.
From the Department of Employment's press notice of 16 February on unemployment as at 12 January, it can be gleaned that, despite all those economic advantages, male unemployment in Newport stands at 12·5 per cent. That is a pretty scandalous figure. What is more, if the 1979 method of compiling statistics is used, the figure goes up to over 16·5 per cent. In May 1979, when Labour left office, male unemployment in Newport was 7 per cent.—3,959—and the statistics then were based on people registering, whereas as now they are based on people claiming benefit. Male unemployment in Newport is nearly double the 1979 figure. That dismal situation is reflected all over Wales.
Under the Government, the blows have simply rained on Wales. Homelessness has rocketed. Houses are just not being built in the public sector. Average wages in Wales are probably the worst of any region in the country. Our National Health Service is being undermined. There has been a loss of no less than £750 million in rate support grant and £1 billion has been cut from regional aid.
Despite all those cuts and economic difficulties, the Government have the cheek and audacity to propose a doubling of tolls on the Severn bridge, which is our main access point. On St. David's day, we would all do well to remember that people have to pay to come into Wales and they have to pay to go out of Wales. That is a disgrace and an imposition. That is the situation despite all the money raised in motor taxation—close on £17 billion in the current year—less than one quarter of which is being spent on roads and maintenance. In one way or another the Government have wiped out the massive debts of other concerns in order to pursue their privatisation ventures. The original cost of the bridge has been paid for many times over. There is no bank loan involved; it is on the Consolidated Fund. The debt is purely a paper figure. It should be wiped out, as the Select Committee on Transport advocated two or three years ago.
The St. David's day message to the Government is that they have sold Wales short, and the people of Wales know it, as they showed in Pontypridd last week. They will not be conned by a publicity-mad Secretary of State. That is why they will continue to reject the Conservative party and the Government whenever the opportunity arises.
First, I associate myself with the comments made by hon. Members on both sides of the House in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) on his excellent speech. We look forward to many more contributions of such calibre. I also associate myself with the comments made about the late Sir Raymond Gower, whose contributions to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs were always particularly helpful. He was the senior Conservative Member on that, Committee and I could always rely on him for astute advice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) was right to say that, when a great tinplate plant such as Velindre closes, as it will in September, it is no use replacing the jobs lost by such a closure with low-paid or part-time jobs, often employing female labour. I am sure that the Welsh Office will work with the Welsh Development Agency and other agencies to replace those jobs with manufacturing jobs which will use the skills of the men and women previously employed at Velindre.
St. David's day in Wales probably means most to the young, dressed up and performing in schools throughout Wales, and to the old who this evening will be carrying on the tradition of community entertainment followed by cawl and caws suppers in village halls throughout the Principality. It is appropriate to take this opportunity to highlight the problems faced by more than one in six of the population of Wales—the over-65s. Although a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that we are not doing so well as some of our EEC neighbours in raising life expectancy, especially in Wales where the inroads into alleviating poverty and associated deprivation and lifestyles have been too long neglected, the proportion of the Welsh population aged 75 years and over has continued to increase and almost doubled between 1971 and 1986.
Looking forward, as Governments are supposed to do in formulating policy, the population of Wales is expected to increase by less than 2 per cent. between now and the year 2000, while the proportion of people over the age of 75 is expected to increase by more than 8 per cent. An unprecedented and increasing number of older persons, having made their contribution to the security, economy and well-being of Wales, therefore look to us as their Members of Parliament to represent their interests. It is clear that the Government are failing them. The Local Government and Housing Bill, affecting those 35 per cent. of pensioners in rented housing, has caused great anxiety. Many elderly people will be reluctant to move into more suitable rented accommodation when they do not know whether rents under an assured tenancy will remain low enough to be passported on to housing benefit.
In the social security changes of April 1988, pensioners were among those worst hit by losses. The Social Security Advisory Committee estimated that 74 per cent. of pensioners dependent on social security would be worse off after the changes. The Welsh house condition survey shows that 11 per cent. of Wales's housing stock is in a state of serious disrepair. A disproportionate number of elderly people in Wales live in houses which are damp, draughty and in need of repair.
Such housing is notoriously difficult to heat, yet in last April's benefit changes the heating allowance for difficult-to-heat housing was scrapped. Under the new system, general heating, diet and laundry additions have been rolled into one premium payment for pensioners. The system makes calculating benefit entitlement easier, but for the elderly encountering special problems there is no extra help when they need it. Out of the new rolled-together benefit they have to find 20 per cent. of rates and all their water bills. In the past, only 15 per cent. of single payments went to elderly people, and even fewer pensioners are likely to put themselves in debt to the social fund. Many could not afford the repayments on loans in any case.
Six million people lost entitlement to housing benefit last April. In Wales, more than half the losers were pensioners. Thousands of pensioners, mainly those with small occupational pensions. were worse off by up to about £3·25 per week after paying at least 20 per cent. of rates as well as increased rents and water charges. For those people there was no help—it was called "targeting" and they were deemed able to bear the loss.
In response to the public outcry, when it became known that some people were losing up to £20 per week, the transitional payments scheme was introduced for those who lost more than £2·50 per week after meeting rent and rates rises and paying 20 per cent. of their rates, but what a tragedy that has turned out to be. Next month, when benefits are increased, those on transitional payments will not have an increase in income because their transitional allowance will be reduced by the amount of the benefit or pension increase, but their rents, their rates, their water rates and their electricity bills will go up. With inflation at 7 per cent., all their costs will rise, but their income will not. Moreover in April 1990 and in April 1991 those who lost most last April will still be paying off the transitional allowance against benefit increases, so their incomes will still not have increased. Truly, they will still be paying for the changes of last April.
There is nothing in the policy pipeline which recognises the special needs of pensioners and the elderly. They are not benefiting from the chaos in local community care services caused by the Government's reluctance to respond to the Griffiths report. The latest estimates show that there are 9 million disabled people in Britain today, most of them in need of some special provision. The OPCS clearly identified and quantified the link between increasing age and disability. Of the 575,000 people in the most serious disablement category, 64 per cent. are aged over 70. Of those, nearly two in three—a quarter of a million people—are living at home, on their own or with their families. The OPCS study showed also that the highest prevalence of disability was found in Wales. To the credit of dedicated carers, Wales was second only to the north of England in terms of caring for the disabled at home.
The West Glamorgan health authority is currently deciding its long-term strategy for care of the elderly, but how can it make long-term plans when it does not know who is to be responsible for community care, what the health authority's role in community care will be, whether the Government will commit the necessary resources to fund beds in private-sector residential and nursing homes or whether the authority will have to provide beds because those elderly people without savings or capital receive too little help from the Department of Social Security in the form of income support payments to cover the cost of care in such a home?
I conclude by associating myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) on the Government's health proposals. It is entirely unacceptable that pensioners should be expected to shop around for hip replacement or cataract operations. Providing a market for patients or GPs does not increase choice when the pool of expertise is constant. One can shop around only if one knows what one wants and when one wants it. Unfortunately, illness and need do not yet appear or go away solely at the whim of the Prime Minister. Like my hon. Friends, I hope that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) will go away at the whim of the grey vote in this country, and I hope that Conservative Members will reflect that, unless far more is done to protect this group of people unless—they urge Ministers to come down into the real world and ease the pressure and stress that have been created—the fate of the Government will be sealed by the effect that they are having on the most vulnerable groups in our society.
