Welsh Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:43 pm on 27th February 1992.

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Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards , Monmouth 7:43 pm, 27th February 1992

Clearly, the Secretary of State will not do that. Therefore, I shall continue with my speech.

It is a privilege to contribute to the debate on Wales, which traditionally takes place on or near St. David's day. I have attended and have read the Hansard reports of those debates for a number of years, and it is a privilege to take part this year.

I represent a constituency that, historically, was not alway a part of Wales and it is one of the most anglicised areas of Wales. I noted what the Secretary of State said about the introduction of a Welsh language Bill and I welcome that. I am sure that he will also welcome the proposal to introduce a Welsh medium school in Abergavenny, which I hope will be implemented in the next year or so. The Secretary of State has acknowledged that, in my constituency, there is some anxiety about Welsh appearing in the national curriculum. I wish to convey those anxieties.

I hope that it is possible to attract, naturally, Welsh-speaking teachers to Gwent to involve them in the implementation of the language programme there.

Issues relating to the economy, the environment and public services are causing great concern in my constituency. I cannot deny that, traditionally, Monmouth has been one of the more affluent areas of Wales, but, in common with many other areas, it has been hit by the recession. I have had meetings with the Abergavenny chamber of trade and the Monmouth chamber of commerce and I have heard business people express their anxieties about the recession. It is a tremendous disappointment to come across people who thought they were enjoying an economic miracle two or three years ago who now face bankruptcy or have already gone bankrupt. Such bankruptcies also cause family problems and homelessness often goes with it.

The matter of assisted area status for Monmouth has caused some controversy and I have been disappointed by some recent developments. A delegation, of which I was a member, was to meet the Secretary of State to put the strong case for assisted area status. However, Monmouth borough council received a letter from the private secretary to the Secretary of State to the effect that, as Monmouth was not going to get assisted area status, there was absolutely no point in the Secretary of State meeting that delegation. Subsequently, another announcement was made to the effect that the Secretary of State was prepared to meet a delegation that was to include the Conservative candidate for Monmouth. If this meeting produces assisted area status for Monmouth before the next election, I would be the first to congratulate the Secretary of State, but I doubt whether that will happen. The delegation, which is supposed to meet the Secretary of State 'on Monday, is disintegrating before it is even assembled. Gwent county council and Monmouth chamber of commerce have decided not to participate and I doubt whether Monmouth town council will participate. They realise that it is nothing but a political stunt. They are totally unimpressed because they can see it for what it is.

My constituents are also anxious about threats to the local environment. My constituency covers 300 sq miles encompassing part of the south Wales coalfield right down to the Severn bridge. It is one of the most beautiful areas of Wales. There is also beauty in the bleakness—for example, up near Blaenavon and Pwll Du—but opencast developments pose a serious environmental threat to those areas. I have visited other opencast developments in south Wales at Nant Helen near Glynneath and I do not want such devastation to be visited upon Abergavenny. I hope that the Secretary of State will take note of the considerable objection to the Pwll Du development and listen to the people of Clydach and Llanelly Hill who are totally opposed to it.

At the other end of my constituency is the Wye valley, which is one of the five designated areas of outstanding natural beauty in Wales. There is much concern about proposed developments in that area, which are contrary to not only the Gwent structure plan but the intention of Parliament, which was to give special protection to the area. It is a matter of great anxiety that a precedent could be set by insensitive developments in the Wye valley. Such developments could also then take place in the other areas of outstanding natural beauty, the Anglesey coast, Llyn, the Clwydian range and the Gower peninsula. There is considerable concern about any infringements in those areas.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) has announced that the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs is undertaking an inquiry into planning. There is widespread concern in my constituency about the whole planning process, much of which was revealed in an HTV documentary shortly before Christmas. The programme revealed the inconsistency, inequity and possible illegality in some of the planning applications and approvals that have been given and the way in which planning recommendations are overturned at a political whim. I am delighted that the Select Committee, of which I am a member, is undertaking that inquiry.

Wales has had a high tradition of good quality public services. The public sector in my constituency, as in many others, is by far the biggest employer, yet much of the public sector has been undermined by Conservative policies in the past 13 years.

I have spoken in the House before about the controversies affecting Nevill Hall hospital, but I will restrict my comments on that issue today to the proposal to introduce car parking charges. That proposal has absolutely outraged the people of Abergavenny and all who travel from the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot)—many members of staff as well as patients come from his area to Nevill Hall—and elsewhere to the hospital.

The staff, patients, visitors and volunteers who give up their time to work in the hospital are outraged by the proposal. They say that the imposition of parking charges would infringe the principle of a free national health service. They see no support for the idea in the patients charter and they are bitterly opposed to it. They hope that such charges will not be implemented at Nevill Hall or any other hospital in Wales.

I have spoken before in the House about the housing crisis in Wales. I have said previously that £741 million has accrued from the sale of council houses in district authorities in Wales in the past 10 years and that it is a public scandal. I think I see the Under-Secretary shaking his head in dissent. Not only has that money not been devoted to the provision of housing, but even parliamentary answers have not explained what has happened to that money.