Orders of the Day — Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:27 pm on 22nd May 1997.

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Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North 5:27 pm, 22nd May 1997

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate, which is so important to the future of Wales.

I am proud to be the first woman to be elected Member of Parliament for Cardiff, North. I am the first woman Member of Parliament in the city of Cardiff, and one of four women elected in Wales on 1 May. That is still only four women out of 40 Welsh Members, but it is four times as many as in 1992. This is the beginning of women taking their rightful place in the politics of Wales, and particularly in the Welsh Assembly; provided that we achieve a yes vote in the referendum.

Amazing as it may seem, until this election, Wales had only ever had four women Members of Parliament: Eirene White, Dorothy Rees, Megan Lloyd George and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd). Dorothy Rees represented the Barry constituency for about 18 months. At that time, it included Whitchurch, Rhiwbina and Lisvane, which are now part of Cardiff, North.

Labour now holds all the Cardiff seats, for the first time for 27 years. In 1966–70, the old Cardiff, North constituency was represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who spoke in the debate last night. It is fitting that the capital of Wales—which will be the seat of the assembly—will be wholly Labour when it is set up, subject to the Bill being passed by the House and a yes vote in the referendum.

Cardiff, North—the constituency that I now represent—is very diverse. Its northern tip is the village community of Tongwynlais, which lies in the shadow of the Taff gorge linking Cardiff to the valleys to the north. Cardiff's wealth was built on coal brought down from the valleys. It would squeeze through the Taff gorge, which contains the River Taff, the Glamorgan canal, the Taff Vale railway and the now much-widened A470.

The coal has now mainly gone, but the road to Cardiff, the A470—choked by commuter traffic—goes through the heart of my constituency. It goes through the huge motorway at Coryton, where the main east-west and north-south routes through Wales meet, and on down to the other giant interchange at Gabalfa, where the Western avenue cuts through the estates of Mynachdy and Gabalfa that lead to north Llandaff—famous for the Cow and Snuffers pub, which was much frequented by Benjamin Disraeli during his visits to Wales. Nowhere is the need for an integrated transport system more obvious than on the A470 through Cardiff, North.

Next to the Gabalfa interchange lies the Heath hospital complex. Along with the dental hospital, it has 1,000 beds and is the largest hospital complex in Europe. It is not always popular with residents, because of the parking problems. One of the best-known residents of the area near the hospital is the former Speaker of the House of Commons, Lord Tonypandy.

Cardiff, North has a high percentage of white-collar professional workers, and 83 per cent. of its residents own their homes. Many are civil servants working in Government buildings, and many have suffered from the job insecurity that has been caused by the privatisation, contractorisation and short-term contracts that have become commonplace in public service. They are all looking for a Government who are proud of their public services and recognise the worth of their staff.

Many jobs have been lost altogether to privatisation. The Atomic Weapons Establishment in Llanishen no longer makes parts for nuclear warheads. The skills of the workers have sadly been dispersed to the four winds because of the failure of earlier Governments to prepare for the winding down of the defence industry by diversifying. Five hundred highly skilled precision engineers have been lost to Cardiff. Their skills could have been used positively for civilian purposes. Companies House in Gabalfa, the Inland Revenue in Llanishen, the employment services department of the Welsh Office—all those have been subjected to that policy of forced insecurity. Her Majesty's Stationery Office has been privatised and closed down.

I have already mentioned that, for a brief time, Dorothy Rees represented the villages that were incorporated into Cardiff in 1967. Whitchurch is a distinct community with a bustling high street, which was really the battleground of the recent general election campaign. On Saturday mornings, I would contest the space on the high street with my opponent, Gwilym Jones. Gwilym Jones was the Member of Parliament for Cardiff, North for 14 years, living in the ward of Lizvane and St Mellons—which, incidentally, has the only Conservative member of Cardiff city council. Gwilym Jones rose to the rank of junior minister in the Welsh Office in the last Parliament after many years of public service, both as a city councillor and as a Member of Parliament.

As I said earlier, I am pleased to speak in the debate on the referendum for devolution. I campaigned strongly for devolution in my election campaign, and held a packed public meeting in Rhiwbina—which is the garden suburb in northern Cardiff—wholly devoted to the subject.

I believe that it is important for the practical benefits of a Welsh Assembly to be spelled out in the course of our campaign for a yes vote. We no longer want the people of Wales to have to put up with a standard of living that is 17 per cent. lower than the British average. We no longer want the incidence of heart disease and breast cancer to be greater in Wales than in the rest of Britain. We no longer want the poverty of aspiration that affects so many people in Wales, where a recent survey of women on benefits showed that seven out of 10 considered that they would be worse off, or no better off, if they took a job, and where the increase in child care facilities that can unlock the door to opportunity have passed the lower income groups by.

By bringing government closer to the people, a Welsh Assembly will be able to take the lead in tackling the practical issues that face people every day in Wales. In a country of 3 million people, we can get to grips with those issues. We can have a child care strategy that targets those most in need, and can come up with solutions that are unique to Wales and will tackle specifically Welsh issues.

Devolution is about people-friendly, women-friendly policies. It is not for constitutional lawyers or for politicians; its purpose is to make a real difference to the lives of all the people in Wales. With a yes vote in the referendum, we will be able to achieve that.