Order. The Chair is very grateful to the House for co-operating so well with regard to the 10-minute limit on speeches. A number have lasted less than 10 minutes, and, as a consequence, it is now possible for me to relax the limit. That does not mean, of course, that I am inviting long speeches.
Or half an hour. I shall not do that, however, because my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) now has 10 minutes' notice to extend his speech.
Most hon. Members who have spoken have paid tribute to two Members that we lost during the last 12 months. I want to say a word particularly about our most recent loss. I refer to the hon. Member who represented the Vale of Glamorgan and, before that, the constituency of Barry, Sir Raymond Gower. I lived in part of what was his old constituency of Barry. He represented what was then the Cardiff rural district council area, which included the parishes of Llanfed, Rhydygwern, Rudry and Van. It is in the parish of Llanfedu that I currently live. Many of the villages in my constituency were in his constituency then.
It is no exaggeration to say that his reputation was legendary. All who knew him had the greatest respect for him. The work that he did on behalf of his constituents was deeply appreciated. He had the support of many people through the ballot box, who in no other circumstances would have considered themselves Conservatives or would have given a moment's consideration to lending any support to the Conservative cause. That really was recognition of the care, attention and diligence with which he approached his constituency responsibilities. I am sure that many people who live in what is now my constituency held him in great affection and mourn his passing.
We on this side of the House have sustained a tragic loss with the death of Brynmor John, who was a dear friend to us all.
I want to talk for a moment about the Secretary of State for Wales, who has been the subject of much vilification during our debates on Wales. I have to confess that I rather like the man.
We all like him, but that does not necessarily mean that we have to agree with all that he does. However, it is rather easier to like him when we compare him with his predecessor. Certainly the approach of the current Secretary of State, when he comes to the Dispatch Box, and in his dealings with Welsh Members, is very different from the distant and arrogant approach of his predecessor.
I have to say, in passing, that the previous Secretary of State committed what I believe was an act of the utmost folly when he accepted the paid post of chairman of the National Rivers Authority, having been a member of the Cabinet that had created that very post. If he had been a member of a local authority he would have been imprisoned for corruption—for doing the very thing that he did as a member of the Government. It was most reprehensible.
I have said, I have some affection for the current Secretary of State. His style is different and we must give him credit for the fact that he has achieved something during his tenure as Secretary of State. We have to recognise that he has brought about some real achievements. There is a mood of confidence in south Wales which did not exist before the election. Wales has a much higher profile and, in terms of investment, business confidence and business activity, the Secretary of State has achieved a turnround. There is no point in denying that he has had some remarkable success in achieving inward investment for Wales. Those are real and positive achievements and it would be foolish of us to deny them.
Despite those achievements, and although there is an element of affection, the Secretary of State has not achieved the respect of the people of Wales. That is due entirely to his obsession with raising his personal profile and claiming that everything good that happens in Wales is a direct result of his initiative or intervention. He does his cause no good at all.
I can give one example which occurred in my constituency and which affected me directly. When he announced his much vaunted review of the valleys initiative in Merthyr on 21 February, he said—I quote from the press release—
This week there will be announced a new £30 million development at Caerphilly that will create 2,000 new jobs.
That came under the heading, "The Urban Programme".
Understandably, my office was besieged by telephone calls from journalists asking about the new £30 million investment in Caerphilly and where the 2,000 jobs would be. I had to find some answers. I thought that if, two days before the Pontypridd by-election, the Secretary of State could suddenly conjure up £30 million he must have a little pot of gold that he has raided or have made provision for it in the estimates for his Department. I made inquiries. I asked the House of Commons Library to check the estimates of the Welsh Office and the provisions made by the Land Authority for Wales. The Library let me have the results of its investigations. We should bear in mind the fact that that announcement was made under the heading "The Urban Programme" and if anybody disputes that, I have the Welsh Office press release with me.
That £30 million was like a rabbit out of a hat. I will not divulge the name of the researcher in the Library but she told me:
I have spoken to an official at the Welsh Office and it appears that the £30 million development is a purely private development … The Public Relations company acting for the developers (Peter Gill Marketing of Cardiff) tell me that they have not yet applied for any Government grants … The developers might apply for infrastructure grants in the future but have not yet done so.
Yet two days before the Pontypridd by-election the Secretary of State was trying deliberately to claim in a press release credit for that project.
I happen to know something about that project. It is the Pontypandy development in Caerphilly, a constituency in which I have lived for a long time, and I was aware of the plans that the local authority laid a long time ago for that development. Therefore, it came as no surprise to me to read at the end of that week in the local newspaper the comments of the leader of Rhymney valley district council. They were illuminating. The newspaper said:
Welsh Secretary Peter Walker has been accused of claiming credit under his Valleys Initiative scheme for projects that have been in the pipeline for years.
Councillor Graham Court, leader of Rhymney Valley council, said the announcement by Mr. Walker of the £30 million business and retail park at Pontypandy, Caerphilly, was a con. 'He's claiming credit for something that was being planned long before the Valleys Initiative and it would have gone on without Peter Walker or the Valleys Initiative' … The application for the out-of-town retail park was actually submitted to the district council on June 3 1987 and called in by Mr. Walker which, said Councillor Court had actually delayed the scheme. 'I am really annoyed by this—
that is an understatement—
'Members and officers have put in a lot of work and along he comes and claims credit.
If the application had not been called in the project would probably have been in existence before the Valleys Initiative.
The present Secretary of State for Wales might be regarded with some affection because of his new approach, but that is why he will never gain the respect of the people of the valleys. What he is doing is fundamentally dishonest.
That is nothing new in the career of the Secretary of State. We saw the same characteristics when he was the Secretary of State for Energy. Despite all the delegations we took to him when he was Secretary of State for Energy explaining that Wales was different and needed different treatment during the miners' strike, and despite the soothing words and pleasant conversations, the end result was pit closures. We were not spared the consequences of the retraction in the coal industry.
We can look at the time that he spent as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I remember that time well because some of my constituents came to me after having to face the consequences of his policies. In 1984, months before the introduction of milk quotas, the Secretary of State for Wales—then the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—was going round the country telling farmers that they should produce, produce, produce. He was encouraging them to involve themselves in development schemes using Government money. He was encouraging them to invest.
Many farmers in my constituency came to me saying, "We did exactly what the Minister wanted us to do. We took out bank loans and have invested £50,000, £60,000 or £70,000 a year thinking that we would be able to increase our milk production, meet the bank overdraft and the needs of the Minister while bringing about an improvement in our standard of living." What happened? Within months of him urging them to invest, milk quotas were introduced. In Wales there was a massive cut in the level of milk production and massive job losses. About 2,000 people were penalised. That is the record of the Secretary of State for Wales, and it is why he will not obtain the respect of the people in Wales.
What is happening, as has been made clear during the debate, is that the Welsh economy is changing. The nature of Welsh society is changing, as is the nature of our Welsh communities. We are losing—it is something whose passing we will not mourn—our dependence on the coal and steel industries. However, in place of those secure, highly paid, full-time jobs, we are being offered a panoply of part-time, low-paid or temporary jobs. They are no substitute. They do not give our communities the stability they had before. They do not provide the wealth that is necessary for our communities to flourish. As a result, we are living in a much poorer society. The Secretary of State hypes it up by saying we are on course to some brave new world. The truth is, as was shown dramatically by the Low Pay Unit's report in the Western Mail, we are slipping further and further behind the standard of living of the majority of people in Britain.
I want to deal with a sector of the community that has not yet been mentioned—the people who live and work in our rural communities and are most closely associated with what has been happening to our environment. I want to look briefly at the environmental record of the present Secretary of State and his predecessor.
The Secretary of State for the Environment, who is responsible for environmental protection in England, to his credit, after the Budget changes to forestry last year announced that there would be no further afforestation in the English uplands. We have urged the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland to extend to Scotland and Wales the same protection as the Secretary of State for the Environment has given to England. We have been denied it in Wales. As a result, we see the destruction of some of our finest lowland, for example, at Llanbrynmair in mid-Wales.
The Secretary of State for Wales could have done the same as the Secretary of State for the Environment has done in England and protected our fragile moorland ecosystems. He has not done it. He could have done something about the acid rain problem. The whole catchment area in mid Wales has been damaged—not irrevocably—as a result of acid rain. Some of our great water catchment systems, such as the Llyn Brianne, are virtually lifeless, because the problem has not been tackled with any urgency either by the Secretary of State or his predecessor.
Last Monday's report by Greenpeace on an analysis of water pollution in Welsh rivers shows a dramatic decline in the quality of class 1 rivers over the past 10 years. The best waters have declined. There has been a 50 per cent. increase in the number of grossly polluted rivers. The greater part of that increase took place between 1979 and 1987—during the tenure in the Welsh Office of the man who is now head of the National Rivers Authority, charged with the responsibility of looking after river quality in Britain. His record on defending Welsh interests does not bode well for those of us who hoped that he would defend the true interests of British water.
The hon. Gentleman was the main signatory of early-day motion 188, which referred to the deterioration of Welsh water over the past eight years. My information is that it is not 175 miles of water that are dead or dying, as he put it in his early-day motion, but no more than 26 km.
There is another error in the early-day motion. It puts class 3 and class 4 rivers together. There has not been an increase in class 4 waters in Wales over the years 1980–87.
The hon. Gentleman and I dispute the facts. When I saw the report, which was widely publicised on Monday, I took the trouble to ring Morlais Owen, who is the chief scientific officer of Welsh Water. As a direct result of the information that he gave me, I tabled the motion to which the hon. Gentleman referred. If he considers that anything in the motion is incorrect, and he gives me his version of the level of pollution, I will happily re-word my motion. I assure him that that information was made public and was verified by the chief scientific officer of Welsh Water. Based on my own experience and on my conversation with Morlais Owen, I am prepared to claim that my motion represents the facts.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Welsh Water's research on acid rain and its effects has been of a high quality? Does he agree also that it is important that Welsh Water should continue its research on the destruction of our environment? A proper code of practice, with statutory powers in respect of forestry in the watershed, should be presented in the Water Bill with great force.
The hon. Gentleman and I are in full accord on that matter. A powerful case has been made against water privatisation. The hon. Gentleman shares my concern about the 100,000 acres of the highest quality landscape that will be threatened by the proposed privatisation. I agree that safeguards should be built into the Bill if privatisation is to go ahead. All hon. Members know how rigorously the Government have enforced the guillotine and are preventing proper debate on such matters.
Some developments dufing the past 12 months have demonstrated that, in his role as guardian of Welsh farming interests, the Secretary of State for Wales has been neglectful. Earlier this week the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food admitted that the variable premium on land is to be phased out. That matter is important to the people of Wales, but we will not get any safeguards or protection. We will not get special treatment in respect of stabilisers. Vital Welsh interests will be sacrificed.
The same applies to the beef premium. Welsh interests are particularly important in the livestock sector. The Secretary of State was happy to go along with the deal that was done by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in selling out the variable beef premium. The livestock sector in Wales is taking a severe blow.
The farm and conservation grant scheme that is currently being introduced is shifting resources from less-favoured areas to the low counties of eastern and southern England. There has been a deliberate diversion of resources from Welsh farmers to prosperous English farmers. The Secretary of State has refused to use his powers, which were conferred by Brussels, to introduce direct income aids to assist farmers in mid and north Wales who are struggling as a result of the succession of blows that British agriculture has been struck through the reorganisation of European policy. All those matters are of concern to Opposition Members.
As can be judged from the debate, there is little to divide Opposition Members' views on what will happen in future. Three or four political parties are represented here, but, by and large, we speak with a common voice. If there is a gulf in Welsh politics, it is not between the Labour party and the SLD. There is no gulf between the SLD and Plaid Cymru. I am not an advocate of pacts—far from it. There is a gulf in the recognition of what is happening to our communities, and that gulf is represented on the Floor of the House. If there is a difference, it is between Opposition Members, who argue that there is a Community perspective to Welsh problems and that they can be addressed only by a co-operative approach as we move towards the next century, and Conservative Members, who argue that everything can be left to deregulation, market forces, and the glitz and gloss of admen.
That system is not working. It is alien to the people of Wales, and that is why the Secretary of State for Wales, although he may be regarded with some transient affection by politicians or communities in Wales, will never be regarded with respect by the people of Wales and will never command their allegiance through the ballot box.
I begin by adding my words of welcome and congratulation to my hon. Friend the new Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Howells). He seemed to get the hang of things quickly in his speech and we all feel that we have acquired an hon. Member who will make a distinguished contribution to the House.
I would also like to add my words of condolence to the family of the late Sir Raymond Gower to those already uttered by all hon. Members who have spoken. I have spoken of my condolences already in the House, but I want to repeat them, especially in the light of the remarks by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones). He mentioned that in 1964, he was a resident in the constituency of Barry, which was then the constituency represented by Sir Raymond Gower. He said that he had first gone out canvassing in 1964 and that that was his first political experience. I can beat him. As a small boy, aged 12, my first political experience was to attend an election meeting addressed by Sir Raymond Gower in the local baptist vestry in the constituency of Barry. I asked him a question about peace in Europe and our relations with Germany. I had the odd experience tonight of realising that I had asked a similar question of the Prime Minister yesterday. I had the chilling thought that we politicians give the same speech over 38 years and that although we might try to polish it up a bit, we arc always saying the same thing.
To be sure that I do not make the same speech after 40 years in politics, I want to speak tonight about gallium arsenides and indium phosphides. I am on safe ground in saying that I did not refer to those in 1951 because they had not been discovered then. If anyone is wondering what those substances have to do with the future of Wales, I shall explain. If Wales is ever to move away from begging-bowl politics, regional development politics and grant-aided politics, it must have the chance to have a stake in the technologies of the future.
We had such a stake before the first world war because we led the world in industries such as tinplate, strip mills and some aspects of coal mining, especially marine coal, which we then lost with the loss of stable industries and the McKinley tariff in the United States. We have never managed to get back again. We have always been catching the last bus with the aid of a Government grant and hand-me-downs from the south-east of England. It is time that we started to give some thought not only to devising a generous regional policy, but a self-extinguishing regional policy, whereby grants are paid out and public money is put down as seed capital, but with the specific aim of trying to get rid of the need for a regional policy in 10, 20 or 30 years, or however long the job takes.
I raised the topic of gallium arsenides and indium phosphides because those substances are the raw materials of the semi-conductor industry after the silicon chip has gone. The silicon chip, I am assured by technologists, will be replaced by epitaxial products made of those two sophisticated crystalline compounds. We are at the beginning of the stage whereby south Wales, especially the Cardiff area, has a significant stake in the intellectual infrastructure in its university departments and in the application of those products for industrial purposes.
In the new university of Wales college of Cardiff, a merger of the university of Wales institute of science and technology and University college, Cardiff, there is a substantial proportion of the world's expertise in epitaxial products, the post-silicon chip age materials for semi-conductors. The reason that I want to draw the matter to the attention of the Secretary of State is that although strictly speaking, the matter is not within his province, but in the province of higher education, it is a matter on which he can use his broader power of oversight and interest in the future of Wales.
By the efforts of the local authority in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), a new factory is being set up, one of the first in the world, which will be manufacturing on a significant commercial scale, with the advantage of venture capital from Shell, a substantial multi-million pound investment in indium phosphides and gallium arsenides—semi-conductor space age materials. That must be welcomed because it is giving Wales the chance of a share of 21st century technology, not hand-me-downs from south-east England and Germany, industries that are too dirty to comply with Scandinavian environmental controls or industries in which the wages that would have to be paid in the home counties do not enable them to compete with Taiwan and Singapore and which have provided so many of the new jobs over the past 40 years under Governments of both colours.
To get away from that, it is important that the Secretary of State keeps an eye on what his fellow Cabinet Ministers are doing and says, "This may not be strictly my responsibility, but I want to see what I can do to get Wales the same kind of stake in the post-silicon chip materials that Scotland got when silicon got off the ground 30 years ago". That was when transistors and computers had their first impact on the European scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s. We in Wales missed out on that and there is not much point now in trying to grab a big share because we would still he making the mistake of catching the last bus.
I should like to make another plea to the Secretary of State although, again, this is not in his province. He should keep an eye on the development on the exciting new engineering faculty at the combined University college at Cardiff because it may be the last big public sector, public-funded development in higher education in this country. The University Grants Committee has given a budget of £30 million to develop a new engineering faculty as a kind of dowry to encourage UWIST and University college to merge. We all know how difficult it is to get students on to engineering courses at the moment in this country and how dependent we frequently are on overseas students to make up the numbers.
The Secretary of State should keep a close eye on that development to ensure that it is a genuine centre of excellence with links with industry and job creation in Wales. It should be an intellectual powerhouse and a centre for training for the future decision-makers and technology leaders of Wales and provide us with a stake in the 21st century so that we can create more of our own jobs instead of having to give grants to import other countries' hand-me-down jobs when they cease to have use for them.
Although it is not his province, I hope that the Secretary of State will keep a close eye on that matter and work closely with his colleagues in the Cabinet who have more direct responsibility for education and science. I hope that that new engineering faculty will be stuffed full of fellows of the Royal Society and fellows of the British Academy of the highest quality to ensure that we in Wales do not just have the ability to churn out the poets, preachers, doctors, professionals and even the politicians for which Wales is known, but the technicians, scientists, engineers, and technologists—the people who can help Wales to churn out a fair proportion of its own jobs. That would give us a chance that we have not had since the first world war to be a self-sufficient region in terms of job creation.
There will be a place in that for both the private and public sectors and for organisations that are neither one thing nor the other, but a halfway house. I remind the Secretary of State of the importance of the public sector in providing new jobs in Wales. Indeed, what we think of as private sector companies often turn out not to be so when one looks at them more closely. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North and just across the boundary from my constituency is Amersham International, which is an absolute pillar of the industrial society in Wales. It was a public sector company when it came to Wales but it is now a public limited company. Another example is the royal mint—a public sector development that was brought to Wales 20 years ago. The new financial services initiative companies that have moved into Wales are not plcs, at least not by background. The Trustee Savings Bank Group plc, for example, was a mutuality as the TSB, and likewise National Provident which is moving to Cardiff and bringing 500 jobs is not a plc, but a mutuality. The public sector is extremely important in terms of providing technology and training.
People may mention in pubs that they have been working for the royal mint and are being promoted to the royal ordnance factory in Llanishen, saying, "I was making good money down at the royal mint but now I am making a bomb at the ROF in Llanishen."
Such companies are important because they provide apprenticeships. I draw the Secretary of State's attention to the extremely important report issued yesterday by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and Professor Praïs—not Pryce in the Welsh sense—who is one of Europe's greatest experts on comparative levels of engineering apprenticeships and graduate engineering apprenticeships and on industrial training in general, which compares Britain, France and Germany.
Although it is not directly his function to do so, the Secretary of State should look at that very closely. Wales is basically without an engineering tradition because of the kinds of industry that it contains. We need to fill the gap, providing craftsmen, technicians and engineering graduates so that we are no longer dependent on bringing people in from outside. Although there will be interplay across the regions, we should not depend on importing technology or technologists.
It is particularly sad for that reason to see how many white-collar, decision-making and research-based jobs have moved out of Wales in the past couple of years. The only Medical Research Council establishment in Wales has been closed down—the pneumoconiosis research unit attached to Llandough hospital. The only reasonable science establishment funded by the Government, the research vessel services base at Barry, has moved, and we learned this week that—again in Barry—BP is running down its research and development base for the second time.
I did, however, approve strongly of one feature of the Secretary of State's opening address: he did not use a strangely colonial phrase that he has been using throughout Wales. He has said that it is a good thing for Wales that the economy of the south-east has been overheating, because Wales has benefited from the spin-off —the outward push from the south-east, which can no longer attract workers. The right hon. Gentleman must stop using such language, for what he is saying is that we in Wales will always have the crumbs from the rich man's table. It is not his job to sweep the crumbs from the rich man's table in the south-east into Wales. We want more than crumbs: we want a loaf of bread.
First, I must say how much I welcome the arrival of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) in the House, although the circumstances are particularly tragic. I know that he will make a good contribution, and if his maiden speech is anything to go by we can expect to hear many entertaining and informative speeches from him over the years.
I thank the Secretary of State for Wales—although I may look slightly amazed to be doing so—for his action over the phurnacite plant. People in Cynon Valley appreciate his having forced British Coal Products to go through the planning process. As he knows, we have put up with the pollution problems caused by the plant for long enough, and we are very concerned at any suggestion that a new process—virtually untried in England—is to be tried out on us.
We have been given similar promises in the past. The Ancit plant, for example, was supposed to improve the environment, and after a good many teething problems it made some contribution to improving it in that area, but there is still considerable concern about extensive pollution from the phurnacite plant, because people do not know what British Coal Products intends to do next. Those who recently visited the works in Hamilton, Scotland, were not very pleased at what they saw there, particularly the use of mild heat treatment.
Over the past few weeks I have been urging Ministers to deal with the situation in Mountain Ash, the second major town in my constituency, which is currently experiencing considerable decline, particularly in its commercial centre.
Most of the main chain stores in the area are closing down or have already done so. A letter that I received from one of my constituents this week reads:
Please help us here in Mountain Ash … if you can. Our main shopping centre is a disgrace—other valley towns are being improved, but ours seems to be the Cinderella of the Valleys. Boots, Woolworths and our Post Office and the gas showrooms are all being closed and the litter is absolutely revolting—not to mention the decrepit condition of the main street buildings. Please, please continue to help us in our fight to improve our town.
She enclosed a bay leaf from her garden—the Secretary of State is aware that Mountain Ash is also plagued by pollution from the phurnacite—and commented:
As you can see, I would have to scrub it before using it for cooking.
I wrote to the companies that are or have already closed down their branches in Mountain Ash. I received a letter from a representative of Boots saying:
For many years the Company has been represented in the Town and as one who was born and bred in Mountain Ash, I can understand the concern of many in the community who will lose the advantages of shopping in a local Boots store.
For the past three years the Store has experienced a decline in the level of busines and unfortunately, it has now reached such when it cannot sustain a viable operation and therefore I can conform that a decision has been made to cease our representation in the town … I am sure you are aware that the company is continuing to invest in other Valley towns
It is the same story with Dewhurst, the butchers, from whom I received a letter which stated:
Many of the problems of small towns and neighbourhood centres over crime and vandalism have arisen because there is no longer a heart to the neighbourhood. When there was a butcher, a baker and greengrocer, a dairyman and newsagent, people would shop and meet conveniently and safely. Now, all the day-to-day food traders have gone and there is just an off-licence, a betting shop and a multi-commodity general purpose store. This is not an attractive environment for young children and old people.
No doubt the Secretary of State saw the Western Mail this week which showed dereliction in Mountain Ash on one of its pages. That dereliction is indicative of the problems of high unemployment and low wages in the area. The Secretary of State is well aware that the Cynon valley has been identified by all the indices as the poorest district in Wales. Sixty per cent. of households live on less than £4,000 per year—that is a shocking figure—while a quarter live on incomes between £4,000 and £8,000, more than half the people have no savings and only one in five has savings worth more than £1,000. Many exist on small benefits because of the area's high unemployment.
However the Secretary of State or the Government present the figures, unemployment in the Cynon valley has gone up this month, and the figure is already much too high as we have the highest male unemployment in Wales. One in six of the people live in unfit houses and half of houses need repairs costing £1,000 or more. Moreover, the kind of jobs available in the Cynon valley—there are not many compared with other parts of Wales—tend to be low paid and part time, so people are exchanging poverty line benefits for poverty line wages.
Low pay is rife throughout the Welsh economy in both the public and private sector. There is a double pressure on the wages of the low paid because public sector cash limits keep low wages down. Many people in the Cynon Valley are employed by the public sector. Discarding wage regulation drives public sector wages down even further. There is a smug, arrogant assumption that we should ask only enough for the low paid to get by on, as though they, unlike everyone else, do not want to live a full and rewarding life. Under the present Government, the rich have received tax breaks while those who are already poor have been punished and goaded into effort by the imposition of a harsh, inflexible benefit system.
In Wales, one in four men earn less than the Council of Europe's decency threshold, and average male earnings are the lowest of any region in the country. I am sure that the Secretary of State cannot applaud that. The situation is even worse for women, whose average earnings are a mere 66 per cent. of the national male average. Six out of 10 women in south Wales earn less than the Council of Europe's decency threshold and with the abolition of the wages councils such small protections as exist will disappear.
Wales has suffered particularly badly from the staff reductions in the wages inspectorate. Nine years ago there were seven inspectors and an office in Cardiff. That office has now closed and its responsibility has been transferred to Bristol and Manchester. As a consequence, illegal wage rates are widespread. Last year, inspectors visited only 9 per cent. of establishments, so Welsh employers can expect a visit only once in 11 years and it is estimated that one in three pay illegal rates.
The position for women in Wales is particularly bad. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales has said:
Who would have believed, 20 or 30 years ago, that we would have lady bus drivers? Of course, with power-assisted steering and all the electronic aids, one does not have to be a muscle-bound man to swing vehicles around. Whether driving buses or operating computers in the office, and so on, a woman is on an equal plane with a man for any job. In some circumstances, she is better placed. Just ask Hitachi and other electronic firms that want to have components put together. The small fingers then come into their own."—[Official Report, 2 March 1987; Vol. 111, c. 628.]
That is indicative of the Government's attitude towards women at work in Wales. They have low paid part-time jobs and their wages are disgraceful.
First, I echo the words of the many hon. Members who have paid tribute to the two friends and colleagues who have passed on. We all feel a grievous loss at the death of Brynmor John, who was such a wise and generous friend to many of us. He would have been proud to hear his successor's maiden speech today, with its mixture of humour and passion. He would have enjoyed that.
Sir Raymond Gower, as I well know because I was a former constituent of his and represented a neighbouring constituency, was another consummate constituency Member of Parliament. His last representations were, as ever, on behalf of his constituents, on two issues about which we saw eye to eye. These were the need to save Sully hospital and to plan a positive role for it in the future Health Service, and the need to preserve research vessel port services in Barry. The best memorial to him would be for Ministers to pay heed now to the case that he made on both issues.
Today's debate began with an attempt by the Secretary of State to decry the criticisms of his stewardship as a form of ritual dance between Government and Opposition in which he himself had formerly participated from the Opposition Benches. He may have merely gone through the motions when he was in opposition, but he must understand here and now that we are serious in our criticisms. Our criticisms of his programmes have been both detailed and fully justified. The Secretary of State did a disservice to the work of the House and to public service when he said at the beginning of the debate that he regarded it as a game, although we had long suspected that that was his view. We regard being in opposition as a serious, important and responsible job, and it was in that spirit that we approached today's debate.
Our seriousness about Wales has been demonstrated through the 10 locust years, not just when things were going well. I was involved in the redevelopment of the centre of Cardiff, the considerable efforts to encourage home-grown industry, to attract incoming firms and to develop Cardiff as a financial centre, so I know how long a struggle that was. That is just one example, and my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) described another with passion and enthusiasm. I know the very positive lead that our local authorities have given and how hard they have worked in my area and other parts of Wales to co-operate with the private sector to the benefit of their local areas and of Wales. That has also involved seeking support from Europe and from the Welsh office. That co-operation is vital, and it is shameful that the Secretary of State has rewarded the common sense of our councils by cutting back on their rate support grant contributions. It is even more shameful that he should claim the fruits of our labours as though the credit were his alone.
My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) made it clear that we would praise positive proposals from the Government, but we shall also pinpoint their failings. That response is called for by several of the self-satisfied contributions that we heard from Conservative Members today. The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) said, appropriately, that he always recycles his speeches and showed it by going around in circles when he spoke. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) gave us a typical bit of partisan knockabout and opened the Vale of Glamorgan by-election a little prematurely in a way that I would describe as robust but foolhardy. It was like mounting a kamikaze attack in an unarmed glider, and his answer preceded him in the humorous but serious way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) showed the quality of debate that we shall enjoy hearing from him in the future. I welcomed my hon. Friend's excellent contribution as much as I welcome him to the vigorous and lively team that we have on the Welsh Opposition Benches.
In contrast with some Conservative Members, the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), who courteously explained that he had to leave the debate, spoke generously of the confidence of Labour Members following the Pontypridd by-election, and he was right. He also rightly criticised the poll tax, the Water Bill and the reform of the National Health Service, and condemned the Government's excessive belief in market forces. I welcome his honesty on each of those points and I note that Conservative Members are listening rather more quietly now. The hon. Gentleman tried to distance himself and the Secretary of State from the Government, but I must point out that both of them bolster the majority which gives the Prime Minister the sense of being above criticism and encourages her and the Cabinet's extremism.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West and the Secretary of State share responsibility for the very measures that the hon. Gentleman criticised. He was right to say that there is a sense in the country that the things which are best done by collective action should continue so to be done. The people of Wales say that enough is enough. Let the hon. Gentleman and any others who have had enough of the Government activities show in the Division Lobby that they mean what they say.
I issue that challenge particularly in respect of the Water Bill, which is wholeheartedly rejected by the people of Wales. The bardic steamroller should recognise the telling criticisms voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and others in today's debate, but will the Government be defeated on that Bill or will there be another nominal revolt like that on the eyesight and dental charges, which allowed some Conservative Members the luxury of protest so long as it did not put the Government's majority at risk?
There is an attempt by the Secretary of State and his Ministers to create a myth with which to kid the Welsh people that somehow they act as a buffer against the worst excesses of Thatcherism and that we should be grateful to them for bringing a gentler, kinder branch of Conservatism to Wales than is brought to the rest of Britain. The legend of King Arthur has far more truth in it than the legend of Walker the Wet, and the packaging of the Tory message will not stop it hurting our people in Wales.
My right hon. and hon. Friends have eloquently outlined a range of issues and concerns in Wales which the Secretary of State completely ignored today. What legacy will he leave the people of Wales? He talks a great deal about records, so I am sure that he will be satisfied with his expected entries in the "Guiness Book of Records"—for the largest output of press releases, the most exhaustive use of superlatives, the most consistent overuse of the word "initiative", and the lowest creativity and impact of any ministerial team.
What of education in Wales? When the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) galloped to the rescue of the small beleaguered band of Welsh Tories, he called for money to be spent on Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin. He is right. As one whose children have been through and benefited from them I believe passionately that they provide the positive and constructive key to the future of the Welsh language. However, we also want proper funding of education, decent school standards for all our communities from nursery to higher education, and the removal of the loans barrier which threatens to undermine access to higher education.
With regard to incomes and wealth in Wales under this Secretary of State, more of those who are in work in Wales are now earning less than the Council of Europe threshold compared with 1979, a year that the right hon. Gentleman likes to mention when the figures favour him. The 1988 figures show that Wales is the lowest of all regions in respect of the weekly earnings of full-time employees, and that is without taking into account the increasing dependence on part-time work.
I will illustrate that by describing the situation of a constituent of mine. The death of the husband left his widow, Mrs. Linda Moles, in limbo because of a change in the age of entitlement for widow's benefit from 45 to 40. The Government argued that she, by a matter of hours, did not qualify for a widow's pension. When it became clear that the Government had got it wrong, a ministerial decision was apparently taken to fight her and others like her through the whole appeals apparatus. I was delighted to hear today that she had won that appeal—and quite right, too. The Secretary of State for Wales should tell his Cabinet colleagues to let well alone and to restore the entitlement of those widows of several years' standing who have had their widows pensions snatched from them after perhaps 12 or 13 years of widowhood.
Pensioners who have lost £18·10 per week per couple and £11·40 per week for a single pensioner will have their own view of the Secretary of State's legacy to the people of Wales. The right hon. Gentleman and Conservative Members should know that to have been a member of a Government who have stolen from the widows, the old, the poor and the young will be a major part of that legacy.
As for law and order and the environment, the Prime Minister has shamelessly pretended to have an interest in the environment and claims to support the rule of law. Yet the Secretary of State is part of a Government who are notorious for breaking the law, even their own laws, and has himself been guilty of introducing retrospective legislation during the last year to steal money from local authorities—for example, nearly £3·5 million from the people of south Glamorgan. Nowhere is the Government's record worse than in their neglect of the environment. They are reluctant to meet EEC minimum standards until dragged to the door of the European Court, guilty of complacency over the dumping of toxic waste, and infamous throughout Europe for being negative and obstructive. Welsh Office Ministers must share the blame for all that.
The long-standing issue of ReChem, repeatedly highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), is but one scandal which demonstrates the complicity of the Secretary of State for Wales in this shameful neglect. We have on numerous occasions asked the right hon. Gentleman to intervene on behalf of Wales with his colleagues in the Cabinet, but he fails to do so. Despite its excellent record, the environmental research station at Bangor is being torn apart. The Secretary of State has so far failed to intervene to save research vessel services at Barry, even though that is a significant source of employment and expertise. The right hon. Gentleman is allowing, if not encouraging, asset stripping on a grand scale.
This week I questioned the Secretary of State for Energy about plans to use a new process which would utilise low-grade coal and bring environmental benefits at Aberthaw, surely a development that should be encouraged. In fairness to that Minister, he has spoken to me since then and has shown greater interest and enthusiasm than he did at the Dispatch Box but he also said that he had received no representations from the Secretary of State for Wales on the matter. That is shameful because the Secretary of State for Wales should be taking a lead on jobs, energy and the environment, all of which are affected.
Two topics, above all, demonstrate the abject failure of the Conservative party to look after the interests of the people of Wales—the attack on the National Health Service and the sell-off of our water industry. Water privatisation gives the lie to any claim that this Government are good for Wales. There are so many details which are dangerous and wrong about that piece of dogmatic, crazy legislation that I shall concentrate on just one aspect today—the right of Welsh people to a say about Welsh water.
First, however, I digress to remind the House of the Walker technique. As with the so-called valleys initiative, it is to leak a rumour, to announce an announcement and then, when asked about it, to say that it is premature, but to issue a modest half-denial, then to let things go quiet for a while and then to repeat the process, with an announcement of an imminent announcement, a shy denial and another notch in the legend of Walker the Wet. It is a technique for packaging a product which does not exist and seeking credit for action without having to do anything. The Secretary of State knows the truth of that.
Rumour exists that the Secretary of State for Wales plans to give away council houses to the tenants living in them. Hand over the deeds and the keys and the problem is gone—that seems to be the idea—but the owner of any older house knows that will not solve everything. Inner cities, towns and rural areas all contain privately owned houses which need more money spent on them than most private owners can afford. That is why we have home grants for home owners and tax relief on mortgages, although that is under threat in the Thatcherite revolution.
Is not the hon. Gentleman delighted at a piece of legislation which, for the first time under any Government, will give the people of Wales, no matter how low their income, 100 per cent. grants to improve old houses? Does he not agree that that is a radical reform that will benefit Wales?
I am always delighted at an improvement, but the Secretary of State has taken away grants from many other people in Wales. By stealing money from local authorities, he has taken away opportunities for people in Wales to have their own homes. He is guilty of neglecting the homeless in Wales. In any event, to return to the matter which embarrasses the Secretary of State, the Chancellor will not allow council houses to be given away without a price and such a solution would still leave local councils and communities with the scandal of homelessness and the lack of homes. The Western Mail described the Secretary of State as being coy on the matter. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State admitted in a recent reply that the Government
have no immediate plans to make changes under the right-to-buy scheme."—[Official Report, 27 February 1989; Vol. 148, c. 17.]
Nevertheless, the rumours persist.
I can give the Secretary of State an easier alternative. If it is such a good idea to give the people of Wales what they have already paid for, let him give them Welsh Water. All he needs to do is to issue 2,836,000 shares—one for every man, woman and child in the Principality—without their having to make any payment. Alternatively, he could issue 100 or 1,000 shares each, as that would look even more generous—2,836 million shares to the people of Wales—and give them to us. They would be transferable only to the Government only on death or removal from the Principality. Reservation could be made for a fresh issue of shares—the water birthright—to each baby born in the Principality or to people who come to live in Wales. Shareholders could elect representatives in each area—we could call them local councils—and send them to the board of Welsh Water so that all the shareholders could have a voice in the industry.
The Secretary of State could then live up to the title of his book and trust the people. The Government say that there is an advantage in operating the water industry as a plc. That system would be a plc and would have all those advantages, if they exist, so the Government could not object. It could borrow to invest, which the Ministers tell us is a good thing, but the people of Wales would still own that which we own now.
Let the Secretary of State put his money where his mouth is and give the Welsh water industry to those who own it now—the people of Wales. That will not happen, of course, because the Chancellor will not let it happen and the Cabinet will not let it happen. The Secretary of State is part of the team who will not let it happen. He knows that the Chancellor desperately needs the income from selling another bit of our birthright to fund his mismanagement of our economy. That is what it is all about—the Tories have the dogma and we pay the cost.
The time in Committee considering the Bill has been instructive, as the Government's case for privatisation has crumbled and fallen apart. Our plea for a Welsh rivers authority has been rejected, there is no credibility left in the Government's claims that the measure will help our environment, improve water quality or clean up our rivers and beaches. None of that will happen unless the public pay. Our environment, our public access, our water supplies, even our health, are under threat from that measure.
Our health will be further under threat by the Government's plans to abandon any pretence of wanting to develop a high quality, all-purpose, universal Health Service. The Welsh Office document on the future of the Health Service showed that far from working for patients, as its title suggests, it is a plan for furthering dogma at the expense of public health. The creaking and groaning evident in the Health Service now has been deliberately created by Conservative neglect. If a week is a long time in politics, 10 years is a political lifetime—and for that length of time the Conservative party has used funding arrangements, Cabinet power, administrative arrangements and the nomination of its own quiescent loyalists to undermine our Health Service
If the Secretary of State does not believe the Opposition, let him examine the Western Mail commentary of Monday which gives example after example of problems with waiting lists in Wales. The White Paper will do nothing to help people on waiting lists any more than it will help the Health Service as a whole. Indeed, it will make the planning and delivery of a high-quality service harder than ever before.
The Minister's answer last week was:
The diagnosis and treatment of patients is and will continue to be a matter for the professional judgment of doctors."—[Official Report, 21 February 1989; Vol. 147, c. 608.]
That cannot be so if the doctor is constrained by his computer forecast and monthly cash flow and he cannot give his single-minded concentration and commitment to the health care of his patients. I do not say that costs should be disregarded, but the Government pendulum has swung too far towards the extreme and the Secretary of State for Wales has swung with the worst of them.
Health Service planning is dependent on the 10-year plan currently being considered, but I am no longer sure what credence to be placed in them. I want a coherent, long-term plan for my area on which we can depend. I want to see problems overcome in south Glamorgan, because there are problems with the plan as drafted. The third district general hospital in Cardiff docks cannot be afforded without undermining Llandongh hospital, killing off Sully hospital, distorting the whole service. A decision is also needed now because the idea is casting a blight on a piece of development land which is desperately needed in the Cardiff bay area, but it is vital that it should be the right decision and part of the right overall plan for the Health Service in south Glamorgan and in Wales as a whole, within a coherent approach which puts patients first and does not depend on dogma and political fashion in the way that the White Paper does.
Some time ago, the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) gave the game away when he was quoted as saying that the problem with the National Health Service was that there was no relationship between what we pay and the service that we receive. I had always thought that it was a virtue to get the treatment that we need at the time when we need it—when we fall ill—and the people of Wales feel the same. The Secretary of State and his colleagues have failed to defend our Health Service against people like the Prime Minister, just as he has failed to defend our water, environment, education service, housing and local government in Wales. As on so many other issues, his proposals are an abject copy of the proposals in England. He has failed the people of Wales.
All I can say is that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) has not undermined my faith, or that of my family, in the Health Service. I have to go for an operation in a few months' time. It was a disgraceful attack, and very disappointing because I think that the hon. Gentleman can do a great deal better.
Today has taken the usual course of a Welsh day debate—we have had constituency representations and hobby horses from all sides, as might be expected.
No hon. Member made a more notable contribution than the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). I too made my maiden speech on St. David's day 15 years ago but I only wish that I had had half the assurance—and even half the majority—of the hon. Member. He will know, as indeed he has told us, of the gap that he is filling through the death of his predecessor, Brynmor John, a man held in respect and affection by all his colleagues on both sides of the Chamber. We look forward to hearing the hon. Member on many occasions in the future. I feel sure that we shall not be disappointed and he may then expect a more lively response than he received today.
I cannot mention constituency representation without paying a deep personal tribute to our old friend and colleague, Raymond Gower. I feel sure that I speak for all my parliamentary colleagues when I say that we shall greatly miss Raymond and that uncertain support which he sometimes gave Ministers on his own side, or the often sympathetic attacks which he launched in days gone by on Labour Ministers. Raymond was ever looking for compromise, for the best part in us all and not the worst. We all know how warm and caring a friend we have lost.
But what a change Raymond saw during his 38 years in this House in the economic and social condition of Wales, and at no time during that long period was change more basic or more rapid than during the past 10 years. As we have been reminded, none of us who was in the House 10 years ago can ever forget St. David's day 1979. That was a fateful day.
No. I have just started my speech and my time has been cut short as it is.
On St. David's day 1979 the Labour Government, the Liberal party, Plaid Cymru, the media and the clerical crcchach all proved that they were wholly out of step with the people of Wales and that it was the Conservative party alone which understood how Wales felt about devolution and the future of the United Kingdom. Clearly the opinion of the man and woman in the street, and certainly the poll in the streets of Pontypridd, show that devolution still gets the lowest marks of any subject.
Where do the opposition parties now stand on devolution? Are we to be forced to accept a Welsh assembly under any future Labour Government—or perhaps three assemblies? Are we to be refused any chance to vote again on such a proposition? Surely the only reason the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) did not vote against the Welsh Bill was the promise of a referendum. I trust that he has not changed his mind on that, however much he may have wavered on the question of devolution itself.
I remember a most interesting broadcast debate in which the right hon. Gentleman and I were partners against the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) and the then Labour Member for Wrexham, Mr. Tom Ellis. The right hon. Gentleman spent most of his time fending off a Trotskyist member of his own association who protested about the right hon. Gentleman being on a platform with me.
I shall give the right hon. Gentleman quite a few figures before I have finished.
We have never doubted that on that St. David's day 10 years ago the Conservative party spoke for the hopes and fears of most of our fellow citizens. We understood the burning desire of our neighbours to own their own homes. Now, 68 per cent. of people own their own homes, compared with 59 per cent. when we took office. But giving council tenants the right to buy their own homes was opposed by the Labour and Liberal parties. Now we are told that they no longer oppose the right to buy. How is that for recognising reality?
As the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) admitted, Opposition Members seem to hanker after the old corporatist, controlled, planned society from which we have rescued the country only for Mr. Jacques Delors to revive their hopes. Now we hear that the Labour party is in favour of our membership of the EEC. Perhaps we, or at least the electorate, ought to be told.
Before the Minister leaves the subject of council houses, could he tell the House how it can be a good idea for people to buy their council houses when the Government are preventing people from building any more houses? How are the next generation to benefit from that wonderful gift?
The hon. Gentleman is again showing that he does not understand why so many of his constituents living in former council houses wished to own those homes. Would he like to tell them that he opposes such a scheme? Does he think that selling those homes to the people living in them reduced the number of houses? Of course it did not.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) said proudly that the Opposition were saying no to the free market. That is an extraordinary claim for any political party. That is the reason why in 1975 and 1976 this country took such a dive and why we had to cut capital expenditure on roads and housing. Hon. Members may remember the A470. That road made it to Winchurch but never got any further. It was not until a Conservative Government came to power that it got to Merthyr. The Labour Government had to go to the International Monetary Fund on their knees. That was the level to which the Labour Government brought us. Our time in the Chamber thereafter was filled by endless debates on devolution. That was the one thing that kept the Labour party going.
The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) quite rightly made a plea on behalf of her constituency. A great deal has been spent on it. We appreciate the points which she made about the phurnacite plant. She will know that under projects of regional and national importance there was a capital allocation of £850,000 for each of the three years to 1988–89 to bring the railway to Aberdare. She will know about the Aberdare bypass, which has been paid for. In housing, she will know about the five enveloping schemes costing £3·3 million, when her own authority could not spend its money until it was shown how by the Welsh Office civil servants. She will know that since 1984 expenditure of over £565,000 on urban development grants, leading to private sector investment of £1·216 million, has created or safeguarded 153 permanent and 63 temporary jobs.
As for Welsh Development Agency units, from May 1979 to the end of January 1989, 53 units, comprising 521,000 sq ft, were completed. Since 1976, seven land reclamation schemes, comprising 40 acres and costing £600,000, have been completed. There are three projects in progress involving 294 acres. There are seven projects in the programme but not yet in progress, involving 300 acres and estimated to cost £3·3 million. The hon. Lady will know about all those and many more things which are being brought to Cynon Valley. It is now connected to the A470, which had not reached the valley under her party. That is opening up the area and we are providing the factories and spare places which she wants.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler), who is sadly not with us, talked about the Welsh language. They will know that grants for the Welsh language will rise by almost 40 per cent. in the coming financial year. That shows our intent for the language. We have a problem in ensuring an adequate supply of Welsh-medium teachers. The demand for Welsh-medium teachers for bilingual secondary schools has been growing for some time. We awarded 30 supplements of £1,200 last autumn to encourage more students to train in Welsh. Those were taken up and we intend to offer supplements again this year. We intend to take other steps to satisfy the demand for Welsh teaching.
Hon. Members have raised time and again our proposals for the Health Service. When my right hon. Friend announced his proposals for Wales in the White Paper, he said that the Health Service had served the people of Wales well; indeed it has. The level of achievement over the last decade has been remarkable. Between 1979 and 1988, the number of staff directly concerned with patient care increased by over 17 per cent. So did the pay of staff in the Health Service, whereas it fell under the Labour Government.
I do not know how the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside, who stood in my place in those days, felt as the pay of nurses, consultants and everyone else in the Health Service went down. How did he feel when the number of out patients dealt with in Welsh hospitals fell by 3 per cent. during his period as a Minister, whereas under this Government 88,000 new out-patients have been dealt with? Nearly 100,000 more in-patients and 45,000 more day cases have been dealt with under this Government. Yet Opposition Members have the gall to talk about cuts in the Health Service. Would they willingly tell the people of Wales or Britain that we should go back to the Health Service that we had in 1979? Is that really what they would hold up as their banner? Not at all.
All that has been achieved at the same time as we have been improving dramatically the service in Wales for people with mental illnesses and mental handicaps. Our all-Wales mental handicap strategy is widely recognised as a unique and innovative development which is bringing considerable improvements to the lives of thousands of people with mental handicaps, and their families. We have established in our mental handicap strategy something which is admired not just in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom but in other countries. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) will appreciate and understand that.
We published our draft strategy for the development of mental illness services in May last for a six-month period of consultation. The responses to our proposals have been very favourable and encouraging. We will publish a final version later this spring, and we shall move to the new strategic planning framework in the financial year 1990–91. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Griffiths report?"] I can promise hon. Members that that will be dealt with in the coming year. In helping the least capable people in our society—the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill—the Welsh Office has set a fine example, not just in Britain but abroad.
No, I shall not give way. I have far too many points to reply to.
Like many other hon. Members, the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) failed to understand the competitive basis of our water privatisation proposals. There will most certainly be competition. Nor did he appreciate that the Director General of Water Services will control price rises and lay down the conditions under which the new water authorities will operate.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and others guyed the idea that Welsh Water, the new plc, could be owned by the people of Wales. Opposition Members may have a surprise coming to them because it is our intention to give the people of Wales every opportunity to take a stake in their own water company in a way that has not been possible before.
No, I will not.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North called for a north-south road—a rather old idea. The Government have undertaken 47 major motorway and trunk road schemes and 140 miles of roads have been provided. Spending on new capital schemes and structural renewal and maintenance exceeds £1 billion since 1979. Sixteen bypasses have been completed. Four are in and 25 more are programmed for the 1990s. Sixteen miles of road are presently under construction on schemes costing some £270 million. That remarkable development, the Conway tunnel, costing over £160 million, is due to open in 1991.
No, I shall not give way.
I sum up the Government's record by saying that there has been record home ownership of between 59 and 68 per cent. A record number of patients has been treated. There has been a record number of consultants, nurses and doctors. There has been a record number of patients on renal dialysis—the highest in Europe at 55 per million of the population. There has been a record number of Welsh students in universities and higher education—25 per cent. up on the figure when we took office. There has been a record number of new company formations. A record amount has been spent on training, about which we have heard precious little today. Spending on training has risen from £60·7 million in 1979–80 to nearly £150 million today.
There has been a record number of exciting new developments, such as Cardiff bay, Swansea marine, the Ford plants at Bridgend and Swansea, the Newport barrage, the valleys programme, the Ebbw Vale garden festival, and the A55. All those projects are bringing hope, new life and new interest to Wales.
The Government are transforming the Principality. They are transforming it from the declining employee-centred economy that it had become over several generations, to a thriving modern society which has faith and confidence in itself. That confidence comes as jobs are created by Welsh-based men and women who are already eager to strike out on their own account rather than wait for the Government, or whoever, to bring them work and benefit from outside like some sort of cargo cult. In that respect, I fully support the hon. Member for Cardiff, West. He talked a great deal of sense and I welcome what he had to say.
This Administration are intent on reforming educational standards. Enterprise agencies are appearing. This is a world in which Marxism is becoming increasingly passé, whether in China, Moscow, Poland or Hungary. All those countries are privatising and discovering the need for profits and losses and that there is no need for the Labour party's old-fashioned approach. I believe that they know that, otherwise there would not be such a deafening silence about renationalising former state-owned businesses and firms, or so little talk about reinforcing municipal monopolies or hamstringing private coach and bus companies. It is not just that they could not afford to repurchase British Gas or the National Freight Corporation; they no longer have the stomach for it.
If the Labour party no longer stands for state ownership, or even for unilateral or other disarmament, what does it stand for? I cannot believe that, in their hearts, Welsh men and women really see the right hon. Member for Islwyn as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, or the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside as a replacement for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. My right hon. Friend has brought a new spirit and a new confidence to political and public life in Wales.